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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) .- I move-

That the House do now adjourn.

I take this opportunity to try to clear up a matter which was raised by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) in the House on the night of 20th March. In order to explain the matter in issue, it is necessary for me to quote precisely what the honorable gentleman said at that time. He is reported in " Hansard " as having expressed some pleasure that I was in the chamber because -

I want to direct his attention-

That is my attention - to a very snide trick that is being employed, in Western Australia at least, to deprive unemployed workers of social services benefits and at the same time reduce the number in receipt of such benefits. The Commonwealth does not worry about those who have just registered for employment, until the seven-day waiting period is almost up, and it then gives them one or two days' work. This means that they have to wait another seven days in order to qualify for social services benefits. This happens repeatedly, and as a result, some unemployed workers and their families never receive unemployment benefits, but are forced to exist on the meagre amount that they are able to earn for one or two days' work in every six or seven days. The same snide trick- that is the phrase that he employed before - is used against some of those who have been in receipt of unemployment benefit. This thimble-and-pea trick has the advantage for the Commonwealth that it reduces the number in receipt of unemployment benefit and makes the figures look better for the Minister, who is always trying to make them look better by saying in this chamber, as though something remarkable has been achieved, that there are fewer persons receiving unemployment benefit this week or this month than received it last week or last month, as he is enabled to do by the manipulation of the figures in the way I have described.

That passage contains some very serious charges and I accept them seriously. They are serious in that they reflect upon myself as Minister. That may be relatively unimportant. But what to me is very much more important is that they reflect on the Government and they reflect, in particular, upon respected, conscientious officers of the Department of Labour and National Service who are attending to these matters in the State of Western Australia. If the statements about the practice followed in relation to the payments of social services benefits to those unemployed were proved, they would be serious enough. But most honorable members who have followed these matters at all in this House will be astonished to learn that the honorable member for Stirling should be so far out in his knowledge of the practice which is adopted in these matters. As is clearly prescribed, the fact that a man receives some temporary employment for one or two days in a particular week does not disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefit in subsequent weeks.

Mr Ward - It does.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It does not disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefit in subsequent weeks and it does not result in his name being taken off the list of those registered as unemployed.

Mr Ward - If he earns over the permissible income he loses the unemployment benefit. The Minister knows that.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for Stirling seems to have acquired the practice of distortion and misrepresentation of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who quite obviously is trying to confuse the issue. It is a fact that if in a particular week a person earns above the permissible amount he does not receive unemployment benefit in that week.

Mr Ward - Is that not what I said?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - No, and it is not what the honorable member for Stirling said. He said that the man was then taken off unemployment benefit and that in this way, by giving him a couple of days' work, we were able to manipulate the figures. The facts are that even if in that particular week enough has been earned to make the person concerned ineligible for the unemployment benefit for that week, he has to go on earning above the permissible amount for four weeks before he is removed from the list of those on unemployment benefit. So there can be no question of manipulation or distortion of figures by a conscientious officer trying to find some casual work for a particular unemployed person, knowing, as he does, that unless the person is able to follow up that work with work in the subsequent week he remains on the unemployment benefit list. He continues to receive, without any further qualifying period, the unemployment benefit which would have been payable to him had he not been earning the casual amount on which he had been placed.

So we find that the honorable member for Stirling has, first of all, been completely ignorant of the position in relation to the payment of unemployment benefits. Secondly, in his ignorance and with malice, the honorable member made a statement which was designed to damage the reputation of a decent, conscientious member of the Commonwealth Public Service. I would be surprised if there was any other member from Western Australia who knows the regional director who would join in this criticism. If ever there was a man who was sympathetically disposed to those seeking employment and who would do his utmost to help them, it is Mr. Baden White, the regional director in our office in Perth. Those who are associated with him are of like mind and, I believe, of like character.

So we have, first of all, an unwarranted attack on the man himself. There is no evidence whatever, either in what has been stated in this House or from my own inquiries, that anything of an irregular character has occurred. Secondly, there is a complete misrepresentation and distortion of the true picture in respect of entitlement to unemployment benefits. One of the somewhat ridiculous aspects of this matter is a rather crude attempt to produce some propaganda in support of the member for Stirling. In the " West Australian " newspaper, on Friday, 22nd March, there was a report of this matter in the House and a reference to the fact that I 'was going to deal with it after I had made suitable inquiries. I subsequently received a typewritten letter, not signed, but with a whole lot of signatures and addresses on quite unrelated paper attached to it, Curiously enough, the date on this unsigned letter is the same date on which this report appeared in the " West Australian ". Id this letter it was stated -

We the undersigned (on attached page)--

Actually, there are three attached pages - unemployed of Fremantle wish to draw your attention to the fact that the statements made by Mr. Webb M.H.R., Stirling in the House of Representatives are substantially true.

When an unemployed person is eligible for Social Services benefit and then is fortunate to secure a day or two work he then is deprived of all Social Services benefit.

This is naturally reflected in the returns of persons unemployed and does give a false picture of the unemployment position in West Australia.

We also deplore the statement by the Minister for Labour that his chief concern was the allegations against members of the public service and not expressions of concern regarding the welfare of the unemployed struggling to exist here in West Australia.

Mr Ward - A very good letter.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It is a very good letter concocted by an official in the Trades: Hall, Perth, lt was conveniently typed on the same day as this press report appeared. I would be prepared to assert, without claiming the full knowledge of the facts, that these unrelated pages with no reference to anything that appears on the front page-

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