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Thursday, 28 March 1957


Mr WIGHT (Lilley) .- For some time now the Queensland central executive of the Labour party has been endeavouring to persuade the Queensland Government that it should introduce legislation to provide three weeks' annual leave for its employees. Ever since the executive started to put pressure - some fair and some unfair - on the parliamentary representatives to have this legislation introduced, the Queensland Government has pursued a policy of dismissing its employees, alleging that it is so impoverished that it is unable to maintain these people in employment. This charge has been made by the Queensland Government notwithstanding the fact that it has more than £20,000,000 in reserve and trust accounts and almost £3,000,000 in its own unemployment insurance fund, which moneys are available for loan to any of the departments concerned, on an interest basis, if they desire to maintain these people in employment. However, if the men were continued in employment, naturally the Queensland Government would lose the argument that it has been advancing to the Queensland central executive to justify its refusal to introduce the legislation for three weeks' annual leave.

The latest dismissals concern 452 employees of the Queensland Housing Commission. Some of them were engaged on day labour in the erection of houses under the terms of the workers dwellings scheme, which is financed from funds found by the State from its own resources and has absolutely no relation to the funds provided by the Commonwealth Government. Other finance came from the Commonwealth under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.

When publicity was given to the fact that 452 employees of the Housing Commission were to be dismissed because of shortage of funds, a deputation consisting of trade union leaders came into the federal members' rooms in Queensland and interviewed Queensland Liberal party and Australian Country party members. At that interview, since no basis for understanding could be reached on the situation, it was suggested by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) that three representatives of the trade unions and three members of the Commonwealth Parliament should wait on the Queensland Minister for Housing to discuss this matter with him. The appointment was arranged for that afternoon and we waited on. the Minister. The Minister, Mr. Mccathie, informed the deputation that in February of each year the Queensland Housing Commission makes a review of its financial situation and that in the review this >ear it was found that the commission was in financial difficulties. He said that the matter was referred to the Queensland Cabinet, which decided that these men should be dismissed from employment, the work on the workers' dwellings scheme should be suspended, and that work on housing commission projects should be reduced to a minimum.

I ask this House to observe that the decision of the Queensland Cabinet was not that an approach should be made to the Commonwealth Government to advance further funds to the Queensland Housing Commission; it was not that the Queensland Government would make its funds available to the Housing Commission; it was that these men should be dismissed. So the men were given dismissal notices and they were dismissed with the very minimum period of notice which could possibly be given to them. I think every honorable member will agree that this was unjust. If the men were going to be sacked, at least they could have been given reasonable notice that their time was due to expire. They should not have been given the minimum period of dismissal notice.

When our deputation interviewed the Minister and he made these points to us, we informed him that we considered that this was a situation entirely of the State's own creation. We made that point as emphatically as we could, and the Minister did not deny that allegation. I repeat, the Minister did not deny that allegation. We then told the Minister that we considered the dismissal of these men at such short notice was quite unfair and the honorable member for Petrie asked him if he would delay the dismissals at least until the end of April to give us an opportunity to come to Canberra, interview the Commonwealth Ministers concerned, find out what the actual position was and ascertain whether any assistance could be given to maintain these men in employment. We agreed that if it was found that the Queensland Government was in dire straits finan cially, then although it was a situation of that Government's own creation, we would do everything in our power to raise funds to keep these men in employment. The Minister agreed that he would reconsider the dismissals. He also gave us his word that after he had given this consideration he would advise us of his determination before advising the press.

Within 36 hours the Minister telephoned each of us to inform us that he had reached a decision and that the men were going to be sacked. The telephone calls came to us before 10 a.m. The men were going to be sacked whether we got the £278,000 that the Queensland Government wanted or not. That was the decision of the Queensland Cabinet and it was the decision of the Minister. Therefore there was nothing more that we could do to keep these men in employment. Within half an hour of that announcement by the Queensland Minister there was delivered to each of our offices a letter from Mr. Dawson, a well-known Communist, informing us of the Minister's decision. It was a printed circular letter and in addition there was a pamphlet which had been prepared and printed. I suggest that it would have been impossible for this propaganda to have been completed within the short space of time between the Minister's notification to us of his Government's decision and the time of the delivery of the pamphlet. 1 will not suggest that Mr. Dawson was trucking with Mr. Gair,


Mr Edmonds - He was too busy trucking with Mr. Wight.


Mr WIGHT - He was more likely trucking with Mr. McCathie. But these men have been dismissed, and whether or not the Commonwealth Government had been able to find the money, the decision made by the Queensland Government was irrevocable. When Mr. McCathie told us that the men would be dismissed we asked why, and also whether, if we got the money would he sack these men. His reply was, " Yes, they will be sacked because we cannot discriminate between the workers of the Housing Commission and the 500 workers of the Railways Department and the Forestry Department who were sacked last year. These men will not get any preferential treatment ".

This continual dismissal of employees by the Queensland Government is an organized stunt. It is one of the most treacherous political plots that has ever been engineered by that Government. The livelihood of these men and the welfare of their families are being prejudiced so that the Queensland Government may have an opportunity to beat the Queensland Central Executive of the Labour party in its internal fight. The whole thing should have been exposed long ago.

When we came to Canberra we were still desirous of trying to find a solution to this problem. We carried out a thorough invest iga lion of the financial resources of the Queensland Housing Commission and found that from the end of June, last year, until 15th March, this year, it had drawn from the moneys available to it in the Federal Treasury a sum of a little over £1,200,000. It had available, to carry it on for three months from 15th March, a sum of £1,175,000. I point out that for nine months the Queensland Government saw fit to draw only a little more than £1,200,000. At the end of that time, with £1,175,000 still in hand, unspent, it decided to dismiss these workers. I suggest that that is proof positive that the Queensland Government has engaged in a plot which should be exposed, lt is a plot to betray the people it represents. It claims to represent the workers but it is the workers who are paying the price for the internal war that is going on within the ranks of the Labour' party. This fact should be made known to the people and the Queensland Government should be thrown out of office and replaced by a government that will show some consideration for the workers.







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