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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond)

I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

Mr SPEAKER - Is the motion supported ?

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,

Mr ANTHONY - There is no more urgent national problem at the present time than the provision of adequate food supplies for our military forces, our civil population, and the Allied Forces serving within the Commonwealth. This problem is not new to the Government; it has been mentioned in this House on many occasions by myself and other honorable members, and on the 25th March last, I pointed out to the Government the danger of taking too confident a view of our food stocks, particularly in view of the serious decline of production in the primary industries. The Government seems to have a Maginot Line complex in regard to the rural industries, and a serious shortage of vital commodities may occur as the result of lack of foresight and a certain degree of maladministration. Another warning was issued to the Government by the Chairman of the Rural Industries Committee, which is composed of representatives of all parties in this House. The Government party is represented by such practicalminded men as the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod), the honorable member for Ballarat .(& Pollard) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), who have a thorough appreciation of the difficulties of the rural industries. They were so seised of the danger of a food shortage that their chairman, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) wrote a letter to the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) on the 25th March, stating that early action should be taken to conserve stocks of foodstuffs, vegetables and fodder. On the 18th April, I further endeavoured to impress the importance of this matter upon the minds of Ministers by writing direct to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Supply and Development, the Minister for War Organization of Industry, the Minister for Labour and National Service, and the Minister for Commerce. However, my representations have so far been unheeded. I say this in spite of the statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service earlier this af ternoon that the labour problem in rural industries had been solved. The action which the Minister has taken so far has failed to produce results. I shall show that some of the Minister's orders had not been acted upon by his subordinates even a month after they were issued. If that be the kind of administration which is supposed to be protecting the vital food industries of the Commonwealth, it is time that this House heard all about the matter. The old dictum that " an army marches on its stomach " is still true, despite all the changes that have occurred in methods of warfare, and, without proper food supplies, our armies could not hope to be successful. An indication that the Government is at last giving recognition to the serious danger of a food shortage was given on Sunday night last when the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) gave a broadcast in which he drew attention to the depleted man-power of our rural industries.

The declarations and promises of the Minister for Labour and National Ser- vice have not been borne out by the actions of the man-power officers in rural areas. On the 12 th March last, the Minister published a list of reserved occupations in rural industries. Managers, foremen, wool appraisers, farm hands singly employed, and many other classifications, of all ages, were to be exempt from the military call-up. I have proof that, even a month after that date, the list was being completely ignored by man-power officials throughout the country districts. Of what use are such decisions if they he not implemented? Early in April, representatives of primary producers' organizations waited upon the Director-General of Man-power, Mr. Wurth, in order to impress upon him the seriousness of the labour shortage in the rural industries. Mr. Wurth has been consistently sympathetic to the needs of the primary industries and has been as helpful as it is possible f or him to be with his limited powers. On the 6th April he wrote a letter in which he gave a ruling that one fit male must be left on every dairy farm with twenty milking cows, and two fit males on every farm with more than twenty milking cows. But that decision is not being implemented. Only to-day, I received letters complaining about this matter. I have here a letter, dated the 4th May, from a farmer in the Lismore district. It states -

I have received your letter of the 15th April, stating that my best plan was to appeal to the local Police Magistrate, which I did, results of which they allowed une from the above date (4th May) till the 30th June. 1942, to sell my going concern.

As the stock and plant are under mortgage of £535. and at this time of the year it is very hard to sell a going concern with the approach of winter.

It would bc a great help to me if you could get in touch with the military authority and see if I can get an extension of time to sell my going concern.

P.S. - I am the only male on the farm.

Although the decisions of the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Director of Man-power have been announced, magistrates and man-power authorities in country districts apparently have not been informed of the decisions. As a result, at late as Monday last farmers were still being taken from their farms for war work.

The next letter was written by a man in the Mullumbimby district -

I am the owner of 34 milking cows and dairy plant which I work alone (I also live on the farm which I have leased). Four brothers in the Army (Middle East), I also had total exemption given me by Colonel Board (Man-power Officer, Lismore) some five weeks ago, but was given notice by Area Officer, Captain Eden, since to state my case in Exemption Court on 27th April at Mullumbimby, which resulted in my exemption being refused by Magistrate Bryant, who told me to dispose of my cattle, &c. Have I to go to camp while these publications prevail in Primary Producers Union paper and other newspapers? Is my exemption refusal in accordance with your rules as Director-General of Man,power ? ls effect being given to government decisions in country districts? It is the responsibility of the Government to decide how many primary producers shall be left on their farms to produce essential commodities ; how many shall go into munitions factories ; and how many shall be called up for military service. An adequate food supply is a necessity, and its production should be left to men who have had experience in the primary producing industry all their lives. There would be no ground for complaint if an over-abundance of foodstuffs were available, or if the position were so safe that producers could be taken from their farms for war work after they had killed or otherwise disposed of their stock. But if the position be as I believe it to be, that we are fast approaching the stage where there is likely to be a serious shortage of foodstuffs as a result of the short-sighted policy adopted by the man-power authorities in country centres, then instant action should be taken to rectify the position.

Mr Dedman - What proof has the honorable member that there is likely to be a shortage of foodstuffs in Australia ?

