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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) (Minister for Supply and Development) .- Many subjects have been referred to in the course of this debate, and I shall bring them to the notice of the appropriate Ministers. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) after referring to Statutory Rules 1942, No. 146, stated that in due course the Opposition would take steps to prevent its i mplementation .

Mr Fadden - He did not say that.

Mr BEASLEY - The right honorable gentleman claimed that the implementation of this rule would violate the principles of arbitration.

Mr Fadden - He said that the Opposition would take appropriate action at the proper time.

Mr BEASLEY - The action has yet to be determined?

Mr Fadden - That is so.

Mr BEASLEY - The purpose of the statutory rule is to establish a tribunal to deal with matters concerning the introduction of female labour into war industries. It is an arbitration tribunal. Many such tribunals are set up from time to time to deal with special subjects in industry. I think that I can -say on behalf of the Minister in charge of the department that that is the real purpose of the regulations embodied in the statutory rule mentioned; but in due course, as the right honorable member -aid, the matter can be debated.

The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) referred to a statement alleged to have been made by me about the price of sugar. I am most reluctant to say anything that would suggest that C have been misreported or misquoted by the press, but what actually happened is that I had an informal conversation with a number of pressmen which was not actually meant for publication. We dealt with many commodity shortages and the reasons for the shortages. Sugar was mentioned. We discussed the fact that the shortage of sugar was owing largely to the lack of transport. If sugar had to be transported by rail, the cost to consumers would be higher. I did not wish to imply that the price of sugar would increase because of that fact. There might be other ways in which such an increased cost could be met. It is an illustration of the need to be more guarded in one's talk, even " off the record ".

Another matter was raised which Mr. Speaker has ruled may not be discussed on thi' motion for the adjournment of the House. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has made u statement in connexion with the Australia First Movement upon reports submitted to him. The Department of the Army is now dealing with this matter and it has not yet been referred to mc for final action by the AttorneyGeneral's Department. I am unable to give details as to how the report upon which the Minister made his statement was arrived at, but he received it only a few days ago. He took immediate steps to place certain members of this organization where they can no longer do. what it is alleged they were doing or attempting to do. In the meantime he has taken the necessary steps to prepare evidence to lay the necessary charges. I cannot understand why there, is a suggestion of hesitation on the part of the Minister for the Army. In spite of the haste with which : we may wish to deal with problems, it is advisable at all times that the premises upon which we set out to deal with them be sound. Investigations must be complete and charges properly made. If the AttorneyGeneral's Department has been slow in some respects, as suggested, perhaps a wise course has been followed. Very often, if a case is not properly presented, it is dismissed. It is wise to ensure that charges in such serious matters as this question involves shall be sheeted home and penalties imposed. There is no need for me to say that the Government will follow this matter right through.

Mr Archie Cameron - It is unusual to name the crime before you lay the charge.

Mr BEASLEY - I do not know whether that is the case, actually. I am unable to advance any reasons why the Minister made the statement. It may be interesting to honorable members to know that, when he made it, it was the first I had heard of it.

The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) referred to potential sources of supplies of electrical energy. Unfortunately, in days of peace, duplication of power resources was not developed to the degree that would be, welcome now. We are faced with the problem of doing the best we can with what we have. The difficulty of obtaining equipment is an important factor. I agree with the honorable member that the Government must keep a close eye on the power situation and take whatever steps are necessary to substitute power supplies, should any be destroyed by enemy action, so that the war effort will he undisturbed. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) referred to the extra work which was being imposed on municipal councils and instanced evacuation problems, war damage insurance, and revision of motor spirit consumers' licences. The. municipalities possess the best organization for this class of work. ' They know the localities and in most instances, if not all, have a highly trained staff. The Government was wise in using their organizations.

Mr Beck - Does the Minister not think that they ought to be recompensed for this extra work?

Mr BEASLEY - I do, but men who hold executive positions in governmental and semi-governmental bodies are willing to do everything they can, physically at any rate, to help the country in a national emergency. The honorable member for Corangamite had in mind the extra financial strain imposed on the councils.

Mr Beck - It has been very severe.

Mr BEASLEY - It is legitimate to ask that they be recompensed. I believe that if they make representations to the Treasury through the local government associations, such representations will receive satisfactory consideration.

Mr Beck - "We did, but we did not get much satisfaction.

Mr BEASLEY - Well, there is no harm in trying again. The Treasurer may on this matter be more difficult to deal with than I am.

