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Thursday, 17 September 1942

Mr CALWELL - They will be employed at military rates of pay on various jobs, although there is sufficient labour in and around Melbourne to undertake them.

Mr Forde - What kind of work will they do in the labour corps?

Mr CALWELL - They can be used to load or unload goods at railway stations or on wharfs, or from ships to the wharfs, or in any other capacity directed by the Army authorities.

Mr Forde - Does the honorable member contend that there is sufficient civilian labour, now unemployed, that could bc used for the work?

Mr CALWELL - I do not say that there is any unemployed labour. In answer to a question which the Prime Minister asked me some time ago, when I protested against the use of a dockers' unit on the waterfront, I said that several thousand men in Melbourne, who held second preference licences, could be regularly used for work on the wharfs, hut they had not been given that opportunity. The Prime Minister, who knew little or nothing of the facts, tried to put up a brave front because he wanted to defend the authorities who were exercising jurisdiction on behalf of the Government, but I was certain that my facts were correct. Whether or not the labour is available, the Department of the Army has no right to reduce these men to the ranks, or to transfer them from, clerical duties, for which they enlisted, to the labour corps. If the Army does not. require them as clerks, they should be granted their discharge and allowed to seek employment in munitions factories or other civilian work at; award rates. If they previously followed farming pursuits, they should be allowed to return to primary industries. As they enlisted as clerks, the Army authorities should not try to turn them into navvies at soldiers' rates of pay. In my opinion, the action taken is decidedly dishonest, and these men are receiving a " raw deal ". The mcn whose names I mentioned are the firs!, of 300 nien who will be similarly treated in order to make way for women.

Another matter to which I draw attention affects the Department of Air. When I was on the train a few nights ago, a conductor informed nic that 25 members of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force went from Sydney to Melbourne last week. Upon their arrival, it was found that a mistake had been made, and the women returned to Sydney that evening by the " Spirit of Progress ". This is one of the instances of the misuse which the Services are making of the railways. Of course, the railways must be at the disposal of the authorities for legitimate travel; but anybody who travels constantly by the " Spirit of Progress " on parliamentary duties, notices that in spite of all the restrictions on civilian travel that have been imposed by the order of the Government, the trains were never so crowded as they are to-day. This is entirely due to the fact that travel passes are issued seemingly indiscriminately and wastefully by officers of the Royal Australian Air Force and the Army. I know an instance of .a young man who came from Tasmania to Melbourne to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force. He arrived in Melbourne and left immediately for Shepparton, where a uniform was issued to him. Then he was sent back to Melbourne. He travelled over 100 miles each way from. Melbourne to Shepparton and back, merely to receive a uniform. On his return to Melbourne he was sent to Adelaide, and, after being there a week, received a pa3s to enable him to travel back to Melbourne in order to enjoy his week-end leave. I do not think that, in these clays of austerity there should be this unnecessary use of the railways. I ask the Minister for Air to call for a return of the number of passes issued to members of the RoYal Australian Air Force and the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force for travel purposes in recent times, in order to check up on the amount of travelling done in the forces to-day, as compared with that done during the period before restrictions were imposed on the travelling public. We should ascertain whether many members of the forces are now travelling on the trains unnecessarily. Although the general public is no longer allowed to travel as freely as it desires, or as it formerly did, there is no reason why members of the Air Board should think that travel permits can be handed out to anybody who happens to want them. It is high time we conserved the means we have at our disposal for the transport of men and materials for war purposes.

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