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Friday, 15 May 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) . - in reply - In regard to the representations which have been made by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. DuncanHughes), I have only to say that the Commonwealth Government could not amend its sales tax legislation to cover the large number of bodies which are not governmental instrumentalities, and which would have the same light to claim exemption from sales tax as would the South Australian Housing Trust. We pointed that out to the Premier of South Australia, and suggested that he should amend his legislation, but he was .adamant that the South Australian act should remain. He said that we could amend our legislation. I then offered him a rebate of sales tax in respect of houses being constructed' in South Australia for the Commonwealth, but he would not agree to that. Materials and labour .are now in such short supply and the type of house which the South Australian Housing Trust has been building .cannot now be built. That is the information which has been given to me on the subject. To build sufficient houses to accommodate munitions workers in the areas where it is desired to house them is beyond the 'Capacity of anybody in South Australia having regard to the quantity of labour and materials available. Therefore, to provide some form of shelter from the winter cold, it has become necessary to consider the construction of cabin cottages. They come within the sphere of the munitions programme in the same way as hutments come into the sphere of the Army programme in the provision of accommodation for men undergoing training. They are an essential war requirement, and whatever may be their subsequent use, it is quite wrong to represent them as anything other than a special provision to meet a war-time emergency. Admittedly, it would have been preferable to have continued with the South Australian Housing Trust's plans, had that been possible. Any one who has studied the designs will concede their superiority over the type of cottage proposed for munitions workers at Salisbury, but the fact remains that we cannot get the materials, and it is now a question of whether we shall not do anything or whether we shall provide some sort of cover. The answer is that theCommonwealth intends to make the best of a bad job.

Mr Duncan-Hughes -. - Does the Prime Minister wish to perpetuate these dwellings?

Mr CURTIN - I do not wish to perpetuate them, and I acknowledge all that has been said by the honorable member for Wakefield and the honorable member for Adelaide in regard to them. Undoubtedly, it would have been far better, both in regard to a sewerage system and their value as a permanent asset, to have constructed homes of the type designed by the South Australian Housing Trust, but nobody can provide the materials or the labour. I asked the trust for houses that would be comparable with those built had we been able to obtain labour and material.

With respect to the matter raised by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), we have experienced the utmost difficulty in obtaining from the enemy any list of war prisoners. That applies to New Guinea, Malaya and Java. We are endeavouring with all possible energy to obtain that information, which we all agree is most desirable, particularly in the interests of the next of kin and other relatives, whose state of mind we can all appreciate.

Mr Rankin - Is an inquiry proceeding?

Mr CURTIN - Yes, but the honorable member will appreciate that I cannot make known its exact nature.

The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) referred to the necessity to plan for the post-war era, and I agree with him. It is true that certain projects are in contemplation, but just how far they can be advanced depends on the freedom that we have from our Avar duties. Owing to the shortage of petrol I do not think that it wouldbe possible to provide buses to convey members to and from Yass, and even if petrol were available its right use would be in carrying firewood to Melbourne where it is very scarce.

Mr.CALWELL - I suggested the use of producer-gas units.

Mr CURTIN - There are not sufficient producer-gas units for essential requirements now. Should there be a surplus of such units they could be used more effectively in transporting firewood to Melbourne where it is urgently needed. I say quite frankly that this Parliament has been sitting in Canberra since 1927, and the transport service which honorable members are now receiving is that to which they have been accustomed for some years. Ordinarily, I should endeavour to improve the service, but in the present circumstances, I am inclined to think that any man who does not have to put up with something worse than inconvenience in transport is very lucky indeed.

Mr Francis - What of the suggested inquiry by the Public Works Committee?

Mr CURTIN - I am giving consideration to the general question of whether the Public Works Committee might be asked to look into the matter, and also others. There is, for instance, the whole question of the water supply for Australia to be considered.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) spoke on behalf of those individuals who are conducting non-official post offices, and who are experiencing difficulties owing to the higher cost of living, and the added responsibility of their duties. I shall ask the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Ashley) to review that matter. It has been the subject of constant appeals in this chamber, and I acknowledge that in many instances something should be done.

