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Thursday, 18 May 1939


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - There are several reasons why I welcome the introduction of this bill. Let us consider the state of affairs that existed about this time last year, and continued until such time as the present Minister for Defence (Mr; Street) succeeded the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) in that office. Until then the honorable member for Calare was carrying the almost insupportable burden of administering the present Defence Department, combined with the Munitions and Supply Department, and the Civil Aviation Branch. In the whole of my parliamentary experience I have never known any other man who was so snowed up with work as he was. During much of his term of office, he received very scant consideration from sections of the public, and the press. The magnitude of the task' he was attempting to perform can best be gauged by noting the way in which the duties are now distributed. The Minister for Defence retains control of the fighting services. Another Minister is in charge of the Department of Supply and Development, while still another is in charge of Civil Aviation. Those three Ministers hive the full-time help of one Assistant Minister, and they receive aid from other quarters as well. The fact is that four Ministers are now engaged upon the work which was considered to be the rightful task of one man before the reconstruction of the Government last year." There is this point to consider also: It is a bad policy in defence matters to place control of the fighting forces and of the Munitions Branch under the one ministerial head. The two departments require a different outlook and experience.

I say, with all respect to the gentlemen who to-day are chiefly concerned with the performance of those duties, that it is very seldom that the qualifications for the two jobs are found in the one man.

I believe that this bill represents a forward movement in the organization of this country for defence. I .believe it to be necessary that supply and development should be placed under the control of one Minister. Many opinions have been expressed during the course of this debate regarding the bill. Some honorable members have described it, in effect, as being merely a 'Shetland pony; other comparisons have gone right through all the grades up to the Clydesdale. Some seem to think that it is a donkey, and others a mule. The fact is that the bill before the chamber to-night is the product of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), and it bears his brand if any measure ever did. It does not contain every proposal which was in the mind of the right honorable gentleman when he was pressing for this legislation shortly after his return to Australia in September of last year, but it contains a great many of his suggestions. I believe that, as time goes on, the Government will see the wisdom of still further enlarging the scope of the measure so as to include those matters that were suggested but omitted.

The right honorable member for Cowper was intent upon achieving the organization and development of certain primary industries necessary to the defence of the country; the establishment and development of certain secondary industries of an essential character; the effective survey of the mineral resources of the country; and the development of power and transport .in order to insure more effective defence. Some honorable members of the Opposition, particularly the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), have emphasized the need for a survey of our mineral resources. I regret that the bill does not contain any reference to those matters, unless they are covered by the general terms of clause 3.


Mr Pollard - Nothing is said about providing work for the unemployed.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I shall digress merely to say, in reply to the honorable member, that if the Government launches great manufacturing enterprises, as honorable members opposite say that it intends, such enterprises must provide increased employment. Consequently, the fear expressed by the honorable member is unfounded.


Mr Pollard - Departmental figures show that 29,000 men are registered for employment at munition works in Victoria. What is to be done to remedy that position?


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The honorable member will have an opportunity himself to deal with that matter later. I shall now deal with the proposals the implementation of which I consider to be necessary for the proper functioning of this measure. I noticed a little titter on the other side when I referred to the establishment of certain primary industries in relation to defence. I refer now to the establishment of certain branches of the fibre industry. Australia is the world's greatest producer of one fibre, wool, but there are others, equally essential to our economic life, which we make no attempt to produce. In Queensland some attention has been given to the production of cotton, but in the southern States, despite the suitability of soil and rainfall, and the urgent need in many districts to change over from wheat to some other product, we find that very little attention is being given by the State governments to the production of flax.


Mr Riordan - That industry was tried in Queensland.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I have read sufficient about the subject to lead me to believe that Queensland would not be suitable for the cultivation of a product which requires a cold climate. Not only is a fibre like flax needed for our ordinary peace-time requirements, as well as for war purposes, but it is also a commodity which Great Britain is obliged to import. The requirements of the United Kingdom for industrial purposes to-day are approximately 100,000 tons per annum, and of that quantity 98,000 tons is imported from Russia. At this juncture I do not propose to deal with this subject in detail. I simply mention flax as one crop to which the Government might devote attention in order to establish a necessary primary industry, and, at the same time, acquire complete control of our requirements of this commodity.


Mr Mahoney - Such an industry would require tariff protection.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That has not been proved.







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