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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - I bring to the notice of the Government the fact that the supply of food is becoming a problem of the utmost importance.I am afraid that within the next couple of years, Australia will be faced with a food famine if the position is not arrested at once. At present, there are three forces in this country to which labour has to be supplied. There are the lighting forces, those engaged in the production of munitions and armament, and those required for the production of foodstuffs. A tug of war is in progress in securing labour for these forces. Ever since the outbreak of war, and even at the present time, the forces producing food are being drawn upon, not only for the fighting forces, but also for the manufacture of munitions and armament. The farmers are now faced with the position that they are sometimes called up for military service. They are told to sell their goods and chattels and enter military camps. If they have no time to sell their properties, they have to leave them unattended. Men have had to leave crops such as potatoes in the ground, because they have not had sufficient time in which to dig them. Yet Australia is 30,000 acres of potatoes short of its requirements this year !

Senator Foll - Does the honorable senator say that men have been taken from their farms, and that nobody has been left in charge of their properties?

Senator AYLETT - Yes. This is my only opportunity to draw attention to the drift that is taking place, and it must arrested immediately, or we shall be faced with further difficulties. We are likely to be short of food with which to feed the workers engaged in the munition works and in the fighting services. I have travelled from one end of Tasmania to the other, and I am in communication with various organizations and farmers by letter and telephone almost daily. I do not believe that anybody in Tasmania is better acquainted with the position in that State than I am. If there is such a person, he has my sympathy in view of the large number of requests that have been made to me in the last few weeks. We must double up on our acreage of potatoes for next year. We must increase the supply of vegetables to a degree unheard of in Australia previously, and we must maintain our production of flax, peas, oats and many other commodities.

Senator E B Johnston - Including bacon.

Senator AYLETT - There are a dozen different commodities that could be mentioned. Judging by communicationsI have received, and from what I have heard, this is an Australia-wide problem. We have no hope of producing next year what we have produced this year, on account of the shortage of labour on the farms. As I have said, men are being taken from their farms for military service. I suggest that, as a sub-committee of the Cabinet has been established to go into problems of this kind, it should take the earliest opportunity of interviewing members of Parliament who have a first-hand knowledge of what has taken place in their States. I suggest that the sub-committee should furnish an opportunity to representatives of the primary producers' organizations to attend before it if they so desire, and place their case before it.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What about the Joint Committee on Rural Industries ?

Senator AYLETT - As a member of that committee, I travelled in five of the six States and secured first-hand information regarding the problems of the primary producers. I realized immediately we began our inquiries the position into which Australia was drifting. That committee submitted an interim report to Parliament, but up to the present it has not been acted upon. I urge the Government to take cognizance of the recommendations regarding farm labour.

Senator E B Johnston - We wrote to the Prime Minister at length on this matter a month ago.

Senator AYLETT - I recall that that was one of the principal points dealt with in our interim report.

To-morrow is the first day the regulation regarding the restriction of meat deliveries will operate. According to the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman), no deliveries of meat will be allowed in any State to any person who resides within a radius of a mile of a butcher's shop, but I point out that an anomalous position arises in Tasmania. Recently Mr. M. S. Wilson issued the following statement, which was published in the press : -

It is not expected that the federal regulation prohibiting deliveries of meat to customers within one mile radius of a butcher's shop will apply in Tasmania.

Mr. Wilsonis Commissioner of Transport, Deputy Director of Man-power, Chairman of the Liquid Fuel Control Board., Director of Emergency Road Transport, Tasmania's representative on theCommonwealth Coal Board, Tasmania's representative on the Shipping Control Board, and a member of the State executive of the Civil Defence Legion. So far as I know, Mr. Wilson is administering this regulation on behalf of the Minister for War Organization of Industry. If all deliveries of meat within a mile radius of a butcher's shop are to be prohibited, I should like to know how the munition worker, or the miner, who, in many instances, is the only man in the home, will be able to take home his parcel of meat when butchers' shops are closed not only when he is on his way to work, but also when he is on his way home. In many homes of the kind to which I refer the housewife may be laid up with illness, or may be unable to leave the home because she must care for a number of small children. I also desire to know whether the regulation makes any provision to enable the aged, sick or infirm, who cannot go to a butcher's shop themselves, and cannot usually obtain a neighbour or a messenger to go for them, to get their meat. My object in asking a question on this matter earlier to-day which was disallowed was to discover whether the regulation makes any provision to allow deliveries to be made to persons who, through no fault of their own, are unable either to collect their purchases of meat or to obtain anybody else to collect their parcels for them. If such provision has been made I shall have no objection to the regulation. I should like an immediate reply to my query because several butchers in Tasmania communicated with me yesterday and are anxious to know whether they can make deliveries as from to-morrow within a mile radius of their shops. They are anxious to know whether they must be guided by the Minister's statement, or by that made by Mr. Wilson. It is possible 'that, having so many other jobs to attend to, Mr. Wilson has not been able to give sufficient attention to this matter, and, consequently, may be mistaken. At all events, the butchers in Tasmania, and the people generally, are confused on the matter. They are waiting for an authoritative statement.

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