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Wednesday, 15 March 1961

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I do not believe that the members of this House have ever listened to such an empty speech as that which has just been delivered by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon). The

Minister gave the show away in the first five minutes of his speech.

Mr Pollard - He is walking out of the chamber.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Of course he is. He said that the Government had not yet learned to live comfortably with full employment. What is the alternative? The Government has learned to live comfortably with unemployment. That is the alternative. The Minister spoke on the first three of the four points with which he originally proposed to deal. He did not develop the fourth because he felt that it was weaker than the first three. His first point was that in 1958-59 people had not cared about costs and prices. On 11th August, 1959, the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who also has just left the chamber, delivered the Budget Speech in which he said -

However, it is not simply a matter of holding our position. Expansion must go on.

Keep in mind that this was said in 1 959, the year of which the Minister for Labour and National Service was speaking a while ago! The Treasurer continued -

Each year brings a larger number of additional people - chiefly migrants and young folk leaving school - for whom occupations must be provided. Tn net terms the addition to the work force this year will be probably about 80,000.

That was said in 1959! So a figure of 100,000 in 1960-61 is what we might expect. Anybody who knew anything about the growth of a community should have known that that 100,000 people would come into the work-force in 1960-61. The Treasurer went on -

Our whole economy these days is based upon the assumption of strong and continuous growth.

Yet, to-night the Minister told us that the people had not cared about costs and prices! The Treasurer went on -

To keep all resources, and particularly resources of labour, fully employed is, of course, not only a social obligation but also a vital economic need. It will be, as I have said, an advantage to have an increasing flow of people, and especially of young people, available for employment. But these additional people must find occupations readily and continuously, and this can happen only if there is all-round expansion of the economy.

Let me pause again. This is what the Treasurer was saying to industry! But the Minister for Labour and National Service had the audacity to say to-night that the Labour Government did not know how to run its affairs and that the people did not care about costs and prices. This statement should be related not only to employees but also to employers. To-night the Minister was trying to draw a red herring across the trail to divert attention from the real failures of this Government. But if we examine further what the Treasurer said in his 1958-59 Budget Speech we will find that he talked about challenges. He went on to say -

So far, the rising numbers of new workers appear to have been successfully absorbed. This is encouraging; but the number will grow fairly rapidly in the next few years. It is a challenge to which the Government, and I am glad to say, the world of trade and industry, are very much alive.

Mr. Speaker,clearly the statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service to-night in regard to the year 1958-59 is in complete contradiction of what the Treasurer said in his Budget Speech of 11th August, 1959. The Minister spoke about the transfer of workers from one industry to another. What has he done about the workers in the Kempsey district, where 40 per cent, of the people are dependent on the saw-mills and have been thrown out of work! He did not say one word about them, or the conditions generally on the north coast of New South Wales. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) have been crying for some assistance from this Minister who spoke to-night about workers changing their employment. For the saw-mill workers on the north coast of New South Wales and Queensland, the only change is from employment to unemployment.

The Minister said, quite frankly, we had never yet learnt to live comfortably with full employment. This Government never believed in full employment. I never expected to see a Minister give it away as the Minister for Labour and National Service did to-night. The Minister did not develop his fourth point, because he got frightened of it and ran away. He dealt with over-full employment, and said that the value of a man's job became of little importance to him. If I heard him correctly, he produced some calculations that a clerk had prepared in his office, and I am sure he said that there had been 72 per cent, changeover in employment. I throw that back in his teeth. That is wilful misrepresentation of the facts.

Mr Hulme - The Minister said " in an industry ".

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Another Minister has interjected that the Minister for Labour and National Service used the words " in an industry " in that context. He probably got that figure from the north coast saw-mills, where the workers have gone out of one industry but not into another. He would not get that figure anywhere else. If the Minister said there had been a 72 per cent, changeover in employment, he referred to those who have been thrown out of work and have not yet got a job.

Mr Hulme - You do not understand what turnover of employment is.


Minister, who came into this chamber talking about over-full employment and men changing their jobs, spoke about the workers forgetting that they should do a good day's work. That statement came from the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is that what he thinks about the whole of the Australian work force? If so, what a blot on management it is! Have we reached the stage where management is forgetful of its national responsibility and is not prepared to take complete managerial control to achieve a reasonable day's work whether the worker is prepared to do it or not?

What are the facts? The Minister for Labour and National Service did not offer one word of hope for those who have not got a job to-night. He did not offer one decent plan to take up the slack for those who are out of employment. He spoke about 72 per cent, changeover in employment. I throw that statement back in his teeth and say that any Minister who talks as he has to-night, when this Government has thrown the workers out of employment, is not facing up to the responsibilities of his office, and the quicker we have a change of Ministers and a change of government the better for the workers.

Let me put aside what the Minister has said to comment on the statements made last night by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard the Treasurer brand the Government which has been in office for twelve years as a government totally incapable of governing. That is what he implied if his statements are correct. The Treasurer said -

It was clear that boom conditions existed in the building industry, particularly in some States, lt was clear that boom conditions had developed with respect to speculation in land and in other forms of speculative activity. Share prices had rocketed because of these speculative processes. We found that even commodities so basic as steel and timber were being imported because the supply could not be sustained in this country. We found that labour had reached a point at which job vacancies exceeded the supply of labour in great areas of the economy.

