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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) .- Mr. Speaker,I support very sincerely the protest by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) against the Government's handling of Australia's economy. I would say that in making this speech, I represent 95 per cent, of the voters in my electorate. I believe that the Leichhardt constituency is the one which has been hardest hit by this Government's recent economic measures. I have been rather astonished at the way in which Government back-benchers have tried to vindicate their action in voting in support of the legislative proposals by which the Government's recent economic measures were effected. Prior to the recent parliamentary recess, Government back-benchers were very much down in the dumps. During the recess, many of them sought visits to their electorates by Cabinet Ministers, not for the purpose of convincing the voters generally, but for the special purpose of convincing their own supporters, that the action they had taken was right. They seem to have had a brain-washing since they returned to this Parliament, and they now state all the reasons they can find to establish that the Government's actions have been best for the country.

Every local government authority and every chamber of commerce in my electorate has telegraphed or written to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) explaining the drastic effects of the Government's measures on the timber industry. So drastic have these effects been that they have put a damper on the whole of the development of the north. Government supporters have accused honorable members on this side of the House of trying to paint a gloomy picture. There is no need for us to paint a gloomy picture. One has only to visit the north to see how gloomy the picture really is. I should like to read to honorable members several extracts from a statement by the chairman of the north Queensland section of the Queensland Plywood Board, which was published in the " Cairns Post " this week. 1 know this gentleman personally. He does not support my policy, but he has done a great deal to help develop the north. He has given a lot of time to this task and he is a supporter of this Government. How he can have the intestinal fortitude to continue to vote for the Government after having made these statements which appeared in the " Cairns Post ", I do not know. This gentleman stated -

Further retrenchments in the North Queensland plywood industry bring the total number of unemployed in the industry to 489 . . .

This is only in the plywood industry. A total of 860 men have been dismissed from all the timber mills in the north of Queensland. Nine mills have closed completely. This man went on to explain the whole position of the timber mills, and he concluded -

The stringent credit restrictions imposed by the Federal Government are having a serious effect on the building and allied industries throughout Australia and it is hard to understand why the Government continues to believe the unemployment position is not getting out of hand. Some very urgent measures will have to be taken by the Government to arrest the serious trend in the building, timber and plywood industries. Action needs to be taken now.

This situation presents a very serious problem when its effects are added to those of seasonal unemployment. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) often talks about seasonal unemployment in Queensland. We know perfectly well that restrictions like those imposed by this Government aggravate the effects of seasonal unemployment. The timber industry in the north, without these restrictions, could absorb some of the seasonal workers in the off season, as it has always done, and mills would not have to be closed and timber workers dismissed. The restrictions imposed by the Government will double the number who are usually unemployed seasonally in the north.

The Minister has the audacity to say that there are plenty of positions vacant in the south. How docs he expect any man who has gone into the north to help develop our country, worked hard for years, obtained a home and established his family, to pick up his chattels and take his family south away from the area which his children after him could have helped to develop, and sacrifice the home that has cost him so much money and so many years of effort to obtain, to say nothing of buying extra clothes and paying fares to enable him to go south in the search for ordinary work? These things cause double dissatisfaction. We cannot expect people to go to the north and help develop it if these things happen. The unemployment situation in north Queensland is now worse than I have seen it since the last depression. I was only a lad then, but I remember what things were like.

The flood of imported plywood into Australia since the removal of import restrictions is the main cause of the decline of the plywood industry. It has no earthly chance of getting its product to the market on terms on which that product can compete with Japanese plywood, which is produced in a country with a very low standard of living, and which can be shipped by direct shipping services from the port at which it rs produced to the port at which it will be used. We are up against it in the north, because the forests are owned by the Crown, and the State collects royalties on the timber. Every mill in the north cuts native timbers and the lack of roads and shipping services, as well as the great distances to markets, makes marketing very difficult and adds to costs. The timber has to travel by rail or road, and the high cost makes rt very difficult for the industry to keep going. It is not only the owners and employees of timber mills who suffer; the timber cutters and hauliers also have been affected by this credit squeeze and the removal of import restrictions.

