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Wednesday, 23 November 1938


Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .In moving -

That the House do now adjourn,

I desire to direct attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, " Unemployment ", and to stress the unhappy condition of many thousands of our workless people throughout Australia. It is a serious commentary on the so-called prosperity of the country that, during a time when there is a superabundance of products from farm and factory, there should be approximately 160,000 people out of work. There can be no contentment Or happinessin the minds of those people, nor can their wives and children look forward with any pleasure to the approach of Christmas. I believe that practically all honorable members of this House, irrespective of party political ties, have the deepest sympathy with these unfortunate persons at this time, but we must put that sympathy into a practical form. That is why I approach this matter without consideration of party, so that we may get something done for the thousandswho are workless and penniless. Many of these people have been on sustenance work for the last six or seven years. Among their number are many youths who have never known any other kind of employment, although it is now eight years since the first onset of the depression. As a matter of fact, many young men in Australia have passed from school through adolescence to manhood, and have assumed the responsibilities of married life, without ever having been in permanent employment. I submit that, after eight years of good seasons and comparatively good prices, the workers should be much better off than they are to-day.

There are several contributing factors that tend to intensify the unemployment problem. Many big retail shops, financial institutions, commercial houses, and manufacturing concerns cheapen the cost of labour by sacking boys as soon as they approach the age at which the award prescribes for them adult wages. They are dismissed, and advertisements are inserted in the newspapers for boys from 15 to 16 years of age to take their places.

Another contributing factor is the mechanization of industry. Time will not permit me to go into all the phases of this, but it is taking place in practically every branch of industry. One instance will suffice to make my point. According to the Year Book, in 1921, 20,933 men were employed in the coal mines, and produced 10,790,000 tons of coal. In 1937, the number of workers had declined to 14,900, but, due to the installation of mechanical appliances, they were able to produce as much coal as had been produced in 1921 by 6,000 more workers. What applies for the coal-mining industry applies equally to other branches of industry.

From experience I imagine that I shall be confronted with statistics by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) or the spokesman of the Government. I submit in all seriousness that it is useless to try to brush aside this important question by citing statistics to show that there has been some improvement, comparing the depths of the depression with to-day. No one denies that fact, but statistics will not provide food, clothing and shelter for those who are out of work. Figures contained in the Commonwealth Statistician's reports, showing a decrease of the number of unemployed when comparing 1932 with 1938, will not reduce the suffering and privation of those who for years have had no permanent work; nor will they bring hope or inspiration to our Australian youths who have never had an opportunity to enter permanent employment. It has been held by the Commonwealth Government that all of this is a responsibility of the States. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has at times changed its attitude and I agree with at least one statement made by the Prime Minister on this subject when he said that the Commonwealth must take a larger share of the responsibility.


Mr Lazzarini - That was said at election time.


Mr FORDE - Yes. It has been said that money expended on defence provides employment. To a certain degree that is true but it does not adequately meet the situation. If we examine the proposed expenditure on defence works, we shall find that the vulnerability of certain points in Australia was rightly taken into consideration in the allocation of defence works. No consideration was given to the spreading of the work on a population basis. It is only reasonable to expect that that should be so. It accounts for the announcement by the Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby V that £1.000,000 must be expended in the Northern Territory as against, say, £76,000 in South Australia, and so on. It is not necessary for me to pursue that further than to say that the subject cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand and a statement, "Look at what we are expending on defence ". It must be remembered that much of the expenditure on defence is not of an employment-giving nature. It is to be expended with due regard to the vulnerability of certain outposts of Australia. Many country areas have large numbers of unemployed and they will not benefit directly one iota from the employment point of view from the defence project. I sincerely ask the Government, in view of all these factors, and on a non-party basis, to make available to the States and/or by direct Commonwealth works sufficient money to give employment for a month immediately to every unemployed worker in Australia and then to tackle the problem of absorbing many thousands of our unemployed on great national reproductive works that will give employment of a permanent nature. I strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to tackle this problem in a comprehensive way by convening a special meeting of the Premiers of the States. The Commonwealth should invite them to consider a long-range plan formulated and laid down by the Commonwealth and the States to provide for closer settlement, water conservation, irrigation, construction of roads and the provision of water, sewerage and electric light for country towns. All of these are within the scope of definite promises already made by the Commonwealth Government ; but the Government seems to be powerless to carry out any of those promises.

