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Tuesday, 23 May 1939

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - The Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) carefully mentioned many matters not dealt with in the bill, but studiously avoided consideration of the many evil effects that must flow from the measure. Many Australians will be much disappointed ami shocked when they fully realize the nature of the defence policy of the Government as expressed in this bill. No political party objects to a proper survey of the potentialities of this country with, regard to defence, or a careful tabulation of our resources so that they may be put to the best possible use; but why is it considered necessary at this stage of our history to pass a bill of this kind ? Almost daily, Ministers and members generally express abhorrence concerning the undemocratic form of government obtaining in countries ruled by dictators, and suggest that Australia, at least, should adhere tenaciously to the principles of democracy, and not permit them to be undermined. Coupled with the proposed national register and the Crimes Act, the legislation now under discussion is reminiscent of conditions experienced in this country twenty years ago which rendered necessary the passage of the War Precautions Act

The first great exception that I take to this bill is that it is proposed to hand over to private enterprise the manufacture of arms and ammunition for sale and profit. This is a complete reversal of the policy advocated by the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) when be held the position of Treasurer, and is contrary to the people's wishes. The Government now proposes to provide £1,000,000 to assist private manufacturers io extend their works so that they may increase their profits by the manufacture and sale of munitions. The Minister repeatedly said that he was opposed to private enterprise having anything to do with this work. He stated that, although the Government should not compete with private enterprise in ordinary commercial spheres, private factories should not be permitted to engage in the manufacture of arms and munitions for profit. Yet this bill is designed to assist private enterprise to turn Australia into a depot for the supply to countries bordering the Pacific of death-dealing instruments.

Scores of books fresh from the press contain sworn evidence collected by royal commissions and at other governmental inquiries condemning the manufacture of arms and munitions by private enterprise because it is generally recognized that the profit made in this trade is one of the greatest incentives to war. This Government boasts of a desire to uphold the democratic ideals of the people of Australia, and pretends to hate the warlike methods of dictatorship countries, yet it is now -proposing that Australia shall compete with other countries in the private manufacture of death-dealing instruments. The people have never been consulted by referendum on this matter. If their opinion were sought it would be shown that they are strongly opposed to this country being thrown into the very cockpit of war. Under the bill, private manufacturers will not only be given contracts for the manufacture of munitions, and a government subsidy of £1,000,000 to encourage them to tender for this work, but they will also have the free use of departmental blue prints and the services of experts now "in the employment of the Government.

During the Great "War it was found necessary to give contracts for the supply of clothing and other equipment required by our troops to government factories, and these supplied the necessary goods at half the prices that private manufacturers had been charging. We have been told that the annexes to private factories will be used only in war time. I desire to know whether we are now living under peace or war conditions.

Mr Holt - The machinery installed in the annexes is not now being used.

Mr HOLLOWAY - How is it then that already that great octopus) the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, has been engaged in the manufacture of shells for the Defence Department? Last week we were informed that the price charged for shells made by this company was so exorbitant that the company was ashamed to take the money.

Mr Holt - That is a distortion of what was said.

Mr HOLLOWAY - Why then did the company return 7s. in respect of each shell supplied? This was done because it realized that within a week or two the whole world would have known that the price charged was too high. Therefore the company cut the ground from under the feet of the Government by returning a portion of its excess profit.

Highly-paid accountants; some of whom receive salaries up to £5,000 a year, are employed by the firms engaged in the manufacture of arms and munitions. The Government, apart from advancing a large sum of money to assist in the financing of private manufacturers "who desire to extend their equipment, proposes in this bill to establish an advisory panel for the purpose of indicating to the department the quantity of arms and equipment that should be produced, where they should be made, and the prices that should be charged for them, and these same men will be the tenderers themselves; they will be defendant, jury and judge. Scores of inspectors, probably paid high, salaries, will be needed to measure the sleeves and legs of every pair of trousers needed by our troops to make sure that private manufacturers do not rob the Government. It will be necessary to make sure that measurements are not skimped and that the right classes of materials are used. Government factories for the manufacture of clothing and munitions and other defence equipment have shown in the past that they are quite capable of meeting the defence requirements of Australia. It would have been fin easy matter to double the number of persons employed in government workshops, and it would have been of advantage to the people, because the goods needed could have been produced at a much lower price than will bc charged by private manufacturers. We have been told that it is necessary to assist private manufacturers to establish annexes to their factories, because they may prove to be white elephants ; but we know enough about the methods of private manufacturers to be sure that expenditure involved in extensions to existing plant will be taken into consideration in determining the cost of production in connexion with all government contracts and that they will safeguard themselves against white elephants at the people's cost.

