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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr McEWEN (INDI, VICTORIA) - The Minister for the Interior, although I recognize that it is difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation, because the Allied Works Council must also invoke the records of the Department of Labour and National Service in the call-up of men. Most honorable members have had brought to- their notice cases of -great and aggravated hardship on account of the shortness of time between the date of call-up and the date on which work must be commenced with the Civil Constructional Corps. Urgent as the works are, I believe that there could be a longer interval between the two dates. Mistakes and muddling are inevitable in an organization of such magnitude as the Allied. Works Council, but there again scope exists for close ministerial scrutiny. The Government cannot escape responsibility on the plea that the regulations give all the authority to the DirectorGeneral of Allied Works. Australia is a democracy and no Minister should divest himself of his supervisory powers.

Mr Blackburn - The Government makes the regulations.

Mr McEWEN - Yes, and any shortcomings can be remedied by a stroke of the pen. Amongst, the many cases of muddling which I have had brought to my notice, the classic example is that of a clerk of works on a country sewerage scheme. Ever since his return from the last war this man has been employed by either large contracting companies or government instrumentalities on sewerage undertakings as a worker, ganger, foreman and, finally, supervisor. He became clerk of works on a new sewerage undertaking in a town of considerable size. Half the town had been sewered when the work was closed down by the Government in pursuance of it3 policy to divert men and materials to essential war requirements. This man found himself out of a job. Owing to government regulations he was not free to find another job for himself. He was compelled to present himself at the Department of Labour and National Service, which he did with his record and references. These I have seen. His ease was considered by the pundits of the department and then they said " Can you start on Monday or Tuesday morning?" He said that he could. They told him to present himself at a certain Melbourne cake shop and to start work there as a clerk. I do not point the finger at the Minister for Labour and National Service and say that he is responsible. 1 have had experience of administering big departments, and I realize that Ministers cannot be expected to carry the responsibility for every mistake made. I cited that instance, and I could quote other instances, in support of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), who has pointed out that the regulations deprive the Munster for the Interior of all authority over the activities of the Allied Works Council and repose absolute authority in the Director-General. That, carries the principle of delegating authority too far, and I urge the Government to reconsider the matter and to ensure that no Minister shall strip himself of all authority in respect of major governmental undertakings.

AVe have all from time to time criticized delayed decisions, but in recent months I have seen some examples of promptness in decisions being carried to extremes. I shall not mention individual works; Ministers know what they are. The Allied Works Council has been instructed at extremely short notice to embark on major undertakings, the costs of which range from hundreds of thousands of pounds to more than £1,000,000. Men have been conscripted from their civil employment and materials have been diverted from normal urgent civilian works, fabricated, and taken to the site. The work has proceeded almost to the point of completion when some military authority, not always an Australian, has said "I am sorry, we have changed our plans now and this work is no longer required".

Mr Johnson - That could easily happen in existing circumstances.

Mir. McEWEN. - Not only can it easily happen, but it is happening with extraordinary frequency.

Mr JOHNSON (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member may remember the case of the Southern Cross aerodrome.

Mr McEWEN - The honorable member's interjection gives point to my remarks. A site was selected for an aerodrome at Southern Cross. The estimated cost of the work was £250,000. It was discovered, when about £12,000 had been expended, that a mistake had been made, in the selection of the site and, without a moment's delay, the mistake was acknowledged and the work terminated. My criticism is not directed at mistakes being made or being acknowledged, but at the fact that major works are undertaken and carried almost to completion before it is decided to abandon or, at least, not to use them. I hope that these remarks will be brought to the personal notice of the. Minister for the Interior.

I have referred earlier in this session to positive information supplied ' to me from reliable sources that a practice has developed of compelling men called up for the 'Civil Constructional Corps and transferred to Queensland to become financial members of trade unions in that State. I am aware that compulsory trade unionism is the law of Queensland, and I say nothing about that, but national security regulations override State laws. Although this may not be an appropriate occasion to discuss the merits of compulsory trade unionism, it seems to me to be grossly unfair to compel men, willy-nilly, to join unions in which they are not interested. When the Prime Minister dealt with the point a few days ago he made a statement which, if not. crystal clear, at least left the impression that the Government was aware of what was happening. I now ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior to define clearly to the Parliament, before this discussion ends, the Government practice in this matter. Here is a plain question: Is a man called up compulsorily for work in the Civil Constructional Corps and transferred to Queensland compelled to become a financial member of a union in that State? I ask for a plain answer to it from the Government.

I support the request of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) that delays in the making of settlements in respect of properties compulsorily acquired by the Government for national purposes should be eliminated as far as practicable. I am well aware that the Department of the Interior is not always to blame for such delays. In my experience the department is reasonably expeditious in dealing with those claims. What happens usually is that when a department decides that it requires a property for a camp, or an aerodrome, or any other national purpose, the Hirings Administration is informed, and it immediately begins calculations of rental values, probable compensation claims and the like, in order to ascertain whether the property should be purchased or leased. Sometimes it has taken the Hirings Administration six months, or more, to determine the issue. If a property is valued at a high figure this delay may involve the owner in substantial loss and great inconvenience. I request the Government to take steps to ensure that when it has decided that a property is necessary for national purposes, an early decision shall be reached as to whether it is to be leased or purchased.

Sitting suspended from 6.16 lo 8 p.m.

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