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Friday, 21 November 1941

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - HUGHES. - The honorable member applauded me when I attributed a portion of the blame to the last Government, and he wants me to emphasize it. I am prepared to admit that I was disappointed at the failure to obtain more detailed information from the last Government. I wrote to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), as Minister for Labour and National Service, no later than the end of February of this year, in order to ascertain what provision was to be made for rural pursuits in the months that have since elapsed, and particularly during the season which is approaching. I wrote subsequently to the then Prime Minister on the same sub.ject. From both of those gentlemen I received a very courteous reply, but nothing which really decided the matter. It appears to me that the new Government is following the same line, and is fencing from day to day in order that there may not be a real pronouncement in respect of man-power. It is also exhibiting reluctance to issue a new list of reserved occupations.

I wish to deal particularly with the rural side of the matter, because country industries are responsible for the largest proportion of the new money which comes to Australia, and that is one of the chief means by which we are enabled to fight the war. We are on the verge of a new season for wheat and grapes; yet, so far as I can make out, nothing has been done. I received only to-day a letter from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), to whom I had written on behalf of industries on the Baver Murray, all of which, but particularly the power station and distilleries, need firewood in order that their concerns may continue to operate. I had asked how men could be obtained for the cutting of firewood. I quote the essential portion of the letter that I have received in reply -

I wish to advise that the employment officers in each of the States concerned have been instructed to secure the necessary labour, if possible. I am advised, however, that it is difficult to engage firewood cutters at present as, owing to the strenuous nature of this employment, employees do not go to this work if anything else is offering. Enlistments and employment in munition works have further reduced the number of men previously available for this calling.

We have been pointing out for months what must happen if employees are allowed to select occupations in which high wages are paid ; in other words, if steps be not taken to ensure that the essential industries of this country are carried on. I urge the Government to realize that the wheat season is approaching, and that shortly afterwards we shall be in the grape season. I ask it to make an early pronouncement not only on the questions that I have raised, but also as to the way in which it proposes to ensure that there shall be a pool of labour from which the various industries may draw in order that they may be enabled to carry on. It will not suffice to say that if the wage be high enough the labour required will or may be obtained. The Government will be held responsible if the labour is not forthcoming. The more these industries are prevented, from functioning, the smaller will be the amount of money earned by Australia, and the less equipped shall we be to carry on the fight in which we are engaged. Nothing has been done with a view to ensuring that even a bare minimum of shearers will be trained to shear the sheep that bring the major portion of the new money which, year by year, comes to Australia from overseas. I urge the Government, also, to see that a pool is formed, particularly in respect of grapes and wheat. The fruit-growers, too, need to be considered, because their crops are ripening, and in some places are being gathered. What is being done by the Director of Man-power Priorities? Surely he has the right, if not to make decisions, at all events to recommend to the Minister for Labour and National Service the action that should be taken. He has several assistants in the other States. What are they doing? What is being done by the Central Manpower Committee, which acts as an adviser to the Government? I do not say anything about the Parliamentary Man-power and Resources Survey Committee, because it does not possess executive power. All of those bodies ire treading on one another's toes, impeding one another, and duplicating each other's efforts; or there is an authority which is insisting that what others advise shall not get through, because it does not want to come to a decision. The whole of our war effort is being held up, and the country is approaching a state of confusion. As what is wanted is not known, nothing is forthcoming. At the same time, men are being swept out of one industry into another, at the expense of the country and without regard to its needs.

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