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Wednesday, 8 March 1961

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- Mr. Lucock,T offer my congratulations on your election to the high office of Chairman of Committees. We on this side of the House trust that you will have a short but merry term in that position. I should like to congratulate also the honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Chipp) on his very well spoken maiden speech this afternoon. All of us have stood in circumstances similar to those in which he stood to-day, and we all have a very warm fellow feeling for him as a consequence, even though we on this side may not agree with his philosophy of life, his political philosophy and his economic policy. 1 congratulate also the honorable member for Calare (Mr. England), who spreadeagled the plans of the Liberal Party of Australia in the by-election campaign in that electorate not long ago. We commend him on his well-spoken speech this afternoon. I am sure members of the Liberal Party wish that he were in their party.

We all were saddened by the death of our late Governor-General. I suppose it has rarely been the lot of a man who has occupied so high a post in this country to gain for himself such affection and such regard from the Australian people in so short a time. I met him only once or twice at official functions in Canberra, but I have met a lot of people who saw him more often, and from them all I have gained the conviction that he was everything that he was said to be by those who spoke for us yesterday when we paid special tribute to him. I believe that Viscount Dunrossil would have been in the Slim tradition as Governor-General of Australia. In my mind, there is no doubt about that. We on this side of the House certainly sorrow at his passing and we, too, pay tribute to his widow and his sons for permitting his burial in the country which he came to love so much in such a short time.

I want, now, to congratulate my colleague, the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies), on a splendidly documented speech which preceded that just made by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne). The honorable member for Braddon is doing a magnificent job in his electorate. It is a tough constituency which, under either its present name or the name of " Darwin ", by which it was formerly known, had not been held by a Labour representative for 41 years until it was won by the present member. The Liberal Party has turned all its weapons on him - all its rifles, cannon, jet-propelled aircraft and rockets, as it were - and is doing its level best to finish his political career at the end of this year. But I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the Liberal Party will fail in its attempt to remove the honorable member. He is looking after his electorate with great care and diligent attention.

The speech made by the honorable member for Braddon this afternoon came from his own experience. He did not read up his facts in a newspaper. He visited the timber mills and obtained his figures from the executives who are dismissing the employees. As a result, he was able to make a factual and fully documented speech of so much power as to call forth ridicule from the Minister for Repatriation. I think that the Minister descended to a very low level in trying to make out that the speech made by the honorable member for Braddon was a whining and gloomy one which savoured of depression from beginning to end. It was nothing of the kind. Indeed. I suggest to the Minister that if the Government takes note of the words of the honorable member for Braddon and acts on them it may yet save itself at the general election at the end of this year. If the Government ignores those words, it will deserve the punishment that the people of Australia will hand out to it - if not at the next general election, then at the following one.

Mr Turnbull - What about the one after that?

Mr DUTHIE - I do not make fantastic prophecies in this unstable political world, but I venture to say that the speech made by the honorable member for Braddon will win for the Australian Labour Party a lot of support from people who have traditionally supported the present Government through the vers. The executives in the mills to whch the honorable member referred are not all traditional Labour supporters. However, they now see the end of their industry staring them in the face and they rightly blame this Government for bringing on a vicious credit squeeze at this time.

I believe that the Government has lost its way. Indeed, it is like a man groping blindly in the dark for an electric light switch. The measures which it took in November last are a hotch-potch and they are not able appreciably to alter the situa tion which allegedly triggered them off. We of the Opposition have always said that this is a start-and-stop government, a government that turns the tap on and off indiscriminately, and its recent action has proved us to be right. The dramatic repeal of the 10 per cent, additional sales tax on motor cars is a splendid example of the type of government we have. Certainly the removal of the additional tax was pleasing to all who were likely to be hurt by it, but it was ridiculous for the Government to suggest that this additional imposition had served its purpose within the short period of a little over two months. Either the Government's action in repealing it is proof that the step was wrong in the first place, as we said it was, or it was removed in panic with a view to stopping the mounting criticism coming from the motor car industry.

