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Friday, 12 July 1946

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) .- 1 bring to the notice pf honorable members an anomaly in the distribution of drought relief to cereal growers. I have made representations in regard to this matter on previous occasions, but I do not seem to be able to get very far with it. I shall trace briefly what ba3 happened up to date. The first information that came to me was that wheatgrowers who had not sown wheat in 1944 were not eligible for drought relief following the failure of their 1945-46 crops. That ruling deprives many hundreds of wheat-farmers who are justly entitled to relief of the right to receive any relief payment. Just because a farmer did not sow wheat in 1944 it does not mean that he is not a genuine wheat-grower. Amongst- the growers who have been rendered ineligible for drought relief by this restriction are farmers of 20 or 30 years' standing, who, in 1944, because of the drought and tie poor condition of their horses, did not plant wheat, but took their stock south in an effort to save them. Unfortunately, despite this action, most of the stock died; and now,' because they did, not sow wheat in 1944, and although they have suffered further loss due to drought in 1945, these men' cannot obtain relief. In an endeavour to rectify this anomaly I communicated with the Premier of Victoria, the Honorable John Cain. In reply, that gentleman stated that the Commonwealth had insisted that it would provide 50 per cent, of the money for the drought relief scheme only if payments were restricted to growers who had suffered a loss in ' the 1944-45 season as well as in the following year. It appeared then that the Commonwealth was to blame for the restriction, and so I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) what was the attitude of the Commonwealth Government to this matter. The Minister replied -

Drought relief this season is provided for cereal- growers who were affected by the 1944-45 drought and who had another crop failure affecting the present 1945-40 crop, because the drought did not break in their districts in time to sow the 1945-46 crop. This was thu basis of the case put up by the States for assistance, and it is not practicable to extend the scope of the scheme which was approved.

Some one is " passing the buck ", because in his letter to mo Mr. Cain said -

It w;is made clear at the officers conference that if the Commonwealth Government decided to meet half the costs of the scheme it would only bc on condition that the proposed relief payments would be restricted to those farmers who had suffered losses from the drought of 1!U4 ami who were again seriously affected by the drought conditions prevailing in certain districts.

Did the State Government or the Commonwealth Government impose this restriction? The Victorian authorities blame the Commonwealth Government, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has thrown the blame back on. the State. No one will accept the responsibility, and in the meantime wheatgrowers who have suffered serious loss are receiving no relief. Fallowing time is at hand, and, after years of drought, wheat-growers who have suffered grievous financial loss require assistance to carry on this great industry which can provide the food so urgently required throughout the world. If the Commonwealth Government expresses its willingness to extend the benefits of the scheme to the farmers I have mentioned, the onus will then be directly on the Government of Victoria. I have received many letters protesting against this anomaly. One comes from a woman whose husband has been a wheat-grower for 20 or 30 years. She herself owns a small block of land. In 1944 her husband planted wheat on his own property, and the crop was a failure. In 1945 he decided to sow some wheat on his wife's property. That crop too failed, but because wheat had not been sown on that property in 1944. the farmer is debarred from participating in drought relief. That is entirely wrong, and it is . time this Government stated some definite policy in regard to this matter. I am sure that an adjustment of this anomaly will be made, but I urge that speedy action be taken. Too. long have these men waited for relief. When they applied for it they found on the application form a statement that, farmers who had not sown wheat in 1944 were ineligible for relief. And here is the important point: If a farmer, planted only 30 acres of wheat in 1944, he is eligible for drought relief payments in respect of 600 acres or more for the 1945-46 crop; but, if he did not sow any wheat at all in 1944, but endeavoured to save his stock by moving them to more suitable area3, . losing perhaps threequarters of them, and suffering far more loss than the farmer who planted only a paltry amount of wheat in 1944, he is ineligible for relief although he had sown a large area in 1945. This is a great injustice to many hard-working wheatfarmers, and as the representative in this chamber of the electorate of Wimmera in which many of these men live and work, anc! are making a valuable contribution to the stable economy of this, country, I protest emphatically against the existing state of affairs and ask the Governmento make its policy known, at the earliest opportunity. 1 como now to another matter that 1 have ventilated in this chamber on one or two .occasions. I refer to the payment of- a subsistence allowance of 3s. a day to former prisoners of war in Japanese, hands. These men did much to prevent, the Japanese from reaching Australia and were captured through no fault of their own. During the debate on the Overseas Telecommunications Bill earlier this week, one speaker said that had it not been for the telecommunications service provided by Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited just prior to tinCoral Sea battle, the Japanese might have succeeded in invading Australia. That is only part of the story. Had it not been for the magnificent campaign of the 8th Division against the Japanese on the Malayan Peninsula, .all the telecommunication services in the world would not have kept the Japanese from Australian soil. So why does the Government not recognize the men who saved this country? I have already raised this matter on two occasions, and I know that my contentions have the support of many honorable members opposite. Some of them have said to me, " We believe that those troops should be paid the sustenance allowance", and that view is held widely throughout Australia. I speak on behalf of 12,000 or 15,000 members of the Australian Imperial Force who, as every Australian knows, suffered more severe hardships during World War II. than did any other Australians. I refer to the matter again now because I have just received a reply from the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to my representations on behalf of those men. The right honorable gentleman has always given most courteous replies to my questions, and I appreciate the assistance that he has rendered to me in many ways since

I became a member of this Parliament. However, on this occasion, his reply does not meet with my approval. I asked -

Seeing that officers of the Australian Imperial Force who were prisoners of war in Japanese hands have been paid their full field allowance for the whole of the term of their imprisonment, and that, in normal circumstances, a member of the Australian Imperial Force, when not being fed by the Army, is paid asubsistence allowance of 3s. per day. will the Minister for the Army favorably consider a proposal that other ranks, who were prisoners of the Japanese, should be paid a subsistence allowance of Z*. a day for the term of their imprisonment, bearing in mind that the Army was not called upon, during that time, -to feed and clothe them ?

