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Wednesday, 25 February 1942

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- My main purpose in participating in this debate is to endorse the suggestion of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Baker) as to the propriety of applying to people in Australia a general rate of remuneration based upon a soldier's pay. In the present emergency, the proper course for the Government to adopt is to tell every body to pursue his present occupation until he is transferred elsewhere by a government direction. But his remuneration for his efforts should be only such as is required to secure to himself and each member of his family a standard of living that is not substantially greater than that of a soldier, taking into account the fact that a soldier is not required to provide for his own food, housing or clothing.

It is interesting, while discussing the matter of soldiers' pay, to reflect that Australia pays its soldiers at a much lower rate than Canada does. A letter from Canada dated the 6th November, 1941, and published in the English Tribune of the 5th December., 1941, stated that a Canadian private receives $1.30 a day. As a dollar is worth approximately 6s., his payment is equivalent to 8s. a day expressed in Australian currency. In addition to that, he receives $35 a month for his wife and may receive up to $24 a month for his children. That is to say, the maximum that he may receive is $99.30 a month, or, expressed in Australian currency, £29 16s. a month. That rate of pay is approximately equal to the average that obtains in Canadian manufacturing industry, slightly lower than the average wage paid in Ontario, and slightly higher than that paid in Quebec. In my opinion, the rate of pay which is appropriate to the fighting man should also be appropriate to the civilian. My own belief is that the best way in which to awaken Australians to a realization of the danger that threatens them is to place every one, soldier and civilian alike, upon the same standard.

In my opinion more decentralization of effort is necessary in this country. The Commonwealth Government should work more with State governments, and through State governments, than it has been able to do, or possibly willling to do, in the past, and should make use of the vast reservoir of trained administrative ability that is to be found in the offices of local governing bodies. Power should be decentralized. Everything should not, have to be done at Canberra. State Ministers and officials and municipal officials should be empowered to make decisions in their own localities. A great, deal of the trouble is owing to the fact that every decision, no matter how trifling, has to be made, if not at Canberra, at any rate by a Commonwealth official.

Dr Evatt - -We have given very great powers to State Premiers for the protection of the civil population. In some States, particularly in New South Wales, the Premiers have distributed powers among local governing bodies, and there lias been fairly wide decentralization.

Mr BLACKBURN - But there should be a wider delegation than that. Many of the decisions made at Canberra could bc made by the State officials or municipal officials, acting within their limited areas as the delegates of the Commonwealth.

Mr Rosevear - Would the honorable member make those people servants of the Commonwealth, without reference to the States or to the municipalities?

Mr BLACKBURN - I think that these things can be done by agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. It is a pity that when differences arise between the Commonwealth and the States as to methods of procedure there should be public discussion of those differences in the press. I instance the publicity given to the difference between the Prime Minister and the Victorian Premier in the matter of Saturday racing. If instead of criticizing one another in the newspapers the Ministers had privately conferred, the difference would probably have disappeared. That is the way in which these matters should be dealt with.

The Government should tell the people all it can without endangering this country. The people oscillate between pessimism and optimism. If one listens to the overseas broadcasts one comes away with a. feeling that everything is not so bad after all. The broadcasts are animated by a spirit of optimism and they tell us that the position will certainly be saved; but experience has taught us that this sanguine spirit has no body of fact or reason. We ought to have official statements made by the Government and broadcast and published in the newspapers in the exact terms ordered by the Government which would explain the position to the people and set out the facts.

Both Government and Parliament are in danger of mishandling the problems created by industrial unrest. It is a great mistake for the Government to think that it will conciliate the membership of unions by itself dealing with their dissident minorities. Whatever may be the opinion of the rank and file as to the actions of a minority, if the Government puts out its hand against the minority and imprisons or even prosecutes members of unions, it will put the mass feeling of the union on their side. Unions are declaring themselves against what their minorities are doing. They ought to have full power to discipline the minorities of their own members and they should be made responsible for the acts of their members. If that were done, a great deal of 'the trouble w-ould be avoided. We have the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees Federation protesting that it is unable to deal with recalcitrant minorities. If that be so, it should be vested with that power. A lot of what we are trying to get by threats of compulsion could be got with co-operation of the various organizations.

That is what I should like to see. My own idea about the way in which to deal with labour troubles is that each person employed should have to become a member of the union an his industry, and that the union should have to accept him on exactly the same terms as every body else. I should not make membership a condition precedent to engagement, but I should require the employee to become a member within a specified period, and I should then make him responsible to the union and have him controlled by the union. I should invest the union with power to discipline him for failure in the war effort by fines, or, in very extreme cases, by expulsion. The unions would welcome those powers being conferred upon them. The Miners Federation would. It is pitiful to see the way in which the officials of that union protest to the Government and the public that they are doing all they can to compel a small minority of people to remain at work.

Dr Evatt - They say that they have the full power of discipline.

Mr BLACKBURN - Why do they not exercise it?

Dr Evatt - That is what I want to know.

Mr BLACKBURN - They should he given the full power with certain safeguards against tyrannical misuse of that power. They should have legal power to deal with dissenting members and members who against the properly expressed will of the federation refuse to work. We have to face the fact that there is a great feeling amongst the masses of people that it does not much matter what they do. That is the chief enemy. The worker says to himself, " Every body is taking advantage of the present situation People are charging commissions for getting subscriptions to the Liberty Loan. Things like that tend to convince the workers that if every body is taking advantage of the present situation there is nothing wrong in their doing so too. There is an air of hopeless fatalism, a feeling that anything a man can do will not avert the worst, and that, therefore, each should make the best of his chances which will soon pass away. Every association of men and women should be used as a means to get the greatest possible measure of national unity in thi3 country. This is not the time in which to apply class policies; no one wants to do so; the Government does not want to, and the policies applied by the Government should not lie taken as class policies if any other construction can be put upon them. We want the greatest capacity and the greatest determination to use all our resources, animate and inanimate, real and material, in order to defend this country.

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