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Thursday, 24 September 1942


Mr COLLINS (Hume) .- Thu dangers besetting the dairying industry owing to depletion of labour have been admirably sot before the Ministry by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), and the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). The Australian dairying industry has reached mighty proportions, and over the generations splendid herds have been developed. Now cows are being slaughtered by the hundreds owing to lack of labour to handle them. Irreparable harm to the dairying industry will result unless strong action be taken to prevent farmers from being driven through lack of labour to the extremity of disposing of their prime herds.

I take this opportunity to emphasize what I had to say during the budget debate about the mishandling of the man-power position. I repeat that men who should never have been allowed to leave the land are in the Army and should be returned to it in order that food production might be maintained to ensure that the Army and the civil population shall be properly fed. Unfortunately, primary producers were reluctant to prevent their sons from leaving the land to volunteer for the Australian Imperial Force, or to apply for exemptions for their sons when the Australian Military Forces were conscripted. The result is that most primary producers are now bankrupt so far as labour is concerned owing to their sons being in the forces. Many of them have been forced to apply to the man-power authorities for labour to help them to maintain their production of food. Yet a high officer in the Department of Labour and National Service charges the farmers with having dispossessed themselves of hired hands in order to retain the services of their own sons. I am disgusted to think that a man should make such a statement as that, which was contained in a letter written by him to a member of the Parliament of New South Wales. In proportion to population three countrymen have gone into the service for every city man. They have gone from the populated rural areas in their thousands and from smaller districts in their hundreds and tens. When the call came there was no lack of response from the western plains and from the mountainous regions. Mcn used to the green roof of the trees left their huts and camps to go into the forces, many of them veterans of the last war.

There is a tragic lack of co-ordination of services. With the wool season in full swing, the railways are either unable to supply trucks to carry the wool to appraisement centres, or, if trucks are available, to provide tarpaulin's to ensure that the wool shall reach its destination in a satisfactory condition. The Australian wool clip has been bought by the Government of the United Kingdom at satisfactory prices, and it is our duty to that Government to ensure that the wool, of which we are merely the custodians, shall be kept in good condition. The failure of the authorities to release experienced men from the Army to sow, reap, and store valuable cereal crops is a serious matter. The Prime Minister said that if he had to choose between reducing the numerical strength of the Army now and going short of " tucker " six months ahead, he would decide in favour of the Army - irrespective of whether the soldiers were properly fed or not, I suppose. At the present time, we have ample stocks of essential foodstuffs, but they are rapidly diminishing. It is stupid to refuse to grant men two or three weeks' leave in order to do essential work in rural industries, for fear of interrupting their military training. I discussed this matter with the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), who occupies a high position in the Army, and he said that the release of skilled farm workers from the Army for five or six weeks would not affect our military strength, provided the men could be easily recalled to their units in an emergency. I challenge anybody to refute that statement. We shall be badly in need of foodstuffs twelve months hence. Yet, if proper care were exercised in the administration of the man-power problem, we need not suffer from rationing. I know of one man who applied for leave for three weeks so that he could sow 300 or 400 acres of fallow land only 25 miles from his camp. His father and mother were aged, and there was nobody else capable of doing the work. That application was lodged in May last, but it is still being considered by the authorities.


Mr Beasley - The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said that we ought to ration food. He said that rationing was not severe enough.


Mr COLLINS - I agree that we must have rationing, because our stocks are being depleted and production is diminishing rapidly owing to the stupidity and maladministration of Army and manpower officers. This problem needs the closest examination by men of practical experience. It is useless to place the fate of the shearing industry in the hands of Pitt-street experts, who know nothing about the wool business, but are capable of pulling the wool over the eyes of the people. I would have no hesitation in releasing trained men from the Army for brief periods in order to perform essential work. In seeking a temporary release from the Army, a soldier must apply to his commanding officer, while the person who wants his services on the land must apply to the local man-power officer. Then the commanding officer and the man-power officer confer and determine whether the soldier shall be granted leave. If the soldier obtains a decision from his commanding officer within two months he is very lucky. However, if the commanding officer is a man with knowledge of rural industries he usually grants a release within a fairly brief period, provided that the soldier can be spared. Nobody suggests that men occupying key positions in the Army should he released, but the Army authorities could easily selectother men with experience of farm work to take their places. Apparently the officials have not even thought of that. The Minister for Labour and National Service, who discussed this matter with me, mentioned the case of a man who applied two or three months ago for the release of his son for shearing purposes. The son was stationed in Western Australia, and obviously it would have been useless to grant him leave. But surely the authorities could have selected another man capable of doing the work that had to be done. As I have said, a commanding officer who has experience of rural industries is usually sympathetic to applicants, but an officer who comes from the cities is concerned only with maintaining the strength of his regiment. He doe3 not care what happens to the farms. Unless sufficient men be released we shall suffer an acute shortage of foodstuffs in the future.

The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) and the honorable member for Now England (Mr. Abbott) spoke of lads of tender years being whisked away to New Guinea, after very little training, to fight the enemy. I agree with those honorable gentlemen that seasoned fighters who have seen service in other theatres of war should have been sent in their places. Our Army administration is very unsatisfactory. I have spoken to many men who have returned from active service overseas. Their chief grievance is that, after spending two or three years overseas fighting at Tobruk, Benghazi, Bardia and other places where

Australians made themselves famous, they returned to this country to be put under the command of boys scarcely out of knickerbockers. This is ridiculous when many of these soldiers have proved by their gallantry and their initiative that they are capable of commanding men in any situation. It is .a disgraceful state of affairs that inexperienced youths should be given two or three "pips" and placed in charge of courageous and capable fighting men who have had experience of fighting overseas. How can we expect to succeed when our Army is conducted along these lines? If returned men worthy of commissions are slightly over the stipulated age limit of 30 years, that fact could be overlooked on account of their experience and ability. They should be given commissions, and the young " apron-string " men should be made to learn by experience as the others have done. The honorable member for New England said that a member of the Advisory War Council should go to New Guinea. I support that suggestion, but the visit should be made by a member of the War Cabinet, because the War Cabinet is composed of Ministers who are in charge of our fighting forces. In view of the fact that the British Prime Minister flew to Russia to confer with the leaders of that country, it would be competent for a member of our War Cabinet to visit New Guinea in order to satisfy himself that our soldiers are properly equipped, trained and fed.

I am tired of the continual muddling and bungling that is occurring over manpower problems. I have received a letter which states that, although an application by a shearing contractor for the release of a soldier for shearing may have a reasonable chance of success, a fanner who has a private shearing arrangement with his own family circle, and who may require the release of a son or brother, has no chance of success. I have been informed- - the Minister for the Army may correct this statement - that no more soldiers are to be released for shearing purposes. Is there any truth in this rumour, which has become current in the last few days?


Mr Forde - No.


Mr COLLINS - I am glad to have that assurance. I ask tie Government to give special consideration to this matter. Releases should be given with the greatest possible expedition when the prosperity of the rural industries is at stake. Delays lasting for months should be eliminated.


Mr Beasley - If the honorable member were a general, how would he run the Army?


Mr COLLINS - I should release a few men from time to time to undertake seasonal work in primary industries in order to maintain food supplies to the armed forces. The numbers required would not be large. The total figure for Australia might appear to be impressive, but the number of men taken from each individual unit would be small indeed. The releases would not interfere with the efficiency of the armed services, but they would enable the rural industries to carry on work which is necessary if our fighting services and civil population arto be properly equipped and fed. As things stand at present, the civil population is likely to undergo a lot of belt tightening, distress and hardship as the result of the stupidity and incompetence of our Army and man-power authorities.







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