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Wednesday, 8 March 1961

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - It was refreshing to hear at long last a member on the Government side say something worth while about our valued north. For ten years the Opposition has sent its members consistently to the north and " Hansard " is studded with speeches that they have made in relation to what is necessary there. I remind the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray), who is interjecting and who has been referred to so eulogistically for his actions in the north, that at least seven years ago I heard a fellow Queenslander stand in this place and talk about the value of the stock in the north that could be shifted by air - an air-beef lift - but nothing has been heard of it since. I am prepared to say that the great speech that we have heard from the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) will be recorded in " Hansard " and, unless a Labour Government comes to office this year to give effect to what he has suggested, that is where it will remain as long as this Government is in office because nothing was done even when a former Treasurer came from Queensland.

It is good to know that 22 back-benchers are going to the Northern Territory, and it is good to know that they have decided to go in June. It is rather a pity that they did not go in January and have a look at some of the difficulties that confront the north in the wet season. They are not going until June when the climatic conditions will be more to their liking. 1 am sick of listening to this kind of talk. To-night we heard the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen), a member of the Australian Country Party who should be concerned with the country, tell us that he did not want to be controversial because he understands that something controversial will be before us tomorrow. The Acting Prime Minister spoke about circling the earth looking for markets and about the programme that he has in mind with regard to those things that are essential to Australia's future and its overseas commitments. In his Speech yesterday the Administrator referred to wool, and to-day the " Sydney Morning Herald " has a subleader in these simple terms which incorporates statements made by Mr. Scott, president of the N.S.W. Graziers Association of -

The national policy of expansion, said Mr. Scott, would be brought to a standstill if the industry continued to decline in status and efficiency.

The Government should start to do something first about what it already has. The sub-leader continues -

Woolgrowing in its present state was unprofitable; and already the position for some growers was desperate.

That is the position after this Government has been in office for twelve years. Now we have honorable members talking about the north. Why not do something about the rural industry which has been doing something for this country for so long instead of talking about that mythical problem that calls for the Government's attention? The Acting Prime Minister, who is the No. 1 man in this country at present, said that we have to do something to obtain overseas markets and to improve our manufacturing industries. If honorable members listened to him intently, as they should have done, surely they would have been surprised at the Acting Prime Minister's statements. Which industry is affected most by the pay-roll tax? Which industry should obtain the concession to which the Acting Prime Minister referred as being necessary in any solution of our overseas problems? Of course, it is secondary industry!

The Administrator's Speech gives me three reasons to wonder whether this Government has any contact with what is necessary for Australia's future progress. The first portion of the Speech to which I wish to refer is in these terms -

In the economic sphere, it remains the firm aim of the Government to maintain soundly based national expansion, immigration and full employment.

Mr Pearce - Hear, hear!

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - The honorable member for Capricornia should listen closely to this. The Administrator continued -

There is evidence that the pressures of excessive demand are beginning to abate and my advisers are confident that the action they have taken will be successful in setting the economy on a course of steady growth and progress.

The next portion of the Speech to which I wish to refer states -

My advisers will continue their efforts to encourage industry to promote greater efficiency, and are pleased at the degree to which productivity groups are being formed in particular areas and branches of industry.

That relates to secondary industry. The last extract that I wish to read was referred to in brief by the honorable member for Macarthur, and rather fully by the Acting Prime Minister. It relates to the standardization of important railways in South Australia and Western Australia. Let me take the last one first. It seems to me that this Government, in every move it makes, fails to look at the realities. If any one in this House feels that the mere standardization of rail gauges will be the answer to Australia's transport problem, he is not giving real thought to the problem.

Mr Chaney - It is a start.

Mr. E.JAMES HARRISON__ Yes, but when a country is in the dangerous situation that this country is in, you must determine the basic causes and use the proper remedies.

Mr Howson - You were a member of the Opposition's committee on the standardization of gauges.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I was, but that committee did not say that standardization was the real answer to the problem. It will be recalled that when we dealt with standardization we posed the query: " Does railway standardization provide the answer? " Let me remind my friends opposite that what we said - and I quote from the report of the committee in 1956 - was -

The road problem is the major one and it might well be argued that a population of 9,000,000 people or thereabouts will find it difficult to find the huge sum of money required for the roadway construction so urgently needed. Should a near miracle be performed and the material can be found in the next ten years to meet the huge minimum amount required and in addition the £1,340,000,000 can be found, the question posed is "Can 9,000,000 people continue to provide the man-power required to maintain all the requirements of over 2,000,000 vehicles operating over more than 500,000 miles of roads? "

And it is substantially more than that now The report of an American road engineer a few days ago says that it is a sheer impossibility. That is the latest report we have on roads in this country. I can tell the House exactly what the Opposition's committee said on 2nd November, 1956. It was -

The answer to that would seem to be to take the heaviest loading off the roads and that by the standardization of rail gauges as between the capital cities. But that is not all the answer. There is no break of gauge between Adelaide and Melbourne, neither is there any break of gauge between Sydney and Brisbane, yet all these systems of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales record great financial difficulties. To an extent each State has diesel-electric locomotives, but in the case of South Australia and Victoria the power unit changes at the border. The systems are not co-ordinated and unification of rail gauges without co-ordination might well produce no better result than is being obtained as between South Australia and Victoria at the present time.