Recently, in Melbourne, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) received a powerful deputation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which presented a strong case for the removal of this tax. He told the deputation that the employment situation had not got out of hand, but things might worsen before they improved. The very next day, the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet had decided to repeal the legislation it had recently passed to increase the sales tax on motor cars, and in making the announcement he said that the effect of the imposition was bad psychologically and that industry was being hit harder than the Government intended. We believe that in that instance the Treasurer was over-ruled. We firmly believe that the Prime Minister became fed up with the whole business and decided to repeal the legislation before he left for overseas. The reaction of the community now seems to be that the people are doubting the genuineness of all statements made by the Prime Minister. We all remember the fanfare of trumpets with which the Government hailed the introduction of this legislation; we all remember the terrific fight it caused in another place. One witnessing the Government's fight on that occasion might well have thought that it was fighting for a stake in a gold mine. Now, suddenly, overnight, this hard-fought for legislation is repealed. It is all very well for the Minister for Repatriation (Mr.

Osborne) to say that the repeal of this legislation was planned in the first place. Nothing of the sort!

Mr Osborne - We said we would take it off as soon as we could.

Mr DUTHIE - For a special tax to be imposed for only a little over two months is something previously unheard of in this country. It is our firm belief that no matter what argument the Government uses it will never dispel the feeling that the decision to repeal this legislation was made in panic caused by a mounting criticism from industry in general. Perhaps on this one occasion the Government was also afraid of the way in which unemployment was mounting. The Government is still turning deaf ears to the pleas of country districts for relief from other evils that are besetting them. Only a moment ago the Minister for Repatriation pooh-poohed the idea that the economic position had got out of hand. He denied that the situation is becoming desperate despite the fact that all over the country there is piling up evidence that the credit squeeze is not over. Unless it is eased very shortly, indeed, unless it is eased within the next month, the position will become very grave.

The alleged purpose of the little budget in November was to halt imports, to check the activities of hire-purchase companies and to put a credit squeeze on booming industries. When the Treasurer introduced his economic measures he was very careful to point out that the Reserve Bank would be instructed to ensure that the trading banks confined the credit squeeze to those industries that were booming unduly. In other words, the Government sought to have us believe that it proposed to take the top off the boom of certain industries. But the Treasurer particularized and instructed the Reserve Bank to particularize. He also instructed the trading banks to particularize. But what has happened during recent months? The effects of this credit squeeze have seeped down into every section of the nation just as heavy rain seeps through the ground to the subsoil. They have been felt by many industries over a wide range of Australia's economy. Instead of reintroducing a system of selective import controls similar to that which operated at one dme, the Government adopted a hotch-potch of measures, the most vicious of which were the credit restrictions. It set out ostensibly to halt imports and to curb hire-purchase transactions, but it has hurt thousands of people needlessly, ruthlessly and coldbloodedly in its efforts to do so.

