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Friday, 15 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- I wish to bring to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), several matters of importance. First, I protest against the action of the military authorities in forming dockers units in the Australian Imperial Force and using as wharf labourers soldiers who have volunteered to fight. There are three dockers companies in the Melbourne unit composed of men compulsorily transferred from units to which they were first allotted. They work on the waterfront. They are stationed in St. Kilda, Caulfield, and Batman-avenue, Melbourne - in all 1,200 of them. They are not all employed as wharf labourers, but a majority of the men are so engaged. Recently, after a day's drill and other military work, members of those units were suddenly told that they were to go to the waterfront to unload ships. They were sent there about midnight, and worked continuously for thirteen hours unloading ships. They did not have the breaks that waterside workers generally have. They did not receive hot meals and were not permitted to leave the waterfront to obtain them. They were fed from mobile canteens and principally on " ersatz " coffee and ham sandwiches. They were so tired when they went back to their camps that, in many instances, they fell down and went to sleep in their clothes.

Mr Rankin - Many members of the Australian Imperial Force slept like that during the retreat from Greece.

Mr CALWELL - Yes ; but what was necessary in Greece surely was not necessary in this instance.

Mr Rankin - It was if the wharf labourers would not work.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member cannot visit on me the sins alleged and otherwise of people ordinarily employed on the waterfront. Surely, it is not necessary to use members of the Australian Imperial Force as dock workers. It should not be necessary to transfer men against their wishes, from units to which theyhave been attached, to work on the waterfront. If they are so transferred as a matter of expediency, they should not be worked the hours that these men were worked. Had this happened to ordinary workers in peace-time there would have been great industrial trouble. Protests have been made and when the men threatened that they would not work, they were put on lorries and told that they were to be taken to Southern Command to be dealt with. At the gates of the wharf compound they were told by a corporal that it is a serious thing in the Army to refuse work and that the colonel would give them another chance, but otherwise they would be punished.

Mr Curtin - How many men were involved ?

Mr CALWELL - There are 1,200 men in the unit.

Mr Curtin - Will the honorable member find 1,200 alternatives? That would help us.

Mr CALWELL - It so happens that members of the forces have threatened to refuse to work under the conditions under which they are employed. Now the Government is recruiting labour battalions composed of friendly aliens. I commend such action, but, by agreement with the trade unions, the Government has provided that members of the labour battalions shall be paid award rates of pay. Men in the dockers units, however, are being paid 6s. a day for a period of twelve hours' work. The men to whom I have referred worked for thirteen hours, which works out at 6d. an hour.

Mr Curtin - That in itself ought to be conclusive evidence to the honorable gentleman that it would not have been done had there been any possibility of getting the work done otherwise.

Mr CALWELL - That might be the right honorable gentleman's conclusion, but, to follow the matter further, men ordinarily employed on the waterfront at night on that class of work would receive 8s. 6d. an hour.

Mr Rankin - Which is a disgrace.

Mr CALWELL - I shall not argue with the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) whether the rate is too high or too low, but who gets the difference between the 8s. 6d. and 6d. an hour? Are the shipowners getting it?

Mr Curtin - No.

Mr CALWELL - Are the importers getting it?

Mr Curtin - No.

Mr CALWELL - Where is the money going ? Is the Army obtaining the benefit of this difference, or is the money being paid into a trust fund?

Mr Rankin - The Army ought to get the benefit of it.

Mr CALWELL - Apparently the honorable gentleman would have no objection to an extension of that principle to all classes of work.

Mr Rankin - I would extend it to the wharfs at Melbourne.

Mr CALWELL - I would not.

Mr Curtin - I would not extend it anywhere if civilian labour were available to do the work. At the same time, I am not prepared to have ships held up in port, having regard to the seriousness of the shipping position, so long as any class of labour under the control of the Government is available to be used to effect a quick movement of ships.

Mr CALWELL - Apparently the Prime Minister believes that the labour shortage in Melbourne is chronic and is likely to remain so for a long time. Unless he holds that view, there is no necessity for the formation of permanent dockers' units within the Australian Imperial Force to perform this class of work. The members of the dockers' unit are being ill-used, and the officers in charge pay little regard to their needs. They work for long hours and are fed indifferently, whilst their housing conditions on the St. Hilda ground are disgraceful.

Mr Curtin - That may he so. They are also disgraceful iu South Australia, according to the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey).

Mr CALWELL - I heard the speech of the honorable member for Adelaide, and I agree with his general contention. If the men's living conditions are disgraceful, they should not be ignored. The Government should not take up the attitude, " There it is, and there it will remain ". I tell the Prime Minister that there is a strong objection to the use of Australian Imperial Force men on the waterfront amongst both the men themselves and the general body of unionists. The army officers also do not desire enlisted men to be used for any purposes other than those for which they enlisted.

Mr Curtin - Neither do I. I am in complete agreement with the honorable gentleman on that point, but I will not allow ships to lie at the wharfs for days on end when they are needed on the high seas.

Mr CALWELL - What I have said has not been controverted by any of the interjectors who have seen fit to endeavour to assist me to make my speech. I have no need of their assistance. I am certain that if I had the opportunity to assist the honorable member for Bendigo with some of his speeches I would improve them beyond recognition.

