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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr PATERSON (Gippsland) .- I congratulate the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) upon having raised the question of depletion of labour in rural industries. In spite of the opinion of the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) that, in view of the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) yesterday, that " blanket " exemption would now dp given to workers in primary industries., there is no longer any need to discuss thi subject, I believe that the honorable member's action is fully justified. I am convinced that the harm is already done and that the calling up of rural workers for military service, particularly during th* last few months, will make it necessary to ration butter next year if we are to continue supplying our civil population, our military forces, and those of our allies in this country, as well as sending supplies to Great Britain. We must remember that it i? becoming increasingly difficult for Britain to obtain materials for the mann facture of margarine, so that the future demand for butter is likely to be greater rather than less. In a good season, Australia produces approximately 200,000 tons of butter, of which about one-half is consumed here, and the other half if exported to Great Britain. Our export quota to Great Britain has now been reduced to 60,000 tons, but I understand that we could not supply even that quantity during the current season.

Mr Scully - We could supply the butter, but there is a shortage of shipping.

Mr PATERSON - I understand thai, even if shipping were available, we should be hard put to it to find 60,000 tons of butter for export. In all the dairying districts of Australia, the size of the herds is being reduced, not because the farmers do not want to produce butter, but because they cannot obtain labour to work large herds. We are rapidly approaching a position in which wc shall not have enough butter to supply civilian needs, the needs of our military forces and those of our Allies in this country, and also fill our export quota to Great Britain. The Government mus decide what quantities of the various food commodities are needed, and then ensure that sufficient labour shall be available to enable such quantities to be produced. I realize that all industries will have to go a little short of labour ; every body must work a bit harder, but there is a limit beyond which labour supplies cannot be cut down without seriously endangering die country's food supply. I have in mind the case of a man who, with a delicate wife, has been left to milk 78 cows, and the military authorities have refused to release his son from the Militia to help him. I join issue with the Minister for Commerce when he says that it is unthinkable that the Government should suggest to the Army authorities that certain men now in training might be better employed' in the production of foodstuffs. I am one of those who would like to see as many young men as possible receiving military training, but we are faced with the possibility of a serious food shortage unless more labour be provided for the rural industries.

Even in the fishing industry, there is a shortage of labour. In one fishing village on the south coast of Gippsland, twelve men were formerly employed fishing. The number has now been reduced to six, and another man, who had been exempt, was recently called up, reducing the number to five. Fish is an important item of food, but there is likely to be a shortage of it unless a sufficient number of fishermen be left on the coast.

The motion before the House refers not only to foodstuffs, but also to other essential commodities. One such commodity which I have in mind is wattle-bark for tanning. In years gone by, the tanners depended largely upon supplies of bark and tanning extract imported from South Africa. A certain amount of bark has been gathered in Australia from wattle trees that have sprung up after fires, but the industry has never been organized. There is no need to stress the demands which the war is making upon our tanneries for the production of leather for military purposes. A situation might arise at any time when it would be extremely difficult to obtain supplies of tanning material from South Africa. A few years ago, a small company, with commendable foresight, planted the right kind of wattle trees on Sunday Island, off Port Albert, and it is expected that, within the next eighteen months, this company will be able to supply substantial quantities of wattle-bark to the tanning industry. The company was employing 27 men. It has now only twelve, and the directors are afraid that some even of those twelve will be called up, thus making it impossible to carry on. An industry such as that should be protected against further loss of staff, so that supplies of tanning bark may 'be available if imports from South Africa should be cut off. I urge the Government to recognize the great importance of this matter, and the fact that we are morally obliged not merely to grow sufficient food for ourselves, but also to do as much as we possibly can for the Mother Country which is now in dire need of all we can supply.

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