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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr FOX (Henty) .- Last Thursday one of my colleagues said to me, " You are leading with your chin, are you not? ". When I asked him what he meant he said: " I see that you have your name down to speak on unemployment in the urgency debate next week. You cannot win with subjects like that." I suppose that is true if one's only purpose in speaking in a debate such as this is to try to defend a rising rate of unemployment. However, I believe there is more to the subject than that, although I must admit that I sometimes wonder whether these debates serve any purpose other than to become a vehicle for the dissemination of party propaganda.

During the comparatively short time I have been a member of this House the Opposition has raised the subject of unemployment on a number of occasions, the last time being about two years ago. I am not going to chide the Labour Party by saying that during its regime unemployment reached an all-time high in this country. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those days. I hope we have all learned a lesson from the depression and will not allow the same thing to happen again. 1 am not even going to chide the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) for a remark he passed about a reasonable level of unemployment because, as he reminded us by way of interjection last week, he made that remark in 1943. But I am going to chide the Opposition for its present attitude, not only in this House but outside of it as well.

Only recently in a television interview the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) stated that in his opinion 150,000 persons would be unemployed in Australia by the end of March. As usual he was wrong, but this type of statement, coming from a reputedly responsible person, does nothing to engender confidence in either the employer or the employee. It is more likely to create panic and to cause some employers to believe that things are worse than they are, thereby causing them to dismiss more of their employees than is really necessary.

It is likely also to cause employees to believe likewise and to button up their pockets and so reduce the amount of money in actual circulation, thus accelerating the rate of unemployment. I direct the same criticism towards the Chamber of Manufactures which last week inserted an advertisement in the Melbourne newspapers worded in such a way that it could create unnecessary panic among both employers and employees.

As I have said previously in this House, Statistics will not fill empty stomachs and the fact that we have only 2 per cent, unemployed in Australia is little consolation to a person who wants work and cannot find it. I do wish to direct attention, however, to the fact that unemployment in Canada is currently between 11 per cent, and 12 per cent, and that in the United States it is in the vicinity of 8 per cent. I sincerely believe that the low 2 per cent, unemployment in Australia is due in no small measure to the policies adopted by this Government during the time it has been in office. It is not reasonable to say that our unprecedented prosperity and development has just happened, that it would have taken place under any government, and at the same time blame the Government for any temporary setback that we experience. Apparently governments just cannot win.

Surely any thinking person should realize - particularly in an election year - that the Government, apart altogether from its desire to achieve full employment, must know that its political future virtually hangs on the rate of unemployment. It is common sense to believe that the Government will take whatever action it believes best, consistent with the best interests of Australia, to relieve unemployment. However, I do not believe that anything said by the Opposition during the course of this debate has provided anything of a constructive nature. Probably nothing I have said up to the present has contributed anything towards solving the unemployment problem, but I now want to make a suggestion Which I hope sincerely will be both constructive and helpful.

Each month the Department of Labour and National Service prepares a review of the employment situation. This review runs into a number of pages, but I am afraid that persons reading the document look only for two figures, each of which appears on the first page. I refer to the total number of persons registered for employment, and the number of persons receiving the unemployment benefit. I suppose those figures can be regarded as vital statistics, but to me the most interesting figures contained in the. review released last week appeared at page 8. I refer to a survey conducted by the Government of 2,426 factories employing about 447,000 persons. This survey revealed that 27.3 per cent, of the employees in these factories and 60.3 per cent, of the factories worked overtime in the week ended 17th February. I use these figures because they happen to be the latest figures given in the review. The survey showed further that the average overtime worked by these 27.3 per cent, of employees was 7.4 hours a week, equivalent to two hours per person for all of the employees in the 2,426 factories. If my mathematics are correct, this represents a total of 894,000 hours of overtime in one week, or enough overtime to provide 40 hours' work for 22,350 workers. As overtime rates are one and one-half times or twice normal wag3 rates, that amount of overtime must have been expensive to the employers. It must also have been expensive to the general public, because the cost of overtime is added to the cost of the manufactured goods. Moreover, the employer is obliged to pay additional pay-roll tax.

During the depression of the 1930's I worked for a firm which rationed the work available, and each employee lost one week's work in approximately every four. Some firms were less favorably placed than was the firm for which I worked and their employees lost one week's work in two. Even then, the level of unemployment was 30 per cent. I am not suggesting that normal work should be rationed, but I believe that with a little effort some of the overtime could be given to persons who are without employment. I realize that all sorts of arguments will be advanced against that suggestion. For example, it is logical to assume that a person who has been used to a certain kind of work is more efficient that a newcomer would be. But would that loss of efficiency be more expensive than the payment of overtime rates? Again, some tasks require special skills which are not possessed by the majority of the unemployed. But I believe these are minor difficulties which could be overcome if there was a will to overcome them. In any case, to spread purchasing power over as many persons as possible is good business.

Advocacy of such a philosophy, by the way, does not make me a socialist; it indicates that I am a realist. It was of the essence of the Marshall Plan, which provided the less fortunate nations with the means to continue to trade with the United States of America and at the same time to uplift themselves. The adoption of that kind of policy would be just as sensible in the circumstances we are now considering. The suggestion I have made, if adopted by both the employers and the unions, would provide them with an opportunity to do something positive towards alleviating the current unemployment situation.

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