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Thursday, 17 March 1932

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- I regret that reference has been made to conditions in Russia, and that political dissension has been introduced into this debate. I had hoped that suggestions would be forthcoming to help solve the problem of unemployment. I trust that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) does not take his instructions from Russia, although I have always suspected that his leader, Mr. Lang, does.

Mr Ward - I merely quoted figures to indicate the displacement of human labour by machinery.

Mr WHITE - Those figures applied only to the period from 1925 to 1929. Prior to that the Russians were destroying themselves. They repudiated a debt owing to Great Britain, alone, which was greater than the whole of the Commonwealth debt. Russia had a great initial advantage when it repudiated its debts to all countries. Perhaps the attitude adopted by Russia is responsible for a certain policy that is being followed in New South Wales. Russia, which slaughtered its bourgeoisie, and almost exterminated all its better class citizens, behaved like a fraudulent insolvent, and had a great financial advantage over other countries, because it was not burdened with debt. In Russia, work is compulsory. Since the honorable member for East Sydney advocates a policy similar to that of Russia, does he believe that all the unemployed in Australia should be compelled to work?

Mr Ward - I believe that all the unemployed should have the right to live._

Mr WHITE - The honorable member evades my question. He has given the typical reply of those who claim to believe in Russia ; yet he would not have Russian conditions imposed on Australia. Honorable members opposite appear to imagine that they have a monopoly of human sympathy. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) has mentioned that he has been a large employer of labour, and other honorable members on this side are employers. I submit that more good could be done by finding employment than by indulging in the sort of talk that is characteristic of Gandhi, who, when trouble occurs in India, uses women and children as a screen for those agitators who are perpetrating his iniquities. Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, employs the same tactics.

Mr Riordan - Should not all people have the right to work?

Mr WHITE - Tes.

Mr Riordan - If they refuse to work, what happens to them?

Mr WHITE - The Minister for Labour in Victoria, Mr. Williams, says that 15 per cent, of the applications for sustenance are made by impostors. It is unfortunate that we nave that type of person in our midst. When honorable members opposite exploit ignorance, and lead worthless persons to believe that they are entitled to something for nothing, they do an injury to the genuinely impoverished.

The world-wide nature of the present depression must be recognized. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) attributes it to overproduction, and another honorable member has declared that it is clue to underconsumption. There are cycles of depression, and, in my opinion, governments, like business men, should set aside reserves in prosperous years to act as a balance wheel to carry thom over difficult periods, so. that the people might be kept in continuous employment. But governments find it difficult to resist the claims made upon the public purse, and politicians who are not statesmen spend public money which ought to be placed in reserve to meet difficult times such as are now being experienced. Thousands of businesses would have been insolvent by now if their directors had not built up reserves. In a period of depression, the Government should not resort to taxation to maintain the same expensive governmental machine as it might justifiably keep going in times of prosperity. Already our income tax is twice what is paid in New Zealand. I think I can safely say that the Commonwealth has gone over the peak in the matter of taxation. The result has been a fall in revenue and greater unemployment. If thousands of businesses are taxed out of existence because it is no longer profitable to employ labour, it means an increase in the number of unemployed.

Honorable members elected from all parts of this vast Commonwealth may have many suggestions which the Government can work into a mosaic that should prove helpful. I have two suggestions. There are many here to-day who remember how the Victorian Government dealt with unemployment during the slump in the 'nineties. In 1893 it established a labour colony at Leongatha, in Gippsland, under the auspices of the Charity Organization Society. Any unemployed man could report there and be paid for the work he performed. He received part of hi3 pay in cash. The balance was banked for him.- Over 500 men a week went through the depot. The farm was completely selfcontained. Mixed and general farming, pig raising, dairying and fruit farming were carried on. Some years later 260 acres were producing oats, onions, wheat and potatoes, and there were 21 acres of garden and orchard. The remaining acres were cleared for grass, the timber being dead. Eighty cows were being milked and the cream marketed. In one year the return from 51 cows was £493. That labour colony, which continued up to the time of the South African "War, when unemployment practically disappeared in Victoria, actually showed a profit. The property was ultimately subdivided into three excellent farms, which are being worked by soldier settlers. We might well profit by the experience at Leongatha. Although land settlement is a matter which is dealt with by the States, we have a large number of unemployed in Canberra. Rather than remain idle, the majority of them, I am sure, would prefer to be tilling the ground and providing a little towards their sustenance, so that when ultimately they secure employment they may have a little capital behind them. The Commonwealth Government could easily make a piece of land available to these men, and, by getting them employed and satisfied with their conditions, set an example to the States. At Broadmeadows, in Victoria, there is a camp of 400 or 500 unemployed almost within a stone's throw of a number of farms. It would be better to have those men employed on the lines of the Leongatha settlement, or on adjacent farms by a system of subsidized labour. That question is dealt with in a report by the Victorian representative on the Secretariat Committee presided over by Mr. Gunn, which submitted recommendations to the Premiers Conference. Such a scheme worked in conjunction with that which has been proposed by the honorable member for Calare, would undoubtedly he beneficial to thousands who to-day are unemployed.

We all know how tragic is the position which is brought about in times of depression when youths or girls reach the age of 21, and become entitled to the basic wage. Obviously a wage which is supposed to be sufficient to maintain a man with a wife and two children, and may be adequate for a man with a large family, cannot, in times like the present, be paid to such youths and girls. Consequently the bulk of them are dismissed when they reach the age of 21. Thousands of dismissed apprentices are tramping the countryside at the present time. It would be better if the basic wage provisions of industrial awards did not operate until the worker reached the age of 23 or 25. Proper safeguards, of course, would have to be made in the case of married workers. Instead of a general reduction of the basic wage, the alteration at the other end I have suggested, might be considered by the Arbitration Court. It would keep thousands in employment. At the same time the frills of arbitration awards might be laid aside. A condition which prescribes that time and a half must be paid to a man who works for two days or less, a feature of many arbitration awards, keeps numbers of shop assistants out of work. The bulk of extraneous payments in the Public Service should be wiped out. We are told that they absorb nearly half a million pounds a year, particularly in paying waiting time and higher duties. These extras, which may be justified in times of prosperity should not be tolerated in a time of depression. Our sales taxation might be administered more economically. I have on the notice-paper a suggestion that the sales tax should be collected on turnover. That method would, I believe, bring in the same amount of revenue. At the same time, the cost of collection would be considerably reduced. Briefly my suggestions are: the establishment of labour colonies, the abolition of the right to the basic wage at the age of 21 during a time of depression, and subsidized labour for assistance to farmers. These suggestions, together with others to be put forward, might help towards the drawing up of a plan to alleviate the unfortunate position of a great number of people in Australia today, worthy citizens, who are unemployed through no fault of their own, but because it is unprofitable for others to engage their services.

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