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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr EDMONDS (Herbert) .- Last week, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) participated in the Address-in-Reply debate, and during the 25 minutes that he spoke, at no stage did he introduce one of the points that he has made to-night. I suggest to the House that the speech he has just delivered is simply an afterthought. If I may make such a suggestion, the honorable member for Lilley did not do too well when he dealt with this matter last week. It appears that he is eager to take his medicine and his punishment because he has now come back for more. I shall not go into figures except to quote the statistics that were given by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The honorable member for Lilley has said to-night that the Queensland Government had over £1,100,000 in "kitty" for housing. The Minister said that the amount was £500,000.

Mr Wight - He did not say that.

Mr EDMONDS - He said that it was half a million pounds and it has never been denied that that sum was there. It has been stated and re-stated by the Queensland Minister for Housing, Mr. McCathie, that that amount had been budgeted for at the beginning of the financial year, when the whole of the year's works programme was drawn up. The Queensland Government draws from the Commonwealth Treasury its allocation each month. The Queensland Minister for Housing stated that the £500,000, allocated to the Queensland Housing Commission, was absorbed or was about to be absorbed, in financing contracts for houses either already commenced or about to be commenced.

The honorable member for Lilley referred to Mr. Dawson, a great Communist, and suggested that Mr. McCathie or the Queensland Labour members were having some truck with him in this matter. Mr. Dawson is the secretary of the building trades group of the Building Workers Industrial Union in Queensland. The honorable member for Lilley referred to the fact that Liberal members of a deputation met the Minister, Mr. McCathie, in the presence of Mr. Dawson, the Communist, who was also a member of the deputation. I am not complaining about that. But I think it does not do the honorable member for Lilley very much justice to stand in his place this evening and bring forward this story that has been worked out in his imagination since he spoke last week. He has obviously attempted to cast a slur on Queensland members on this side of the House by concocting a suggestion that we were having some truck with Mr. Dawson.

Another thing which the honorable member for Lilley has just stated, but which he conveniently forgot to mention last week, is that the Queensland Minister for Housing said that, even if his Government received £278,000 from the Commonwealth Government the employees would still have to be dismissed. Further, the Queensland Government could not see its way clear to discriminate between the employees of the Queensland Housing Commission and the 1,600 employees who had been dismissed from other public works projects. The honorable member, in common with his colleagues on the other side of the House, is trying to get away from the fact that this sort of situation is not peculiar to Queensland. What is happening in that State is occurring all over Australia, with the possible exception of one State. Attacks on the Queensland Government by honorable members on the Government side and the slurs which they have cast on the activities of the Queensland central executive of the Australian Labour party will not lessen the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to the people of Australia in regard to housing.

The honorable member said that even if Queensland had obtained money from the Commonwealth it would have still dismissed these employees. On the night that the Address-in-Reply debate began, there were in Canberra several union officials representing the building trades group of the Queensland union. They each had received a telegram informing them that if the money were made available within the financial year, these men would not be dismissed. That is a fact that the honorable member for Lilley is trying to get around. He, and his colleagues, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and Senator Kendall were members of the deputation who gave to officials of the building trade groups of the union a solemn promise that if this money was found to be necessary for housing they would make strong representations to the Commonwealth Government on their behalf. They did not do so. They failed to fulfil that promise which they made 10 these union officials in Queensland.

To return to where the honorable member for Lilley started, any one would know that the story he has told to-night has been concocted out of his imagination. The Queensland central executive, he says, is demanding that the State Government provide three weeks' annual leave. He also talks about long-service leave and then comes to the conclusion - the idea exists only in his mind - that that is the reason for the dismissal of these men. Yet, the Queensland Minister himself, at the eleventh hour said, " If we can get the £278,000, not to-day or to-morrow but during this financial year, these men will be kept in employment ". That assurance from the Minister destroys the argument that the honorable member has introduced here to-night.

But the honorable member will continue with this imaginary argument about something that is taking place in the minds of members of the Queensland Cabinet. Added to that, of course, is his insistent, bitter hatred of the State from which he comes. There is not one speech made by the honorable member for Lilley in this House that does not contain an attack on Queensland. He never fails to do so. That is not only my knowledge, but the knowledge of every one who knows the honorable member.

The fact is that 452 men were dismissed from employment in the building trades in Queensland. As I said recently, my information is that 300 of those men were married and that 900 children were involved. That means that 1 ,600 people were concerned in this matter. The men would not have been dismissed if this Government had been prepared to accept its responsibility. Those men would never have been dismissed if the Government had paid £278,000 to the Queensland Housing Commission. All the slurs, sneers and insinuations about the Labour party and the Queensland central executive will not alter that fact. If the honorable member for Lilley and any of his colleagues want to persist with this diatribe about the Queensland central executive's instruction to the Queensland Government having the effect of putting the men out of employment, they are entitled to do so; but every one is quite well aware of the actual position.

I repeat that the honorable member's concentration of attention on Queensland will not remove the responsibility from this Government. This Government has failed dismally, and looks as if it will continue to fail in respect of housing. All the attacks by the honorable member or by any one who wishes to follow his lead will not detract one iota from the responsibility of this Government. I put it to the honorable member that, as the statements he made on the last occasion have been proved incorrect, and as he has introduced a fresh argument to-night out of his imagination, he should give up the game and admit defeat.

Several members rising in their places,

Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -

That the question be now put.

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