I refer now to the shortage of firewood in Melbourne which I have mentioned in this House several times within the last fortnight. I have asked, on two occasions, for a statement to be made in regard to the position, but so far I have not received any intimation that anything is being done to overcome the grave fuel shortage that exists. Because of that shortage, many Melbourne people are going without wood for cooking, heating and other domestic purposes. The position is so desperate that conferences of suburban mayors have been held in an endeavour to find a solution of the problem. I have received a letter on the subject from a councillor from which I desire to read the following extracts: -

In a normal year Melbourne consumes 540,000 tons. At the present time there are 6,000 tons available. I was at a meeting of mayors held at the Municipal Association Rooms on Thursday last, which was convened to consider this matter.

It transpired that of wood, mallee roots, coal, coke and briquettes, some 750,000 tons a year are required. It was admitted that there isn't any coal or mallee roots, very little coke and only briquettes for hot water service. The dearth of wood is causing hardships which will increase during the colder months.

The Mayors of Brunswick, Coburg, Fitzroy and Cr. Angus speaking for the Mayor of Collingwood, told a heart-rending story of prevailing conditions and said that worse might he expected. The poorer classes haven't the electrical apparatus for cooking or heating, and gas stoves are strictly limited among these people.

It was determined to approach Mr. Dunstan and put the case to him. Excuses were made that rail transport is incapable of dealing with the matter. It transpired that there is a good deal of wood within a reasonable distance of Melbourne. Petrol - which is controlled by a federal authority - is not available.

We are told from time to time in the news that in enemy capitals and large towns that, as the. result of military activities of ours, people in those cities would spend a miserable and cheerless winter. I suppose we feel heartened by visiting such discomforts upon an enemy and believe that resultant breaking down of morale will occur. If I am right in that presumption, why on earth do we wish to visit the same miseries on ourselves - and in this land of plenty? Organization would overcome this difficulty and that seems lacking.

It is stated in last night's Herald that a number of laundries are to be closed. What a folly this is! Here are businesses organized and equipped with all the modern means of speedily dealing with large quantities of soiled clothing. Putting them out of operation simply means that thousands of women who are at work, many of them doing war jobs, are going to have a heavy burden thrown on them lessening their ability to contribute to national production and well-being.

It seems an extraordinary thing to me that men will be called up for military service who are at present engaged in operating machinery and equipment designed for labour saving purposes, and that we are to go back to the drudgery of the old wash tub - so exacting and difficult for many women. This is especially so when we come to think of the change that is taking place in our mode of living. How are the thousands of people in flats to do this washing, and how are those other people who are engaged in munition work to do theirs? It all seems too ridiculous.

The removal of advantages which have been built up and regarded as necessary to our everyday life is not going to help either national production or maintenance of morale. On the contrary, the effect will be to throw greater burdens upon the fewer people available for the work and breed discontent. You will agree that modern washing machinery which is being scientifically evolved has had the effect of lightening the drudgery of housework. This at the present time is important in as much 'is so many people are engaged in munition making that there are fewer people to carry out household duties, and when it comes to a woman being perforced to undertake the laborious task of washing, it nigh approaches the last straw that breaks the camel's back. Can anybody fail to agree that this is the throwing away of a mechanical means of doing heavy work? In short, it is a retrograde step and will re-act detrimentally to the health of women, and mechanically is unsound in as much as it will take more time and hours from those who are now engaged in all sorts of war and patriotic work.

I refer now to the matter raised by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who advocated the construction of a railway from Canberra to Yass, or alternatively, the stopping of the Sydney train at Yass on the journey from Albury and the conveyance of passengers therefrom to Canberra by bus. We hear many complaints in this House about the shortage of coal. Thousands of tons of coal must be wasted annually in hauling railway sleeping cars, which weigh about 45 tons each, fi-om Yass to Goulburn and then from Goulburn to Canberra. A great saving could be effected by adopting the alternative proposal of the honorable member for Moreton. Honorable members spend more than four hours unnecessarily between Melbourne and Canberra as the result of having to travel via Goulburn. The Prime Minister facetiously remarked that, if the Canberra- Yass railway were t, it might be possible to arrange for a train to leave here at 4.15 p.m. on Fridays for the convenience of honorable members who come from Melbourne. If that could be done, it would be possible for passengers from Canberra to Melbourne to arrive home at midnight, and they would not have to go through the nightmare journey of which the honorable member has complained. I ask the Minister to do something about it because I have a fear, based on recent experience and upon my knowledge of what is happening in the railway services, that there will be a serious accident on the New South. Wales section of the southern line. The railway employees are working unduly long hours, and rolling-stock and engines are in continual use without having the necessary periodical inspections. The whole position is becoming very bad, due, of course, to war circumstances, and it seems that a deplorable accident is almost inevitable. It should be possible to provide buses fitted with producer-gas units to convey passengers between Yass .and Canberra, or to re-arrange the time-table to permit the "large number of members and public servants who are now travelling between Canberra and the other capital cities to be transported by a different system. In regard to the general question of constructing a railway between Yass and Canberra, I hope that the plans will be prepared now, so that when the war is over., a start can be made immediately, and it will not be necessary to have a large number of men remaining without employment for many months while plans are being drawn up.

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