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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- The Minister has somewhat belatedly explained two of the points raised by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). I do not know whether to describe his explanation as more and more about less and less, or as less and less about more and more. If the law were to lie interpreted in the court, not according to what is written in the act, but by what a Minister said during the committee stages of the bill,, it would be easier for lawyers to interpret the law. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender)' asked whether it was intended that this clause would cover the position of 'migrant British ex-servicemen.

Mr Holloway - The answer is "Yes".

Mr McEWEN - I remind the committee that the Minister said earlier that it would cover migrant ex-servicemen from the United Kingdom. When, by interjection, he was questioned as to the position of other Empire ex-service personnel, he said that it would cover migrant ex-servicemen- from the British Dominions. There should be no- doubt about what is actually meant. The clause itself is silent on the point; it merely provides for the inclusion of persons who were employed as tradesmen prior tq a certain date. Only two interpretations can be placed upon the language in which it is expressed. It either applies solely to Australian citizens, or it applies without limit to any tradesman who may come to this country. If there is no limit to its application it would cover a tradesman from Sweden equally with one from the United Kingdom. The Minister's explanation has only added to the confusion of the committee. It is not proper that the committee should be invited to translate into law words which the spokesman . of the Government either cannot or will not interpret. The Minister can find no greater justification for saying that the clause applies to British ex-service personnel who may migrate to. Australia than for saying, that it covers a migrant Maltese ex-serviceman. If it has application only to Australians at least we can understand its implications; if it is to be construed as having general application we do not know what its implications are. If it applies without restriction, the more migrants to whom this entitlement is conceded the more inevitably will be the occasions when Australian ex-servicemen .will be excluded from the- benefits of the Reestablishment arid Employment Act. It is clear that .the benefits of that legislation are to be overridden by the provisions of this measure at the discretion of a" local committee. The more people brought into this country and granted certificates of recognition the more occasions will inevitably arise when local committees will have to. decide whether, a certificated person who is not an exserviceman shall be entitled to be employed in preference to an Australian exserviceman, notwithstanding the provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Obviously the greater the number of people covered by this provision the less justification will there be for imposing on our own Australian exservicemen, who at the moment are not entitled to certificates of recognition, the conditions contained in the provision relating to trainee or probationary tradesmen.

Mr Holloway - That is not likely to happen. I have already said some engineers who were formerly in the British Navy have already been admitted. That does not mean that the door will be left wide open and that preference to Australian ex-servicemen will be destroyed. The whole scheme operates for a period . of only three years, and the number of migrants who will come to this country . during that period will not be very great.

Mr McEWEN - Whilst the Minister's reply is satisfying in some respects, I point out that his. words in debate are not the law. The law is embodied in the act which is passed by this Parliament. On the one hand the honorable gentleman would have us believe that the Commonwealth Government is entering into an agreement with the British Government for migration on a grand scale; on the other hand he now admits that not many. British ex-servicemen will come to Australia in the next three years.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member is. not in order in discussing immigration.

Mr McEWEN - I do so only insofar as immigration is intimately connected with the provisions of the clause. Immigration' on a grand scale would automatically bring to this country very many men who would be entitled to receive certificates.

The second question raised by the honorable member for Warringah was whether the issue of a certificate of recognition carried automatic entitlement to membership of a union. We endeavoured to get the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) up to the barrier on that issue, but he shied away. We would, at least, have expected the Minister to say whether the issue of a certificate will in fact carry such an entitlement. The. honorable gentleman, however, merely replied that the books of the Amalgamated Engineering Union are already open, and he expects them to remain open. The provisions of this bill, however, extend farbeyond the sole organization referred to. by the honorable gentleman. What has he to say in respect of the other unions? The real issue is that we have before us a proposed law, under which Australian ex-servicemen may be given certificates of recognition, but their entitlement to become members of the appropriate union, and thus secure employment, is to be dependent on the union itself. The Minister says that the Amalgamated Engineering Union had a verygood record during the war, and that, therefore, we can be assured that it will do the fair thing in the admission of new members. The wheat-growers of this country also had a very good record during the war, but the question as to whether they should continue to grow wheat was not left to the determination of their organizations.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN Order! The wheat industry is not involved in this bill.

Mr McEWEN - An ex-serviceman who desires to engage in a rural industry, the name of which I shall not mention-

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - The honorable member may not discuss rural industries on this clause.

Mr McEWEN - Such a man must go to a government authority in order to secure permission to engage in his chosen occupation; but an ex-serviceman who, because of his training, is entitled to. become a registered tradesman, is dependent upon the decision of a nongovernment authority, to wit, a trade union. The Minister has failed completely to give asatisfactory explanation of these two simple but important points.. I trust that we maybe able to get the honorable gentleman to face the barrier and not shy away from it.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - The honorable member's time has expired.

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