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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - Australia is now in such a perilous position that our plight is comparable with that of Great Britain at the time of the collapse of France. The public must be prepared to accept rationing of many lines of goods. The two principal arguments in support of rationing are that it enables every body to obtain a fair share of what is available, and damps down an enormous volume of consumer purchasing power, thereby forcing people to deposit their money in banks, or hoard it. Whatever they choose to do, that money cannot be placed in circulation, provided the rationing scheme covers a sufficiently wide range of commodities. I agree with the references to the hard and stony path that the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) has to tread. In my opinion, the department has been wrongly named. It should have been called the Ministry for the Organization of Industry for War, because that is its function. Apart from industry, every man must be organized, not for personal gain or the security of his property, but for the purpose of preserving this country from the Japanese. It is useless to burke the question. If Japan overruns Australia, we shall be the coolies and they will be the masters. We must be prepared to sacrifice everything in order to save Australia from the invader.

The Minister holds one of the most important portfolios, because his duty is to divert men from non-essential to war industries. His task is a distasteful one, and can be achieved only by careful planning. The unseemly scramble for clothing that followed his announcement of the proposal to ration wearing apparel and textiles was an example of the result of poor planning, and he must work his economists and advisers overtime in future in order to prevent a recurrence of that mistake. The Minister must calculate the production required for the war effort, civil needs and our overseas commitments, consistent with our ability to fulfil them. His job is to provide sufficient man-power and womanpower to meet the demands of the production schedule. As the Minister is chairman of the Production Executive of Cabinet, he is, in effect, the co-ordinator of all industry, whether it be engaged in civil or war production. One of his greatest tasks is to decide the amount of new production that Australia can undertake. For a long while we have permitted various parts of our organization to go helter-skelter into the manufacture of war materials, though we may not be able to accomplish our objectives, and much of that work is not in balanced relation to the problem of man-power. Some years ago, Ludendorff published Der TotalKrieg, which probably had a greater effect upon the German nation than Hitler's Mein Kampf. Ludendorff pointed out that a country engaged in a total war must have twelve civilians for every soldier in the field. That contention should bc borne in mind by the Minister.

The Department of War Organization of Industry should investigate the manufacture in Australia of certain line8 of munitions and equipment. I refer particularly to tanks and aircraft, and shipbuilding. An enormous quantity of material, and a great volume of labour, are being used in the construction of tanks, but the production can only be very small. In the United States of America, the greatest industrial plants in the world are commencing the mass production of tanks. I urge the Minister to look at this matter in relation to the available shipping space from the United States of America to Australia. We can easily manufacture many things much simpler to make, and of greater urgency in the waging of the war, than tanks. In the laying down of air-fields for bomber aircraft, steel mats are required. These mats are very heavy, and occupy an enormous amount of space in ships coming to this country. However, their construction is simple. The Minister should conduct an investigation with a view to discovering whether it would not be wiser to embark on the manufacture of lines of this kind, which we can readily manufacture, rather than launch ' upon the manufacture of such complex articles as tanks. Any tank manufactured in this country must necessarily be of different design from tanks which are being mass produced in the United States of America, and will call for the establishment of separate ordnance supplies in the field to service it. The same observation applies to aircraft manufactured in Australia. We arc capable of making relatively few aircraft in this country. We should find out whether the number of planes we are turning out is even equal to the number that is going out of action owing to our inability to keep up to date on their repair. The skilled labour and machine tools now used in aircraft production could be better used if they were concentrated on repair work on the planus now being brought to this country. Our main concern is to ensure that the maximum number of aircraft shall be kept in operation.

My third point concerns the shipbuilding programme of the Government. Many of the large ships now under construction in this country will not be put into commission for some years. In the meantime, their construction will absorb an enormous amount of steel plate. In addition, the engines required for these ships will have to be imported and will take up considerable cargo space. I believe that the battle for Australia will be decided before we shall require these' ships. Consequently, the man-power and materials employed in their construction are really being wasted. A great change in Australia's general position took place as the result of the attack on Pearl Harbour. That attack had the effect of releasing us from the necessity of building up dollar exchange in the United States of America. It has also made that country more disposed to make available to us goods under the lease-lend programme. The United States of America is no longer neutral; and it must, therefore, be more favorably disposed towards us as its ally against Japan. I take it that is the reason why the Government now recognizes that the same necessity for gold production in this country does not exist now as prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour. As a member of the Opposition I say frankly that I admire the courage of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) in telling his constituents bluntly that the gold-mining industry must now be largely curtailed. Th-3 Minister, as the head of the Porduction Executive, must study our short-range rather than our long-range policy, with regard to the battle of Australia. Many of our great munitions projects will not come into operation for some years. If proceeded with they will consume an enormous amount of man-power and material. "We should review these projects in order to see whether it is really essential that they be proceeded with. Very probably, the man-power required for them could be more profitably used in the rapid construction of strategic roads and aerodromes, on which the fate of Australia will ultimately depend.

We must maintain balance between all industries and not merely between those industries directly related to war production. It is useless to say that one particular industry has a claim to an unlimited supply of man-power. Our man-power and woman-power, both of which are in short supply, must be adequately distributed among all industries, having regard, of course, to the needs of the war effort.

My final point concerns the Government's food production programme. It has been pointed out in this debate that food supplies must be rationed in order to meet the requirements of our own and American troops. The Americans are partial to foods which are not generally preferred by Australians. Whilst we like mutton, they prefer beef and pork; they also like certain cereals, and lettuce and salads, and foods of that description. I take it that the production of most of these foods will be largely conducted in the rich areas on the eastern seaboard, and equally rich areas in Victoria and the south-west of Western Australia. We shall not achieve the maximum production unless the organization charged with the handling of this work is widely decentralized. The people best able to obtain the maximum production are the agricultural societies which exist in every important centre throughout rural Australia. The Minister should build up local committees to handle this matter. The machinery of the agricultural societies could be used very effectively in conjunction with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the State Departments of Agriculture. I believe that greater production will be obtained in this way than by any other method.

The Minister should also relate the intake of man-power to the armed forces to the equipment available for their training. Three essentials in the establishment of air-fields, are, flying personnel, up-to-date aerodromes, and efficient aircraft. If sufficient planes are not available, a paper organization is useless. It is futile to enrol enormous numbers of men in the air force, or any other force, when equipment, or planes, essential for training and fighting are not available. It is futile to take men out of industry in order to put them into positions where they can do nothing, but kick their heels in idleness. What I have said about the Air Force in that respect also applies to the Army. It is of little use to put men into uniform unless they have the equipment, the tanks and the like, with which to train. One final suggestion to the Minister for War Organization of Industry is that he go through the munitions factories and comb out the men who could be well replaced by women. The fate of Australia depends on its making its maximum effort, and rules of unions or rules of property must not be allowed to stand in the way of our making that effort to save Australia from destruction.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Fadden) adjourned.

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