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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr PATERSON (Gippsland) . -I take the opportunity of the presence in the chamber of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), and the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman), to read the following letter which I have received from a representative fisherman in East Gippsland, setting out clearly the difficulties facing the fishing industry owing to the depletion of labour supplies through the military call-up: -

I am writing you to explain our position here and trust you will spare me a few moments of your valued time.

We (I am speaking for the men of our crews) have been supplying the Melbourne market with thousands of cases of fish, and now, owing to the military call-up, our crews have been depleted to five men, and these are all ineligible. Therefore, the best and strongest of our crews have been taken from us, which will render us incapable of producing anything at all except in the calmest of weather.

Our crews consisted of twelve men and now we are only five, and, as I say, we are the ones not of any military service.

I will here explain th'e class of net fishing we do.

It is ocean surf salmon fishing and the boats are 26 feet in length, rowed by four large one-man oars or sweeps, the longest of which is 18 feet. This boat is rowed through the surf onto the ocean beach and when the net is hauled it is launched into the surf and off again, so you can understand that it needs strong and experienced men to do this class of work, otherwise there can easily be an accident with loss of Hie, which has happened before at Lakes Entrance. The man-power officer said we will have to get others, but that is a stupid statement, as he has already collected them, and it is not a job that any one can do. I was, myself, thrown out of the boat twice last week into the sea, and I don't do those things for fun as three sharks had just passed us, but I am 52 and not as good on my feet as a younger man, although I have lived my life at the sea.

Now, Mr. Paterson, this is a national affair, and the food supply is becoming drastic, and when it comes to the losing of hundreds of tons of food for the sake of three men for the Army, I think it a national crime.

We are asking only for the release of the last three men which have been taken from us, and we will then be able to carry on.

It takes twelve men to handle all our gear, but we will have to lay some up, even if we get the three back.

There is no one else to take their place, as it needs experience, but the Army says they need soldiers. Someone else must provide the food. Now if they are going to smash industry in this manner and take all eligible men, it is nothing but sabotage.

We have applied to the man-power for the men we require, but they won't heed us, although our Mr. Lind is doing his best for us. I trust you will sec this national loss and advise them to release our men.

Ihave sent a copy of this rather striking letter to the Minister for the Army, and I have also written to the Minister for Labour and National Service on tha subject. I refer to the matter in the i Louse because I should like a ruling from the Minister for the Army, or from any other Minister, concerning the position of the fishing industry in relation to exemptions. We were told only last week by the Minister for Labour and National Service that a blanket exemption from the tail-up had been granted to foodproducing industries, ls the fishing industry regarded as a food-producing industry, and is it covered by the general exemption announced last week? One of the three men referred to in the letter has not yet gone into camp. He has been called up for the 23rd May. The other two men have gone into camp. I supposed, from what the Minister said last week, that the exemptions in primary food-producing industries had been granted from the date on which the announcement was made. I trust that this uncertainty will be cleared up at once. I have obtained the names, numbers and units of the two men already in the forces the release of whom is sought, and 1 shall hand them to the Minister. I hope that he will take into consideration not only those particular cases but also the position of the fishing industry generally and that the Government will realize that, if fish is to be produced in the quantity in which it was produced in the past, there will need to be not only a halt in the calling up of able-bodied fishermen, without whose work such production cannot continue, but also the release of some already called up.

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