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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- A few days ago, I made some remarks about the Department of the Army, the Department of Labour and National Service, and the Department of War Organization of Industry. I described the Department of War Organization of Industry as a department that " organized nothing and disorganized everything ". The Minister did not agree with that succinct description, but then, no good Minister would agree with such scathing criticism of his department. The events of the last few days have satisfied me that, consciously or unconsciously, I had donned the mantle of the prophet. What happened during the week-end shows that there is a good deal in my statement that this department is disorganizing industry.

Mr Holt - The honorable member must have obtained that mantle before the rush began.

Mr CALWELL - What happened on Saturday was a gross reflection upon the people who participated in the rush, and I assure the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) that neither I nor any member of my family took part in it. We have no desire to augment our frugal stocks at the expense of anybody else. We shall accept what we shall get in common with every other member of the community.

It is useless for the Government to appeal to the patriotism of the people in matters of food and clothing, because, rightly or wrongly, the great majority have conceived the idea that some persons are having a very good time out of the war situation, and are making big profits. They believe that for a fortunate few there are opportunities to secure even greater wealth than before the outbreak of war. All governments have failed to compel those who have the good things of life to share in the real sacrifice which the majority of the people are making, and that is the root cause of the distrust of all government announcements.

A lot of buying has occurred during the last few days in Melbourne and, presumably, in other capital cities, because Melbourne does not get all of the war contracts. Yesterday, I stated that I had no objection to the great' majority of the people replenishing their wardrobes.

For ten years they went without many of the necessaries of life, and it is only since the outbreak of war, and following the adoption of a new financial policy which a former Treasurer, Mr. R. G. Casey, described in the words, " The sky is the limit " that many people have been able to obtain that which all of us would like to see as the irreducible minimum for every person. But there has been no equality of sacrifice. It is true that some sections of the working class are earning large sums, that in some war industries, in particular, overtime payments arc substantial, and that the economic condition of many workers has improved considerably. It is also true that the great majority of workers still receive approximately the basic wage. Before the war, a considerable section subsisted upon an income which was substantially less than the basic wage. If altered circumstances have given to many people the opportunity to acquire a few clothes. boots and other goods, such as blankets, of which many did not have a sufficiency, I can see no cause for complaint, and I refuse to join in condemnation of them for their prodigal expenditure of money. If thi position has been as bad as the Government believes for months past, it should have acted months ago and not waited until now. If it could wait for three months it could wait for another three, four or five weeks until the Government Printer has delivered the ration coupons and until the various committees have been set up to supervise rationing.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member knows that there is a waa: in the Pacific?

Mr CALWELL - Yes, but what has happened in the Pacific should not be used to cause panic in the general community. I was offered the very doubtful honour of membership of a rationing committee. It was even suggested that my distinguished colleague, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), might like to bring to bear his talents upon this subject. The honorable member for Dalley and I did not regard the honour as being very great and did not desire to be associated with the administration of a policy in the formulation of which we had had no say. In any case, I should rather not be a member of any rationing committee, because, for one thing, I am not convinced that wholesale rationing is necessary or that the methods that are being or are to be applied are right. I am certain that the fathers and mothers of big families, or what are called big families, for three or four children are, unfortunately, in the view of most people, a big family, will get very little when the coupons are eventually issued. In the Melbourne Herald last night five columns were devoted to a description of scenes in city stores 'because of rationing. There were also references to what was happening in Sydney, where one store was said to have closed at 9.10 a.m., and another at 9.30; a third had decided to close down until the Government had made up its mind as to what it wanted to do about rationing. If the present position be allowed to continue for the next three weeks, there will be absolute chaos. I mention three weeks because- it is said in the press that rationing by coupons will come into force about three weeks hence. I do not know who are to be the rationers, but I have little faith in that class of person. If they make as large a success with rationing clothes as they have with rationing petrol, cigarettes and liquor, there will be few people left with faith in Parliament or democracy. We are creating a lot of philosophical anarchists - people who believe there is no good in authority at all and that all that Parliament has succeeded in doing is to make their position worse. It is true that there is a war in the Pacific, but the Minister's observations were so hackneyed in the mouths of the man-power and national service officers and area officers and all sorts of hirelings, upwards and downwards, between executive heads and messenger boys, that it is .really an insult to one's intelligence to be asked the question. The Minister for War Organization of Industry has had difficulties. He had to assemble quickly a large staff. He has the assistance of some capable officers of the Public Service, but, like his colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, he has had wished on to him a number of people of whom he would be well advised to rid himself as quickly as possible, because they will not only prove an embarrassment to him and his colleagues, but also jeopardize the success of whatever plans have been devised. I have seen some of the officers who administer the Department of War Organization of Industry. In addition to the few competent officials there are octogenarians, septuagenarians, broken-down car salesmen, who lived by their wits before the war broke out, and second-rate suburban solicitors, who could not even earn a respectable living before the war. Now, these persons, " drest in a little brief authority", are quite important in their own estimation. Some of them, somehow or other, have acquired military titles. In Melbourne, one major and two captains are associated with the Department of Labour and National Service, and they use their titles; at least they did until I brought the matter to the notice of the Minister. One of them, a gentleman who calls himself Major Mander, issued instructions to the man-power officers, who were given complete authority to call up men for service and to decide whether the industries with which they were associated were essential or non-essential, and generally to dispose of people's lives and fortunes as if they really did not count. This Major Mander instructed his manpower officers that they were to become increasingly harsh in their treatment of applications for exemption. They were not to be fair, impartial or reasonable.