That is what we said in 1956, and a further important factor was this -

It does then seem to be that the standardization of rail gauges within itself will not provide the answer to Australia's transport economic problem. But co-ordinated transport within the control of an Interstate Commerce Commission and the availability of swift cheap rail service worked by diesel-electric locomotives between all capital cities over a standardized railway system would certainly reduce substantially the transport cost content in Australia's economy.

But it can be valueless unless you set up a transport commission to co-ordinate transport in Australia. The thing which is crying out loudest for attention in this country is co-ordination of the transport system, and until that is faced by some government - we will face up to it when we come to office at the end of this year - the problem will not be solved. There is no purpose in talking about standardization of gauges unless you face up to the real problem, which is the co-ordination of transport in Australia. The interest of the Playford Government in the question of standardization is prompted by fear that Adelaide may suffer as the result of the standardization of the Melbourne-Albury gauge if something is not done. If the Government is not prepared to co-ordinate transport it may easily find that the extension of the standard gauge will be a waste of national funds. I hope the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) is paying attention to that. He is the one who should go to Germany and America, where there is complete standardization of rail gauges, but in which countries the authorities also have complete control of transport. If the Minister visited West Germany or America he would return confirmed in the view that standardization, without co-ordination of transport, was wasted effort. That will be proved in this country in the not-far-distant future.

The standardization of rail gauges forecast by this Government now will be an asset, and I have advocated it just as consistently as have any members on the Government side of the House, but I repeat that without co-ordination of transport in Australia we will never resolve the transport difficulties of this country.

Let me return to the Administrator's Speech. He said -

Tn the economicsphere, it remains the first aim of the Government to maintain soundly based national expansion, immigration and full employment.

A little later he said -

There is evidence that the pressures of excessive demand are beginning to abate and my advisers are confident (hat the action they have taken will be successful in setting the economy on a course of steady growth and progress.

Now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let us look at one page of " The Sydney Morning Herald " of Saturday, 4th March, which was published while the Speech was being written by the Government. There we read the following headlines: - " Five hundred men laid off ", and, in the next column, " Milperra Mower Factory Dismisses 200 ". On the same page we see the headings " Australian Deficit Mostly with Dollar Area," and "Savings Bank Deposits Fall".

Mr Pearce - What about unity tickets?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Honorable members opposite sometimes try to divert me with their interjections from a subject which stings, but I will not be diverted from this one. This is a matter of bread and butter and starving people and is much more important to me than unity tickets or anything else in this country at the present time. The " Sydney Morning Herald " published the following statements last Saturday: -

Timber authorities yesterday called the slump the worst to hit the north coast in more than 20 years. They said it had been caused by: restricted finance for home-building; unrestricted imports of foreign timbers, particularly Oregon from the U.S. and plywoods and veneers from the Philippines, Japan and Malaya; imports of partly-assembled furniture from Japan.

Let us see what is happening to the north coast where I was born and reared, as a result of this muddling. The " Sydney Morning Herald " says -

The State Forestry Commissioner, Mr. L. Hudson, said yesterday the commission was "very concerned at the situation ", but there was little it could do. "The timber industry has always been a good barometer of our economic situation ", he said. Last night two more mills in the Kempsey area laid off about 50 men.

You will be concerned at what I am saying now, Mr. Deputy Speaker -

Mills are closed at Wauchope, Grafton, Armidale, Tamworth, Dorrigo, Coffs Harbour, Urunga, Roseberry, Casino, Lismore and Kyogle. In Kempsey, hardest hit area where 250 men have been laid off and five mills closed, citizens have called a public meeting. The Mayor, Alderman R. G. Melville, who is convening the meeting, said the area depended on timber for 40 per cent, of its income.

Yet the Government tells us that there is evidence that the pressures of excessive demand are beginning to abate and that it is confident that the action taken will enable the economy to develop steadily. Is that what you call " steady growth and progress "? Is that the type of organization we want in this country at this or any other time? Let us look at what is happening at the Victa mower factory at Milperra. The " Sydney Morning Herald " report states -

Victa Consolidated Industries has laid off 200 workers at its Milperra plant.

The report continues -

Thirty-five workers employed by Courtaulds Australia Limited at Tomago, near Raymond Terrace, have been dismissed.

The report also states -

During February there were 100 dismissals at Burlington Mills, Rutherford.

Some other large establishments were working only four days a week. This had not been done for a number of years.

Let us see now what has happened in the textile industry as the result of this Government's policy. Last Saturday, while the speech made by the Administrator on behalf of the Government was being prepared, the " Sydney Morning Herald " had this to say -

Two thousand Australian textile industry employees had lost their jobs this year because of the Government's credit squeeze . . .

Now let us see what has happened in regard to savings bank deposits. The same newspaper said in a report on that same day -

Savings bank deposits have fallen in three successive months for the first time in at least five years.