I was very pleased to see on the noticepaper the notice of motion with respect to decentralization standing in the name of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond). I know that the honorable member's interest in this matter is shared by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). I have been much concerned about decentralization for a long time, and now these two supporters of the Government are beginning to wake up to the need for it. Yet they have no hesitation in voting for measures which will result in the direct reverse of decentralization, which they claim to favour. They have the temerity to say in this House that they want decentralization although they vote for legislation which promotes centralization more than ever.

I mentioned earlier that the Minister for Labour and National Service had said that unemployed timber workers in the north could find plenty of vacant jobs in the south. But let us consider the immigration position. Most of the migrants who have gone to the north have since drifted to the south, although there are quite a few who firmly believe that there are prospects of great prosperity in the north if the Government will only allow it to be developed.

Mr Murray - For many people, there are no alternative opportunities for employment.

Mr FULTON - For many, there is no alternative. This Government has made it absolutely impossible for a man willing to remain in the north to maintain his family there, but, at the same time, the Government and its supporters do not hesitate to talk about development of the north. We must remember, too, that we have been spending a lot of money in order to help Asiatic countries to develop their tropical areas ?nd improve their land in the hope that the people of those countries will have enough land to maintain families and will stay in their own countries as a consequence. For how long can these hopes be realized? The populations of Asiatic countries are growing faster than is the population of Australia, despite the rate of natural increase and the immigration programme in this country. Why cannot the Govern ment and the people of Australia set an example to the world and show the countries of Asia how to develop tropical areas? Would it not be far better for us to set an example and show what can be done in tropical areas? But our own tropical country is absolutely neglected and the Government introduces legislation which hinders the few people who are in the north from developing it and thereby contributing greatly to Australia's economic well-being. The measures adopted by this Government force people to leave the north and go to the cities, and this retards the development of our tropical areas, which, as I have said, should be developed in order to show other countries what can be done in the tropics. With treat pride, we. point to northern Australia as the only sugar-producing area in the world where the industry relies entirely on white labour. At the same time, we hope that the people of Asiatic countries will stay within their own boundaries and not come into northern Australia.

The other day. the Leader of the 01)position said something which I have been saying ever since I first began to play a part in local government. He said that we have no right to hold the tropical north unless we do something with it. Nor shall we hold it unless we do something with it. We also have not the right to deny any people outside the area the chance to develop its natural resources and its great potential in timber, minerals end so on. in the north we have a good natural rainfall which is allowed to run waste into the Pacific Ocean. If that water could be trapped in the way that water is being trapped in other places - for instance under the Snowy Mountains Scheme - these areas could be developed and made to produce anything. You could feed the world with the products of this region, because there is nothing that cannot be grown in a tropical area provided the Government adopts the right policy and encourages development.

Mr Chresby - It was a Labour Government that put in the Snowy Mountains scheme instead of starting a similar scheme up north.

Mr FULTON - Instead of putting artificial lakes in Canberra the Government should put lakes up in the north. During the debate we heard the Treasurer say that

Australia has the confidence of overseas investors, and he invited them to help to develop this country. How can honorable members justify their support for the Government's measures when such things happen as are reported in the " West Australian " of 10th March, 1961, as follows:-

Hilton Hotel Corporation, the vast Americanbased international hotel chain, has dropped out of a £32,000,000 expansion scheme in Australia.

A joint announcement by the Chevron and Hilton groups today blamed the recent drastic changes in the Australian economy for the split.

Mr Anthony - Is that why they stopped building at Surfers' Paradise four years ago?

