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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- As the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) stated1, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) left unanswered the case submitted by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden). I do not propose to discuss, in detail the position of these stateless persons, but I shall direct attention, to the Government's lack of policy in relation to the release of servicemen in order that they may undergo university training. In my view, and in the view of a great many honorable members opposite,, if the press has correctly reported their statements, the Government has fumbled this aspect of its rehabilitation policy, just as it has fumbled so many other aspects of it, and quite clearly, there has been a strong difference of opinion within the Government itself. Towards the end of last year, when this matter of releasing the largest- possible number of service personnel to undertake university courses was raised, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction gave to the House a definite assurance. He said that the matter was receiving careful consideration, and that everything possible would be done to arrange for the early release of service personnel desirous of taking university courses. This assurance applied not only to first and second-year students but also to those who desired to attend a university and had not yet started a course. He estimated that about 10,000 men in the -Services would ask for professional training at the universities, and he stated that, it would be physically impossible to provide accommodation and teachers for all of them at once. For that reason, he said, a scheme of priority was being considered, and the Government would release, as exceptions to the points system, the largest number of prospective university students, with whom it would be possible to deal. Quite clearly, his statement envisaged that a considerable proportion of the 10,000 servicemen would be released, as exceptions to the points system. But to-day, in an attempt to justify the particular aspect of policy to which the honorable member for Gippsland referred, the Minister said that the points system must be adhered to, except in respect of second-year students. That assertion distinctly conflicts with the statement that he made towards the end of last year.

If we required any further evidence to condemn tie policy which the Government has pursued, the Minister provided it when he admitted that 'fewer than 1,000 servicemen had been released to enter the universities. Out of the whole of the armed forces of the Commonwealth, exceeding 500,000 persons, fewer than 1,000 have been released to undergo training in university courses ! What is the logic behind the policy which the Government has adopted? Mr. Dedman. - The honorable member is making a mistake. The 1,000 persons who have been released, are students taking second-year courses and courses in subsequent years. A very large number of men have been released under the points system, and they are beginning their courses at the universities this year.

Mr HOLT - Has the Minister an estimate of the total number of persons who have been released from the services in order that they may enter a university?

Mr Dedman - I shall obtain the information for the honorable member.

Mr HOLT - Will the Minister admit that the universities,, on the statement of Professor Mills, who is the chairman of the Universities Commission, would be able to cope with a much larger number of service personnel if they were released than the number who are already undergoing courses of training? I believe that the Minister will admit that. The statement which he made towards the end of last year clearly showed that he envisaged the release of a much larger number of servicemen. Probably because of a conflict of view between the Army authorities and the Department of Postwar Reconstruction, this later decision has been reached.

That brings me back to the original weakness of the rehabilitation set-up which we criticized when the Reestablishment and Employment .Bill was before the House. We pointed out then that in order to deal with this problem effectively, the Prime Minister (Mr; Chifley) should appoint a Minister for Rehabilitation, who could carry through fo their conclusion the policies formulated for the release of personnel. To-day we have in the Services thousands of young men of promise whose course of training up to the time of their enlistment was directed to their undertaking subsequently a university course. Why does 'the Government draw the line at. those who have already completed the first year of their university course? Some young men who were included in quotas to enter " protected " university courses, such as science and medicine, considered that they had an overriding responsibility and duty to give military service at that time. If they had entered a university to study science or medicine they would not have been subject to call-up for the Army.

Mr Dedman - That is not an issue in this debate.

Mr HOLT - The Minister dealt extensively with the general policy of the Government on this subject. As for this matter not being relevant to the issue before the House, surely there is relevancy in debating the rival claims of those who could have gone to the university when they left school but chose to enter the services, and those who gave service, however useful, in employment companies! I do not desire to raise racial or national issues, but if we are to contrast the conflicting claims of these two classes, I unhesitatingly place our own young men before the stateless aliens. The young Australians who entered the Army instead of going to universities, gave more valuable service .and have a much stronger claim upon this Parliament than have aliens who served in employment companies. But now, their position is prejudiced-, and t,1]e Government deserves criticism for it. However, the larger issue should forgotten. By its short-sighted policy in this matter, the Government is denying, probably for the whole of this academic year, opportunities, which are available in the universities, to people who are worthy of training and whose- services have entitled them to it. Unless the Govern ment is able to give a much better statement of policy than that which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction enunciated, this House, if it has any sense of responsibility, must carry the motion.

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