I do not intend to say much about the enemy alien question, which was discussed at length to-day. We all feel keenly about the need to take every precaution. If the honorable member for Boothby (Dr. Price), who laid stress on the subject, can bring to the notice of the Government evidence of people of enemy alien origin engaged in subversive practices, I should like him to do so. We hear a lot of gossip - not that we should entirely discard or discount it - but on occasions we find it arises on account of some one trying to work off an old prejudice. 1 do not put that up as a shield or as an excuse, because the proper thing to do is to investigate everything. That is the idea behind the army's decision to take over this matter entirely. An organization has been set up under the control of the Commissioner of Police in New South Wales who will make the supervision of aliens his responsibility and he will utilize the police forces of all States and the Commonwealth to obtain evidence with respect to enemy aliens' activities. When they are found guilty of subversive activities no mercy will be shown to any of them.

The subject of workmen's compensation and its relation to compensation for war injuries was raised by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). That is a matter for the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley). The regulations were drawn up by the Treasury, which has to finance the payments. I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Treasurer, and ask that a decision be made regarding it.

A controversial subject was raised by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who referred to broadcast and press statements made on the authority of " a government spokesman ". I am not in a position to name that person, or say whether authority has been given for such a title to be used. It is difficult at. times to know how to assess the criticism heard regarding statements made by Ministers from time to time. I have listened to strong criticism of the use of the national broadcasting stations by Ministers, who are said to have issued too many radio statements from their departments. That criticism has come from, many quarters, and in recent weeks the national stations, I understand, have confined themselves largely to statements emanating from government departments rather than from particular Ministers. Whether the honorable member for Indi was considering the matter from that position I am unable to say, but, in some instances, newspapers themselves may have attributed statements to " a government spokesman " as a means of introducing a subject to which they desired to give publicity. However, that is hardly borne out by the observations of the honorable member, who referred to a series of cabled messages that had been published as emanating from " a government spokesman ", which, he said proved later to be identical with the original cablegrams. I am not sure whether the contents of some of those cablegrams were already known to the British Broadcasting Corporation, and I cannot say whether the contents of some of them had been obtained from sources beyond Australia. In any case there is no harm in state- ments being made on matters on which the Government considers the public should be informed bearing the imprimatur of the Government.

Mr McEwen - The Minister sees no objection to naming the authority cited?

Mr BEASLEY - I should be willing to sponsor any statement made by me concerning the Government.

The application of the scorched-earth policy, to which reference was made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), is a matter for the Army. It is unfortunate if misunderstanding has arisen between the Commonwealth and the States. No doubt the States have been organizing for this work on the basis of the desirability of preparedness, and perhaps the confusion has arisen from that fact. In Malaya and Singapore it appealed that goods that might have been destroyed had been left in the hands of the enemy, including, I understand, large parcels of rubber which Australia tried to obtain, but argument took place for a fortnight as to who actually owned the rubber. There is something to be said in favour of the necessity for preparing plans and establishing an organization for the application of the scorched-earth policy, but it is difficult to complete such plans in a country like Australia, to whose shores war has never previously come. "We can well appreciate the confusion that might arise. I shall ask the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini) to take whatever steps he can with regard to the matter. It might be wise to use the broadcasting service to some degree in order to prevent the public from being unduly alarmed. The Government does not desire to lead the people to believe that there is to be general evacuation, but rather intends that there shall be a determination to stand fast. The remarks of General MacArthur were an inspiration to us in that regard, and what he said might well form the model for statements broadcast to the people on this matter, and for any other announcements that may be made. The people should be urged to stand fast and fight, and not run away.

The difficulty experienced in conveying timber from Tasmania to the mainland is due to shipping problems. I am aware that these problems have affected the timber trade on the south coast of New South "Wales, but I am not sure about the position in Tasmania.

Mr Beck - Tasmania has been seriously affected.

Mr BEASLEY - Vessels formerly engaged in the timber trade have been taken over by the Department of the Navy for the purpose of mine-sweeping, and it is for the Government to decide how these vessels can best be used. The Government will endeavour to organize shipping so that there will be no delay at ports. The work of discharging and loading cargo will be carried on for 24 hours a day. The Government realizes that, instead of vessels idling at the wharfs, every hour profitably employed will be in favour of the nation in the great task that lies ahead of it. If we do that, we shall have done our best with the resources at our disposal.

The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) mentioned several cases of youths having been called up for military service and having been sent to their battle stations after only a few days' training. The cases mentioned by him at Queensland and Seymour were weak, but the Port Moresby case was sufficiently strong to warrant a special investigation. This matter was raised by a colleague of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) at a meeting of the Advisory War Council recently, when attention was drawn to the need for something to be done regarding it. The Minister for the Army rightly acquiesced, and said he had issued instructions that lads were to be fully trained before being sent to their battle stations. In such a large organization as the Army, it is impossible to prevent isolated cases in which directions issued are not observed, but when a mistake is discovered, a correction is made, and an order is issued that the mistake must not he repeated.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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