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Friday, 2 May 1930

Senator DUNCAN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - The action taken by the Government is most regrettable and unfortunate, and is calculated to stir up all kinds of conflict and trouble at a time in our national life when such things should not happen. I feel that Ministers have not given the matter the full consideration it warrants. They have not looked at it from all the angles from which it should be viewed. There is no need at this time to stress the obligations of the people of Australia to returned soldiers. It is generally admitted by all, with few exceptions, that so long as there are returned soldiers in our midst, those obligations remain. During the war quite definite promises were made. As Senator Sampson ha.3 said, they were not asked for, but they were given. The soldiers were assured that when they came back to Australia a grateful nation would see that they were given something a little better than a fair chance. That promise has not always been kept, but it was an obligation imposed on the community which was accepted by all sections, all parties and all interests. No one at that time would have dared to stand against giving a promise of that kind. But now, after many years, it is proposed to depart from what has for a long time been an accepted principle - that of a straight-out preference to returned soldiers. Mistakes may have been made by the past Government, but that does not in any way remove the obligation on the part of the present Government or succeeding governments to honour the promises that were made to our soldiers, and the argument of the Minister on this point, therefore, was quite specious. It had very little reference to the present issue. The degree of preference hitherto extended by the Commonwealth to returned soldiers has been in many respects quite inadequate. Provided a returned soldier was as good mentally and physically as a non-returned soldier he would be given preference. A preference of that sort was worth hardly anything, but at any rate it was something which was worth retaining in the hope of getting more, and returned soldiers valued it exceedingly.

I have no desire to make any reflection upon the Government or upon anybody; it is not the time for anything of that sort; but I remind Ministers that at the last election this question was not raised, was not even mentioned. During the election returned soldiers were given to understand quite clearly by every party and every candidate that whatever might happen their interests would be conserved, and that nothing would be done to deprive them of any of the privileges they quite rightly enjoyed. Yet the Government has now announced a policy which means that returned soldiers, unless they are also trade unionists, will be deprived of the preference they have hitherto enjoyed. Our soldiers did a greater service to this country than it would be possible for any other section of the community to render, and to class them as being inferior as citizens to trade unionists is an entirely wrong policy. The man to whom this country owes an obligation should, because he is a returned soldier, be good enough to hold any position he is qualified to fill without being asked to furnish any further qualification. Yet now, no matter what his war service may have been or what his social or family obligations may be, he is to be asked not "What did you do as a soldier?" nor "What promises were made to you as a soldier?" but " Are you a trade unionist?"

Senator Guthrie - "If not, you can starve !"

Senator DUNCAN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If he is not a trade unionist, I am afraid his position is likely to be a most deplorable one. He will not be able to obtain employment.

Senator Hoare - Why cannot he join a union ?

Senator DUNCAN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - To compel a returned soldier to join a trade .union if he does not wish to do so is a most unfortunate stand to take up. His qualifications as a returned soldier should be quite sufficient in this community without any further requirement being imposed upon him.

There are not too many returned soldiers in our midst to-day. They arc dying very rapidly, and in a few years those who have not gone will not be in a physical condition to compete with the rest of the community for the jobs that are offering. In the few years, therelore, between now and then, I feel that we ought not to repudiate our obligations to them. If the Government will undo what it has done and leave the position as it was, which X beseech it to do, it will redound to its credit; it will show the people of Australia that Ministers arc mindful of the obligations of the community to returned soldiers, and that the Commonwealth Parliament has not forgotten what Australia owes to the men of the Australian Imperial Force.

SenatorLYNCH (Western Australia) [12. 10 J. - I believe that I am correct in saying that no one regrets the necessity for this motion more than does Senator Glasgow himself, but he could not avoid submitting it because he has been " through the mill " and knows what the returned soldiers, as portion of the Australian Army, did at the front. He does not want Australians to become ungrateful all at once. I do not think that they are ungrateful. I do not think the party that stands behind the Government is ungrateful. But there is an element in that party that has never had any time for returned soldiers, and the predominance of that small section of the Labour party has caused this unfortunate step to be taken by the Government. In his playful, bantering way, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) has told us that his Government is as loyal and as keen in the interests of returned soldiers as are honorable senators of the Opposition. Words are cheap; it is actions that count. Surely the vast body of returned soldiers in Australia are seeking no more than they are entitled to get when they ask for the right to work and live, and when they ask their country to have some recollection of the part they played during the war. They played .it when other men would not. They realized that if they did not take up the cudgels on behalf of this country, it would most likely be in for a bad time. Has any one amongst this ungrateful band ever tried to picture what would have happened to Australia if fate had ordained otherwise and we had lost the war? Some people say that we should not have been very much worse off. The pity is that, they do not go to those other countries where they say the conditions of life are better than they are in Australia.

The latest action of the Government does not indicate the correctness of the Minister's remark that Ministers are loyal and keen to the interests of returned soldiers. The Minister also claimed that discrimination had been shown in the ranks of the Nationalists and that returned soldiers had not been given their due. In the last. Government there were five returned soldiers.

Senator Guthrie - There were eight.

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