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Friday, 18 September 1942

Senator COLLINGS - He is still in the Army, but has been seconded to the Allied Works Council. Mr. Cruise offered his services either for clerical or out-door work. He was accepted for clerical work at £6 a week. Reports of his work to date are very satisfactory. The honorable member for Warringah fears that bookmakers, jockeys, and turf commission agents are receiving preferential treatment in the Sydney section of the Allied Works Council. I have examined details of all those persons in this category whose names have come before the Allied Works Council. Let me say,, first, that, unless their names are submitted by the man-power authorities as being eligible for call-up, the Allied Works Council cannot take any action. I find that the man-power authorities have submitted the names of twelve bookmakers and horse trainers as being eligible for call-up to the Allied Works Council. Six have been put ito work. One, a man with ten children, has been exempt on the grounds of hardship, three have been found medically unfit for anything but light work, find have been graded accordingly, and two have been deferred on the subsequent recommendation of the man-power authorities.

Let us .examine another instance where irresponsible action appears to be deliberately designed to embarrass the Allied Works Council rather than to assist Australia. At a Victorian camp recently, certain workmen had been engaged for weeks on a very important job. The work was approaching completion, and no complaints whatever had been received from the men. A certain Mr. Hansford arrived on the scene, and very quickly persuaded a Large number of men to strike. All work ceased immediately. Five of the men were promptly prosecuted. When the case came up for trial, the defendants' counsel said to the judge-

I desire to notify the court at the outset of these proceedings that the defendants wish me to state that they thoroughly realize they were deplorably in the wrong, and I can undertake on their behalf that they are now fully prepared to return to the job and gladly' contribute to the best of their ability to the construction work in progress there. Perhaps in view of this, my friend may see his way clear to take a certain course of action.

In view of that statement the charges were withdrawn. I understand that the men's representatives at No. 1 and No. 3 camps sent a letter to the Secretary of the Builders Labourers' Union in Melbourne in which they said -

Following upon recent stoppage of work on defence jobs in this area, we, on behalf ot the men employed on State Rivers and Water Supply works in this district, desire that the following request be placed before your executive.

Should any further industrial dispute a nae before *he completion rf these projects that some official other than Mr. J. Hansford whom we consider to be incompetent to carry out the duties of organizer, be appointed to represent the union.

Those men would never have gone on strike, but for the urging of an outsider. Honorable senators can judge for themselves how much justification existed for stopping the work. If any honorable senator has a genuine grievance, and can supply me with the names concerned, I promise that redress will be effected no matter what officer of my department may have to be impeached in. the process. lt is obvious how little basis there has been for .the outburst of criticism. None of it was referred to me first for explanation or for remedy, instead, the widest possible publicity is given to charges which have little or no basis. I say with all the earnestness at my command that these tactics do Australia a very serious disservice. " The officers of the Allied Works Council are working day and night, and I have seen enough of the lines on which they are proceeding, to be certain that their only aim Ls to do the best possible job for Australia under the best possible conditions for the men employed. I have seen the instructions issued to all officers of the Allied Works Council in regard to their care and treatment of the men. I have examined the specifications establishing minimum standards for Civil Constructional Corps camps. The standards laid down for buildings, food and menu requirements and medical and health services are high. The aim is to improve them whenever possible, and Allied Works Council officers are posted to camps wherever possible to keep standards at the highest level. Every job is under an award, and the best possible award conditions have been worked out in consultation with union officials. Generally, those officials have preferred to accept the conditions offered under the Allied Works Council award rather than take them to a court.

We should bear in mind that these workmen are engaged on work second only in importance to that of soldiers in the front line. Every job is of vital importance. I emphasize that point: and we are being very careful with our records. At a moment's notice I can supply to any honorable senator all the information, which it is safe to divulge, concerning any job being done by the