Mr Marwick - There arc many of his type about,

Mr CALWELL - Yes, and they are, unfortunately, on the Government's payroll. They ought to be off it. It would be better if a lot of those people, and some magistrates who hear applications for exemption, were in the Army rather than those whom they are trying to push into it. All honorable members know of families with several sons serving overseas, and the remaining son told to get into the Army. This is done without any regard to equity or humanity.

Mr Archie Cameron - That is only because no instruction has been issued by the Government.

Mr CALWELL - I believe that there is truth in what the honorable member says, but it is equally true that, because of some of the instructions of the kind

I complain of, we have reached a sorry state in the affairs of executive government.

Mr Beck - The place is full of them.

Mr CALWELL - The Minister for Labour and National Service did not know that the instructions had been issued and acted upon until they were brought to his notice at least five weeks after they had become operative. We have reached a state of affairs that can well be described as deplorable.

Mr Archie Cameron - Give the Minister a chance; he is busy producing peace in the coal industry.

Mr CALWELL - I shall compliment the honorable gentleman if he dispenses with the services of Major Mander and a few other gentlemen of his class, and if there be people in the coal-mining industry who are disturbing the peace in that industry, I shall be glad if the Minister for Labour and National Service will clear them out also. The Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) was asked yesterday whether he had consulted Mr. Norman Myer on the clothes rationing question. The honorable gentleman did not reply. I had hoped that he did not consult Mr. Norman Myer, but I now have reason to believe that that gentleman was one of the Minister's advisers. Mr. Norman Myer gave the honorable gentleman bad advice, and it was partly on that bad advice that the Minister acted. Mr. Myer is a very slick gentleman who succeeded to the managing-directorship of Myer Emporium Limited, Melbourne and Adelaide. I understand that whereas the normal stock in Myer Emporium Limited would he valued at approximately £1,000,000, by a system of forward buying the stock was accumulated to approximately £2,000,000. The bankers who had loaned anything up to £500,000 on overdraft to finance the over-stocking, began to press Myer Emporium Limited for a reduction of the debt. At that stage, many things which previously were not available in the store were thrown on to the sale tables and the emporium acquired a considerable amount of business from other stores by means of continual sales. At a certain stage Mr. Norman Myer made representations to the Minister - whether he was invited to interview the honorable gentleman or whether he came without invitation I do not know, but he got there - and he misrepresented the clothing position entirely to the Minister. The 25 per cent, reduction of sales recently ordered, based on sales in the corresponding week of last year, was applied in the case of Myer Emporium Limited on inflated stocks. Buyers went around Australia purchasing whatever goods were available, to be held in warehouses and to be brought out for sale when top prices were obtainable. Thanks to the recent action of the Government in the introduction of the clothes rationing scheme, the Myer Emporium Limited is in a position to secure a tremendous advantage over its rivals. The emporium was declared by the pricefixing authority because it robbed the people of Melbourne of nearly £250,000 by over-charging. Mr. Norman Myer was given time in which to pay back that money and. it was agreed that retail prices should be reduced so that the total sum would be repaid over a. two-year period. That shrewd gentleman, however, proposes to reduce his prices to a level that will enable him to pay back the £250,000 in twelve months. What he will give back by way of reduced prices docs not involve the emporium in any losses, and it has placed the emporium in a position in which it can dislocate the whole retail clothing trade in Melbourne, if not in Australia. The Myer Emporium Limited is under-selling others and is succeeding because the rationing proposals which are now brought forward have entrenched the store in an almost impregnable position.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to S p.m..

