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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Mi.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [8.50].- I do not propose to waste my time by replying fully to the lame apology just put forward by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) as a reply to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). The points made by the Leader of the Opposition are acceptable to more than onehalf of the people of this country, and that is good enough for me. However, the Minister made one or two statements to which I want to reply. He made reference to the rise in wages since this Government came into office. One of the cries which have come from this Government has been that we must do something to curb inflation, and the Government says that wage rises are inflationary. The Minister referred to a rise in wages, but he did not indicate what the rise in real wages was. The Minister spoke also of a rising population. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) pointed out to-night that the Government is bringing migrants to this country, but where are they to live and work? The Minister, in his speech, made no mention of the rising unemployed population of this country.

I turn now to the Government members from Queensland. Four of the fifteen of them have spoken in this debate, but not one of the three who spoke to-day or the one who spoke the other day dealt with this no-confidence motion. Each of them dodged the issue. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) said he could not support the motion and made a speech about the development of northern Australia. Let me tell him that I have made speeches in this place to a government of the same political kidney as this one, in the days prior to the war, on the undeveloped north, on the undefended north and on the need for roads for the north. I asked that government to assist the Queensland Government to build roads in north Australia. I asked it to build defence roads there and it had the audacity to tell me that roads were of no defence value in north Queensland. It was no contribution to this debate for the honorable member to rise in his place and talk about the development of north Australia. The people of his own electorate want to know what he is going to do for the unemployed there and what he is going to do to boost business there, but he indulged only in this airy-fairy talk, in the hope of having it published and making propaganda out of it, so that he would not have to admit where he stands on the issue with which we are dealing.

The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) also made a speech about the development of northern Australia, but he went further than did the honorable member for Herbert and talked about establishing a regional committee. He has stolen that idea from the North Australian Geological and Geophysical Survey Committee, which was constituted of representatives of the Queensland and Western Australian Governments and of people from this place. That committee made a very valuable contribution towards the opening up of the uranium fields in Queensland, and I believe that a committee similar to it should be constituted to plan the development of the north. The honorable member for Capricornia said that there should be more new States, but if this Government continues in office there will be no people in Queensland to form new States; they will be squeezed out. I do not want to waste time in referring further to the honorable member.

I ask the honorable member for Herbert: What about the plywood mills and timber mills in his electorate? What has he got to say with regard to the 1,500,000 feet of plywood coming into this country from overseas and forcing our ply-mills in Queensland to close? He made no mention of that, of course. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) said, " If you have any complaints about the credit squeeze, get a letter and bring it here ".

I propose now to deal with the issues before the House, which are the noconfidence motion, the credit squeeze and the economic policy - or lack of it - of this Government. I wish to refer particularly to the position in Queensland and will deal first with a statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) which was reported in the Brisbane " Courier-Mail " last Tuesday. The Minister referred to the fact that in Queensland we have 3.3 per cent, of the registered unemployed in Australia. The average for all States is 1.7 per cent., so the Queensland average is nearly double the Australian average. Of course, at this time of the year we have seasonal unemployment in Queensland. The cane cutters are not working and the sugar-mills and meatworks are closed. I want to read an extract from the " Brisbane Telegraph " of 14th March, headed " 3,000 seeking first jobs ". It reads as follows:- -

More than 3,000 children who left school last year in Queensland have not found employment. This means that about one in every nine children who left school is out of work.

The honorable member for Herbert may laugh now, but he will go back to the mill after the speech that he made to-day. The report continues -

A Commonwealth Labour and National Service official to-day said that 6,015 of the 19,367 registered for jobs in Queensland are juniors. Al least half of these left school last year.

That is the position in Queensland with regard to juniors. We had a very distinguished visitor - the right honorable the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) - in Queensland on 27th February last, and he was told by a deputation of union officials from the Queensland Trades and Labour Council that there were over 35,000 unemployed in Queensland. The unemployment position there is pretty serious and is the worst we have had since the days of the depression. The only reply that the deputation received from the Treasurer was that there had been increases in wages and in living standards. He dodged the issue, just as other members on the Government side of the House have dodged the issue in this debate. In the " Brisbane Telegraph " of 27th February appeared a statement by Mr. J. R. James, secretary of the Queensland Employers Federation. That was on the day that the Treasurer met the delegation. The report reads as follows: -

Mr. J.R. James, Secretary of the Queensland Employers' Federation, to-day said a frank statement on Australia's economic problems was needed. He said Mr. Holt last night did little to remove the atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty produced by the Federal Government's vacillating economic policy. Also wanted was a firm decision on measures necessary to achieve stability and ensure orderly progress and development. Any such measures, Mr. James said, should be designed to distribute the burden of any sacrifices necessary as equitably as possible over all sections of industry and commerce.