Further down in the same report it is stated -

Deposits in all States during the year ended January increased by £100,473,000, or 6.9 per cent.

The largest decrease in January was £1,600,000 in Queensland.

In point of fact, Queensland, the very State about which we are talking to-night, is the State that has been hit the hardest. The drop in savings bank deposits in Queensland was half of the total. I happened to be in Queensland when the Premier, Mr. Nicklin, returned from the recent meeting of the Australian Loan Council. The whole of the Queensland press gave three-inch headlines to the fact that Mr. Nicklin blamed this Commonwealth Government for the increase m unemployment in Queensland. For the Minister to rise in his place to-day and tell us that the position in Queensland is not different to-day from what it was in January or February last year is so much rot.

The time of processing in the sugar industry in Queensland to-day is reduced by 50 per cent, as a result of modern technology in the treatment of raw sugar. Men have to seek work elsewhere as a result of automation. In the rail industry, because of the introduction of diesel locomotion, men have been engaged in employment other than their usual employment on the railways. In the town of Gympie I saw thirteen firemen at work in the shed, doing labourers' jobs. Drivers have to go back to the shovel, junior permanent hands have to go back to labouring and labourers are put off. That is what is happening in Gympie, and you can find exactly the same thing in town after town in Queensland. Yet somebody comes to this House and tells us that the Government is happy about what it is doing. Just take a look at what Premier Nicklin had to say on his return from the Loan Council meeting! Read the press of Queensland and you will see the result of this Government's policy as reflected in the decrease of savings bank deposits. The position is the same all over Australia, which is suffering from creeping paralysis as the result of this Government's actions.

In his Speech on behalf of the Government the Administrator said -

My advisers will continue their efforts to encourage industry to promote greater efficiency, and are pleased at the degree to which productivity groups are being formed in particular areas and branches of industry.

It has been my privilege in recent times to take some interest in productivity groups and their activities. I happen to be a member of one of them. In my opinion the Government is fiddling while Rome burns so far as production is concerned. Last Tuesday it was my privilege to sit in on a productivity discussion. Let me read to the House a summary of the remarks of a gentleman whom I do not want to name. He is one of the top employees of Ducor Industries Limited. He was dealing with the question " Can we afford to have obsolescent plant? " That company is at the crux of Australian secondary industry. This gentleman said -

In summing up I believe it is absolutely essential that companies to-day are fully mindful of new developments in plant and equipment, and that they must have a sound control over the plant and equipment operated by them.

Probably one of the highest indirect costs in manufacturing industries to-day is caused by the use of obsolete plant, which apart from causing considerable direct costs for repairs and maintenance etc., causes much greater costs because of its low standard of efficiency comparable to more modern plant.

It is useless for the Government to expect the manufacturing industries of this country to be able to compete in the markets around the world enumerated to-night by the Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade when their machinery of production is obsolete. With the exception of the steel industry, which is up to date, it is necessary to re-equip secondary industry in this country with modern equipment like the automotive machinery that is available to manufacturers overseas. This would be only the initial stage in increasing the productivity of the manufacturing industries of Australia. We are living in a world of automation. Countries like America, Great Britain, France and other countries which have teeming millions within their borders can profitably run automotive machinery for 24 hours a day because they have the home market to absorb the production. Our home market is so limited that it would be out of the question to attempt to compete with countries of that kind, unless great assistance is given to our manufacturing industries. To-day the electronics industry is the important industry in the world. Changes in production techniques are taking place monthly, weekly and even daily, and it seems obvious that for industry in this country to be equipped with the up-to-date equipment to place it on a comparative footing with industry in America, France and elsewhere, we have to do something to meet the needs of the situation. We must first ask ourselves how we are going to increase our production. It is of little use talking, as the Acting Prime Minister did to-night, about what we are going to do in the various areas abroad that he mentioned. His speech is a failure when it comes to the question of what we are going to do about increasing our level of manufacturing in Australia and so increase our exports. It is quite apparent that up to date the Government has not looked at the impact on world production of automation, which has so greatly reduced costs of production in America and other countries which have home markets to absorb the output of automotive machinery run for 24 hours a day. We have not such a home market in this country, and when we are talking about manufacturers looking for markets in the areas mentioned by the Acting Prime Minister, we must realize that the first thing these manufacturers will find in these areas is that the very same articles that they are trying to sell there are being produced by countries which have intensive automation, sometimes wiith government assistance. So, let not this Government go on putting the cart before the horse. In relation to transport requirements the Government is only touching the fringe; in relation to manufacturing requirements it is not even touching the fringe.

The manufacturing industries are saying to the Government, " You can save us from disaster ". But the Government is allowing the position of our manufacturing industries to slip further and further back as a result of the imports it is allowing into the country, which are affecting even the manufacturing capacity that this country already has. Our manufacturing industries cannot compete overseas unless they have modern machinery. They have not the wherewithal, and will not have it, to purchase the necessary machinery, and we are not producing that machinery ourselves in this country. So, we are in a cleft stick.

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