With regard to the alleged inadequacy of fines imposed upon profiteers my impression is that the penalties are set out in the National Security Act, and are not prescribed by the regulations. Therefore, any variation of the penalties would require an amendment of the act.

I cannot say much more to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) about the dockers units than I have already said by interjection. The Government has no desire whatever to use military labour where civilian labour is available. Providing labour for the port of Melbourne has been entrusted to a responsible authority, of which the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation is a prominent member. I know of no instance of the Military Forces having been introduced to do work without the knowledge and approval of that authority.

Mr Calwell - The men put up with it.

Mr CURTIN - Of course they do. The only men who are being subjected to injustice on this account are certain members of the Military Forces. No civilian has been kept out of work in consequence of what has been done.

Mr Calwell - I did not suggest that.

Mr CURTIN - The employment of members of the Military Forces in this way is one of the measures necessary for the defence of Australia. I say coldly and pitilessly - but I must say - that, after all, war is war. Every hour that a ship has to spend in port that it should not spend there is an hour in which the transportation services of this nation on the highways of the ocean is being rendered less effective than it need be. I, and other honorable members, have explained this to those concerned. What we face is a problem of management. I do not fix the hours, or the working conditions provided in the awards. Awards for civilians are made by a properly constituted authority which prescribes the conditions of employment. The rates of pay for soldiers and members of the other services have been approved by this Parliament. With the assistance of the honorable member for

Melbourne, and other honorable gentlemen, I have been able to do something to increase the rates of pay in the various services. It is indispensable to our defence needs that the ships shall be worked as rapidly as possible. The members of the Military Forces are being used by the appropriate authority in order that we may make the best use possible of such ancillary labour as can be secured, and I have had no protest from the trade unions about what is being done. The trade unions put up with it because they know that it is inevitable. It is accepted as one of the unfortunate circumstances of the war.

Mr Calwell - I made a complaint about the way in which the men were being used.

Mr CURTIN - I understand that they were provided with a mobile canteen. No doubt they were sent down to do a fatigue job and the mobile canteen was provided for them. If there be any way in which we can make their work more comfortable we shall be glad to adopt it. If steps can be taken to reduce the duration of the shift, that will be done. I agree that everything possible should be done to ensure that the work shall be no more arduous than it need be. Everything that can be done to make the work easier should be done, and we shall take steps to see that it is done.

The honorable gentleman referred to the shortage of firewood in Melbourne. Why should that subject be wheeled up in this Parliament? Victoria has many members in the State Parliament. If some of the people of Melbourne are cold and hungry because they cannot get firewood, surely the State Parliament can do something about it.

Mr Calwell - It is said that the Commonwealth Government took 50 trucks away on a certain occasion, and that insufficient petrol is being allowed to cart wood to Melbourne.

Mr CURTIN - Is the wood cut?

Mr Calwell -it is, in many instances.

Mr CURTIN - If the Premier of Victoria will inform the Commonwealth Government that he desires so many thousand tons of firewood to be shifted from a given place to a given place, and that it will require so many gallons of petrol to shift it, we shall make the petrol available for the purpose if we can afford to do so.

Mr Calwell - "Well, we are making progress !

Mr CURTIN - I say, however, that if railway services are available for this purpose petrol should not be used. I can see no earthly reason why railway services should not be made available on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to shift firewood and to save petrol. If the use of petrol is absolutely necessary for the purpose it should be made available if possible. I agree with what the honorable gentleman said about the lowering of morale in the city in consequence of the absence of fuel and the inability of people to cook their meals. That is a problem that the Premier of Victoria should tackle. If he has a workable plan by which firewood may be made available in Melbourne, the Commonwealth Government will help him to apply it if it can do so.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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