To-day in Queensland people who normally support this Government are openly hostile because of its rapid changes in policy. They are demanding a frank and unequivocal statement, as suggested by Mr. James, who referred also to the doubts and uncertainty that had been produced by the Government's vacillating policy. Honorable members might say that Mr. James is not a Labour man. I do not know him, and I do not know his politics, but by virtue of the position he occupies I would say that he is a supporter of the Government. I would go further and say that you can rest assured that what he has said would be the views of his organization. It is all very well for the Government to talk about the percentage of workers who are unemployed, but their future is pretty bleak and black.

During the Christmas recess I took the opportunity to travel extensively in the inland grazing areas of Queensland, and also along the coast. A large area of western Queensland experienced fairly dry conditions last year, with the result that graziers reduced their stock. In December, light rain fell over a vast area. After the Christmas period - early in January - most of the graziers who had lightly-stocked their properties during the drought went along to their bank managers and requested additional financial accommodation to enable them to buy more stock, but the bank managers knocked them back. One man to whom I spoke informed me that he had assets valued by the bank at £97,000. He said, " I airily blew in to see the bank manager. I wanted a few quid to buy some stock from Starvation Corner." That is the name by which a part of Queensland that has had very little rain during the last few years is known. He told me that the bank manager had knocked him back and so he was not able to purchase stock and bring them to a place where he had feed for them. If he had been able to purchase the stock, not only would their lives have been saved but production would have been increased. As he could not get the money, the stock died.

Graziers who have overdrafts have been told to reduce them by the end of March. For the information of Government members particularly, I want to quote from the Queensland " Country Life " of 9th March, the current issue of that journal. An article in it contains this statement -

Graziers in central coastal Queensland are more worried by credit restrictions than the prolonged effects of the early dry season on the cattle market. This was the feeling of members attending the annual meeting of the Gladstone District Branch of the C.C.G.A. last Friday. ... The retiring 'branch chairman, (Mr. P. V. Walker) said that in the last three months he had met cattlemen who 'had been hamstrung by credit restrictions. . . . Mr. Walker said that he had been in touch with some of the biggest stock agents in the State but could not get a buyer to look at lines of cows and calves.

Where are they to get the money so that they can have a look at Mr. Walker's lines of cows and calves?

When the Treasurer was in Queensland he addressed a meeting that was held in, I think, the Lilley electorate and the following report appeared subsequently in the Brisbane " Courier-Mail " under the heading " Bankers going too far " -

Trading banks in some instances apparently had sought to carry the directive on reducing overdrafts into areas where it was never intended to operate, the Federal Treasurer (Mr. Holt) said last night. This applied particularly to rural credit, he said ... He had been asked if it did not appear trading banks had been overzealous in their efforts to reduce overdrafts.

Mr. Holtsaid: " I do not know that I would join in judgment of that sort. What I would hope to find is that the banks have faithfully carried out the terms of the Reserve Bank directive, which is in line with Government wishes.

The Treasurer said that he hoped the banks would carry out the directive of the Reserve Bank. Hope springs eternal, but this hope business is not of much value to a man who has been told that he has to reduce his overdraft. Apparently from the Government's point of view, the banks have gone too far. What action has the Government taken to force the banks to lift any restriction? The banks have been told, by direction of this Government, to reduce overdrafts by £70,000,000 by 31st March. In doing that they will hit every section of the community. It is just twaddle for the Treasurer to talk about the banks having gone too far in carrying out the directive of the Government. It is no wonder that he is known in Queensland as " Pass the Buck Harold ", because he is trying to hide behind the banks.

Another case was brought to my notice concerning a grazier who had been banking with a certain bank for 47 years. He had an overdraft which at its peak stood at £40,000, but he had reduced it to £10,000. He went to the bank to obtain £350 to enable him to repay a debt. The bank manager told him that not only could he not get the £350, but also he would have to reduce his overdraft. The grazier then applied to a pastoral firm, the manager of which told him that he could not give him the firm's money but that he would lend him a few bob of his own. Eventually, the man obtained the £350 he wanted. My point is that although this man had had a peak overdraft of £40,000, he could not obtain £350, and in addition he was told to reduce his overdraft. The Treasurer tries to hide behind the fact that the banks have apparently gone too far in carrying out the directive of the Government.

