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Tuesday, 19 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) whether he will do his best to convene an early meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee which has been appointed to deal with Government policy in respect of exemptions for military service? I have in mind, particularly, the case of men who were obliged to take the oath when they were attested and who now find that magistrates will not deal with their applications for exemption because they have taken the oath. Many such oases have been brought to my notice. A few magistrates have dealt with applications for exemption but most magistrates have held that once a man has been attested he is removed from the jurisdiction of the. court. It is urgent that a decision a.= to policy should be reached by the Government on this important matter. I have been informed, unofficially, by certain Crown law authorities that magistrates have power to deal with these cases, but no authoritative opinion has been expressed publicly on the subject. I am aware that fifteen cases have been dealt with recently at North Melbourne, and two adjournments have been granted ; but that is an isolated instance. What we require is an immediate statement of Government policy on the question so that the men concerned will know their fate.

I support the protest of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) against military officers asking for mass decisions of units of the Australian Military Forces on the question of enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force. If it be true, as stated by the honorable member, that the names of men who have refused to volunteer in the Australian Imperial Force have been taken, it is most improper and amounts to a form of duress. In fact, it savours of the press-gang method of another age. I understand that it is the policy of the Government to place no difficulty in the way of members of the Australian Military Forces volunteering for the Australian Imperial Force, but that is a very different thing from subjecting the men to ballots, plebiscites, and the like in order to obtain mass decisions by units on the subject.

The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) promised me this afternoon, in reply to a question, that the attitude of the Government towards Myer Emporium Limited would be reviewed. I am advised that that firm recently allowed members of the staff to purchase goods at marked-down prices under conditions which did not apply to the general public. In purporting to comply with an order to return £250,000 to the public which had been improperly taken from it, the management, on one day in particular, charged members of the staff only 2s. for every £1 worth of goods bought. These conditions were not available to the general public. Consequently, the slick Mr. Myer converted the order of the Prices Commissioner into something in the nature of a staff bonus at the expense of the genera] public. He is a most fruitful gentleman in adopting ways and means of ingratiating himself with his staff, but surely he cannot be allowed to divest himself of his ill-gotten gains in this way. My view is that the firm should be obliged to pay £250,000 into the Commonwealth Treasury. The same principles should apply to this big firm, and to other big firms for that matter, as those which apply to small shopkeepers. I can see no reason why the Government should treat Myer Emporium Limited magnanimously. The flimsy pretexts which the firm has offered in excuse for fleecing the public, such a3 the multiplicity of small transactions and the like, are ridiculous. Public opinion everywhere has been outraged at the manner in which this firm has been able to avoid the consequences of its actions. The report of the Joint Committee on Profits showed clearly that many small firms had been fined amounts ranging from £10 to £50 for breaches of the prices regulations, yet this big firm has been able to escape any penalty. If the Government wishes to reestablish itself in the esteem of the people, it should prosecute this firm without delay. Beyond question, the firm should be obliged to return the £250,000 which it has illegally taken from the general community in Melbourne.

Mr Rankin - Would the honorable member be in favour of extending that treatment to the .Sydney firm that robbed the people of that city of £40,000, which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) tried to protect?

Mr CALWELL - I am not aware that the honorable member for Dalley tried to protect any firm that had robbed the people of Sydney. A firm guilty of taking from the public £40,000, £10,000 or £5,000 more than it was entitled to receive, should be treated as are small shopkeepers who rob the people of £5. My complaint is in respect of differential treatment being accorded to big business. I refuse to believe that the people of Australia would condone preferential treatment in the matter of the infringement of price-fixing regulations by Myer Emporium Limited or breaches of the censorship regulations by Sir Keith Murdoch.

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