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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr HUNTER (Maranoa) .- During the debate to-=day, several honorable members have stressed the point that Australia is on the verge of another financial and economic depression, similar to that which commenced in 1929. That depression was not so severe as those which have occurred in other countries, such as the United States of America, where every seven or eight years many banks are compelled to close their doors. We. should, not speak of depressions when there is no need to do so, because it has a psychological effect upon the people. We recall that at a certain stage after certain happenings in Australia .the people immediately unbuttoned their pockets and money commenced to circulate.

Mr Brennan - Are we not entitled to say that we are heading towards another depression ?

Mr HUNTER - I deny that that is the case. Australia cannot become financially depressed as quickly as some other countries, because of the way in which it obtains its wealth. Although the complaint is often made that conditions in Australia are not so good as they might .be, it cannot be denied that they are considerably better than they were some years ago; they are certainly better than they were three years ago. One of the principal factors militating against the improvement of conditions in Australia is that it derives most of its wealth from its exportable surplus of primary products which has to be disposed of in the overseas markets. If abnormal conditions prevail in the overseas markets Australia is directly affected. Another factor which has retarded improvement in this country is the continuance on a large scale of governmental works which were commenced during the depths of the depression as a means of relieving unemployment. Whilst it is the duty of governments during bad times to start all sorts of works as a means of absorbing the unemployed, even to the employment of men chipping grass from the pave ments, when a state of comparative prosperity exists the provision of such works should correspondingly decrease. But today probably as much government work is going on as was necessary during the bad times, and if Australia is unfortunate enough to have to face another bad period it will not be possible for governments to extend their works beyond what they are now undertaking. Prosperity is reached only when the maximum work is being provided by private enterprise. When a government engages in works, even of a productive character, a big proportion of them are noninterestbearing, or, in other words, are actually losing propositions. It might have been better had governments, during good times, boldly stopped, or tapered off, their works, and, to make up for the employment lost, also boldly decreased taxation to a considerable degree, or granted taxation exemptions to new industries, making for new employment, if necessary, borrowing to make up temporary deficits. Had that been done, in a few years' time the increased real employment would have meant a greater buoyancy in governmental revenues.

Decentralization of industry can be achieved by various methods. Relief of taxation for new industries, lower charges by local authorities for power and water, and favorable railway freights for raw materials to the factories, and for manufactured materials from the seat of manufacture, if these are away from the coast, to the point of consumption,' are but a few of the means that might be adopted to bring about this desirable result. Planned industrial development would increase our production and permit it to be sold at a lower price. The provision of £250,000 for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for industrial research is to be commended.

In considering the means by which we can foster new industries, it must first be conceded that any really new industry will add to employment and to our wealth. If that industry is not started, then we are short of that gain, though existing industrial enterprises have lost nothing. New industries should be given every facility for successful establishment before invoking the Customs Department to add to their costs and difficulties. Representatives of overseas factories have told me that, had they known the trouble they would be put to in the establishment of Australian branches, they never would have invested their capital here. What happens when a new industry, say, from the United States of America, is established here? The industry may have made money in the United States, and interested people wish to extend their business here. Their plans and specifications for the articles they produce are so exact, and are in many cases protected by patent rights, that, for the sake of their good name, they dare not depart from their exact formulae. Yet, as soon as they start manufacturing in Australia, at once existing local companies try to obtain prohibitions in respect of certain elements being imported which are necessary for the new industry, because they can be manufactured by those local companies. If it is pointed out that they cannot make the goods because they are protected by patent rights, then the plea is made that they can make something that will answer the same purpose. Every endeavour to get certain essential parts admitted under by-law is subjected to delay, because the Customs Department is obliged to see if any objection is raised by local interests. This immediately makes objection sure. Sometimes objections are withdrawn, but a great deal of worry is caused, and much delay is experienced in getting on with production. Hence great losses are suffered during the initial period of these business activities. If an entirely new article is to be manufactured, the company should be asked what it can buy here immediately, and what it will need to import; then permits should be granted forthwith for the factory to import for a limited period, until the factory is firmly established. By this method no existing business would lose anything, because, before the establishment of the new business the existing firms did not have the business. They cannot claim as a loss something which they never had. And it is fairly certain that, in a short time, as soon as possible, the new business itself will try to manufacture locally all essential parts, resulting in greatly increased business all round. [Quorum farmed.] The new company will give new employment which previously had not existed, it should not matter to the country who gives the employment, so long as it is given. But the old established businesses insist that they alone shall give the employment, although they take no part in the initiation of it, and by forcing the new company to take their . product, which cannot be so good as what the new company wants, and, being a new article, cannot be so cheap, they thus add to the costs, and decrease the efficiency of the new enterprise. This, of course, delays the swing of the maximum of employment.

