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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - This is another instance of the Country party missing the bus. Had successful representations not been made to the Government by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) for relief to be given to the primary industries in respect of man-power, I am perfectly sure that this move would not have been made by members of the Country party in this chamber. No member of this Parliament has been more conscientious or active, or more persistent, in his advocacy on behalf of the country interests than the honorable member for Wimmera. Had honorable members opposite who now protest so much paid equal attention to their duties as representatives of primary producers, probably much more would have been accomplished in the past on behalf of our rural industries. This motion means nothing more than a sheer waste of the time of the Parliament and the Government. Honorable members opposite who talk so much about not playing the game of party politics, have submitted the motion merely in order to try to save face with their constituents.

Let us examine the position. Only a few days ago these honorable gentlemen advocated that every man should be flung into the Army. They proposed conscription. They wanted the military authorities to reach out and drag every man into the fighting services. To-day, however, they protest that too many men are being thrown into the fighting services. They say that men are wanted in the country districts to stem the fall in the production of food. Evidently, they believe that the Australian people as a whole are so foolish as to think that we can put every man in the fighting services, and, at the same time, supply the labour requirements of industry. Whenever the Labour party has put forward proposals to establish and maintain a proper balance in the distribution of man-power, they have declared them to be unsound, and, despite the fact that the Army could not feed or equip them, have contended that every man should be in the fighting services. They described the Labour party's proposals in this respect as disloyal.

Here are the facts: Yesterday the Government announced to Parliament that certain definite action had been taken in order to relieve the acute shortage of man-power in primary industries. Now, within 24 hours of that announcement, honorable members opposite submit a motion of this kind. Thus the House is called upon to waste two hours of valuable time in discussing the need for doing something that has already been done by the Government. Obviously, I repeat, this motion has been submitted for no other purpose than to enable members of the Country party to save face with their constituents. The Government has constantly kept this problem under review. Take, for instance, the matters raised by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson). I do not deny that cases of hardship have been caused in country districts, as well as in cities. However, it will be recognized that the Government has done everything possible to retain sufficient mcn in essential industries, and, at the same time, has given special attention to cases of hardship arising from this policy. Unless we immediately cease altogether the call-up of men for the Army, it is impossible to prevent cases of hardship. Practically every man who is called to the fighting services suffers hardship in some degree. But ou this ground alone, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who submitted the motion, declared that the Government had lacked foresight, and had been guilty of maladministration in handling this problem. The honorable member for Gippsland stresses the need for building up food reserves. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) could readily produce figures to show that our reserves of food of the classes mentioned in this debate are now greater than before this Government took office. The Government may leave itself open to criticism in respect of some of the primary industries which it has declared to be reserved occupations, because some people are bound to hold the view that those particular industries are not indispensable. The wheat industry is included in the list of industries which are to be given complete exemption under these regulations. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) raised no objection to that decision. At the same time, however, he advocates conscription. The facts in respect of the wheat industry are that we now have in store sufficient reserves for three years. But whilst the honorable member is worried about what might be the position three years hence, the Government is concerned with what might happen within the next three months. The honorable member wants man-power made available to certain primary industries for the purpose of building up reserves to meet possible requirements ten years hence or for some uncertain period. The Government has taken a very liberal view in dealing with this problem. It has gone out of its way to assist primary industries. Events of the past show that the needs of primary producers have invariably been met by this Parliament through the efforts of honorable members who are not members of the Country party.

The honorable member for Richmond read the list of reserved occupations which he said was issued on the 12th March last. He declared that the list was not strictly adhered to by the man-power officers. I have had many complaints that the decisions of those officers do not conform with the Government's general policy in this matter. It is only to be expected that occasionally such decisions will be given. Our man-power organization is entirely new. It has been established in record time, and must be administered by officers many of whom are not acquainted with the general policy of the Government. Therefore, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made. However, I cannot recollect one single instance in which the honorable member for Richmond has complained to me that decisions of the Government in respect of reserved occupations have not been strictly adhered to by man-power officers. If an honorable member does not bring to the notice of the Government complaints of the kind which he now mentions, how can he expect them to be remedied ? That is the position. The honorable member also said that whilst Mr. Wurth, the DirectorGeneral of Man-power, was disposed to deal sympathetically with applications made to him under these regulations, his powers were limited. No doubt the honorable member implied that the DirectorGeneral was hampered by some higher authority. It is true that the regulations provide that the organization of man-power is primarily the responsibility of the Minister, who determines what decisions shall be implemented. That is as it should be. In my opinion, no government organization should be removed from the control of Parliament.

What do members of the Opposition, particularly members of the Country party, who seem to be playing a prominent part in this particular drive against the Government, hope to achieve? The Government has already decided to grant a measure of protection which probably exceeds their expectations, due, to a large degree, to the logical case submitted to Cabinet by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson). The Government also resolved that the exemption shall be only temporary, and it appointed a committee to examine the whole of the requirements of primary industries for the purpose of enabling it to obtain a proper estimate of the per sonnel that must be retained in them in order to continue production. Ministers recognize that the fighting forces must be properly fed and equipped, and that a proper balance must be preserved between the various industries. The Labour Government requires no prompting from the Opposition as to what should be done in the interests of the people, whether they reside in the cities or in country districts.

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