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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) (6:20 AM) . - The Government is asking this chamber to vote £37,000,000 for, in effect, three months' recess. It is undesirable that the Parliament should be closed for that period, because the next couple of months will be the most critical in this struggle. At the end of that time, we should know whether the Axis will win, or whether we shall be engaged in a protracted struggle, the outcome of which and its effect upon our institutions no one can predict. I join with the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) in expressing the opinion that more information should be given, not only to honorable members, but also to the public. People throughout the world are in a deplorable state of confusion, owing to the confused news which is made available to them. One who follows the newspapers tends to come to the conclusion that the same things are told in a different form every day for about a fortnight. For that reason, I earnestly request the Government to consider the advisability of issuing at frequent intervals, perhaps twice a week, authoritative news to the public, with due regard to the requirements of national security. Such statements should be published by the press in exactly the form that the Government issues them. That would be an assurance to the people that the contents are facts, and represent all that the Government is able to tell the people at that stage. People want to be told as much of the truth as can be published, and they are confused and disheartened by the contradictory accounts that the newspapers give to them. One day a set of facts will be given a roseate colouring of hope and success. On the following day, exactly the same facts will be published with a note of depression throughout them. But there is no later news on the second day ; in fact, there is often no more news at the end of a fortnight than there was at the beginning of that period. We have seen this tendency before in wars in which we were not so immediately concerned. In the Spanish war a few years ago, the newspapers would for two days tell their readers that the struggle was going well for the Government. During tie following two days, they would announce that battles were going badly for the Government, whereas, in fact, the position had not altered. The Government should accept responsibility for supplying to the people information about the war, and should tell them as much of the truth as can be published, with the assurance that the information is not more and not less than the truth, always provided that national security permits the facts to be told.

A great deal of emphasis is laid on industrial unrest in this country, and we have been told repeatedly that strikes are not permitted in the United States of America and Great Britain. Recently, I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor, published towards the end of April last, in which the writer contrasted the disturbed industrial condition in the United

States of America with the industrial tranquility of Great Britain, and cited the successful British administration of laws against strikes. Having read that article, I was interested to learn the exact position on the industrial front in Great Britain. I discovered that a good many strikes have occurred in Great Britain, particularly in the coal-mining industry, which is more disturbed than it is in Australia. The Betteshanger Colliery in Kent was the scene of a prolonged stoppage, although that county is more exposed than any other to operations by the enemy. Many of the miners have sons in the fighting forces, and they continued to produce coal throughout the ordeal known as the " Battle for Britain ". But they decided by a majority of 2 to 1 to go on strike, in a claim against the employers, and some of them were prosecuted. Upon being convicted, many of them were fined; one official was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, and three others to one months' imprisonment. The effect of that order upon the miners was that they decided unanimously to continue the struggle. When the previous ballot had been taken, 900 were in favour of a stoppage and 300 opposed it. Strikes have occurred in other parts of England, particularly in Cumberland against pit head committees. The complaint was not against the committees themselves but against a proposal to restrict their authority to the consideration of only problems of absenteeism. In my opinion, nearly the maximum of possible peace in industry is obtained in Australia, and mine-owners and managers have stated that, in view of all the circumstances, our coal production is exceedingly good. 1 do not believe that penal laws will achieve any good results.

I urge the Government to take action for the purpose of making these immense tidal waves of regulatory legislation more intelligible and less disturbing! to the public.

Mr Calwell - And less frequent.

Mr BLACKBURN - I suppose it is that in war-time, the Government cannot help issuing a large number of regulations. In 1940 or 1941, the Government of the day published a very useful consolidation of regulations. During the recess, some draftsman might usefully employ his time in producing another consolidation. It is impossible even for lawyers to keep track of the regulations. A solicitor in Melbourne informed me that he devotes an hour each day to reading the regulations, and he came to the same conclusion as I have, namely, that nearly every subject is dealt with by inconsistent regulations. I have found it most difficult to reconcile the number of regulations relating to subjects that I have specifically examined.

Another matter is a transient one, namely, what will become of questions that have been placed upon the noticepaper when Parliament rises? Will the Government furnish answers to honorable members, and will they be incorporated in Hansard7: Honorable members should not be deprived of the opportunity of having recorded the replies to the questions upon notice. One of the things that encourages honorable members to ask so many questions without notice is the uncertainty as to whether an answer will be supplied to their questions if they place them on the noticepaper. Sessions are brought to an abrupt close by the process of an all-night sitting. This procedure is bad for honorable members, and tends to produce bad legislation. During an all-night sitting it is impossible to have a free and fair discussion of legislation. Appeals to reason in the small hours of the morning are not so effective as they are when honorable members are able to bring fresh minds to bear upon a subject. I hope that, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament will vote three month's supply to the Government, Parliament will be summoned long before the expiration of that period, because while Parliament is sitting, it is much easier to induce the Government to do things, and to abstain from doing things, which are contrary to the interests of the people.

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