The Minister for the Army replied -

In reply to the honorable member it is desired to state that the pay account of a member of the Australian Military Forces who was held in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp was credited with the pay and pay allowances pertaining to his rank for the period of his captivity. Officers detained as prisoners of war by the Japanese did not receive 3s. per day subsistence allowance but their pay accounts were credited with 3s. per day field allowance which is a normal pay allowance made to al! officers serving outside Australia. No debits were made to the pay account of such members for the period of their captivity other than for payments made by way of allotment from such pay in accordance with the member's directions.

The treatment thus accorded to prisoners of war in relation to their pay accounts was not illiberal and it is not proposed to credit the member's pay account with subsistence allowance as suggested by the honorable member.'

I desire to analyse that reply. First, there is no doubt that the system of payment to officers of the Australian Imperial Force, who were prisoners of war, was certainly not illiberal. In fact, it was most liberal. What is the purpose of the officers' field allowance ? Officers have certain social obligations that other' ranks do not have, and this allowance enables them to meet those calls. In the officers' mess, the field allowance enables them to purchase little extra luxuries to which officers perhaps are entitled. Sometimes, the whole of the field allowance is credited to the mess, and the officer does not draw it. When the field allowance is credited to the mess, the money is used to supplement the food which, under normal conditions, is supplied by the Army. When officers were in prisoner of war camps, they did not have any social commitments, or the little extra luxuries which the field allowance is specifically designed to cover. Therefore, why should they bc paid the field allowance when other ranks are denied subsistence allowance? Certainly, it is their normal allowance under normal conditions; but when officers were prisoners of war, they were not living under normal army conditions. If the Government does not propose to honour its obligations to the other ranks the field allowance should not be paid to officers. I always believed that the policy of the Labour movement in Australia was to fight for the "under dog". Today, the policy of the Government is definitely giving officers preference over the other ranks. I assure honorable members, as one who was a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese- -the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) will support this statement - that the' men who got the " rawest " deal in the prisoner of war camps in Malaya, Japan, Siam and Burma were those of the other ranks. They had to do all the work, and al times were on a light diet. At. Changi Camp at least, the officers were never placed on light diet rations or commanded to work. The men, of the ranks had to do the work, and, therefore, they should receive some definite payment for it. [Extension of time granted].

While our troops were prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese, they had to sell their personal belongings and, with the proceeds, buy food in order that they might live. I have already stated in this House that it is erroneous to believe that when the Australians were taken prisoner at Singapore', the Japanese seized all their belongings. The men were allowed to keep all their belongings, such as watches and rings, which they valued. They were marched to Selerang Camp, and after they began to suffer from starvation, they were forced to sell those belongings. If they had not sold some personal belongings and been able to buy coco-nuts and other food, a much larger percentage would have died. Some of the watches which the men sold were valued at £20. To-day, I read in a Sydney newspaper that the price of watches, which, before the war, cost £7 10s., is now £35. Some possessed market will remain firm. These miners have a right to rehabilitation after the way in which the mines were ruthlessly taken away from them during the war when the cost of production was £2 18s. a unit. The Government put Chinese workers into the mines and immediately pushed the cost up to £5 10s. a unit. So the miners were deprived of the right to rehabilitate their mines. As pioneers and' individualists they were producing mica at58s. a unit. When the Government assumed control, that figure was raised to . 110s. a unit, and a loss of nearly £250,000 was incurredin the production of only £37,000 worth of wolfram. I believe that the report of the Auditor-General has been printed and is available to-day; consequently, I shall learn before long exactly what loss was sustained. The result does not redound to the credit of the Government, which appeal's to consider that these minerals can be produced in bulk. The production of mica and wolfram is the occupation of miners on' a purely individualist basis. Therefore, I ask the Government to treat these men as individualists and to provide them, at the earliest moment, with the necessary rehabilitation facilities; because we need these minerals, and there is an opportunity to produce them in the Northern Territory.

I received to-day further correspondence from Tennant Creek. I thought that I had exposed the whole position with sufficient vigour last week, and had been as factual as I always am on such subjects, because my information is obtained from the secretary of the Miners and Leaseholders Association at Tennant Creek; but that gentleman has felt impelled to write to me again, for the simple reason that the Minister for the Interior has not seen fit to reply to my vigorous attack in respect of the rehabilitation of Tennant Creek, and the Treasury has declined to rehabilitate the miners there because it had not been declared a war area, despite the fact thai the batteries were taken from the wolfram fields, the miners lost their tools of trade, and the buildings were torn down by the Army authorities. Of course Tennant Creek was in a war area, even though it was not so declared, whilst Darwin was declared.

Troops passed throughit numbering hundreds of thousands, and the whole area was looted. Yet the Govern-' merit blandly refuses to rehabilitate the miners, who can get absolutely no compensation. "That is a disgrace to the Government. If the Minister believes that there are Communists at Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, he is mistaken. Certainly there is a Communist cell in Darwin;but the majority of the " wharfies " there are good unionists, and only a small section of them are Communists. It will avail the Minister nothing to run away , from the men at Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, and to throw in my teeth the declaration that there' isa Communist cell which he will not meet.

Mr Johnson - That is not true. When did I say that?

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