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Friday, 18 November 1938

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

Mr. MAHONEY(Denison) [3.551.- I have repeatedly expressed in this House the view that every effort should be made to impress upon the Department of Works the advisability of pushing on with the works it has in hand. During the last six months, the answer that I have received from the Minister is that the department has not a sufficient number of quantity surveyors to take out the necessary particulars for the preparation of plans and specifications for the different works. That leads me to only one conclusion, namely, that the Works Department is understaffed. I have frequently asked the Minister to do everything that lay in his power to secure the appointment of quantity surveyors throughout the Commonwealth. From time to time I am informed that it is not right to say that there is a shortage of staff in the department; yet that is the reason advanced by the Minister for the delay in proceeding with the work! How can the Department of Works function efficiently if it is not properly staffed? I know that there are many quantity surveyors in Australia who are out of work, and who would be only too ready to accept a position in the department, taking out the quantities required for the different works, lt is the duty of the Government to push on with its public works. Throughout Australia to-day there is a slump in the building trade, and it is the duty of every government, Commonwealth and State, to arrest it, by pushing on as quickly as possible with works which will again place in employment those whose services are no longer needed in the building trade. If the Commonwealth does not take action, hundreds of tradesmen will become unemployed, and that will have very serious consequences. It is bad enough for unskilled men to be unemployed, but infinitely worse for skilled men to be in that category. If the building industry does not revive, the apprenticeship system will break down.

I have been informed on good authority that the banking institutions throughout Australia have informed builders that they have no more funds to advance at the present time. This will bring about a scarcity of money, and a consequent depression in the building trade, lt was predicted twelve months ago that, in 1939, there would be one of the greatest slumps in the building trade that has ever been experienced in Australia. That is why I appeal to the Government to push on with all the works it can in order to take up the men who are being displaced from the building trade all over the Commonwealth. Certain public works, which were authorized eighteen months ago, have not yet been commenced. I received definite promises that certain works, which had been authorized in my State, would he proceeded with without delay, but nothing Ins been done. When I go to see a Minister, he tells me that he is not now handling the matter, that it has been taken over by some one else. The Government is always juggling its Ministers and departments, so that it is almost impossible to find out at any particular time who is responsible. If there is not sufficient staff in the department to ensure that the work is carried out, let more be engaged. If there are not enough quantity surveyors, there is no reason why more should not be appointed. It is reported that expenditure on building in Melbourne this year has declined by £600,000. There is a slump in Sydney, and very soon skilled tradesmen will be walking the streets of every city in the Commonwealth looking for employment. Tho loan conversion operations are absorbing all the, available money, and the building trade is suffering. That is all the more reason why the Government should press on energetically with its own works programme. While works which were authorized over twelve months ago have not yet begun, there is no need for the Government to bring down fresh works schedules in an attempt to make the people believe that it is doing something. If there is not sufficient staff to get out plans and specifications for the calling of tenders, let the -work be done by day labour, so that an immediate start may be made. Otherwise, the Government must accept responsibility for the unemployment that is occurring.

Mr. HOLLOWAY(Melbourne Ports) [4.6 J. - I desire to draw the attention of the Government to a matter that has all the potentialities of a grave industrial dispute. I refer to the holding up of the British ship Dalfram which was loading pig iron at Port Kembla. The ship was supposed to be going to a port that would not raise the suspicions of the men employed, but they were informed after the loading was started that the ship was really going somewhere else. I know that this is a delicate subject, and I should not have raised it except that I want to nip the dispute in the bud. There is a large volume of public opinion behind tlie men who are refusing to load pig iron for despatch to certain ports, though those who support this action may not, perhaps, be taking a very long view. I appeal to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and the Attorney-General (Mr.

Menzies), who has had so much experience in the handling of difficult problems of this kind, to take action before the situation drifts from bad to worse. It would be so easy to make it appear that the men in this instance are overwhelmingly in the right. The Government has straightened out the difficulty associated with the export of iron ore from Yampi Sound. Exports were prohibited because it was necessary that the ore should be retained in Australia for our own purposes. It was difficult to make some people understand that the international situation was not responsible for the embargo, and that action was taken only because a survey had disclosed the fact that our iron ore resources were limited. The present dispute is a different matter altogether. It is not concerned with ore from Yampi Sound, nor with the contract of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which has been in operation for some months, for the export of certain quantities of ore to Japan. In this case, pig iron is involved. This is a product that has gone through the first process of manufacture, so that those who import it are not concerned with the disposal of the offal, and time will be saved in putting it to its ultimate uses. Most of us know that there is a shortage of this particular material in Australia for the manufacture of iron and steel girders for building purposes. The men concerned in the dispute know that their colleagues in the building trade are being stood off temporarily because the master builders say that they cannot obtain supplies of girders, and those who fabricate the girders make the excuse that they cannot obtain supplies of pig iron. The mon have been told that, yet the waterside workers at Port Kembla are being asked to load pig iron to go to a place where they do not want it to go. They resent the fact that the export of this pig iron will be responsible, in some measure, for throwing their colleagues in the building trade out of employment. I know that this matter is a very delicate one for the Government to handle, because of the possibility of an industrial dispute occurring on a wide scale. Yesterday, 60 men refused to put a vessel under the gear for loading. Workers in foundries supplying pig iron are on pins and needles, and the whole district is in a state of ferment over contracts made by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to export ore, and with the trouble over tin clippings. Only a spark is needed to start a general industrial conflagration involving the employees of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and extending to land, and sea transport workers. I suggest that the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General should get in touch with the men concerned and give an assurance that a continuance of the export of pig iron will not be permitted. We have been told that contracts amounting to about 300,000 tons are awaiting fulfilment. I understand that four or five shipments, each of about 7,000 tons, will be required to complete the first contract. The workers should be given a definite assurance that the export of pig iron will not continue when the contracts are completed. A continuance of the export of pig iron would not only throw a large number of Australian workers out of employment, but would also tie up many industries. This question is not an international one - at present it is a purely internal trouble - but unless immediate steps are taken to prevent the export of this raw material, it will lead to a largescale industrial upheaval in Australia. Workers will be thrown out of employment in the building trades and in the iron and steel industries which manufacture material for building work. The Government should act as .quickly as possible. I have been in touch with certain people and have advised them to localize the dispute until some conciliatary steps are taken, ff the Prime Minister or the AttorneyGeneral could make a satisfactory statement of the Government's intentions the trouble, I believe, would be settled without further delay.

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