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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) (Minister for Supply and Development) . - The Government has been mindful of this situation for some time, and has not been idle. A month ago, in order to cause the Army to realize that there were limitations to the enlistment of manpower for the fighting services, Cabinet appointed a special sub-committee to examine the problem. The personnel includes some of the most competent members of the Commonwealth Public Service. That was the first occasion, since the outbreak of war, that steps were taken to bring the Army close to the representatives of the departments that are associated with supply and primary production. No honorable member will deny the tendency in Australia has always been for people to adopt a pioneering attitude toward most of their problems. For example, when they require wood, they take an axe, go out to the countryside and obtain the timber by their own efforts. Never before, have we faced any serious problem in obtaining food, but that position has now changed. Really, everything centres in time, and the calendar. Although I do not wish to blame previous governments for the present position, it could be said that the Menzies and Fadden Administrations did not expect the present situation to arise and, therefore, made no preparations, perhaps because they did not know that large bodies of Allied troops would be despatched to Australia.

Mr McDonald - Large numbers of men have been called up since Japan entered the war.

Mr Anthony - And enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force have also increased during the last six months.

Mr BEASLEY - Before the advance of Japan threw us back on to our own resources, we did not regard these matters in the same light as we do to-day; hence ay observation that time and the calendar determine our course. At the present time, man-power is a real problem. Unfortunately, this continent has only a small population. Perhaps the debate should centre upon the reason for our lack of numbers. That point is worthy of mention at this moment, because, in our efforts to preserve the country for the white races, we now realize the difficulties which are caused by a shortage of population. This House appreciates now, if not ever before, the importance of this problem, and a month ago the Government set up a special committee. The Army was brought face to face for the first time with certain realities that had not previously been properly understood. Et was the first time that there had been such a meeting of representatives of the different fighting forces - the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force - round the tame table. I am not blaming them for their previous lack of appreciation of the problem; the matter had merely drifted. The committee has brought forward some of its conclusions and we propose that it shall become a standing committee, because we regard its work as being of the highest importance.

The Supply Department's task was to feed the fighting forces. It was not called upon to provide for the needs of the civilian population, but it realized that it could not continue ad lib. to take food from the reservoirs of the people without having regard to their needs and the need to maintain production so that the contents of the reservoirs could be kept at a safe level. That question exercised my mind when the Americans arrived in this country, and we saw them buying on our markets at prices we thought they ought not to pay. This was seriously affecting the general supply without compensatory methods being applied to replenish the goods. That is why the Allied Supply Council was first suggested. We were not letting the business slip from our grasp, but were watching it at each stage. The activities of the Allied Supply Council have developed beyond the supply of foodstuffs, but the council actually had its origin in the case

I submitted to the Government regarding foodstuffs. The Americans were bringing into this country 60 days' rations per unit, and we thought that if we could supply those rations there would be so much more shipping space available for fighting equipment. The Americans do not want to sit round a table to discuss food-supply questions only, and therefore the Allied Supply Council will now deal with all problems connected with the needs of the fighting forces in Australia.

I realized that, in order to meet the problem of supplying foodstuffs to the fighting forces, the Supply Department must ally itself with the Commerce Department, which has activities connected with production. Last week, that matter was finally resolved, and next Monday the first meeting of the Central Food Council will be held in Sydney. The object of that meeting will be to tie together the civilian and services needs in regard to foodstuffs. It will include the Department of Commerce, the Prices Commissioner, the Department of War Organization of Industry, the representatives of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and an allied services representative of the American Government. I have made provision for the chief ordnance officer of the United States Army to be present.

A civil emergency control organization was set up in each State by the Department of Commerce some time ago, probably during the regime of the previous Government, and a representative from this body is included in the council. The object of this body was to arrange for the storage of emergency supplies of food in different parts of the country. Steps were also taken to secure the co-operation of the States, which have important local organizations dealing with agriculture. They have in the service of their agricultural departments competent men, and it behoves the Commonwealth to make use of them. As 1 6aid last night, we are anxious to use such bodies, particularly in such a State as Western Australia, which is far removed from us. In each of the States,- therefore, we have set up an advisory committee, of which the Minister for Agriculture in that State will be chairman, and which will have representatives of the canning industry, meat interests, and trade unions. The latest State to complete this arrangement was South Australia. I am referring to this aspect because I want the House to know that the subject has not. been neglected. .Whilst I recognize that it is the duty of honorable members to raise this question to-day, I am anxious to let the country know that the Government has not neglected the problem. The discussion to-day may help me to fulfil the ideas behind the broadcast I made a few nights ago, and may bring the public to realize its duties in adequately meeting the many problems that must arise. Most of the arguments have centred in the man-power question, which is a serious one.

Mr McDonald - Unless that be adequately dealt with, all else will be useless.

Mr BEASLEY - We have an army asking and even demanding man-power here and man-power there, and we have people in the north of Queensland clamouring because there is not sufficient military strength in that area, and people in Western Australia asking us to augment our forces everywhere in that State. We all know what a long coast line Australia has to defend, and we cannot know which part of it the enemy may select for an invasion. Any government is naturally reluctant to rebuke the Army when it asks for more man-power. [Extension of time granted.'] There is a big problem in the movement of foodstuffs from one State to another. During the next three months we shall be shipping beef from Queensland to Western Australia. That has become necessary because there has been an influx of troops at one point beyond what we anticipated, and it has created almost a meat famine in Western Australia. The Central Food Council has been established to deal with problems like that. It is obvious that no State can continue as a separate unit. If it has a surplus of anything, that surplus must be made available wherever there is a shortage.

Mr McDonald - If transport is available.

Mr BEASLEY - In the matter of transport, we have to strain all the energies we have. I regard foodstuffs as vital. The Department of Commerce has sent me this information since this debate started -

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