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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- This debate provides honorable members with an opportunity to discuss the operations of the Department of War Organization of Industry. The name of the department suggests its importance, its potentialities and the consequences of its activities. But as the organization is full of potentialities, its decisions can be fraught, in the same degree, with hazards for the industrial community. We hear sonorous words like " rationalization ", " co-ordination ", " non-essential " and " overlapping ". All those concepts have an attractive ring in the ears of the zealous administrator, and he may be pardoned if he occasionally forgets that he is dealing with human beings, and attempts to push his fellow citizens around as if they were robots. The concept of the economic man is one which doctrinaire Ministers have held, in the past, only to find that when their theories were given practical effect, the economic man reacted in a different and more arbitrary way from that which they fondly imagined when they outlined their theories in print. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will profit from the painful results, already apparent, of tlie work of the department, and will curb overzealousness when it is likely to have the effect of treating the citizens of the Commonwealth as something other than very tough and vocal human beings.

The object of the organization is to provide the men and materials that are required for the war effort. As the process was already developed to a considerable degree before this organization was established, it was clear that the additional men and materials could be secured only from the pool that had been retained by private industry. Private industry has not been prone to keep for itself more man-power or material requirements than were necessary to maintain it in a condition of economic prosperity. Therefore, departmental interference with the operation of private industry must cause a measure of dislocation and actual hardship. That has been one of the inevitable consequences of the work of the department. The point that I desire to make at this stage is that there must be a rational assessment of the capacity of the country and all the risks which it is proposed to cover, because Australia, with a vast territory and a small population, cannot hope to do all the things that a country of the size and with the natural resources and man-power of the United States of America can achieve. If we examine the ambitious objective that Australia has undertaken in this war, it is clear from the evidence of our daily experience that we have strained our resources, in many instances, virtually to breaking point. Therefore, the Government must examine the problem of how to allocate for various war requirements, the. resources which are available to it.

The Government has obviously been aware of the importance of this matter, because it appointed the Minister as chairman of the Production Executive. One of the first matters that he should investigate is the tremendous inroads which the recent alteration of army policy is making into the man-power resources of the country. I mentioned earlier that we cannot hope to cover every possible risk. If we create a vast army which will insure us beyond all peradventure against invasion, other fields of activity must suffer. In my view, the present policy of attempting to build up an enormous home army i? wasteful. Certainly, there is a risk to be met; hut I contend that we can safeguard against it by a better disposition of man-power, and a greater concentration on aerial and naval strength, and on the creation of a more mobile, fullyequipped and mechanized home army. Every section of industry, almost without exception - I exclude " protected " undertakings - has been deprived to the bare bone of the man-power available to it. In this country, about 1,500,000 men are between the ages of eighteen and 45 years. We have embarked upon a grandiose munitions programme, built up a strong air force and expanded our navy beyond all recognition. In addition, we have undertaken the task of supplying the needs, in terms of foodstuffs, of allied forces in Australia, and we shall continue to send to Great Britain and troops quartered in the Middle East large quantities pf provisions. Consequently, we must have a proper scientific and reasoned investigation of the disposition of our man-power. Private industries have reached the stage where they must replace employees of military age with older men. The Government wishes them to continue their operations, but the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service, when asked whether older men are available to fill the vacancies, must perforce reply that none can be found. It is fundamental to the work of the department that it should survey whether the present allocation of man-power is wasteful Or is securing the best results for the Commonwealth as a whole.

Another instance of the necessity for this analysis of the degree of risk is to be seen in some of the large cities in the southern States in the provision of airraid shelters, and the boarding up of shop windows. These activities engage a host of carpenters who are urgently required elsewhere, and are using up many thousands of feet of valuable timber which is needed for other essential work. Unquestionably there is a danger which must be faced, but can it be claimed, on a proper assessment of all the risks that confront the community that this work is not a wasteful use of men and materials.

I come now to a very cogent and relevant point. What is the department to organize? To get the best results for the country, it must so organize industry as to divert men, women and materials from those places where they are least required to places where they are urgently needed. If that is to be done effectively, we must make a beginning on the groups which can provide not mere handfuls but vast numbers of people. The department must concentrate, first, on those sections of industry which are least essential and which can release large numbers of men and women. By way of illustration, I snail mention an example which has occurred during the last few days of the stupidity that sometimes characterizes the actions of the department. There is, in the precincts of the House, a solitary barber who attends to the tonsorial needs of 100 members of Parliament, and unnamed and uncountable hordes of public officers, who dart out from time to time from the warren that is Parliament House. This tradesman is to be called up for military service. It is not suggested that another barber will be made available in his place. Therefore, we may assume that there will be that interference with the morale of honorable members and public officers which will result from unattended locks, or from the unsightly beards which some bald-headed members would have to develop. Ministers of the Crown, who are extremely busy, will be obliged to use official motor cars, which consume valuable petrol, for the purpose of visiting the distant shopping centres of Canberra in order to have their hair cut. Private members will be obliged to devote more time in the capital cities for the same purpose.

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