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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) .- The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) has been good enough to furnish a reply to representations that I have made for the granting of furlough for employees in munitions establishments, but his reply is disappointing. It will, I feel sure, be found if the records are perused, that a former Minister for Defence, Sir Archdale Parkhill, was sympathetically inclined towards a proposal that men employed at the Lithgow and Maribyrnong munition works some of whom have at least fourteen or fifteenyears of service should be granted furlough rights, but, because they are not yet considered to be permanent, they have no right of furlough, whereas men who occupy positions in the Commonwealth railways and other branches of the Commonwealth Public Service, under similar conditions, have that right. The Minister's reply states -

With reference to your representations on 10th November, 1938, in the House of Representatives, relative to the question of furlough for employees in the munitions establishments, 1 have to inform you that it is considered furlough is a concession which, so far as persons employed in the Commonwealth service are concerned, should only be granted to officers employed in a permanent capacity, and that its extension to persons employed on the temporary staff would be unwarranted.

The principle of excluding temporary service from consideration in the granting of furlough is embodied in Section 73 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, which provides, inter alia, that, in the case of any person becoming an officer after the commencement of the Act, the service which shall be taken into account for the purpose of granting furlough shall not include any service in a' temporary capacity.

I am enclosing copy of the relevant part of the judgment of the Public Service Arbitrator in Determination No. 6 of 1922, dealing with this matter, and, so far as Defence employees are concerned, it is not considered that there is any warrant for departing from the principle then approved.

A rank injustice has been done to men employed in the Defence Department who are in reality permanent employees of the Government, and I trust that the Minister for Defence, who has been in charge of the department for only a short space of time, will give this matter further consideration. I do not suggest that men who are merely on the fringe, men with service of a year or so and may be described as casual employees, should be granted furlough rights, although I think that they should be entitled to qualify for them; but men who have served for five, ten or fifteen years should be classed as permanent employees. The Minister, the Government, and the Defence Department cannot justify the exclusion of these men from the rights that are enjoyed by men in other branches of the Public Service. I shall be interested to hear the Minister on this subject, although I realize that he has not been in command of the department sufficientlylong to have been able to ascertain the full facts.

Recently, I accompanied other honorable gentlemen on an inspection of the Commonwealth Small Arms Factory at

Lithgow. I saw there idle machines which could well be used. They lie idle because it is the policy of the Government to transfer to private enterprise work which ordinarily would be done by the Defence Department in the Commonwealth munitions factories. I strongly resent the attitude of the Government, because, as the result of that policy, about 100 men were dismissed from the munitions factory at, Maribyrnong, and no doubt that applies to the men at Lithgow also. I give credit to the Minister for Defence, and to his predecessor (Mr. Thorby), for the fact that those men dismissed at Maribyrnong have at last been reemployed; but as the result of the Government's policy to hand to private enterprises certain work which was formerly done by the Commonwealth munitions establishments, men who have given up to twelve years of service have, for considerable periods, been put off work. A company known as Austral Bronze, which I believe is a " pup " company of Imperial Chemical Industries, is now doing the work which the Maribyrnong munitions establishments used to do.

Mr Blain - That company is in Adelaide.

Mr DRAKEFORD - Imperial Chemical Industries Limited - .has subsidiary companies all over Australia, but these works are in Sydney. The Scullin Government encouraged and developed at Maribyrnong the production of sheet brass, strip brass, strip nickel and sheet nickel - the basis of the silver plate industry. No one else at that time would undertake the work, although the product was essential for shell cases. After the industry had been established on a profitable basis it was handed over to a private firm. The Government handed to its friends the right to make a profit out of an industry which is essential to the defence of Australia, and should therefore be a national undertaking.

Mr Gander - How long ago was that?

Mr DRAKEFORD - Within the last couple of yeaTs. In consequence, 100 men lost their employment. They could not be absorbed in the private firm because the work was transferred to Sydney. They have been gradually given other jobs in the Maribyrnong works but, had that work been retained at Maribyrnong, those men would have retained their positions, and 100 more men would have had to be employed. We are frequently told that all governmental undertakings are unprofitable. Yet, when there is one profitable undertaking, the Government deliberately hands it over to a private company. The same thing happened to the Commonwealth woollen mills and the Commonwealth Government line of steamers. I deplore and protest against that policy. My impression of my visit to Lithgow was that at the Small Arms Factory there was m-chinery lying idle which could be used for the manufacture of articles required for private consumption, when it was not required for the manufacture of armaments. In a time of war the Government would need the services of men who were dismissed because of the discontinuance of the manufacture of certain articles at that factory. It is to the detriment of a country town that those machines should be left idle. Lithgow was once a prosperous town, but it is not so prosperous now because of the reduced quantity of work done by the Small Arms Factory. The Minister for Defence should re-establish at the Lithgow factory such enterprises as it formerly engaged in; they could be developed without loss and would probably show a little profit. Then, in a time of emergency, the machinery and the men trained in its use could be utilized for the manufacture of munitions of war.

Mr Gregory - A monument should be erected to any governmental undertaking which was profitable.

Mr DRAKEFORD - If the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) wants an example of an industry which was conducted profitably by the Government, he should investigate the brass and nick?1 industry that was conducted at the Maribyrnong munitions works. It was a highly profitable industry that had never previously existed in Australia. As soon as it was shown to be profitable, it was handed over to the friends of the Government to enable them to make profits. I strongly believe that there should be no profit in the manufacture of armaments but where profits are possible, they should be made by the Government. We have heard recently from the Government frequent references to a period of emergency. If we are to judge by the attitude of the Government, war will be threatening for a long time. If that be so, the services of employees of the Government munitions establishments will be needed over a long period. Men who have been employed for ten or fifteen years at the munitions establishments should be retained in their service, because they provide a strong nucleus upon which to build if war should occur. We were told at Lithgow that at one time hundreds of men were employed at the Small Arms Factory. In parenthesis, I must say that the evening newspaper man who reported our visit to Lithgow exaggerated conditions there in a way that was ridiculous and a discredit to him. He suggested, for instance, that hundreds of men were engaged in an expanded industry, which is the reverse of the truth. The Lithgow people have the right to take strong objection to the false impression that was created by that report.

The Minister for Defence and the Government know that the machines at Lithgow could be used for the training of men to become experts in the manufacture of armaments. To let the machines lie idle when they could be utilized in the manufacture of armaments or articles that could have private sale when armaments are not required is to do wrong, not only to the industry itself, but also to the employees. I hope that what I have said will be helpful in assisting the Minister to take steps to re-establish the industries that have been relinquished. It may mean that work undertaken at Maribyrnong would be taken away from men who are my constituents, nevertheless, I feel that some decentralization is needed. If any centre is entitled to encouragement in this connexion it is Lithgow, because plant is already installed there and the necessary workers are living in the district.

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