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Friday, 25 November 1938

Mr GANDER - What preference have they ever had ? The only preference the returned soldier gets is on the end of a pick. When there are lucrative positions to be filled, the Government puts its own friends into them, but when there is a trench to be dug down at " Shay's Crik ", or when there is a road to be made, they say, " Come on, Digger, get a pick and go to it ".

If the Government really wishes to bring the militia up to full strength by voluntary recruiting, it should immediately commence a vigorous public work3 programme. Give to the fathers of these boys who in future are to be soldiers and cannon fodder, comfortable and lucrative positions; make their home life secure; give them good food, clothing and shelter. All this can be done quite easily. Let the Minister for External Affairs, who is now conducting the recruiting campaign, give an assurance to the parents of every boy who enlists that they will never be evicted from their homes. Also let an assurance be given that the State governments will give more money for food relief. Single men should get more than 7s. 6d. a week on which to live. How can the Government expect members on this side to arrange recruiting meetings in places such as Bankstown, where so many people are out of work? The largest meeting which could be arranged at Bankstown would be the weekly gathering of 800 unemployed waiting for the dole. Let the Minister for External Affairs come before these people and say, " Your country needs you. Join the colours. Your dole ticket is in danger !" If the Government desires that there should be an- adequate militia force to protect Australia, it should first see that the people are properly fed and decently clothed. The Labour party believes in adequate defence. If it were in power in this Parliament the conditions throughout the country would be so good that there would no longer be widespread hunger or fear of eviction. It would give to the people something more than the bare necessaries of life. Then, if and when an enemy appeared, from every town, village or hamlet throughout the Commonwealth would march men willing and able to defend the country which had done the right thing by them. This week the Postmaster-General was asked if he would take steps to prevent men from being dismissed from the Postal Department before Christmas. After Christmas, however, anything may happen. Government supporters apparently have the idea that working people need plum pudding only at Christmas time. There are 365 days in a year. On every day the worker should be able to get plum pudding if he fancies it. Shortly before Christmas of last year Labour members made strong representations to the Government for a grant to provide Christmas cheer for the unemployed, and as the result of our efforts the sum of £150,000 was made available.

Mr Casey - The amount was £100,000.

Mr GANDER - Now I will give away a Labour caucus secret. On Wednesday last it was unanimously decided at a meeting of the party that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) should move the adjournment of the House to bring to the notice of the Government the pitiable plight of the unemployed of this country. What happened ? Discussion was gagged. Ministers took no notice of the brilliant speech made by Mr. Forde because they realized that the facts had been martialled so effectively and the figures tabulated so accurately that the demand could not be ignored if the debate were allowed to proceed. Government supporters came to the Prime Minister at the table and urged him to gag the motion-, lest the newspapers get hold of the facts which the Opposition had so carefully prepared. This was done. Immediately the Minister for Works spoke, following the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Secretary of the Whips' Union (Mr. Gardner) moved the gag. To the newly appointed Minister for Works has been delegated the task of finding work for the people of this country, and after hearing what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this week, honorable gentlemen decided that the facts should not be too strongly emphasized. Had the Government allowed the debate to continue, the Opposition would have been able to bring forward even more convincing arguments than those used last year, when we were successful in having £100,000 made available for the unemployed by way of Christmas cheer. Had we been able to state our case fully, the Government would have been obliged to make this year's grant £200,000. Speakers on this side of the House would have been able to prove that there are more unemployed to-day than there were last year, and that those who were unemployed last year are still seeking work. When the last Christmas grant was made, I was able to obtain work for many unemployed in my electorate, but these men have done nothing since. Public works authorities in Sydney can tell the Government that the men who were recommended for temporary jobs are willing workers. In some instances the heads of departments have asked that the services f these men be retained.

The Commonwealth Government itself should undertake some part of its public works programme instead of passing it over to the States. The time will come when the Government will have to do this. With their numbers increasing in every hamlet, village and town throughout the Commonwealth, the unemployed will not continue to carry on as they are at present. They must eventually get. together. When they do I warn the Government to look out. The Ministry cannot hope to conduct a successful recruiting campaign while it permits widespread unemployment and distress to continue. I cannot imagine the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner) having the effrontery to go through his electorate which adjoins mine, and in which there are 7,000 men out of work, and say to the eligible men " Your country needs you ". " Join the colours". Unemployed men are getting one week's work in five, two weeks in five, or three weeks in five if they are married and have large families. I was astounded to read in the press a week ago that, at a conference of the United Australia party held in Sydney, one delegate said that garbage bins at the homes of the unemployed were filled with chicken bones and asparagus tins. Hearing of that statement, government supporters no doubt sat back complacently during the debate on the unemployment situation in the House on Wednesday, and said to themselves " The unemployed are not so badly off after all ". The statement was cheered by other delegates to the conference. It is obvious that these people do not understand the sufferings of the unemployed. United Australia party conferences such as that to which I have referred, frame the policy of the Government. In fact, they decide what, legislation members of Parliament shall support, reject, or amend. The idea of a national insurance scheme originated at a conference of the United Australia party, but the work of introducing that scheme was placed on the Treasurer. Every day, members of this Parliament, including, I suppose, the Treasurer, receives letters protesting against the national insurance scheme. I understand that the Treasurer's " fan " mail is heavier than that of Clark Gable and Gary Cooper combined, but the letters would not be so flattering.

When the Treasurer came down with the bill, every member on the Government side cheered. The measure was opposed by every member on this side of the chamber. Sixty-four members of the House spoke on the bill, and all except four criticized it, but honorable members opposite, despite their criticism, also said "We shall stand solidly behind the Treasurer". The bill was passed, and not one supporter of the Government voted with the Opposition. Almost all honorable members opposite who have taken part in this debate have condemned the act, and have asked the Treasurer to do something about it, because their political hides are in jeopardy. They, too, are receiving letters of protest, and before many months have passed they will be saying " The Treasurer himself is responsible for this legislation; we have had nothing tq do with it", although it was submitted with the full support of the United Australia party .and the Country party. With all these letters coming in, the Treasurer will find that he has scarcely a friend in the House.

Mr Casey - They are from Douglas Credit advocates, all of them.

Mr GANDER - I have received them from people of all shades of political belief. I have had them from members of both the United Australia party and the Labour party, from Douglas Credit advocates, and from church organizations, progress associations and even friendly societies. The Opposition has been asked by people of all sections to induce the Government to repeal this act.

I urge the Treasurer to reconsider even the postponement of the operation of the act for six months, because I am sure that the volume of correspondence protesting against it will increase. The people still do not understand it. In 25 cases out of every 100, the person who answers questions through the press in regard to the scheme is wrong, because he merely anticipates what may be done by regulation or what the commission may decide. All we can be guided by to-day is what is contained in the act itself. The Treasurer stated recently that he did not know whether a woman who worked for an hour a week cleaning a doctor's name plate for ls. 6d. a week would have to pay ls, a week towards the national insurance fund ; but the act declares that that woman is permanently employed, and therefore the anomaly cannot be overcome. Owing to many similar anomalies the trouble is bound to be intensified as time goes on. There is such growing antagonism to the measure that I venture to say that the Government will be forced, either to take the advice offered by the Opposition when the bill was brought down, or to repeal the act. I hope that the Government will accept the advice which the Opposition has given.

My principal reason for rising is to endeavour, even at this late stage, to induce the Government to do something to relieve the unemployed over the Christmas period. I desire it to grant even a greater measure of assistance than was given at this time last year.

Item agreed to.

The general debate being concluded,

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