Mr ANTHONY - I shall refer to that subject more fully when I am dealing with the Department of War Organization of Industry. The position has arisen that while the man-power officers in various centres may make one decision, officers of the Department of War Organization of Industry may make a conflicting decision, and the position is becoming intolerable. In January last representatives of the food distributing trades in Sydney waited upon the Deputy

Director of Man-power Priorities, Mr. Funnell, and urged that key mou iu the food distributing industry should be granted exemptions. They pointed out that it would be useless to produce food on the farms and then rail it to the capital cities, where it would rot on the stations unless the distributing organization were available to deal with it when it arrived. The Deputy Director of Man-power sympathetically received the requests of the distributors and granted temporary exemption to key men. The Deputy Director of War Organization of Industry then intervened and representatives of the distributing industry had to repeat the process. Who is supreme in this matter, the Department of War Organization of Industry, or the man-power authorities? It is a responsibility of the Minister for Supply and Development to ensure adequate food supplies, and the Minister for Commerce is also directly involved. A chaotic condition has arisen, and in an effort to determine who shall accept the responsibility for the adequate production and distribution of foodstuffs I have brought this matter before the House. The trouble seems to be that, although reserved occupation lists have been drawn up they have not been regarded by the authorities as final. Men in exempted categories are still being called up for service, and the decision of whether the reserved occupation lists shall be applied in individual cases is left to the judgment of local man-power officers or police magistrates, and not to the Government itself. It is apparent that there has been a lack of finality in transmitting to the appropriate authorities the decision arrived at by the Government.

The Director-General of Man-power has been very sympathetic and helpful, but I believe that his powers are limited. He has certain demands made on him for priorities which must be complied with, and he is required to find men for allied works, a section which is under the charge of Mr. Theodore. He is also required to allocate men for munitions works, for aircraft production, and for the Army, and so far as I can gather he has been given very vague instructions. As to the primary need of food production. T ask the Minister to inform the

House what authority the DirectorGeneral of Man-power has to return men from the Army to the important work of producing sufficient foodstuffs for civil and military use.

In the selection of man-power officials little effort has been made in country centres to appoint men with practical experience of the job they are expected to do. No attempt seems to have been made to co-opt the services, even in an advisory capacity, of men who have had experience in primary production. Usually a public official, a bank manager, or a business man has been appointed man-power officer in a particular area, often with little practical knowledge of farm problems. As a consequence, there has been little sympathetic understanding of the national need for maintaining an adequate food supply. The man-power officer, in many instances, says to an applicant for exemption: "Is it not your duty to go into the Army?" If the applicant states that he has other responsibilities his position is made so uncomfortable that he is virtually branded as a shirker.

Various Ministers have stated from time to time that the production of a particular foodstuff is necessary, and that the commodity will be protected. All foodstuffs are inter-related. If there be an over-production of potatoes, while the public are eating more potatoes they are eating less of something else. If there be a shortage of potatoes there is a demand for some other vegetable. One class of foodstuff is substituted for another in times of shortage, and when the principle of granting a blanket exemption is being considered it should not be .the aim of the authorities to grant the exemption only in respect of certain selected commodities. The Minister for War Organization of Industry asked, by way of interjection, what proof I have that there is likely to be a shortage of foodstuffs in the near future. ,So far as I am aware Australia has not been able to meet its contract with Great Britain for the supply of 60,000 tons of butter for the year. The Minister for Commerce is more familiar with that matter than I am, but so far as I know butter production for the first eight months of the year has not been sufficient to meet the con- tract that has been entered into. In the first eight months of the financial year 1939-40 butter production in New South Wales totalled 720,000 cwt., and in the corresponding period of 1941-42 it had dropped to 483,000 cwt. In Victoria production dropped from 1,171,000 cwt. to 1,002,000 cwt. in the same period, whilst in Queensland there was a reduction from 829,000 cwt. to 488,000 cwt. [Extension of time granted.] Those figures indicate that the production of butter is a serious problem to-day. New South Wales has never been self-sufficient in butter production. For eight or nine months of the year butter has to be imported from other States, as local requirements can be met only during the peak spring period. I represent a district which is responsible for probably one-third "f the total butter production of New South Wales. There is increasing difficulty in securing interstate transport for goods, and in the near future it may not be possible to carry produce from one State to another. In view of that possibility it is desirable that every State should be as selfsupporting as possible. The position in regard to young stock is also very alarming. It has been reported to me from many parts of my electorate that the number of young stock being offered at saleyards is much less to-day than it was two years or even twelve months ago. The full adverse effects of that decline will not be felt until two or three years hence when the young stock of to-day will be the milk-producing cows.

The position in the sugar industry also warrants examination. In 1940 we produced 804,984 tons of sugar, half of which was exported, and I am informed by Mr. Curlewis and Mr. Muir, of the Sugar Producers Association, that by the end of 1943 Australia will be barely selfsufficient in regard to sugar, and that within two years, should the present decline continue owing to the shortage of fertilizer and scarcity of labour, we shall not be growing enough sugar to meet our own requirements. The foundations of primary production have to be laid a long time in advance. Production of a crop of any kind requires months of preparation. If butter is to be produced, then years of preparation are necessary.

That is why I am raising this matter at the present juncture. Already we have seen what dire results can be caused by the shortage of labour. To-day there is a scarcity of many essential commodities, but it is nothing to the shortage that will exist if corrective measures be not taken immediately. Shortages are upon us now, but how much more acute will they be if the matter he neglected We must eat to live, and to fight, and unless we retain sufficient men in our rural industries to ensure the production of sufficient food to meet the requirements not only of our troops, but also the civilian population, serious difficulties may occur. It is just as essential to feed the people as it is to enlist men in the fighting forces.

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