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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr MCDONALD (Corangamite) . - Although the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has just assured the House that the Labour Government requires no prompting to look after country interests, I remind him that he has just informed honrable members that if it had not been for the logical case presented by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), the country people would nave been neglected. The Minister cannot have it both ways. If one of his statements be right, the other must be wrong. Probably both of them are wrong.

People tend to overlook the fact that the man-power of country districts has been depleted, first, by voluntary enlistments, secondly, by a steady stream into the munitions industry, and thirdly, by the compulsory call-up for military service. In my opinion, primary production should be classed as one of the essential services. The best-equipped army in the world will not defeat its enemies unless it is adequately victualled. If the Government fails to act, we may discover, in the not distant future, that we are unable to provide sufficient food to meet our own needs. Evidently the Minister was not aware that only last week, arrangements were made to transport from Queensland to Victoria 1,000 tons of butter and a large qua.»-".4«y of cheese. In normal times Victoria produces more butter than any other State. A member of the Dairy Products Control Board assured me on Tuesday that before long, Australia will be obliged to import cheese from New Zealand. When that become* necessary, something will obviously be wrong with our primary industries. T also remind the Minister for Labour and National Service that Australia has little prospect of fulfilling its contract to supply Great Britain with large quantities of butter.

Mr Ward - That is because of shipping difficulties.

Mr McDONALD - We cannot ship the butter until we produce it. It is because we have not produced the butter that we are unable to ship it.

Mr Ward - That is not correct.

Mr McDONALD - The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) pointed out earlier that Great Britain will require, in future, a larger quantity of dairy produce than hitherto because the fact that certain products from the islands are no longer available will seriously affect the manufacture of margarine. Another factor which must be borne in mind is that the productivity of large areas will be greatly impaired as the result of the lack of adequate supplies of superphosphate. Some of the country in areas with a high rainfall, which has had an excellent productive capacity, will revert to its virgin condition and will barely keep a snake to the acre. Lack of superphosphate will have a most adverse effect upon the production of essential primary products, which the Army requires just as much as equipment and munitions. The time may not be far distant when men now serving in the Army will have to be diverted to produce food. That will be one more step in the conscription of man-power. To date, the Government has introduced conscription in the military and industrial spheres. What is the objection to extending it a little by diverting experienced men to grow food?

The Minister had no justification for complaining bitterly about the advocacy by the Opposition last week of an amendment of the Defence Act in order to permit the Australian Military Forces to serve in distant theatres of war. In my opinion, the Government wilfully misrepresented the attitude adopted by the Opposition. Honorable members on this side of the chamber did not suggest that the Labour Government should introduce conscription, because it has already done so. We merely suggested that the Government should remove the impediment which would prevent the despatch of the Australian Military Forces from Australia to distant theatres. With the Government rested the decision whether to use the authority that the Opposition urged it to take. Other honorable members who possess a long experience of rural industries will persist in their endeavours to convince the Government that this is a matter of vital importance to the nation.

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