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Thursday, 29 October 1931

Mr THOMPSON (New England) . - I should not have risen to speak had it not been for the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who stressed the necessity for maintaining the wage standard. I agree generally with the maintenance of the wage standard ; but I consider that this is a special grant, to be distributed under special conditions. This proposal for the relief of unemployment should be discussed in a non-party spirit. From the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), it appears that this grant of £250,000 will give no relief at all to the destitute unemployed of Australia. The honorable member for East Sydney has stated that there are at least 500,000 people out of work. The Prime Minister has said that from 14,000 to 15,000 people will benefit from this grant. If that is the sum total of the Government's constructive capacity to relieve unemployment, it must expect some criticism, not only from this side, but also from the other side of the House, because this is an instance of the mountain labouring to bring forth a mouse. Out of 500,000 unemployed people, from 14,000 to 15,000 are to receive special favour !

Mr Ward - - Sir Robert Gibson will not advance the Government more than £250,000.

Mr THOMPSON - The honorable member has suggested that Sir Robert Gibson is the final arbiter in financial matters, and he may know more about that' than I do. At any rate, from 14,000 to 15,000 people will benefit from this grant. They will receive about £4 a week each for four weeks. Why should we select that number of people out of 500,000 to share in this munificent bounty ?

Mr Theodore - It must be remembered that the men who are to receive relief have probably had no other work this year.

Mr THOMPSON - That may be so; but I do not think that the Government is capable of selecting 14,000 of the most deserving people in Australia. i

Mr Theodore - We cannot do that, but we can give work to deserving cases.

Mr THOMPSON - If this work is given to only 14,000 persons, there will be a tremendous amount of disappointment and heart-burning among the unemployed generally. There is a wide gap between £4 a week and the dole of about 8s. 5d. in New South Wales. The Government should seriously reconsider this proposal before it commits what may be a stupendous political blunder. Where it makes one friend it may make ten enemies.

Mr Theodore - Even if the payment were reduced to £3 a week, there would be only an additional 1,000 relieved.

Mr THOMPSON - This is an attempt, not to grapple with the unemployment problem, but to afford a small measure of relief to as many unemployed as possible at Christmas time. Instead of giving employment for a month, why not give employment for, say, a fortnight, and double the number who are to benefit from the scheme. Even £2 a week would be a handsome Christmas contribution to many poor families. I assure honorable members .that last Christmas, when the Government gave £500,000 to local governing bodies for the provision of employment throughout the cities and country towns, the problem of distribution became very acute. There were men in country towns who were perfectly satisfied with two or three days' work. The basic wage, I think, was observed, and nearly everybody who was unemployed received some benefit. It would be better to pay a considerable number of men £2 a week for four or five days than to pay a much smaller number of men £4 a week for a month.

Mr Theodore - I do not think that the period of employment will work out at a month. It may range from two to four weeks.

Mr THOMPSON -Is it the intention of the Government to employ one batch of 14,000 men for a fortnight, and a second batch of 14,000 men for the next fortnight?

Mr Theodore - That may be done if the class of work undertaken permits of it.

Mr THOMPSON - I suggest that a payment of £2 a week would be very acceptable at Christmas time. Why not increase the enrolment to 60,000 people, and give them £2 for half a week's work?

Mr Theodore - I am prepared to discuss that suggestion with Cabinet.

Mr THOMPSON - It would be difficult for the Government to organize any valuable work for this limited sum of money. Last year the grant was used mainly in filling in holes in the streets and scraping weeds from the gutters. In this instance it will be difficult to find any other kind of employment. I suggest that the Government makes this gift to approved local authorities, to be distributed to 60,000 people, thus making it a real Christmas gesture.

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