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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr WEBB (Stirling) .- As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has said, I did direct attention to this matter; in fact, I did it in front of him when he was in the House the other night. I told him exactly what was happening in Perth in regard to the unemployment situation. The information that I conveyed to the House was given to me by a Government official who was in a position to know what happened in January of this year. There is no doubt that what I conveyed to the House did happen at that time. I do not know whether the practice still persists, but I hope that it' does not. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that he took the matter seriously, because it is, indeed, a serious matter. I refer to the letter that the Minister seems to think was prepared as a result of some action on my part. It is true that I have received a copy of the letter dated 22nd March, which was a couple of days after 1 had raised the matter in the House. The letter 1 received from members of the Fremantle Unemployed Committee reads as follows: -

We, the undersigned unemployed of Fremantle wish to substantiate your statements made in the House of Representatives recently. It is quite true that unemployed persons are deprived of benefits if they secure casual work.

We have sent a letter of protest to the Minister for Labour and herewith enclose copy of same. Fifty-one signatures were attached to that letter.

The letter to me, which i have just read, was signed by D. Roberts and A. McGhie, whom J do not know. Attached to that letter was a copy of a letter of the same date that had been addressed to the Minister.

It reads -

We, the undersigned (on attached page) 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, were 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. Thisis naturally reflected in the returns of persons unemployed and does give a false picture of the unemployment position in West Australia.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Produce one case of that.

Mr WEBB - The concluding paragraph reads -

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

That copy of the letter that was received by the Minister supports substantially the point thatI made in debate the other night. Fancy the Minister having the colossal hide to stand up and complain about distortion when he, during the course of the debate in this chamber the other night, distorted beyond all imagination what the Australian Labour party stands for. Fancy his having the cheek to talk about distortion! I suggest to the Minister that he do something about the unemployment situation instead of merely producing figures to the House to show that about 100 fewer men are now in receipt of unemployment benefit, as though something remarkable had been achieved. The fact is that, at the present time, over 5,000 unemployed persons are registered in Perth. Many more unemployed persons have not registered, including many men who are doing a few days casual work here and there - men on part-time work. Why does not the Mnister do something about the matter, instead of trying to keep these men on the lowest possible standard of living?

On two occasions, the Premier of Western Australia has written to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) asking him to lift credit restrictions, because they are affecting the employment position in that State. The Premier also asked the right honorable gentleman to assist Western Australia to commence additional public works in order to relieve unemployment. The Prime Minister did not even have the decency to reply to the Premier's letters.

I know that it is not very pleasing to honorable members opposite, particularly those from Western Australia, for this matter to be brought up in the House, because some of the Western Australian representatives have been taken to task for not pulling their weight in connexion with the unemployment situation. We know, too, that when the Premier of Western Australia sought special financial assistance to the extent of £4,000,000, certain members of this House from Western Australia did their best to prevent that assistance from being given. The reason they did not want that assistance to be provided is that a Labour government is in office in Western Australia. Had a Liberal government been in office in that State, they would have supported the request. Ultimately, financial assistance to the extent of £2,000,000 was provided, which was sufficient only to keep certain public works going and so prevent the unemployment situation from worsening. However, the position is now getting worse. As the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) mentioned earlier to-day, since the last unemployment figures were quoted by the Minister, further unemployment has occurred in Western Australia. It is about time that this Government did something about the matter. " The West Australian newspaper has followed the matter very closely, and it has directed attention particularly to the unemployment situation in certain towns. That newspaper has pointed out that it is not practicable to have one barometer to indicate the position in all States, and that Western Australia, because of its lack of secondary industries, is suffering more as a result of the restriction of credit than some of the other States.

Good luck to the Minister if he has stopped the practice complained of in the letters that I have read. I am pleased that he is taking this matter seriously, and I hope that he will follow developments closely in order to see that the practice does not recur.

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