To my mind, the Government's action resembles that of a boxer who aims a punch at his opponent but hits the referee instead. In other words, this Government has hit people who were not intended to be hit. Certainly if they were intended to be hit, we were not told of this intention last November, and if it was intended to hit them, then the Treasurer did not give us all the facts when he delivered his speech. I repeat that in aiming at a certain objective the Government has hit other objectives which either were not intended to be hit or, if intended to be hit, were not given any notice of the intention. Farmers struggling to obtain credit to produce export crops that the Government said must be maintained and increased, home seekers fighting for finance to build a roof over their heads, builders desperately trying to meet the urgent demands of people for homes - there are still thousands waiting for homes - and the timber industry struggling to compete with a flood of cheaper Imported timber, all received a body blow from this credit squeeze. If the Government intended to hit all these people, why did it not say so honestly and openly in November when the offending legislation was introduced by the Treasurer? I have read the Treasurer's speech carefully, but nowhere in it can I see any mention of the fact that any of these industries would be affected by the proposed credit squeeze. If the intention was to apply the credit squeeze selectively and only to over-booming industries, then I ask members of the Government whether they would regard the building industry an overbooming industry. Would they call an industry that is battling to give young married people homes, to meet legitimate demands of home-builders from month to month and from year to year, an over-booming industry? Would they call the timber industry, the ramifications of which extend right throughout the economy, an over-booming industry? Would they call primary production an overbooming industry? Of course not! We certainly say they are not. We do not know which industries the Government regards as over-booming industries, but it would seem that the Government certainly includes in that category the basic industries I have mentioned. We agree that speculative industries should be curbed, and the Treasurer did have something to say about them. We also agree that the activities of hire-purchase companies should be restricted and prevented from getting out of hand. If the Government had concentrated only on those industries mentioned in the Treasurer's speech perhaps this country would have been in a much better position than it is to-day. But it left the floodgates open and allowed the waters of restriction to seep through the entire Australian community. For that, it deserves the criticism and condemnation of the people it has hit. It deserves the censure of the little people it has hit.

We have no objection to curbing the activities of the big chap who is investing in all sorts of mushroom activities, but when the Government's action hits the little man who wants a home, the farmer who wants credit to extend his small acreage, the timber getter and the timber mills of Tasmania and Victoria, those engaged in one of the few remaining decentralized industries, then the Government is guilty of a criminal act, for it is a criminal act to restrict credit when credit is desperately needed by those people. We all remember what happened in 1928, 1929 and 1930 when special taxes were imposed because of the actions taken by international financiers. Those international financiers were guilty of a criminal act because they were responsible for bringing about unemployment, misery, suicide, bankruptcy and other evils throughout the world. I charge this Government to-day with hitting those people who do not deserve to be hit. It is also hitting savagely at the wage-earners, the people who are being sacked by many industries in Australia to-day. What have those people done to prejudice the Australian economy? They are the consumers. They are the people who buy the products of our farmers.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr DUTHIE - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was making the point that the vicious little budget of November, 1960, has hit a smashing blow at the little people of Australia who have done nothing to deserve such heartless, cold-blooded treatment. I said that the legislation which ostensibly was aimed at imports, hirepurchase investment and boom industries had affected thousands of people needlessly and pointlessly. I said also that the Government's action resembled that of a boxer aiming at his opponent but hitting the referee instead.

What has happened since November, 1960? Imports, which are the real culprits, have escaped scot-free so far. They show no sign of decreasing. In February our imports were of the value of £94,800,000 while our exports amounted to £79,600,000, a deficit in one month of £15,200,000. This was the twelfth successive deficit since import licensing was foolishly abandoned twelve months ago. Imports have been pouring in at a rate which is 50 per cent, higher than it was a year ago. The total deficit for the first eight months of this financial year equals £182,200,000, with our overseas reserves down to £300,000,000. These figures do not include freights and insurance, which amount to £127,000,000, so it is apparent that the culprit at which the Government aimed in November still goes scot-free.

What has happened to the building industry as the result of the drastic credit squeeze? Many builders have gone bankrupt. In the Melbourne metropolitan area there was a 51 per cent, drop in the number of homes started in February as compared with January, 1959. In February last year 800 building permits were issued for that area but in February this year the number dropped to 100. In February, 1961, there was a 60 per cent, drop in building operations in the Melbourne metropolitan area. In one week alone - from 19th to 25th February - there was a 20 per cent. drop. This is only one small section of the Australian economy, and every State can tell the same story of the tragic results that have flowed to the building industry - a vital basic industry in Australia - as a result of the credit squeeze despite the fact that in introducing the little budget in November, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) stated that the building industry would not be affected.