The customs officials must not be blamed for they simply administer the law. They do this as sympathetically to the new industry as they possibly can. But they are always liable to censure if they err on the wise side, and allow importations of essentials. They have to administer government policy. These companies are loud in their praises of the customs officials who try all they can to help them, but are confined by the policy of the Government. The Government, therefore, should adopt a new policy of- giving the utmost encouragement to new industries to get them firmly established before enforcing the law too strictly. Certainly the 'Government should not . ask tha opinions of other businesses which naturally resent fresh firms coming in, and, perhaps, making money.

Mr Mulcahy - The Government is opposed to the establishment of new industries here.

Mr HUNTER - That is not so. If industry is to be efficient in Australia, we must allow the newest ideas to be expressed here as freely as possible. Nothing should be done to force our people to continue using the inefficient methods of the past.

I wish now to refer to the Government's youth employment scheme under which .a grant of £400,000 has been made to the State governments. Closely allied to the necessity for new industries is the need to provide work of the proper kind for young lads as they reach working age. To make the best preparation for them it is essential that new industries shall be established. New government works are not sufficient, for, in the main, they provide only navvying work.

However, one class of young men has never been properly looked after. I refer to the men who, to-day, are approaching the age of 25 or 26 years. During the years of the depression, and after they had left school, they could not get work anywhere. I know men of that age, personally, who have never worked, except at labouring jobs and only temporarily at that. Yet they could all have been absorbed into work long ago - at least to the proportion that they would have been absorbed into work in normal circumstances - provided proper plans had been made, and followed. Of course, a percentage of men always fail in spite of all the encouragement that is given to them.

It is not within the province of the Commonwealth Government to deal with these problems, for all phases of industry come within the scope of State governments. The Commonwealth Government can only help the States by grants of money. The grant of £400,000 to which I have already referred, was made with that object in view. I feel safe in assuming that very few of the young men whom I have in mind will ever receive permanent jobs as the result of that grant, and the main thing is to find them permanent jobs. The Commonwealth has come into the picture of its own accord, and must bear its proportion of blame for not getting these lads started.

SirFrederick Stewart. - The training schools in New SouthWales are doing good work.

Mr HUNTER -Whilst it is necessary for the boys to be trained, it is clear that it will be so long before their " theoretical training" is completed that people will have lost sight of the fact that the boys will need a job. Governments will get full credit for having initiated such a good so-called "plan" to place these young men, but later on, when the actual need to get a job arises, people will have forgotten all about it. As a matter of fact, these unfortunate men will not be placed in industry, and so are to be pitied. The reason for their unemployment will have been lost sight of long before they are qualified to obtain a job. As boys leave school and come on to the employ ment market year in and year out, they will get such jobs as are available at boys' wages and will gradually become trained, ana grow up fully trained in the business; there will be little incentive, if any, for employers to employ new men at full wages - even if they are supposed to be " trained theoretically ". If a trained man's job is available, an apprentice is usually promoted, or a practical and trained man is advertised for who must show that he has had experience. Some incentive, therefore, must be offered to employers to give employment to those unfortunate " old " boys. At present, the only reason for ever giving employment to them is pity - and, as every one knows, pity is non-existent in business in these days. No business can afford to let " pity " interfere with efficiency. Yet even to-day some business men who are able to provide employment are willing to pay some regard to this " lost legion ". They would give them jobs at once, and put up for a time with all the faults of rawness, provided that they were relieved of the need to pay full award rates to men, for these boys are now men with no practical experience. Should not the main object of governments be to find permanent jobs ultimately for these men and lads who are in their present position through no fault of their own?

Perhaps it will be claimed that it is against the interests of Labour to employ anybody at less than award rates. That, I contend, is not so. No untrained man is worth award rates for skilled work which he cannot do. In fact, such a man is a definite loss at almost any wage, for a time. Therefore, if the award stands in such cases, such men must remain unskilled for ever, and be condemned, for all their working days, to intermittent and temporary work. Is this desirable from the nation's point of view? Is it fair to the lads and men themselves ?

Provision could be made to prevent unscrupulous employers from trading on a properly planned method to employ lads and men at less than award wages. Before a person is so employed, permission should be sought from the State Labour Department. Persons desiring such work could be registered, and their conditions of employment laid down, such as a sliding scale of wages, a definite period of employment of, say, two years, or less, at less than award rates. Provision should be made for an adequate training during the apprenticeship period - such men should not be used simply as cheap labourers and it should be a condition that such persons attend a technical college, either during the day in the employer's time,' or at night without fees. Finally, to prevent dismissals when the two-year period expired so that fresh lads could be engaged, the employers should guarantee employment after the training is completed - for a short period at any rate, if loss of business made it impossible for an employer to provide work any longer.

Safeguards to the employers should also be made. For instance, they should have the right to dismiss lads within the first three months if it were seen that they were unsuited for the work they were required to do. But no dismissal should be permitted during the apprenticeship period unless the consent of the State Labour Department had first been obtained. Alternatively, the employers could be subsidized to some small extent in the payment of the wages of such apprentices.

