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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) . - Last week, I asked whether supplies of galvanized iron, wire and wire netting were at Newcastle, and what could be done by the Government to have them transported from that city to the- different States. I have since learned that Newcastle is almost a stockpile of those commodities. Shortage of shipping is not responsible for the failure to have them transported to places where they are needed. I have been informed' that if the ships on our coast were expeditiously turned round, they could carry them to the different States. As in relation to coal, so also in this matter, the trouble lies in the lack of discipline and responsibility on the part of those who work on the wharfs. The Government has all the powers it requires. There is a Labour government in office in almost every State, and those who should take action cannot evade the responsibility that rests upon them for withholding commodities that are indispensible to the building programme that is being proceeded with as rapidly as circumstances permit in all the States, and for the delay in making supplies available to primary producers, thus enabling them to carry out urgent and necessary works on their properties. I trust that the Government will treat the matter seriously, and that before long I shall have some indication of the' steps that it intends to' take.

Quite a lot of uncertainty exists to-day as to when the demobilization of the armed forces will be completed under the points system. On this subject, a soldier has written to me in these terms -

I would appreciate some information, if you could obtain it. as to the possibility of the Government completing demobilization by 30th September, as publicly stated by the Minisister for the Army on a number of occasions, as well as by the Director of Demobilization. Major-General Savige, in reporting progress.

I have 104 demobilization points, having enlisted at 21 and have had three and a half years' service. I have been content to await my priority but always accepted the fact that the limiting date would be September 30th. This impression has been strengthened from time to time by official statements that the demobilization programme was ahead of schedule.

In the last few months there has been no sign of this progress. . At6th June orders staled that all with over 130 points were to be discharged - " without reference to higher authority" and at the same time 112 points became " high priority points for discharge. " The latter means that personnel in that group are available for discharge provided replacements are available to their unit. In point of fact such reinforcements are rare and discharge comes when units receive the order to discharge without reference to higher authority. The latest order received states that by August 17 all with over 120 points will be discharged without reference to higher authority and "high priority" points stand at 112. 120 points represents 4 years service for single men under 22 years of age at enlistment. Surely this indicates that, far from being ahead of its schedule the Government must fall down on its undertaking to complete demobilization by 30th Sept. A definite admission of the facts is overdue, and also an indication as to when the other groups may expect discharge and when demobilization will be complete.

In the week ended the 20th July, the Minister for the Array (Mr. Forde) made in this House a statement to the effect that the number of volunteers for service in the interim defence force was not large. He said that of a total of 9,818 enlistments, 9,675 men had volunteered for service in Japan. That means that the number who volunteered for. service in Australia was only 143, and is complete evidence of the lack of a defence programme on the part of the Government. Obviously, if replacements have to be made, demobilization must be delayed. I ask that a carefully considered statement on this subject be made by the Minister . at the earliest possible date - I hope next week. The men still in the services are anxious to return to civil life. They have been led to expect that the latest date of demobilization would be the 30th September, but it now appears that there is no possibility of demobilization being Completed by then. If circumstances have changed, the House should be notified, so that men still in the services may know what to expect.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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