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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- Before the dinner adjournment I addressed a clear-cut question upon a very important matter of policy to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior. I asked him to give a plain reply to a plain question. I am surprised that I am experiencing extraordinary difficulty in extracting from the Government any statement of its policy in respect of the imposition of compulsory unionism upon members of the Civil Constructional Corps employed in Queensland.

Mr George Lawson - The Prime Minister gave a full statement on that subject.

Mr McEWEN - He did not. Had he done so I should not be speaking now. When I was speaking on the general budget debate, I asked the Treasurer to make a statement setting out the policy and practice of the Government in respect of civilians compulsorily called up in the southern States, drafted into the Civil Constructional Corps, and sent to work in Queensland, where compulsory unionism is the law.

Mr Baker - A good State.

Mr McEWEN - It may be a good State, but nothing will distract me from asking the Government to give a plain answer to a plain question. I now ask the Government for the fourth time - and this question has also been asked by other honorable members on this side of the House: What has been the practice, and what is the practice now, in respect of civilians compulsorily called-up from other States and drafted to Queensland as members of the Civil Constructional Corps? Has the practice been, or is it now, to impose any pressure on such men to compel them to become members of a union ?

Mr Johnson - Did the Prime Minister not answer that?

Mr Mcewen - No.

Mr Johnson - He did so very thoroughly.

Mr McEWEN - If the Standing Orders would permit me to do so, I should read to the committee the reply which the Prime Minister gave to me a few days ago on this subject, and also the reply which he gave to the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly). However, those replies are printed in Hansard for every honorable member to read. They do not provide a satisfactory answer to my question.

Mr George Lawson - What did the Prime Minister say ?

Mr McEWEN - I shall endeavour to report him fairly. He said that the practice of the Government was to see that men called up should work under the terms of the relevant award, of the State in which they were employed. That not being a clear-cut answer to my question, I have asked whether these men, who are in fact conscripted workers, were obliged to become financial members of a union in Queensland if they were drafted to that State. It is the law of that State that the ordinary worker must be. a unionist. I have no comment to make on that law, which is confirmed in court awards. However, it is the right of every Australian citizen to decide whether he shall live in a .State where such a law obtains. Honorable members have shown by their interjections that they do not wish to have the policy of the Government clarified. This is a matter of public interest, and the people of Australia are entitled to know the policy which the Government is pursuing. The Minister representing the Minister for the Interior now has an opportunity to rectify his omission to answer my question. I find it difficult to believe that he does not know what policy his Government has laid down.

Mr Forde - The honorable member knows the Government's policy. He quoted the Prime Minister's statement.

Mr McEWEN - I do not. I want to know definitely whether men who have been called up compulsorily in the southern States and drafted to Queensland as members of the Civil Constructional Corps have been compelled to become financial members of a union.

Mr Rosevear - The answer is " yes ".

Mr McEWEN - The honorable member has given me an answer. I do not know whether it is correct or not.

Sir Frederick Stewart - It differs from the Attorney-General's answer.

Mr McEWEN - I have been told that men have actually had union fees deducted from their pay. I want to know whether that is true or not. I am not engaging in criticism of compulsory unionism at the moment. I am merely asking for facts. It is a grave reflection upon a democratic government that a member of the Opposition in Parliament cannot secure an answer te a question on government policy. I shall continue to raise my voice in this place until I obtain an answer to my question, but I shall cease speaking immediately if the Minister will indicate that he is prepared to answer my question.

Mr Lazzarini - I shall give an answer. Does the honorable gentleman want to ask the question and answer it too?

Mr McEWEN - No.

Mr Lazzarini - I shall answer it. The honorable member will not bluff me.

Mr McEWEN - The Minister will not gain anything by trying to be funny.

Mr Lazzarini - I am not trying to be funny.

Mr McEWEN - 1 am going to pir. the Government down on this matter. It will not be able to avoid answering my question. There will be other opportunities for me to raise this matter.

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