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Tuesday, 22 September 1942


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .-I hope that I am capable of recognizing as fully as, for example, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) - who has just spoken - the responsibility of the Government, as well as of the ordinary citizen who is not charged with the duty of government. I also hope that I appreciate not less than others the colossal task involved in government, and realize that the Administration is entitled to expect co-operation, in addition to helpful advice and action, by ordinary citizens.

Having said so much, I feel bound to utter a word of criticism in regard to the methods employed by the Allied Works Council, in connexion with the ordinary citizen who comes under its command for employment wherever in Australia it considers his services can best be employed. In this matter of the impressment of labour, I regret very much to see employed the mode of approach and dictatorial methods of the Army. Unlike the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), I do not either welcome or approve of the principle of industrial conscription. I am, and always have been, opposed to it, but I agree that every body is expected to do what he reasonably can in this emergency. Several cases have come under my notice of men who have been required at short notice to proceed to points far distant from their homes in order that they may work in avocations in which they are entirely untrained, and for which they are completely unsuited. I have in mind one man who is the father of five children, all of them under sixteen years of age, and he has been required to proceed, not to a distant part of Victoria, the State in which he lives, but to Queensland, there to engage in manual labour. I know another man, 53 years of age, whose lot it has been not to engage in manual labour up to the present time. He has made his living by other means, perfectly honorable means, which would not shock even the most punctilious of us; yet, at his time of life, he has been required to engage in hard manual labour. It is not that I object to manual labour, but members may notice that they themselves rather get out of the way of doing hard manual work when they become members of this House. It may be the atmosphere; it may be the nature of the accommodation ; it may be the inspiring association with members of the Public Service who themselves do not engage in hard manual labour; or it may be that they are influenced by a benevolent press whose representatives manage to eke out an existence without engaging in hard manual labour. Whatever the reason, the fact is that there are many decent people in the world, and notably in Australia, who have not been trained in manual labour, and are unfitted for such work. Here was a man of that kind who was put to pick and shovel work. Well, of course, that would be all right for some of us. I can do it, because I was trained in it; it comes natural to me, but a good many people have not been so trained, and have not the physical constitutions to enable them to stand up to it. To require a man of 53 years of age, who has never done manual labour, to take off his coat and do pick-and-shovel work, is both unkind and uneconomic. He cannot be expected to do the work efficiently, or to earn the prescribed rate of pay. It is wrong to take such a man away from his family and put him into camp for such a purpose. I understand that men called up by the Allied Works Council are paid the award rate of wages prescribed for the class of work upon which they are engaged in the State and district to which they are sent. At first sight that seems to be reasonable, but actually it is not so-, because some of the men have been in receipt of higher incomes, and have established a mode of life, and entered into obligations, appropriate to their income. Then they suddenly find their incomes cut, it may be, in half. I can understand that workers may be needed in Queensland more than in the southern States for some classes of work. I can understand that Queensland might not have the population to satisfy the demand, but surely, if movements of population must take place - and it is reasonable that they should in certain circumstances - there is no justification for taking married men with young families from the southern

States and sending them 1,000 miles or more into the north to engage in labour for which they are quite unsuited. Frankly, I do not agree for one moment that the emergency, pressing as it is, is such as to justify the breaking up of families in that way. It may be that there has been some excessive condemnation of the actions of the Allied Works Council in some particulars. It may be, also, that there has been some extravagance in the language of the responsible Minister in defending the council. I content myself with taking a middle course, and I ask the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini), who represents the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings), whether he thinks that we have reached a state of such grave emergency as to justify the taking of the father of a family of five children below the age of sixteen, and putting him to hard physical labour in a northern State more than 1,000 miles from his usual place of abode. My opinion is that we have not reached such a stage, and I have told some of the men concerned that they can count on being well supported by public opinion, and by this House, also, in the last resort, if they resist orders to leave their homes in such circumstances. Neither should the orders be conveyed in a dictatorial, militarist style. If we have to ask the working class to defend our homes - and it is recognized that the duty devolves mostly upon the members of the working class - the request should be made in man-to-man fashion, and not in the form of an order by some jackinthebox in a comfortable job who misuses his authority by ordering his betters to attempt work for which they are quite unsuited.







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