Allied Works Council in any part of Australia. From my records I am able to give of every job at a glance its estimated cost, its progress cost, how many men are employed on it, how much of the work is completed, and, if uncompleted, why it has not been finished. The camps are scattered throughout Australia. Transport and other forms of communication are strained to their limit. Unless one actually sees the work being carried on, it is impossible to get a complete idea of the conditions under which our transport services are being maintained. Recently, I made a visit of inspection to Alice Springs. A few months ago Alice Springs was just a small country village. To-day it is an armed camp. I saw miles of convoys travelling day and night over country were no railway exists; and the drivers in the convoys were practically eating dust. So urgent was the work being done, and so continuously were the transport facilities being employed, that vehicle after vehicle had to be jettisoned temporarily in a special paddock because no man power was available to service them. These men were doing a wonderful job. They were performing miracles. We have now decided to cover with bitumen hundreds of miles of that roadway in order that these men will not have to eat dust day and night. Equipment of all description is being poured to the north. No air mail service is at the moment available to the Australian Capital Territory because all available planes have been diverted for more urgent work. It does not matter how much anybody grouches, or how greatly Ministers may be inconvenienced in regard to the despatch of their correspondence; the fact remains that jobs of the kind I have described must be done not next year but now. Everywhere I go I see most remarkable evidence of patriotism on the part of our workers. They are doing splendid work, and they are not complaining. The complaints always como from particular individuals in and out of Parliament whose sole object frequently is to make it impossible for the Government to carry on with its job. The men themselves work cheerfully and well, and accept inevitable difficulties in good spirit.

I appeal most earnestly. in the interests of our war effort, for a cessation of the barrage of criticism, at least until those responsible have taken the trouble to check up on its accuracy. In the office of my department at Acton, where we have 400 employees, we have made available to the Allied Works Council in respect of the construction of the graving dock in Sydney and other big projects, many of our key men. We have done that in order that the department may throw the whole of its weight behind this wonderful work. Beginning at the lowest age scale, we are employing girl messengers where previously young lads were employed; and the latter who have not yet reached military age are doing work previously performed by officers who have enlisted, or been called up. This observation applies to all departments. Many of the employees of my department at the Acton offices are too ill to carry on. Yet we are obliged to interrupt our work in order to answer these lying statements, and the press propaganda that follows them. Accusations based on rumours and guesswork can only be damaging to morale and discipline, and impose a totally unfair burden on men already over-worked, who have to waste valuable time and energy answering them.

In conclusion, let me quote the contents of a letter recently received by the Allied Works Council from BrigadierGeneral Hugh J. Casey, Chief Engineer, General Head-quarters, South-west Pacific Area. If the jibe be made that the statement I am about to read comes from a "brass hat", I shall make no denial. I do not know just what we mean by a " brass hat ". It had a meaning in the days when the heads of the defence services wore shiny brass hats like those which our firemen continue to wear.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It does not mean a brass head.

Senator COLLINGS - Certainly, Brigadier-General Casey has not a brass heart like some honorable gentlemen in this chamber. Brigadier-General' Casey ought to know something of what he is talking about. He wrote -

You were recently requested to construct for all-weather use eleven landing strips at certain localities.

These strips have been placed in operating condition iti an excellent manner and have been made available tor use by the air units within the very short time limit specified. The small amount of work remaining to be done on these fields its rapidly being pushed to completion. Within tIle same period your organization also constructed two other landing strips. Additional work was also requested of you for completion of all-weather landing strips a.t 22 localities prior to the rainy season. In spite of the large amount of work involved, this entire programme has been launched in a surprisingly short time.

I wish to express my very great appreciation of the very special efforts put forth by yourself and members of your organization and the construction agencies concerned to attain these excellent results. The efforts of a.11 those engaged .upon these very important projects have materially aided the tactical units concerned in carrying out their missions, against the enemy. '

It is requested that you express to all concerned my 'Very deep appreciation of the splendid work accomplished ,by th&m and the excellent manner in which the airfield programme in North Queensland has 'been and is being prosecuted. I trust that your organization will continue to push the programme with the same forcefulness -which lias thus far been so well displayed.

Thatis a record of appreciation by some one w]m>. is in a position to judge. It is to do such work that the Allied Works Council has been formed. It is doing .the work ,amd .doing it well. I appeal once more to all Australians for co-operation and ,»» appreciation of the vital nature of the work being done.

Knowing all this, if any honorable senator has knowledge, or >ey.en good grounds to suspect, that there is .something wrong with this organization, o.r -with the manner in -which we are doing "the work, or with the conditions under which the men are being employed, I shall be glad if he will come to me. Surely it is not too much to ask -that, before public statements or criticisms are made, the facts shall at least be obtained .so far as I am able to supply, them. Those I am not able to supply will be furnished just as quickly as a priority call over the telephone can get them fir-oni the spot where the job is being carried on. All T ask is that, before public criticism of this particular branch ,of ray department - it -is only one section of the Department of the Interior- - is made, and press statements encouraged, at Least honorable senators will pay me the compliment of believing .that I know my job and am doing it, and that I pan at least give them the truth of the position, because I -can assure them that nothing but the truth will be told to them.

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