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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- For some time past, I have been receiving many letters from farmers in the Ballarat district and adjacent potato-growing areas complaining of their inability to obtain sufficient labour to lift the potato crop. In all cases in which farmers have required the release from the Army of former employees or their own sow, I have advised them to notify the soldiers concerned to apply to their commanding officers and to support the applications with statutory declarations as to the purposes for which the releases are required. I have found that commanding officers are extremely reluctant to release men. That is understandable, because they must endeavour to maintain the strength of their units. Often the officers are entirely ignorant - this is no reflection upon them - of the importance of the men's applications. Another unfortunate fact is that a long period usually elapses between the making of an application for release and the giving of a decision by a commanding officer. More often than not, the decision is adverse. I have received so many letters on this subject that, during last week end, I made a tour of a large portion of the potatogrowing district in my electorate. I found the position to be acute. Potatoes must be dug as soon as possible after they mature, and they are most susceptible to seasonal conditions. This year, the weather has been exceedingly wet in the potato-growing districts adjacent to Ballarat. Owing to the scarcity of labour, many of the potatoes have not yet been dug. The longer they remain in the ground, the greater will be the danger that they will rot or become diseased. I realize that this is a difficult problem, but I urge the Government to take steps immediately to cope with the situation. Instructions should be issued to the commanding officers of military camps situated within reasonable distance of the potato-growing districts to release any men required for potato digging. A general instruction cannot be issued to all commanding officers for, obviously, commanding officers at or near battle stations could not release men, but in other places men who apply for temporary release for essential work in a primary industry, particularly for potatodigging, and support their applications with statutory declarations endorsed by the local constable of police, should be released for specified periods of, say, one or two months; if that be not done, valuable foodstuffs may be wasted. I suggest that applications should be supported by statutory declarations and endorsed by a local police constable in order to prevent abuses, and to avoid the lodging of applications on frivolous grounds. If this proposal be not practicable because of army considerations, I suggest to the Government that experts from State Departments of Agriculture should be coopted and attached to the Army in order to give advice on applications for temporary release for essential work in primary production. Such experts would be able to determine quickly whether an application were genuine and the grounds for it reasonable, and could recommend accordingly. I bring this matter to notice because I am certain that unless action be taken promptly, considerable losses of essential foodstuffs will occur. It may even happen that, notwithstanding the present high price of potatoes, some growers will lose a large proportion of their crops. I hope that the matter will be given immediate consideration.

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