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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- The Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) made a statement to-day regarding the position of Mr. Mirls, who is the Controller of Gun Ammunition in the Department of Munitions. The Minister assured the House that Mr. Mirls is a full-time employee of the Government and is no longer associated with the companies by which he was previously employed. Subsequent to the Minister's statement, I asked if the same policy was to be adopted with regard to men like Mr. Essington Lewis, who, as Director of Munitions, does an important work for the Government, but is paid for his services by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. I was not criticizing Mr. Lewis's qualities, nor was I suggesting that he did- not give of his best to Australia in the various posts that he occupies in connexion with the war administration. It was unnecessary, therefore, for the Minister for Munitions to defend Mr. Lewis in that regard. I contend, however, that it is not proper for a person to try to serve two masters, thus creating divided loyalty. He should not be paid by an outside company when he is working for the Government, because the interests of his company and the interests of the nation may clash. In order to save men like him from an invidious position, all of the war industries should be taken over by the Government for the period of the war. What should happen to those industries after the war could be determined then. The shareholders could he paid the interest on their shares, but, generally, no board of directors should have a voice in the management of a war industry while the nation is at war. My view has been admirably stated by Mr. G. D. H. 'Cole, an English worker for social reform, in a lecture on " Private Monopoly or Public Service ". Mr. Cole states -

The only persons who can possibly manage industry, in peace or in war, are those who have been trained to manage it, and are in command of the requisite knowledge and skill. The question is not what class of persons is to manage our industries, but under what auspices and impulsions the running of them is to bc done.

What I am contending is that our managers and technicians could make a much better job of managing and organizing our industries it they were doing it, not in a " dual capacity ". half for the State and half for the boards of directors which pay their salaries, but wholly for the public. I have no objection at all to high officials of hig business occupying high positions in the war-time public service, provided that in becoming public servants they do really shed their capitalist connexions. I should like to see all boards of directors of big companies simply given their conge, all shareholders accorded for the war period a fixed rate of compensation payable directly by the State. But something more than this is involved. I do not want to confiscate anybody's property without reasonable compensation: but .1 do want it to be understood that when the State takes over the war factories, there is no assurance that it will ever hand them back to the same body of private owners. For, it such an assurance is given, no temporary taking over by the State will be able to prevent the managers from having divided minds, and thinking, not only of the war effort, but also of what their directors and principal shareholders will say to them when they return to their service after the war, if in the meantime they have damaged the future profitearning capacity of their factories in the interests of victory.

I believe, then, that what is needed is not mere contemporary taking over, but nationalization outright - on a basis which will leave the future ownership and management of the big productive agencies to be settled after the war, in the light of the situation which then exists.

Some such scheme as is advocated by the writer I have quoted is necessary in Australia. The Government has set an example with regard to Mr. Mirls's position that might well be followed with regard to the positions of others.

A long article appeared in Smith's Weekly recently, stating that there is a lost unit of the Australian Imperial Force in China. This is the first that I had heard of it. That there is an Australian unit of some kind fighting in China seems to be confirmed by a letter that I have received from a constituent, dated the 17th September. Mr. F. Noonan, of 34 Alexandra-parade. Fitzroy, writes -

My son is with the "lost legion" in China reported in Smith's Weekly this week. As our representative, please use all of your influence to see that mail reaches them. Some of it i; held up in Australia and some at the base post office, Calcutta.

I use that letter as prima, facie evidence that there may be some Australians who have joined up with the Chinese Army, or are in some way associated with it. lt should be possible for the Government to let the public know whether any Australians are attached to the 'Chinese Forces.

I again draw attention to the position of certain sergeants and corporals of the staff of the District Finance Office, Melbourne, who are to be disrated. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), in reply to a question asked by me on this matter, said -

Three hundred members of the staff of the District Finance Office, Victoria, have not been disrated and reduced to the ranks because they are to be replaced by members of the Australian Women's Army Service. The facts are that 21 sergeants and corporals of the stafof the District Finance Office have been recommended to be replaced. Ten of these wore recommended for discharge on the grounds of inefficiency, six for transfer to labour companies as inefficient and lazy, and five to bc examined by a medical board on the ground of ill health.

I drew attention to the statement of the Prime Minister that the members displaced in the District Finance Office will be utilized in the Army, if required, and, if not, will be discharged and returned to civil life. I still ask that the six men recommended to be transferred to labour companies be not transferred. Somebody has said that they are inefficient, and, therefore, they are to lose their stripes and be put to work as privates in labour companies, although they are not physically fit to do the kind of work that will be expected of them. I have explained that they were soldiers in the last war, and have asked that they should be allowed to earn a living at civilian rates of pay. If they refuse to work, they may eventually be discharged with bad records. I ask for an assurance that they will be allowed to take their discharge.

The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), in criticizing the Government, repeated the Napoleonic dictum that an army marches on its stomach. I dc- not dissent from that assertion, nor do I question the danger of food famines, or the failure of the Army authorities to release sufficient labour for services required in connexion with our rural industries. During the two years in which I have been a member of this Parliament, I have complained about the actions of certain temporary government officials, who, "drest in a little brief authority ", are adopting an insolent, truculent and brutally unfair attitude to those who have the misfortune to have dealings with them. No impression should be created in the public mind that Australian troops are not well looked after. I think that they are being well fed. The men coming back from Port Moresby are obviously not suffering from malnutrition. The Army authorities, however, seem to be allowed to obtain too much food, and their action in that regard cannot be justified.

Silting suspended from 11. U5 p.m. to 12.80 a.m. (Friday).

Friday, 25 September 1942

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