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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) (12:45 PM) . - I regret that, apparently, we are to face another all-night sitting. We are engaged in considering the Estimates of the service departments, and most honorable members would prefer to discuss the important subjects which arise in connexion with them under conditions in which they could think clearly, and not when subject to the effects of fatigue.

Some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) in an excellent speech stressed the seriousness of the shipping position. He told his hearers that supplies were of vital importance to the allied nations. He referred in particular to the needs of Russia, the requirements of the armies in the Middle East, and the needs of Australia; he stressed the great difficulty of getting those supplies to the places where they were needed because of inadequate shipping facilities. The battle of the Atlantic is by no means won; our losses of shipping are still enormous. Indeed, it is difficult to see where, in any sphere, we have begun to win the war. I agree with the Prime Minister that time saved in a port in loading and unloading a vessel is almost the equivalent to having new ships at sea; yet since the outbreak of war there has been a lamentable lack of appreciation, on the part of those whose business it is to load and unload ships, of the dangers facing this country, and the consequences of defeat. The wages of wharf labourers have risen by 26½ per cent. since the war began. Coal-miners and shearers also arc in receipt of higher wages than formerly. I do not object to that.

Mr Riordan - The cost of living has risen also.

Mr HUTCHINSON - I was told recently that many civiliansin the various defence establishments in the Australian Capital Territory are paid 3s. a day as " war danger pay ". I do not know whether or not that statement is correct, but the nian who made it appeared to be convinced of its truth. I do not grumble at men receiving good rates of pay, but they should give value for the money received by them. Although wages on the waterfront have risen by 26£ per cent, since the war commenced, the average output of each gang of men has decreased by 41 per cent. That is a deplorable state of affairs, and it is the duty of the Government to take immediate action to remedy it. Business interests in this country are greatly concerned at the pilfering which takes place on our wharfs. Reliable figures show that pilfering has increased by 500 per cent, since the outbreak of war. I have had some first-hand information on the subject from men employed on the wharfs. Business interests are so concerned that the Government must be acquainted with the facts. T understand that the New South Wales law does not permit men suspected of pilfering to be searched, and even should a conviction be obtained, it is well nigh impossible to get the guilty men dismissed or deregistered. Some time ago a Sydney company, whose losses from pilfering were considerable, appointed detectives to check the practice, although there was some opposition from the State authorities when it did so. Those detectives made a number of discoveries, but although some arrests were made, the State Government stepped in, and the cases were not proceeded with. Recently I met a man whom I knew years ago as a casual worker. He had never been in good health, and therefore I was astonished when, in reply to a question, lie said that he was employed on the wharfs. As I had always been of the opinion that work on the wharfs required men of strong physique, I said that I did not think he was sufficiently strong to stand up to the work required of him. J. was astounded to hear him say that a strong physique was not necessary. He said that he was earning £12 a week more easily than he had ever earned money before. The war is providing many men with a splendid opportunity to make more money than they ever received previously. I used to think that conditions in the coal-mines were hard, but I find that they are excellent. Erroneous ideas regarding the strenuous nature of the work in these avocations are still entertained by many people in the community, although that belief has been shattered in some degree, because soldiers who have had to work on the wharfs say that the work is not particularly hard. This is a matter which the Government should regard seriously. Information as to the loafing that takes place on our wharfs is being sent to our allies across the Pacific. An American major who is in Australia with the American fighting forces told me of some of his experiences at Darwin. They are supported by charges which have been given publicity in a well-known American journal, from which I shall read this paragraph -

In Melbourne, because of the emergency, the annual dockside workers' picnic was cancelled. Nevertheless, the wharfies took the day off. National Security Regulations were invoked to compel the men to work. They ignored the order, and the Waterside Workers Federation members went on their annual picnic.

A.   ship was tied up next to the freighter on which I sailed from Australia. That ship was carrying war materials to the Middle East. It took a month to load. An engineer conservatively estimated the loading as a five-day job.

Another ship brought special timber from thu United States of America. Timber is excellent cargo to handle and pays dock-workers extra. But they refused to unload it during the day and would only work at night in order to get overtime pay.

An American ship came into Darwin with supplies for our forces and for the Australians. The need was great; even greater was the need for bottoms. The ordinary time for unloading the ship was eight days. At Darwin, it took eight weeks to unload that ship.

Wharf labourers at Melbourne and Sydney show a lamentable lack of desire to work in the day-time. They are " night owls ". They prefer to work at night because in that way they can earn more money. Evidently, " filthy lucre " has its attractions, even in war-time. The article in the journal to which I have referred continues -

An American ship arrived at Melbourne with Kittyhawk fighters. The need for aircraft in Australia was intense. Dock-workers unloaded two of the crated machines, in one day. The American colonel said : " We've got to get these machines away fast! We'll unload them ourselves."

The dock-workers' foreman said : " Impossible! " That was union work and "we will unload the ships as usual ". The colonel ignored the admonition and all the Kittyhawks were on the dock in ten hours.

Then it was discovered that the gate from the dock to the street was too narrow to get the crates through. The dock foreman readily agreed to remove the gate. " Let's see now ", he mused, " we can have lbc gate down in three days. No, it will be four days. There's u holiday in there."

The colonel snorted: "Hey, sergeant! Get in a jeep and take care of that gate! " The gate went down and thu planus went through m their base at once.

Those are specific charges. Stories of happenings at Darwin are similar to the incidents related in the journal. The statistics which I have cited support the stories.

I shall cite another instance. In Melbourne recently, there was a lamentable lack .of wharf labourers for day work. If an artist had set up his easel and stool on the waterfront, he had the scene for a wonderful portrayal of still life. In the evening, about an hour after the men were supposed to begin work, many of them arrived in yellow cabs. Some of t hem were a little " under the weather ". Whilst they certainly worked the prescribed hours, they accomplished only one-quarter of what should have been done. High-sounding speeches by Ministers extolling the war effort will never defeat the enemy. Only by action will victory be gained. To date, the Allies have not been very successful. Australia does not present the best of pictures to its American allies. We asked the Government of the United States of America to assist with its conscripted troops to defend Australia, and upon their arrival, the Americans find that, through sheer lack of political " guts ", we have two armies.

The honorable member for Herbert interjecting

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).Order ! I ask the honorable member for Herbert to refrain from interjecting.

Mr Holloway - The honorable member for Deakin made an insulting remark.

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