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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) can, of course, invariably be relied upon to make a purely partisan speech and, if possible, completely misrepresent what his political opponents are seeking to do.

Mr Edmonds - Why not answer him?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I shall be glad to answer him, if you will give me the opportunity. I shall start with the last point raised by the honorable member. I should be delighted if the Opposition - and I gather it would be willing to do so from what he said - would co-operate with us in the conduct of the ballots. I shall certainly make available an opportunity for a nominated member of the Opposition to attend every ballot as it is held. If honorable gentlemen opposite are prepared to co-operate, I extend the invitation to my friend, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), to conduct the first ballot, if he is willing to do so. I am sure that he would be regarded by honorable members on both sides of the chamber as a responsible and respected person. As far as I am concerned, I should be delighted to see him draw the first ballot. That is an indication of fair play, if the honorable member wants it.

I suggest that this is hardly the place to debate the merits of the scheme. That has been done very fully at the secondreading stage. Let me make this clear: The continuance of a scheme of training of 12,000 people was not decided by chance or from a desire to have a few fellows in national service training. It is carefully integrated with the Government's military establishment in other directions. The 12,000 trainees coming forward under this scheme are necessary to enable us to maintain our Citizen Military Forces in the establishment that our defence advisers have recommended. The 12,000 is not a figure plucked out of the air; it is a necessary number in order to enable those arrangements to be made.

The second point I wish to make is that the decision about lads from the country has no element of political or industrial preferment in it whatsoever. It is a hard, practical matter which had to be faced. When we were bringing in a limited number out of the total that could be brought into the scheme and when the scheme involved week-end and mid-week training at specified centres, then, quite apart from the occupational aspect, the geographical factor had a very material bearing on the practicability of doing the job that was desired. Those circumstances combined to influence the Government to defer - not exempt - people who were beyond a certain distance from centres where they could be trained.

My colleague, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), has criticized the possibilities contained in this clause. I point out that the particular provision to which he referred has been there from the outset - I think since 1951 - and its implementation has not, so far as I am aware, given rise to dissatisfaction because of the manner in which the Minister's powers have been exercised. The further point was raised by, I think, the honorable member for East Sydney, that sufficient volunteers would come forward, if desired, in order to avoid the compulsory aspect of the scheme. I gave honorable members some details at the second-reading stage which showed that, though we had included in the legislation an opportunity to volunteer, and that has operated since 1955, the number of volunteers who have been found acceptable under the scheme totals only 74. It is pretty difficult to imagine us bridging the gap between what we desire and the numbers that so far have come forward. I suggest, therefore, that the clause with the amendment proposed in the first instance by the honorable member for Chisholm should now receive the approval of the committee.

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