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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Senator COURTICE - They were long overdue, too.

Senator FOLL - Yes, but the whole Australian defence programme was overdue. The responsibility for that does not rest with the Government of which I was a member, but must be shared by the Australian people generally, who for many years adopted an indifferent attitude towards defence proposals. That applies not only to the Australian people, but also to the British people generally. Honorable senators know that for years the advocacy of greater defence expenditure in this country was not popular. In that connexion I wish to give credit to Senator Sampson who, in season and out of season, advocated the strengthening of our defences, and the re-introduction of compulsory military training. For many years, his was a voice crying in the wilderness, and there was little support for his pleas on either side of the chamber. Due mainly to the fact that the democratic peoples of the world, who think as we do, had got into a state of complacency, they thought that it was not necessary to spend large sums of money on defence. Furthermore, the taxpayers of this country would not have tolerated for one moment an attempt by any government to embark upon defence expenditure to anything like the same extent as we are spending money for war purposes to-day. They did not realize the danger that was facing them. Therefore, I say let us be fair in connexion with the responsibility for Australia's defences. When I was Minister for the Interior, proposals involving millions of pounds went through my department for expenditure on defence work in all parts of Australia. The Leader of the Senate knows that when he signs a requisition to-day for, say, £500,000 for a new defence establishment or air field in the north of Queensland or in Western Australia, that work is being undertaken not in the interests of the particular area or State in which it is to be carried out, but in accordance with plans prepared by our leading strategists who advise the Government on these matters. Therefore, it illbecomes the Minister to suggest, as he has done, that certain parts of Australia have been neglected deliberately in favour of other areas. When the full history of our war effort is written, and details can be given of how much, or rather how little, we were producing when Australia was first plunged into the conflict, no name will stand higher in the opinion of the Australian people than that of a former Prime Minister, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). I know something of the work for which that right honorable gentleman laid the foundation in this country. One thing that pleased me more than anything else was the fact that when the Labour Government succeeded the previous administration, it did not set out immediately to do what its supporters had always said would be done, namely, to dispense with the services of industrial experts and representatives of capitalist monopolies, as they were so often called. In fact, the Labour Government actually ."ave many of these people more power than had been conferred upon them by the previous administration for the building ur> of our munitions and aircraft production programmes. For instance, Mr. Essington Lewis has already built for himself a wonderful monument in the work he has accomplished in the expansion of our munitions programme. I remind the Leader of the Senate also that it was not the Government of which he is a member which laid the foundation of the shipbuilding programme in this country. No State has received more benefit from the expansion of that industry than Queensland. To-day shipbuilding in that State is an important and rapidly-expanding industry, due to the fact that, when the former Government was in office, it did not hesitate to give to a progressive engineering firm in Queensland an opportunity to expand its activities and to include in its operations the construction of such vessels as corvettes and destroyers. Now mediumsized cargo vessels are being built, and the industry has been developed to a degree which was not even visualized only a few years ago. Not only does that industry benefit Queensland from an economic point of view, but also it gives to the artisans of this country an opportunity to engage in the various shipbuilding trades. I have no doubt that, in years to come, the construction of ships of all types will be one of our most important industrial undertakings. One of the biggest problems which the nations of the world will have to face after the war will be the rehabilitation of merchant shipping services, and I believe that Australia will play a big part in that work, not only by providing ships for its own services, but also for other countries. [ should like to refer also to the disgraceful bungling which took place in connexion with the rationing of clothing. There has never been more serious bungling by any Minister. But before dealing with the rationing of clothing I should like to say a few words in regard to the manner in which the Department of War Organization of Industry is deliberately setting out to restrict certain industries, the curtailment or closing down of which cannot possibly assist the war effort in any way. I refer particularly to an industry of which Senator Darcey knows a great deal more than I do, namely, the manufacture of jewellery, watches, &c. No doubt it is claimed that such products are luxuries and therefore are not required in war-time, but many of the employees and most of the machinery used in that industry have no value whatever in the production of war materials. In some cases the men are partly incapacitated but can adapt themselves fairly well to that type of work, whereas they would be useless on any other job. It is nonsensical to pick out an industry and say " We are going to shut that down" without making any endeavour to give the men employed in it an opportunity to use their talents in any other direction. 1 can cite scores of such industries. It is necessary to divert as much capital as possible to the war industries. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) directed attention to the simplest way in which that could be done, but the Government is not prepared to act on the advice tendered. The introduction of a system of deferred pay would enable the Government to obtain a large sum from the employees in industry. If the members of the fighting services, who are sometimes on duty for 24 hours a day, are called upon to adopt the system of deferred pay, there is no just reason why the principle should not be applied to the workers in industry. Every section of the community, regardless of the work in which it is engaged, should be brought within the scope of such a scheme, and a small regular contribution from each worker would provide millions of pounds which could be used in the war effort. Thousands of men and women are faced with the possibility of being thrown out of business, and they may be unable to regain their businesses after the war. In many cases they will lose their plant and machinery, because the Department of War Organization of Industry will not stand up to its obligation in connexion with the financing of the war. The department is under the control of two most impracticable men. I refer to the Minister (Mr. Dedman) and the permanent head of the department, Mr. Ifould. The Minister himself knows nothing about commerce. He is a well-meaning and fanatical student of economics, but his administration has displayed a lamentable lack of business experience. Mr. Ifould is an elderly man who, I understand, was a chief librarian, but the has had no practical business experience. Before the Government causes men to be thrown out of work and business establishments to be closed up, it should refer such matters to a body that has had sound commercial experience. Honorable senators opposite directed much criticism against the Government of which I was a member, because of its appointment of various boards and commissions. Many such appointments have been made by the present Government, and I admit that many of them have done good work in promoting the war effort; but, in cases where the livelihood of people is at stake, they should be given an opportunity to consult a competent authority before their businesses are taken away from them.

