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Thursday, 17 June 1915

Mr PALMER (Echuca) .- Unquestionably we are face to face at the present moment with the gravest diffi culties that have ever confronted Australia. We have a great obligation to the Empire, because it has befriended and helped us in every possible way. Australia was given autonomy, and I believe that at heart our people are thoroughly loyal. But loyalty requires that w© shall not only talk, but do; and not only do, but do our best; and as time goes on it seems to become more evident that, no matter how strong the desire may be that we should do our best, that best has not been accomplished. We have listened to a sorry tale from the honorable member for Perth, who has told us that the manager of one of our works for producing essentials of war has been disloyal.

Mr Fowler - I did not say that.

Mr PALMER - The honorable member's statement amounted to that. That manager was so recalcitrant that he was not ready to give evidence to a properlyappointed Committee of this Parliament, and, in the judgment of the honorable member for Perth, that gentleman has been the means of preventing the Factory turning out the full number of rifles which it is capable of producing. In other words, the manager has opposed the institution of a second shift. I am in agreement with the mass of the people that the Factory should be kept going continuously, to the limit of its capacity. It is useless to talk about installing a larger plant for the output of more rifles, because probably no increase ""could be obtained until the war is over. What is wanted is an increased output immediately, but that does not seem possible. Why ? If that Factory had been under the control of private individuals, selfinterest would have prompted them to keep the Factory going. But under Government control the establishment works only one shift of twelve hours, which, in the opinion of some people, involves overworking the men, so that the output is little, if any, greater than it would be if a shorter shift were worked. What power is there behind the manager of any Government-controlled f actor y to compel him to do what is his obligation - his best? I venture to think that the present Government have some earnestness of purpose, and- if they thought they could force the pace in regard to the Small Arms Factory they would have done so, so that more rifles could have been produced and more men sent to the front. Of course, the policy of the Government is that factories producing material for the State should be own,ec and controlled by the State, but the more we see of those establishments, the more we realize the futility of the hope that a factory controlled by the Government can do better than a factory controlled by private enterprise. How is it possible for a Government kept in office by Labour men to force Labour men to do what they do not wish to do? They cannot, and if the Minister of Home Affairs were to face the facts fairly and squarely he would admit that to .be the position. The Government cannot be the controllers and the controlled at the one time. There is another Defence matter to which I wish to refer. I am not at all sure whether the Government do or do not want more recruits. Sometimes w-j seem to be encouraged to induce the young men to enlist, and at the present time there are in the streets of Melbourne posters, the purpose of which is the stimulating of recruiting, but we are told that often when m«n come forward they are discouraged before they can have the opportunity to enlist. Honorable members -ought to be able to go into the country and urge all young men to enlist, but when there is a doubt as to whether men can be equipped when they do become enrolled, our argument loses its force. Enlistment receives a very serious setback by incidents such as that I will now relate to the Committee. A good many married men have enlisted on the supposition that their wives and families would receive a sufficient allowance from the Defence Department to provide for their wants. At least five wives of men who have gone to the front have approached me, and stated that their husbands had sacrificed their ordinary income to go to the front, but the Department had failed to give them the pay which it was pledged to give. I will mention a specific case. About the 1st June I received a letter from Mrs. Mary Rosser, the wife of a man who went to the front, and the mother of four children. She had written to the Department to complain that no pay had been received by her; she was in need of money for the maintenance of herself and children, but the Department had failed to comply with her request. Consequently, she addressed herself to me, and I handed her letter to the Assistant

Minister of Defence, who promised to investigate the matter. On the 11th June I received this reply -

With reference to a letter from Mrs. Mary Rosser, relative to her husband's pay, passed by you to the Assistant Minister of Defence, I beg to inform you that a report is being obtained, immediately upon receipt of which you will be further communicated with. Obviously a week is a matter of no great concern to the Defence Department, but to a woman who has to maintain herself and four children, and has no money with which to procure food for them, it is a very long time. I have now received from the unfortunate woman this piteous appeal, which I think it is the duty of the Minister of Home Affairs to bring under the notice of the Minister of Defence, with the request that it- be immediately inquired into -

Dear Sir,

As I have had no further reply from the

Defence Department, your letter of the 3rd June was the last, for which I must thank you. It is hard to think that a wife and four children are left to beg, and nothing can bc done. As for my husband not been traced, his clothes has been sent home since I wrote to you, so his name must be found somewhere.

Trusting you can help me, and to hear from you soon,

I remain

Mab? Rosser

This case is not only a hardship to the woman, but such happenings have their effect on recruiting. Mrs. Rosser lives in a country town, and I venture to say that her case is known to every person resident there. In that town a meeting has been called for the purpose of encouraging youn.? men to go to the front, but what chance is there of inducing men to come forward for enlistment when the wife of a man from that district has been treated in the way I have described ? It is farcical to expect men to enlist in such circumstances.

Mr Archibald - There must be some mistake. It does not follow that the Government are to blame.

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