Mr CALWELL - I was relating the story of Mr. Norman Myer, and his unfortunate, malign influence upon the decisions of this Government because the Minister had accepted his counsel. His firm was listed for having made a profit of approximately £250,000 in excess of what it was entitled to make. At one time, Mr. Norman Myer was a member of the Board of Business Administration and, as such, gave to the Government - strangely enough - a lot of presumably good advice as to how other persons might be prevented from profiteering. He was not dismissed from the board, but was told that his services were no longer required and was permitted to resign from his office. I understand that he received a letter of thanks for his past services. The fact that his services had been dispensed with, and that he offended so grossly against the public interest, should prevent his being consulted by any Minister on any matter of Government policy at any time, either now or in the future. Anything that he does is in the interests of Norman Myer, not in the interests of this nation. If he is to be judged by his conduct up to date, whatever else he may be he is not a very good Australian. I regret that he had any influence on the mind of the Minister in connexion with rationing.

Reference was made by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) to the deliberate misleading of two shearers by a man-power officer, in that he had advised them to register as labourers, in consequence of which the farming community in the electorate of the honorable member is suffering. That is but one instance of many that could be cited, of the actions of persons occupying similar positions. I have it on the authority of a fellow-member of the Victorian central executive of the Australian Labour party, Daniel Bowman by name, that in the western district of Victoria, the man-power officer called up all the available manpower without any regard to the interests of the farming community or to the availability of food supplies for the metropolitan area of Melbourne; or, for that matter, the needs of our fighting forces. When Mr. Bowman and the Warrnambool Council waited on this officer, his reply to them was characteristic of that of his class, who are abusing their authority to-day. He said that the women could dig the potatoes and bag the onions. At the very time when crops are waiting to be dug for transport to the city, the citizens of Melbourne are threatened with a ration of 1 lb. of potatoes a week. That certainly is a press statement; but the majority of the population expects such a happening. At the very time when there is not sufficient man-power in the country districts to harvest crops and to provide the labour that is necessary for the needs of our primary industries, the State of Tasmania has had a potato season that has never been excelled. I am given to understand, on the authority of an honorable member from Tasmania, that 60,000 bags of potatoes are being shipped to the mainland from that State each week. Instead of a planned, organized effort, there is nothing but chaos and disorganization everywhere; and the position is becoming worse. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) is concerned about the supplies of beef and pig meat to the American soldiers, particularly because, for some reason or other, they have never acquired a taste for and do not like either mutton or lamb. It is a responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to see that they are provided with an adequate supply of food. At the moment, the Minister is doing his utmost to secure the raising of larger litters of pigs in various parts of Australia, to -which end he has made concessions by way of a reduction of the price of wheat by 9d. a bushel and a guarantee on behalf of the Government to purchase any surplus production of pig meats. All the good intentions of the Government will be thwarted, however, unless sufficient man-power be made available to enable the necessary work to be done. The Minister has won the approbation of the pig-breeding industry because of his handling of this matter, and I am given to understand by those who know that he is regarded a-s the first Minister who has given sympathetic consideration to the requests of this industry. The latest regulation - issued, I understand, by somebody who probably knows nothing about the wool industry, and as much about the shearing of sheep - ordains that shearing in the western district of Victoria shall take place some time in December. A wool man who i3 a member of this Parliament told me that story only last evening. How anybody expects sheep to carry their wool until the middle of summer before being shorn, because of some regulation issued by the Department of War Organization of Industry, baffles comprehension.

Mr Paterson - Even if the sheep did carry the fleece, it would be full of seed.

Mr CALWELL - Of course it would ; it would be so filthy and unusable that the wool industry would suffer a tremendous loss, merely because of stupid intervention by a government department which is trying to regulate the supply of shearers from Cape York to Cape Howe.

Within the last hour or so, I have had a telephone conversation with a member of my household in Melbourne. I understand that the rush 'on the departmental stores has continued to-day with the same determination, and in the same atmosphere of panic, as have characterized the whole of the proceedings since Saturday last. The rush was very bad yesterday. It is just as bad to-day, and there will be no improvement during the next three weeks. I am told that the trouble is partially due to the fact that stocks of Australian materials which were available twelve months ago, have now been either frozen or their sale so seriously restricted that in respect of many lines the public is dependent upon imported articles which sell at an enhanced profit. With the same amount of money, the quantity that can be purchased is less than it was twelve months ago. That is a most unfortunate state of affairs. But the needs of the people must be satisfied, particularly those of big families. Although the restriction is to the value of sales in the corresponding week of la3t year, the quantity that can be purchased is much less because of the difference of price. The unfortunate people are struggling to secure what they believe to be left of the wreck, and are being compelled to approach moneylenders in order to obtain temporary accommodation to enable them to satisfy their requirements before it is too late.

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