We have had no more glaring example of unfair administration, and no worse exhibition of bungling on the part of a government, than was provided by the Government's management of the rationing of clothing. No credit has been reflected on those members of the public who fought like maniacs to purchase clothing which they really did not need, but the Government is largely responsible for what occurred. It would have been better had it not given notice of the fact that rationing was to be introduced. Rather than make a premature announcement on the matter, it should have closed down the whole of the retail establishments until ration tickets were available. Even to-day the position is unsatisfactory. Purchasers find it necessary to go to the shops at an early hour of the day, and, instead of having an opportunity to select goods to their liking and spend their money economically, they often have to take the first article that is offered by the shop assistants and pay the price asked, because they are afraid of the shops being closed or the quota for the day of the particular commodities in which they are interested being sold. Parents who desired to fit out their children for the new school term experienced difficulty at the time to which I am referring. Others have to line up in a queue and buy as many goods as they can and as quickly as possible. These undesirable conditions have prevailed for many weeks in the retail stores, although if proper action had been taken by the department, the trouble could have been avoided. I realize that many people who are earning more money than they have ever had before have made heavy purchases of goods, but the action by the department has deprived the average shopper of an opportunity to spend his or her money economically by the amateurish way in which the rationing of clothing has been managed. In dealing with the trouble in the coal mining industry, the Government has called into consultation representatives of the employers and employees, and it would have been easy for the Government to have consulted with the representatives of the retail stores and of the shop assistants' organizations, who could have supplied valuable advice as to the best course to adopt in implementing the rationing programme. Any sane person could have forecast that confusion would have resulted from the policy that was adopted.

Senator Sampson - It put a premium on greed.

Senator FOLL - Yes, the selfish persons obtained all the advantages, although there was plenty of clothing for all would-be purchasers. I am in favour of the rationing system, and I regret that the Government of which I was a member did not put such a system into operation. I regard rationing as the true corrective of inflation and a useful means of transferring much valuable money to the financing of the war effort.

Some time ago, the Minister fo» Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) said that men in protected war industries were to be pegged to their jobs, and that their employers could not dismiss them without approval; but in many industries, in outlying country districts, the employees decided that if they were to be pegged in a job they would prefer the congenial atmosphere of a city or coastal area, rather than a rural district. If there is one thing which members of the Government preached more than anything else, when they were on the Opposition side of the chamber, it was the necessity for the decentralization of industries.

Senator COURTICE (QUEENSLAND) - In many cases the men who left the country areas are now invited to return.

Senator FOLL - Yes. The Government must take drastic and unpleasant action in order to deal effectively with this problem, but it would have the backing of this Parliament and of the community if it did so. Many of us will be called upon to experience discipline before the war is over, and we shall have to do and accept things which we do not like. The Government should introduce restrictions with the least possible disruption, and in a manner that will be as fair as possible to all sections of the community.

I again refer to the attack made by . the Leader of the Senate, to which I referred in my opening remarks. I realize that the honorable gentleman is a man of strong words, but his observations were uncalled for, particularly his reference to the defence activities of the present Government and of the Ministry which preceded it. I realize that our common desire is to build up the defences of this country.

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