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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - There are several matters with which I should like to deal. The first is the surprise of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) at finding himself in agreement, with the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett). The honorable member said that the honorable member for -Henty now considers that too much' attention has been paid to our secondary industries, and the inference to be drawn is that sufficient attention has not been directed to our primary industries. On the other hand he contends that we have acted detrimentally to Australia because we have afforded a great deal of protection through the tariff and in other ways to our secondary industries. In support of that contention he quoted from the report of the Economic Commission which visited Australia to investigate the conditions prevailing in. this country, and he drew the conclusion that if that commission's recommendations were adopted Australia should proceed to develop its primary industries rather than endeavour to become a manufacturing nation. The honorable member also blamed the. Navigation Act, the tariff, and our arbitration legislation for the present condition which he says has resulted in our population becoming almost stationary. Every one will admit that our population should increase at a greater rate, but; the fact that it has not done so is duo to reasons other than those mentioned by the honorable member for Forrest who contends that high wages and high cost of production have prevented Australia from progressing. It can reasonably be said that in recent years Australia has ceased to attract migrants, due largely to the policy of restricting wages and refusing to adopt the advanced social legislation, including shorter hours and more favorable working conditions similar to that which is in operation in other countries. The honorable member also said it is necessary to pay some regard to the purchasing power of money. I realize that it is not so much a matter of how many pounds a man may earn as it is of how much a man can buy with the wages he receives. If the position were examined closely and a comparison were made with Great Britain it would be found that men following certain callings in England have a greater purchasing power than have similar workers in Australia. Statements have appeared in the press to the effect that workers find that they are better off in Great Britain than they are in Australia. I know of men in the engineering trade who have returned to England where they find the conditions better than they are here. The honorable member for Forrest, who said that he agreed with the views of the honorable member for Henty, should look for reasons other than those which he gave. During the depression, arbitration courts and other industrial tribunals reduced wages, which have not since been restored to their former level. The courts have refused to reduce the hours of labour when the opportunity offered. I realize that some State tribunals have granted, somewhat reluctantly, a reduction of hours. Is it to be wondered that the workers are reluctant to approach tribunals opposed to a reduction of hours? I remind the honorable member who stressed the effect of the Navigation Act upon the development of Australia's industries that the party to which he belongs assisted the government of the day to dispose of the Commonwealth Government line of steamers and so deprive the exporting industries of the protection they enjoyed by having that independent service. When that line was in operation primary producers and others wereable to send their produce overseas at reasonably low freights, and that fact restrained the vessels of the combine from charging unnecessarily high freights. Although the vessels of the Commonwealth line were sold at a low price their full cost has not yet been collected. This Government has failed to take advantage of the opportunity to make this country fully productive. On numerous occasions the Prime Minister stated that works such as the standardization of railway gauges would be undertaken in order to provide employment, but that promise has not been honoured although over £200,000,000 has been expended upon unemployment relief. Some part of that huge sum could have been expended on national works, such as the standardization of railway gauges and the provision of a dock at Williamstown. The Government is deserving of criticism in regard to these matters. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) quoted figures published in the Sydney Sun of the 26th June, showing the high profits made by certain manufacturers, and he argued from this that they were receiving more than sufficient protection; but if such profits have been made it merely indicates that we need legislative machinery for the control of prices. I suggest, however, that the honorable member would not support a referendum to give the Commonwealth power to control trusts and combines. That would be against all his political instincts. He is content to allow huge profits to be made by companies that are, in effect, combines, and have complete control over prices, and while that sort of thing continues, we shall always have the spectacle of unemployment, existing side by side with huge profit-making.

Recently, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) and I waited on the PostmasterGeneral with a request that the threatened dismissal of a number of linesmen in the Postal Department should not take place. Most of them are returned soldiers, and all are engaged on necessary work. Many honorable members have urged the provision of improved telephone facilities, more especially as the department has shown large profits for several years. I agree that improved facilities should be provided rather than that charges should be reduced. Despite our representations, 60 men were dismissed last Friday, and another 60 or 70 will be dismissed within the next week unless something is done by the Government to prevent it. In Victoria, at the present time, there are 7,000 condemned telegraph and telephone poles in use, and they are a danger to the men who must climb them in the course of their work. From time to time accidents - some of them fatal - take place because of the continued use of these defective poles. The men are being dismissed at a time when it is most difficult to obtain other employment, but in the postal department the work is there for them to do in the replacement of condemned poles. I ask honorable members to put themselves in the place of these men who have been engaged on temporary work of a dangerous character. This is a matter of urgency, and it should receive the immediate attention of the Government. I do not accuse Ministers of being hardhearted; the fault is in the system under which temporary employees are dismissed towards the end of the financial year. They are told that the money has run out sooner than was expected, but that is small consolation to men who find themselves out of work at this time of the year. I suggest that the Government should endeavour to find work during the winter, rather than in the summer. Work in the winter months may be more difficult, and somewhat more expensive, but it is only reasonable that the Government should, if possible, provide more employment for men at a time when no other work is offering.

The idea has been encouraged in the press that much employment would be provided in the carrying out of the Government's expanded defence programme on which so much money is being spent, and it is possible that some honorable members supported the programme in the belief that additional employment would be created. In some respects, unfortunately, the reverse has been the case. At the Maribyrnong munitions factory, 40 men were dismissed in January and February. Representations, in which I joined, were made to the Minister for Defence on this subject, and he said that preference would be given to them if and when it was found possible to employ more men. I am convinced that that has been done as far as possible, but it is known that many more men will be dismissed before the end of the year. The Government has adopted a policy of handing over to private enterprise work that was formerly done at the munition factories, and men who believed that they had regular employment are, as a result, being dismissed. Many of these men, believing their positions to be permanent, assumed obligations which they cannot now meet. The Government, in handing over the making of munitions to private enterprise, is going against the feeling of the people of this country. It may be that the big commercial interests which dominate the Government have demanded that this should be done, but it is unjust to the public, and particularly to the munition workers, who are engaged on useful work, which private enterprise would not undertake until it was demonstrated to be profitable. In the area which I represent there are no other firms doing the class of work which many of the munition workers have been trained to do. About 150 men were employed as the result of the Scullin Government arranging that the munition factory in Victoria should undertake the rolling of sheet and strip brass, and nickel plates. This decision made it possible for the industry to be established in Australia, because it was demonstrated that the plates could be rolled here for less than the price at which they could be imported. This Government has closed down on the production of this material, and the private firm which has taken over the work does not propose to continue the manufacture of nickel plates. Thus a material will be imported which could be made quite satisfactorily here.

The following paragraph appeared in the Canberra Times of the 16th June : -

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