For twenty years, owing to constitutional barriers, valuable plant in government factories has been lying practically idle, oi' machinery has been dismantled and disposed of, because all work done in these factories must be carried out exclusively for defence purposes. There have been resolutions of chambers of manufactures, deputations to Ministers, and test cases before the High Court in an attempt to. prove that a breach of the Constitution was taking place. When the Commonwealth Clothing Factory sought to keep its machines in working order and its staff available by making uniforms for policemen, the chamber of manufactures, aided by a sympathetic government, asked the High Court to determine whether the making of a policeman's uniform could be described as a military operation. The decision of the High Court prevented that establishment from making police uniforms. The fault for our unpreparedness lies with the Government because of its policy of protecting private enterprise. An anti-Labour government gave away the woollen mills, and allowed private enterprise to increase its profits. The mills were taken over by an organization of returned soldiers and ever since then have successfully competed with other concerns. Those mills could have been retained by the Government to make uniforms for members of the naval, military and air forces. Similar action was taken with respect to the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. That establishment should still be in the hands of the Government, as it could have been had the Government been allowed to undertake such work as the making of a few boilers and machine parts for semi-government institutions, even if not directly for defence purposes. Governments with the outlook of the present administration, which ought to have known the trend of world affairs, and the need to he prepared, cared only that private enterprise should continue to make profits. Even in time of war private enterprise is sacrosanct!

Mr Lane - The honorable member is an out-and-out socialist.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I do not deny that. My first objection to this measure is that it is opposed to all the ideals and principles for which we have fought for 20 or 30 years. I never thought to see the day when private enterprise would be allowed to make profits for the manufacture of armaments and munitions in Australia. Many citizens of this country will be disgusted at the compromise with principle which would not have been thought possible twelve months ago.

Another objection to this bill has been anticipated by the Minister. He can sense the opposition to the hill as it- stands. In its original form the bill made it possible for wages boards determinations and agreements to be set aside.

Mr Holt - There was never any intention of that, and the honorable member knows it.

Mr HOLLOWAY - I do not know it. The bill contains wide powers enabling the Minister to do many things by regulation. This legislation is to remain in force for five years. Those years may be peaceful, but before they have passed all of the economic advance of the last twenty years may have been destroyed. Even if the bill contained no other objectionable feature, I, and I believe every other member on this side of the House, would be justified in voting against it because of the danger of interference with existing standards. The Minister has distributed amendments designed to meet the objection to which 1. have referred. It is true that they will remove some of the objections to the clause. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has drafted an amendment which will safeguard the wages and working conditions of the artisans and labourers who will be conscripted under regulations declaring certain factories and workshops to be factories established for, or in relation to, the provision or supply of munitions. If it be true, as the Assistant Minister said, that there is no intention to interfere with existing awards, the Government should accept the amendment of the honorable member for Bourke. .Should it do so, the Opposition's attitude towards the bill may be different. As honorable members know, there is at the present time a strike of workers at Darwin. Although number? of men hav» been, sent there to take the place of the strikers, so far they have not done so; but unless the Government exercises some common sense, the whole of the works at Darwin are likely to be held up. The Northern Standard, published at Darwin on the 12th May, contains the following paragraph : -

Evidence of the tactics being adopted by the contractors is given in a letter Mr. Wilmott sent to the Works Director (Mr. Stoddart). The letter requests the Works Director to ask the Minister for Works to submit to the Federal Government a suggestion that the

Commandant of the 7th (N.T.) Military District (Gol. S. C. H. Robertson) and the Manager of the Commonwealth Railways (Mr. K. McDonald) be advised that all materials consigned to the contractors carrying out work for Commonwealth Departments be classed as material for defence purposes. The material would then be subject to protection in the event of the dispute being extended.

This group of contractors in Darwin recently reduced the wages of the workers by 16s. 3d. a week. When the men resented the reduction of their pay, the contractors referred to suggested that the Commonwealth Government should declare the materials required by them to be war materials.

Mr Thorby - Are not the men at Darwin not working under award conditions?

Mr Street - Yes.

Mr LANE (BARTON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member should tell the whole story.

Mr HOLLOWAY - As it has been suggested that I have told only half the story, I shall relate the facts leading up to the present upheaval. During the depression the men obtained an arbitration award, but since then the cost of living has increased to such a degree that they were paid 16s. 3d. a week more than the award rates. Every decent employer in Darwin paid his employees at the higher rates, but when this group of contractors obtained big government contracts they went back to the old award which was fixed in depression times.

Mr Nairn - The award should be brought up to date.

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