Everywhere I went during the recess, I made inquiries about the effect of the credit squeeze, particularly the unemployment it was creating. I visited many of the larger towns along the Queensland coast, including Gladstone. On 24th August last, during the adjournment debate in this House, I read a telegram that had been received by the Leader of the Opposition from the Trades and Labour Council at Gladstone. It stated that the council was facing a state of emergency in Gladstone. I did not go to Gladstone myself but I got in touch with a unionist in the town by telephone. I was told that 800 men were unemployed and that in January a job for a grave-digger was advertised and 29 men had applied. It is true that the bulk of the 800 men were seasonal meatworkers who had been unemployed since the end of August last. It is also true that a seasonal allowance is included in their weekly pay, but this disability allowance does not mean that they can remain idle for the other six months of the year.

I now desire to refer to the meatworks owned by Swift Australia Company (Proprietary) Limited. The following statement appeared in the Rockhampton " Morning Bulletin " of 8th March, under the heading " Investigating Rumoured Meatworks Closure" -

The Central District sub-branch of the A.M.I.E.U. is investigating unconfirmed reports that Swift's meatworks at Gladstone will not open this year.

I was in touch with the union by telephone to-day and I was told that the position is much the same as when the manager for Swifts made a press statement on 9th March to the effect that although no date had been fixed, the company would start operations when sufficient cattle were available. This is a case of " live horse and you will get the grass ". The outlook in Gladstone is still pretty grim. It is obvious from the number of cattle that are available that the season is going to be a very short one. In Rockhampton I found there were 900 registered unemployed but 1 was told that the number of persons out of work was nearer 2,000. In Townsville there were 2,000 unemployed and 900 had registered. In Mackay, 1,200 persons of a population of 17,500 were unemployed; that is, one person in six was without work. All tocal authority and State public works had been closed down. A tramline that was being built to Farleigh mill was closed and if money is not forthcoming, work on it will cease altogether. This is all due to the credit squeeze.

That is the picture with which honorable members on the Government side should have dealt. There will be plenty of time in the future to talk about north Australia. The big problem now is what we are to do with the 35,000 persons in Queensland who have no work. This number includes 3,000 children who have just left school. The Government must answer for this situation to the man in the street.

In Queensland, it is not only the worker who has been hit. The businessmen have been affected because the workers are suffering. Business has never been worse in Rockhampton and Townsville. In Brisbane, Mr. Bruce Pie, one of the leaders of the Liberal Party in the Queensland Parliament, is reported to have announced that Bruce Pie Industries Limited will sack between 40 and 50 employees from its big Kedron textile mill. The "Courier-Mail " reported yesterday -

This is the latest Queensland enterprise to be struck by the Federal Government's economic squeeze.

The managing director of the firm (Mr. Bruce Pie) announced this last night following a serious slump in mill orders.

He blamed the Government's abolition of import controls and " uncertainty " in business resulting from the credit clamp.

Mr. Piesaid the sackings would take place " within the next few days ".

The Bruce Pie mill employs 648. It operates two spinning and two knitting shifts daily.

The Chamber of Manufactures' general manager (Mr. L. A. Suggars) last night said Queensland manufacturers were concerned over the business slump.

He said that if it continued more industries would face having to sack staff.

Mr.Suggars said manufacturers reported orders had dropped since the beginning of March and the fall-off was continuing.

The " Courier-Mail " is conducting a survey of the situation and it reported on 15th March -

Yesterday's " Courier-Mail " survey of the economicclamp effects on Queensland showed: -

Northgate cannery daily has " hundreds " looking for work. Many wait all day in the cannery canteen hoping for casual jobs.

The Royal Australian Institute of Architects reports that of 100 Queensland architect firms circularised the 23 who have so far replied have had £9,000,000 worth of building jobs suspended or cancelled.

A Wickham Terrace doctor recently received 300 applications from all over Australia when he advertised for a woman receptionist.

That, briefly, is the position in Queensland. My final word to the Government is this: All sections of the community are condemning the Government for its failure to meet the problems of the last few years. The Government stands condemned for its incapacity, inactivity and complacency. It cannot blame a world depression for the morass into which this country is slipping. All aspects of the economic position have been dealt with by Opposition speakers. Queensland is the hardest hit of all the States. I believe that the observations of responsible people condemn this Government and support the Labour Party. The Government has lost the confidence of electors as election day will show.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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