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Thursday, 11 May 1939

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Minister for Defence) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

When, at the beginning of last December, I introduced the Loan Bill, which covered in detail the expanded defence programme of the Government, I quoted the following words from a speech delivered by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) -

It is the intension to press on with the completion of plans for all phases of national activity in an emergency. The aim of these is to provide for the parts that could be played by every organization, industry and citizen, either in respect of their normal work in the life of a community or by special voluntary effort.

Then I went on to say -

Nothing less than organization on this scale will give a democratic state a comparable degree of preparedness to an authoritatarian state.

The wider steps necessary to implement the Prime Minister's declaration are briefly: -

(i)   The organization of man power and women's voluntary efforts.

(ii)   The regulation and control of primary production in an emergency.

(iii)   Industrial mobilization of secondary industries in an emergency.

(iv)   Commonwealth and State cooperation in peace and war.

Action to put these necessary steps into effect has been taken, first by the introduction of a women's voluntary register, and the compilation of this is now in progress. The Commerce Department has made considerable progress on the planning necessary for the regulation and control of primary production in emergency. Finally, a great deal of preparatory work on industrial mobilization has been done by the advisory panel, and I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the work of this body, which has been functioning on a voluntary basis for the last eighteen months. The members of the panel have been giving two to three days a week to the work without any cost to the Government. Their work will now be continued by the Department of Supply and Development, which is being created by the bill just introduced by my colleague. At a conference held in this chamber at the end of March last, afirm basis was established for co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in times of peace and war. At that conference, at which I was present, all the States, irrespective of the character of their governments, gave evidence of the greatest willingness to co-operate whole-heartedly in the measures which we considered necessary for the defence of the country.

There still remains the organization of man power, and it is to deal with this aspect that the present bill has been introduced. The necessity for the preparation of plans for the allocation of the man power of the nation in a national emergency became evident as a result of the experience of the Great War. Honorable members will recollect that serious waste of trained material occurred owing to the misplacement of men. Recalls had to be made from the Services of men specially trained, in order that essential services might be properly manned. It was found that men possessing technical qualifications were employed in units where there was no opportunity to use their skill, while other units in which they could have been profitably employed were short of the required number of technicians. The object of setting up an organization to register the man power of the nation is to ensure that, as far as possible, every man shall be allocated to the task for which his training and avocation best fit him, so that the utmost value in service will be available to the nation to meet an emergency.

Briefly, therefore, I can say that the objects sought in this bill are, first, a general survey of man power and, secondly, the establishment and organization of a national register for use in preparing for a national emergency.

The purpose of a general survey is to provide an assessment of all skilled labour and man power throughout the country in order to throw light on the adequacy or inadequacy of existing resources. It is unnecessary for me to point out that this is essential in Australia, where industrial organization is of comparatively recent growth. We do not yet know enough about it to give us complete confidence in the framing of plans to meet a national emergency.

The object of the national register is to ensure that the allocation of man power, in accordance with national requirements in an emergency, may be planned in advance. The basis of national registration will be a census of all male persons between the ages of eighteen and 64 inclusive, and this will be taken during a period to be defined by proclamation. Provision is also made in the bill for obtaining the requisite information from incoming migrants, and from persons as they reach the age of eighteen.

The schedule to the bill sets out the information required from those who are included among the persons of whom a census is directed to be taken. It is intended that these forms shall be placed in post offices where they will be collected, filled in, signed and sent post-free to the Commonwealth Statistician. In order to" assist those who have to fill in cards - which have been made as simple as possible - full instructions will be made available in printed form, and as much help will be given as possible through the ordinary publicity channels, such as newspapers and radio. It is hoped to have officials available in the larger centres who- will be able to assist by personal advice.

There are, I believe, some who say that this is a form of industrial conscription - that it is proposed to do something that is foreign to the spirit of democracy - something that is abhorrent to Australians. I cannot believe that any one can suggest such a thing seriously. I need not remind honorable members that already the law of the land provides for the calling up of all males between the ages of eighteen and 60 for service in time of national emergency. All this bill sets out to do is to ensure that, if that time should ever unhappily arrive, the law of the land shall operate intelligently.

It will be noticed that in the schedule provision is made for collecting certain unemployment statistics. Two sets of information are required on this point, and, when it is collected, we shall have at our disposal valuable data upon which to base unemployment statistics. At the present time, we depend entirely upon information supplied by the trade unions.

Mr Archie Cameron - Is this an economic or a defence measure?

Mr STREET - There is no reason why we should not avail ourselves of the opportunity to collect information that will be of use in the preparation of social legislation.

The national register, ' as such, will be controlled by a National Register Board, which will consist of a representative of the Defence Department, who will be chairman, a representative of the Department of Supply and Development, and the Commonwealth Statistician. The board will function under the Minister for Defence, and there will be an executive officer for general administrative work associated with the register. For the taking of the census, the machinery and organization of the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics will be used, and use will also be made, at a special stage, of the electoral offices.

When the cards are received, the Commonwealth Statistician will prepare detailed tabulations for special use. A coding staff will be necessary for this, and will be composed entirely of returned soldiers to be recruited on a pro rata basis in the various States. When this detailed analysis is complete, there will be a set of machine cards available for use at any time in Canberra, and the original cards, which will be correspondingly numbered, will be sent back to each State capital, where they will be kept up to date as regards addresses, &c, by a small staff working in conjunction with the electoral authorities.

At this stage .both sets of cards will be available for use by the Defence Depigment, the Department of Supply and Development, or any of the various planning committees. As can be realized, this will take a considerable time, but special attention is being given to enable the information provided by the register to be utilized more rapidly in the event of any sudden emergency. Honorable members will realize that, should the defence forces ever be required to mobilize, they will require to increase greatly their peace numbers in all classes, and particularly in regard to men employed in many skilled occupations. At the same time, skilled mcn are necessary for the production of equipment and the output of munitions. Further, it is obvious that key men in industry must not be allowed to vacate their positions to enlist in the defence forces; that would throw industry in general into .difficulties, and affect the provision of supplies to the forces and the general life of the community. The national register, however, will provide means by which the allocation of appropriate classified personnel can be made to meet the requirements both of the defence forces and of the community in general. A list of reserved occupations is being compiled and will be published for information. Men trained in these particular occupations are limited in number and there would naturally be great demand for them in time of war. Individuals whose names and occupations appear on this list would he precluded from serving with the forces in an emergency. . Thus, those men for whose services there may be rival claims of various national activities will be allocated between the defence forces, munitions supply authorities and industry generally. It is possible that some readjustment of the personnel at .present serving in the militia may be necessary to obviate the withdrawal of key men, or those on the list of reserved occupations, from their civilian employment.

Two other matters to which I direct the attention of the House are, first, the fact that adequate safeguards from the point of view of secrecy - precautions against the divulgence of information by officers - are contained in this bill, and, secondly, the fact that in April last year the late Prime Minister issued an invitation to the Australasian Council for Trade Unions in the following terms : -

On behalf of the Government I desire to extend an invitation to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions to nominate an advisory panel, which would be consulted on these and other questions and would appoint representatives to any committees that may be set up to examine them.

That invitation still holds good, and I think honorable members generally trust that means will be found before long whereby it can be accepted.

Mr Martens - There is nothing about wealth in this.

Mr STREET - Not in this bill. Honorable members will, I hope, realize that the passing of this bill will mark another -step towards the completion of plans for all phases of national activity in an emergency.

Debate (on motion by Mr. CURTIN) adjourned.

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