Mr FULTON - 1 am not interested in Surfers' Paradise or in hotels, though I drink the commodity they sell. The people in my electorate will not be satisfied with the Government's explanation of its measures to curb the economic trend, because it is the people in such areas who suffer most from such measures, lt is the people in the outback areas, with scattered populations, which are not so electorally important as the big centres are, who suffer most from the effects of measures such as the Government is taking. So the Government's legislation could be said to be more political than economic. These people bear the brunt of the Government's policy. They pay taxes to develop this country. They face natural hardships and work hard for our development. Why should they have to bear extra burdens imposed by the Government on top of all that? Honorable members know perfectly well that the people in the outback areas are getting the worst end of the deal altogether. Their taxes go into financing the broadcasting services. Their money helps to give people in the capital cities two national radio programmes to choose from, but they themselves have never had an alternative national programme available to them. Their money is also being spent on the development of television, which is enjoyed by city people, who have the choice of three television stations as well as two national radio stations. Considering all these things, how can honorable members who support the legislation claim that they want to see a policy of decentralization followed in this country? Every economic measure brought down by the Government has an effect that is opposed to decentralization. If people are to be encouraged to develop Australia the Government must be sympathetic to them instead of making their task harder. They need encouragement for the big task that they have undertaken.

Every politician and every visitor to this country declared that Australia is a great land, a land of opportunity, a land fit for development and with great potential. Yet the Government goes humbugging around bringing in restrictive legislation whose effects are exactly the opposite of what we need if we are to develop this country.

The last honorable member who spoke talked about controls. We have to have controls. How car. anybody justify having no controls if we are to keep an even keel. Even in a small ordinary business there must be controls over buying and selling, otherwise the business would end up in the bankruptcy court. We cannot do away with controls. Big business in Australia is no different from ordinary small businesses. If exports do not pay for imports we cannot just say that we will produce more and at the same time apply a credit squeeze which will prevent increased production, because it will stop people from getting the money that they need to make the products that we want to sell overseas.

What is going to happen as a result of the proposed legislation to give tax concessions to people who increase their exports? Steel mills, for instance, will be encouraged by that legislation to produce more steel, but they will send all the steel they can overseas, not only because they can get higher prices for it there but also in order to earn the tax concession. The local building trade will suffer, and we will have to import steel to keep it going. So how are we going to benefit? We will be importing steel to replace cheaper steel that we have exported. We cannot balance our trade that way.

All these points must be considered. Although it may be thought that we are painting a gloomy picture, it is indeed a very dark picture for the people to whom we look to develop this country's outback, and who have hardship with them all the time. The Government's credit squeeze will affect these people seriously, because they will not be able to obtain the money needed to carry out the task of development which they have undertaken. If the credit squeeze were applied as was proposed to the young tobacco industry in Mareeba that industry would not be able to harvest its crop, yet it is an industry which needs development and encouragement. The people who are developing that industry are doing a service to the nation by helping to develop the area in which the industry is centred, because after all they could just as easily have invested their money in the metropolitan areas. Instead, they have gone to the outback to make their homes and raise their families, and encourage their children to stay in the area and develop it. But they are being subjected to the credit squeeze.

Mr Anthony - That is not correct.

Mr FULTON - It is correct. Go up there and see what is happening.

Mr Brimblecombe - You should read the banking regulations.

Mr FULTON - Never mind the banking regulations. No regulation is any good unless it is carried out properly. A regulation that is not correctly interpreted according to the spirit as well as the letter, is worth no more than the paper on which it is printed. The young people in outback areas who are attempting to make a future for their families there are penalized by the Government's restrictions. Yet at the same time honorable members who support these restrictions talk about the need for decentralization. They do not know where they are going and neither do the people of Australia, but in December I think that the people will tell honorable members opposite in a strong voice where they are going. Government supporters will need a lot of brain-washing before they go back to their electorates to try to justify their support of the economic measures.

Mr Anderson - Every member on this side of the chamber has supported the Government so far.

Mr FULTON - Members of the Country Party are the biggest squealers that I have in my area. I believe that members on this side of the chamber are very sincere in supporting this censure motion. It was very necessary to move this motion because if it had not been moved we would have not been able to tell the people what is happening. Nor would we have heard the squeaky voices from the backbenchers opposite trying to vindicate them selves for opposing the motion. They still have to go back to their electorates to do the same thing. I heartily commend the Leader of the Opposition for moving this want-of -confidence motion. It has given us an opportunity to express our dissatisfaction with the economic position in Australia to-day. We trust that, in the near future, better legislation will be brought down by a better party now on this side of the House.

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