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Wednesday, 9 September 1942

Mr LAZZARINI (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister Assisting the Treasurer) - by leave- Thematter of granting exemption to personnel engaged in civil defence from service with the Army or the Allied Works Council has engaged my attention for some time past. As far back as August, 1941, the Commonwealth Government agreed to assist the States financially to implement civil defence measures, and made a grant of £500,000 which was divided between the States, and made available for expenditure on approved projects within vulnerable areas as desig nated by the Commonwealth. The basis of such expenditure was that each £1 from the grant was to be supplemented by £1 from loan funds raised by the States for this special purpose.

Since August, 1941, two additional grants of £500,000 have been made available to the States. The first took the form of a further direct contribution on a pound for pound basis towards the cost of civil defence measures under conditions similar to those of the August grant. The second £500,000 was made available, subject to the provision of a pound for pound subsidy by the States to meet the cost of certain equipment, including trailer pumps, stirrup pumps, sandbags, binoculars, tec, ordered by the Commonwealth on behalf of the States.

In addition, a further sum of £500,000 has been provided to cover the cost of additional anti-gas equipment, including service respirators, supplied to the State authorities free of charge by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has also accepted commitments exceeding £100,000 for the supply of steel helmets for civil defence personnel. Since August last, therefore, commitments totalling approximately £2,200,000 have been incurred by the Commonwealth in the provision of grants, and the supply of equipment, to the various States. I do not propose to go into the various items of this equipment; it will suffice to say that there has been a great improvement in the supplies coming to hand during recent weeks, and the position will further improve in the near future.

I propose, however, to make special reference to fire-fighting equipment. The supremacy of fire as an agent of destruction is apparent from British experience. The attention of my department, therefore, has been directed towards securing an adequate supply of emergency firefighting equipment for Australia. Much of this equipment was unprocurable locally, and in October, 1941, as the result of a conference with the firefighting authorities throughout Australia, orders were placed in the United States of America under lease-lend conditions for the estimated total Australian requirements for emergency fire-fighting equipment. This equipment was for Melbourne as well as other Australian cities.

Orders placed covered the supply of self-propelled fire engines, canvas fire hose, turntable ladders, trailer pumps, 30- cwt. trucks and other items. Orders for fire hose and trailer pumps have also been placed in the United Kingdom. In addition, my department, in collaboration with the Department of Supply and Development, made arrangements for the local production of trailer pumps and stirrup pumps. Deliveries of this equipment are now being made from all sources, and with its safe arrival, the position of the vital centres of Australia under heavy air attacks will be immeasurably improved.

The Government recognizes that unless personnel are available to be trained in the use of this equipment, or unless trained personnel can be retained, the efficiency of the fire-fighting services cannot be maintained and much of this valuable equipment will not be used. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) and other honorable members have drawn my attention to the inroads being made on civil defence personnel by call-ups for the Army, the Civil Constructional Corps, and for other services. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) and Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) made similar representations to me only last week. The Premier of Victoria has made strong representations to the Prime Minister in regard to this matter, and I have also received complaints from the executives of the fire-fighting services and from executives of civil defence organizations. They have stated that the depletion of air-raid precautions personnel by call-ups has led to great dissatisfaction, that it tends to dampen their enthusiasm, and threatens to cause the collapse of the whole civil defence organization.

The Government fully realizes the difficulties surrounding the matter. The whole problem arises from the shortage of man-power. But it must be remembered that measures for the safety of the lives of the civil population, for the protection of their property and for the maintenance of essential services, play a most important part in the whole scheme of war organization. As far back as April last, the attention of the DirectorGeneral of Man Power was invited to the need for securing additional personnel for the civil defence services, and in particular for the Emergency Eire Service and Heavy Demolition Service.

The Director-General replied that, having regard to the man-power position, the general principle should be that personnel of emergency fire services and heavy demolition and rescue squads and, to a lesser extent, stretcher parties, should not be granted exemption unless they were over 45 years of age if single, or over 35 if married, and that as regards all other civil defence personnel, exemptions should be granted only to those over 45. The civil defence organizations have been recruiting personnel from those over military age. They have been making a judicious selection of men over 45, and of men under that age who are exempt from military service on grounds of occupation, or of employment in protected industries.

Complaints continue to be received by me that personnel of the emergency fire services were being called up for service in the Civil Constructional Corps. Last month I communicated with the DirectorGeneral of Allied Works, emphasizing that the personnel of many sections of civil defence organization had been highly trained over a long period at considerable expense, and that such men are extremely difficult to replace. The Director-General informed me that, whilst the great bulk of civil defence personnel would be liable for call-up, exemptions would be granted to the following classifications : -

Chief wardens,

Deputy chief wardens,

Key members of control head-quarters; and Specially trained members of demolition and rescue squads and stretcher-bearer parties.

He pointed out that, as the call-up by the Allied Works Council for the purposes of the Civil Constructional Corps is operated in collaboration with the Man Power authorities, the exempted services, such as emergency fire services, demolition squads, &c, would notbe liable for service in the Civil Constructional Corps provided the association of such men with the services mentioned had been communicated to the Man Power authorities, and that they were within the age limits mentioned.

The latest decision of the DirectorGeneral of Man Power is that civil defence personnel who were, as such, exempted from the principle he has laid down, are to be exempt from call-up for allied works service, with the proviso that, to prevent men from using the plea of being members of various civil defence services as a means of escaping the call-up for allied works, any such persons claiming exemption on this ground are to be examined as to the date of joining the civil defence service. Further, it may be possible so to arrange matters that trained civil defence personnel, other than key or important personnel, can be made available to the Allied Works Council in view of the present demands for man-power, conditionally on their being employed close to where they are to perform their civil defence duties.

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