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Thursday, 13 November 1941

Senator ASHLEY (New South WalesPostmasterGeneral) . - Last night Senator Foll made a most damaging, vindictive and malicious attack upon those controlling the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. Since the charge was made I have made inquiries, and have ascertained the facts. I am going to be sufficiently generous to say that probably Senator Foll was misinformed in regard to this matter, because I am convinced that the information which was given to him was incorrect. This afternoon I obtained a statement from the manager of the factory and also from the secretary of the union concerned. Tlie honorable senator told a story concerning a man for whom he had found employment at the factory some time ago, and claimed that the man who described himself as a fitter and turner, had since informed him that when at the factory, he walked about doing absolutely nothing for several days. He also stated that when he asked for some practical work he was put at a bench and told to fill in the time as best he could. The man also made other similar statements alleging mismanagement and economic waste of trained labour, culminating in an accusation against the union at Lithgow. Senator Foil's words in making this serious charge were, " This man, who is a good unionist, said that the union leaders have complete control of the factory and that the foremen are helpless ". I am now in a position to inform honorable senators of the facts. As one who has been in close contact with unionists in the Lithgow district for many years, and who knows intimately the conditions operating there at present, I was most disturbed at the honorable senator's allegations. The employees at the factory are rendering yeoman service in our war effort. In order to reach their work many have to travel up to 30 miles. They have to rise at 5 a.m. in order to be at work at 7 a.m., and when they finish a 12-hour shift at 7 p.m., they have to travel 30 miles to their homes before they get their evening meal. When they arrive at their homes between S p.m. and 9 p.m. it is bed-time. For many months the time of these men has been occupied in working and sleeping. They have no opportunity to engage in any form of recreation.

Senator Large - Senator Foll must have been misinformed.

Senator ASHLEY - I hope that he was. I was very disturbed by the allegations, and I .discussed the matter immediately with the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin), whom I represent in this chamber. The Minister asked me to probe the allegations without delay. This morning I asked Senator Foll to give me the name of his informant, but he was unable to do so because it would have been a breach of confidence. I do not blame him for that, because he has a right to protect the interests of the person who gave him the information. The facts are these: Less than a month ago, a Mr. L. C. Jones began work at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory as the result of representations made by Senator Foll on his behalf to the Department of Labour and National Service. He was sent to Lithgow as a charge hand, which, according to the honorable senator's friend, is- the term applied to a foreman. The manager of the factory put him to work on the 27th October as a section hand - that is what the honorable senator's friend claimed to be - in the turret lathe section. He was allowed a couple of days to become familiar with the work, but even then he could not do the job. He was tried in the milling section, but it was found that he knew nothing about that job either. He was offered work as a fitter if he could produce evidence that he was a fitter, but he refused to do that and left the establishment on the 31st October. His employment at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory lasted for only four days. So much for the accusation against the management. This morning I discussed with Mr. R. S. Yates, secretary of the Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers Federation, the statement that union leaders had complete control of the Small Arms Factory. Mr. Yates gave me an emphatic denial to that charge, and said that it was not the desire of the union to usurp the functions of the management of the factory. He added that the union and all its members wished to make their best contribution to the job of winning the war, and were behind the Government 100 per cent, in its war effort.

I regret that Senator Foll made such a dastardly attack upon the workmen and the management at Lithgow, without making sufficient inquiries to ascertain whether or not there was a semblance of truth in the information supplied to him. 1 hope that, in fairness to all concerned, he -will withdraw the allegations which he made.

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