What has happened to the timber industry? In Tasmania 97 people have been dismissed and 300 face dismissal or short-time on the north-west coast alone. Many sawmills are closing down and others are starting to work only part-time. The millers say that their market on the mainland is drying up because of the slump in home-building. Any policy that cracks down on homebuilding and its ancillaries is a dastardly policy in any country. A few weeks ago Mr. C. S. Gibson, general manager of Tasmanian Board Mills Limited, said that his company exported about one-half of its production of dressed timber to Victoria. However, because of Melbourne's home-building slump, production had dropped by 20 per cent. He stated also -

If the demand continues to fall there is a distinct possibility that we will have to put men off.

Another producer, Mr. John Fitzsimmons who has several mills around Launceston, attributed the slump directly to the Commonwealth Government's credit squeeze. He said that 75 to 80 per cent, of timber produced at his factories was exported to Melbourne. However, in recent weeks the demand had dropped by 60 per cent. A few weeks ago only one of his six customers in Victoria was interested in buying timber from him. Here is one small section of the building industry that has been affected by the credit squeeze. Next week an additional 200 men employed in the Tasmanian timber industry will be affected when two of Circular Head's largest timber firms commence working short-time. This information is from Mr. T. Brabin, the manager of the Tasmanian Timber Association. To-day I learned that 140 building workers had been dismissed on the Tasmanian university project.

What has happened to the primary producers? In November the Treasurer claimed that they would not be affected. He made it quite clear that the banks had been instructed not to restrict credit to the primary producers, but I have spoken to small farmers in my own electorate who have been affected. I know two farmers who a year ago obtained a £250 increase in their overdraft, and they have now been asked to pay it back forthwith. One man may have to sell some of his cattle to pay that £250 off his overdraft. Other farmers are worried stiff because they do not know what will happen to them and they live in fear of the future. This position applies over the whole range of primary industries - wool, barley, wheat, oats, peas and dairying. They all are affected despite the Treasurer's claim that they would not be because of the necessity to build up our exports to meet the cost of our imports.

What has happened in relation to employment? There are 71,000 registered unemployed in Australia and this number is increasing every week at an alarming rate. 1 learned to-day that during the last few days 400 workers have been dismissed in Tasmania alone and an additional 1..500 face wage cuts or dismissal. Patons and Baldwins (Australia) Limited, which employs 1,900 men and is the biggest single employer of labour in Tasmania, dismissed 100 employees yesterday and 1,200 will work only four days a week. This is a direct result of the credit squeeze and has nothing to do with imports from Japan or from any other country.

These facts substantiate my statement that although the Government ostensibly hit at hire purchase and at imports, it also has hit these basic industries. The Government is living in an ivory tower. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) scoffed at the figures that the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) cited in relation to dismissals in his electorate. The Minister claimed that the honorable member had grossly exaggerated the position and had not spoken the truth. Do these Ministers ever get out of their offices or their motor cars? Do they ever move among the ordinary people in Australia and talk to businessmen and farmers? They do nothing of the kind. They listen to their advisers who also live in ivory towers. We are sick and tired of hearing Ministers deny the factual statements that we make on unemployment and the like.

When the number of unemployed reaches 100,000 will the Treasurer say gleefully that he has at last achieved his great objective of stabilizing the economy and beating inflation? At what stage is stability reached? The Government has planned the existing state of affairs deliberately and coldbloodedly. Is this army of unemployed to be used in the near future to break down working conditions and to lower wages? There has to be a stop sooner or later. What is stability in the economy? Does stability mean that 100.000 workers have to be unemployed? If that is the Government's policy it had better not be in office after the end of this year for the sake of the Australian economy and of the people who are affected, particularly family men with children to support. The Government cannot understand the human side of the problem. It has no humanity left or it would not continue to deny the statements that we make. With interest rates going up and with hire-purchase organizations and land trusts obtaining money at 8, 10 and 12 per cent., the whole economy has gone hay-wire and the Government definitely has lost its way.

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