We cannot overlook the fact that, as was said by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) last night, there is some justification for the statement that a recession or small depression is already noticeable in Australia. One has only to mingle with the people of the capital cities and the larger country towns to know that marly retail houses are dispensing with hands. Once dismissal of employees starts, it becomes a disease in industry, resulting in a kind of industrial paralysis. Dismissals in one branch of industry cause a dislocation in other industries. The Government should not allow this Parliament to go into recess without grappling with the problem. Unemployment, with its consequential effects on moral, defence, and physical aspects of life, 1 submit, has not been given that consideration by the Commonwealth Government to which it is entitled.

The Commonwealth Government cannot justify its hesitation in this matter by making a survey of the Commonwealth statistics of unemployment. The returns for the March quarter show 8 per cent, of employees in the registered trade unions to have been unemployed. In September the figure was 9.2 per cent. A comparison of those percentages with the unemployment figures furnished by the Commonwealth census in June, 1933, shows that there are to-day more than 160,000 people out of work in Australia who are fit to undertake work of a reasonable nature. The census returns showed that there were approximately four times as many persons out of work as were shown in the returns from, the trade unions. We must take into consideration the increase of population and the fact that more children are leaving school every year and filling the vacancies that occur in industry. If we add to the number of unemployed the number of people on part-time work, relief work, and sustenance we realize that it would not be an over-estimate to say that there are about 200,000 people in Australia to-day who are still without full-time employment. It would be reasonable to say, I think, that throughout Australia there are 40,000 persons who, because of illness and infirmity, would not be able to undertake hard manual employment, but approximately 160,000 would be able to take any jobs that were offered to them. From reports in the press in New South Wales we find that 45,000 persons are drawing food relief. With their dependants that means that more than 100,000 people are suffering misery and want in New South Wales alone. Although conditions are better in Western Australia I find that the Daily News, Perth, of 9th July,- 193S, said -

Paying a visit to the depot of the Fremantle Benevolent Committee yesterday. I found nearly 100 women, many with infants 1l their arms, and others with bright-eyed babies at their sides, waiting in a queue to ask for help.

If time permitted I could give the position in the other States, where practically the same condition of affairs prevails.

We cannot brush this matter aside lightly by saying that unemployment is a responsibility of the States. The case tor the absorption of our unemployed, undoubtedly strong as it is from a humanitarian and social point of view, is strengthened by the need* to defend Australia against possible attack. The best basis upon which to build an adequate defence scheme is to place our people in employment and improve their standards of living so that they can take a pride in their work and in their homes and feel that this country is worth defending. Recently the Minister for Repatriation and Health (Senator Foll), speaking on the subject of unemployment said that national fitness to-day must walk hand in band with national defence. The Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) in hia capacity as Deputy Prime Minister in a statement published on the 19th October last said that no policy of defence is worthy of consideration which is not based upon the maintenance and improvement of our living standards. Obviously these statements are correct, but, unfortunately, the Government is not doing anything to give effect to them. No definite action is taken and we are faced with vacillation, hesitation, postponement and procrastination on the part of the Commonwealth Government.


Mr Holt - What does the honorable member suggest should be done?


Mr FORDE - Constructive leadership and long-range planning by the Commonwealth Government is an urgent necessity. The last conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers convened to consider defence and unemployment was fruitless because the Commonwealth Government failed to submit any constructive scheme that could be adopted by the States. There has been a- lack of planning by the Commonwealth Government, which has a dominating influence on the Loan Council by virtue of the powers of its representatives on that body under the Financial Agreement. Undoubtedly the Commonwealth Government, through the Loan Council, has the power to consider and even to formulate long-range financial planning and a national scheme of reproductive works that would arrest the threatened recession -of which we have heard so much recently. With Commonwealth assistance all the State governments would be better able to direct their public works expenditure towards a definite objective, such as the permanent relief of unemployment, and the diversion of labour from dole and relief jobs to rural and other employment at award rates. That would be of some use to the community. This subject was introduced at the recent conference, not only by Labour Premiers, but also by two Tory Premiers who urged that the Commonwealth Bank is not in the position of an ordinary trading bank, but should be called upon by the Commonwealth Government to make available the necessary credit to finance essential reproductive works within definite limits. They suggested that something practical should be done, but their suggestions fell on deaf ears.







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