I have discussed this matter with both manufacturers and industrialists, and they have offered no objection to such a scheme. The chief fear of the industrialists is that if such a scheme were adopted trained men mighty be dismissed to make way for " cheap labour ". Therefore, no one should be asked to make a place for the " extra " man under the scheme. But such labour is not " cheap " from the employer's point of view. Similar plans, have actually been put into practice in several places to my own knowledge. Before our industrial laws became strict, I know of one man who left his profession at 22 _years of age, and engaged in an entirely new vocation at fi a week after months of unemployment. In less than six months he was in full charge, and was receiving a good salary. All the details of one case of this description are known to me intimately, for the man concerned is a relation. I could in fact mention many actual cases of men who only needed a chance to do something. Hundreds of men have been deprived of their chance through faulty plans, or an entire lack of plans, by Commonwealth and State governments, and public money is actually being wasted although the public has been led to believe that these lads are being given a chance. Honorable members receive letters every week regarding the impossibility of securing work for these " old " boys. Some States have adopted the idea of subsidizing employers without conditions. The objection to this is that in some cases, rare perhaps, men are dismissed to make room for the learners. Other States have made no place for actual employment in their plans which are based solely on what they consider to be " training ". The serious objection to such " plans " is . that suitable " trades and callings " are limited by the State authorities. Farming is included and admittedly that calling offers no outlet for boys and young men who have no capital to become farmers. They are therefore condemned to remain farm workers all their lives. The trades and callings in which boys are admitted to college are limited, and so, incidentally, is the number of boys so admitted. But. the most serious objection is that in none of the callings for which the boys are presumed to be trained is any guarantee given that work will be provided after the training period has been completed. Yet the Commonwealth is subsidizing the State governments to the amount of £400,000 for this purpose. I consider that this money is being wasted. K"o scheme should be subsidized unless it includes a guarantee to provide work. The conditions governing this grant should be reviewed immediately, and the grant withdrawn unless satisfactory provision is made to ensure the employment of the youths and men who are trained.

I have said that the depression years were responsible for most of the unemployment among young men, but I regret that I must accuse the Postal Department of responsibility for many " dead-end " jobs among our young men, particularly in country towns. In small country centres there is usually only a stock and station agent's office, the railway station and the post office where young men may look for other than hard manual labour. The young men usually vie with each other to secure appointment to the Postal Department, believing that once they pass the requisite examinations they are sure of permanent jobs for life. It is almost the only chance of a decent job open to boys in country towns. They are taken on temporarily as telegraph messengers, and, in some cases, are employed as temporary telephone operators. Sometimes they are kept in temporary employment for years, and if a request is made on their behalf for permanent employment, the authorities invoke the regulations, and reply that appointees to permanent positions must have passed the prescribed examination and be under sixteen years of age. I know of cases of boys who, while temporarily employed, have passed the examination, and then have been kept on as temporary employees until after they have passed the age of sixteen. In the meantime, younger lads have passed the examinations and been appointed to permanent positions. There must have been a vacancy; otherwise, the new boy would not have been employed and neither would the lad referred to have been kept on in a temporary capacity. Eventually, the temporary lad is dismissed, although he has qualified for a permanent position. I have here the record of one temporary employee supplied tome by his father. I have verified the record, and have also inquired from postal officials as to what kind of lad he is. I have been assured that he is in every way suitable for appointment to a permanent position. He passed the examination for telegraph messengers when he was under sixteen years of age, and was given temporary employment. He passed the junior mechanics' examination, and has been regularly employed for six years by the department as telegraph messenger, telephonist, assistant and postal clerk. Thus his youth has been spent entirely in employment in the Postal Department, and he is now debarred from becoming apprenticed to any other occupation. Finally, when he is passed out, he will be incapable of doing anything but postal work.

Mr Gander - Why did he not obtain a permanent appointment when he passed the examination?

Mr HUNTER - Because the authorities said there was no " permanent " vacancy; but there must have been a vacancy or he would not have been temporarily employed. In such cases, if any representations are made on behalf of the temporary employee he is given the " sack " immediately. Here is another case. It is in the far west, in a town where there is no possibility of obtaining any other work. A grazier in this district has reported of the lad that he is very ambitious, of temperate habits, has a good education, and is of gentlemanly behaviour. This lad, in a letter, states that when he was thirteen he was in the top class at school, and when an examination for telegraph messengers was held, he was not eligible to sit: he was too young. Another boy, who was fourteen, and in a lower class, passed the examination, and got an appointment. The lad went to the Toowoomba Grammar School after obtaining a scholarship, and then returned to his own town, where he has been employed temporarily for four years. The answer of the department to complaints of this kind is no answer at all. The new Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) should suspend the regulations until he has personally investigated every one of these cases of temporary employment. The matter is urgent, and I hope there will be no more sackings until a thorough investigation has been made. I desire again to congratulate the Government on having another surplus, but I think that those good times have gone.

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