The Treasurer used the word " great ", which is a wilful misrepresentation of facts, and he added -

The flow of imports had mounted to flood proportions which we could not hope to sustain and bank advances, as I mentioned earlier, had reached record levels.

That was the statement of the Treasurer after the Government had been in office almost twelve years. That alone was sufficient ground for the Opposition to submit a motion of want of confidence. Any government that allows such a position to arise is not worthy of office. Let us analyse what the Treasurer said. He stated -

It was clear that boom conditions existed in the building industry, particularly in some States.

Where was the building boom? Were the workers getting homes suitable for their personal requirements at reasonable rates of interest? The simple desire of the worker is to get a home and pay for it within his working life. If ever we get a boom in that sort of housing, we will find contentment among the workers; but such a position will never be achieved until we have another Labour government. When the Minister spoke of a building boom, he was talking about the Chevron Hotel in Sydney and the big buildings that are being erected by the insurance companies. One of these at Circular Quay has reached 24 stories and is still going up. If you take out the Chevron and the insurance company buildings, the building industry would be in a flat spin and there would be no boom at all.

That is where there is a building boom. It is not to be found among the people who really need something.

Those who are enjoying the boom are those who are taking advantage of this Government's miserable policy. They are reaping such benefits that they can borrow at 10 to 15 per cent, to get the money to build the structures which are causing the boom. This Government made that possible. Reference has been made to home units. They have been built on a speculative basis and it should never have been tolerated by any government. The Treasurer also said -

It was clear that boom conditions had developed with regard to speculation in land and other forms of speculative activity.

Who made that possible? It was made possible by the policy of this Government. Those who benefited were not the workers who, according to the Minister for Labour and National Service, are forgetting how to do a good day's work, but the Hooker organization and others. This Government made it possible for them to speculate. They have raked in money at 10 per cent, under a system with which this Government did not attempt to interfere. The Treasurer also sard -

Share prices have rocketed because of these speculative processes.

Who were the people who benefited from the rocketing share prices? Were they the workers? We have a former Treasurer and goodness knows who else attached to this Government reaping fortunes out of an uncontrolled economy that has been deliberately fostered by this Government following the statements made by the Treasurer in 1958-59. Last night, the Treasurer said -

We found that even commodities so basic as are steel and timber were being imported because the supply could not be sustained in this country.

Let me refer to this part of his statement specifically. What is the Government's remedy for that situation about which the Treasurer has complained? The Government has offered one solution, and one solution only: A tax concession by way of a rebate of pay-roll tax to the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited if it can sell more of its steel overseas. I. have never heard of anything so ridiculous. First, we have a monopoly with complete control over steel, and then the Government has a policy to encourage the export of steel while more steel is brought in from overseas. No wonder there are complaints about cluttering up the ports. If our steel industry is as important as the members of the Country Party and everybody else in this House claim, and as the Minister suggested last night, then it is high time that the industry was placed under a form of control that would operate in the best interests of the Australian people. It is high time that the industry was removed from the monopoly control under which it is labouring at present.

Mr Hulme - Nationalization!

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I knew 1 would draw that remark from the Minister. " Nationalization ", he says. Let me be quite frank about this. If it comes to a choice between protecting the people's right to develop their country and prosper and looking after the vested interests of monopolies, I will come down on the side of the people every day in the week - and make no mistake about it!

Now let me discuss the timber industry. What was the Government's answer to the situation when there was a shortage of timber? Keep in mind what the Treasurer said at the end of his remarks, to the effect that the flow of imports had mounted to flood proportions which we could not hope to sustain. What was the Government's answer at the time it complained that there was a shortage of timber? It took action that has almost completely cut off the production of Australian timber. The Treasurer complained about the flood of imports that we cannot allow to go on, but Government action has resulted in the importation of millions of feet of timber, resulting in Australian workers being thrown to the wolves. If only on this ground, the motion that is now before the House should be passed. If the members of the Liberal Party and the Country Party are prepared to go along with a Treasurer who makes that kind of statement, I can assure them that there will be retribution at the next election.

Mr Hulme - You have only eight minutes left. Tell us your policy.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - We have proposed a mot/on of no confidence. It is not a question of telling you our policy. I can tell you one of the things we would not do; we would not close our sawmills and then complain about the flood of imports to this country.

Mr Hulme - What about the coal strike of 1949?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - All right, let us have a look at 1949. I am glad the Minister has raised that point. The Minister for Labour and National Service started to talk to-night about what was done with respect to wages and spiralling costs. Let us look at the facts. I have some figures before me that are contained in another document issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. In the last two years of office of the Menzies Government, before it failed so miserably in time of war, 1939 and 1940, the basic wage rose by 8s. In the four years of war-time, 1941 to 1945, when a Labour government was in office, the basic wage rose by 10s. Then in the next four years it rose by 24s. But what happened when the Labour Government went out of office? In 1950, after this Government came to power, the basic wage rose by 33s. It increased by a further 38s. in the second year of office of the Government, by 30s. in the third year, and at the end of the Government's first four years the basic wage had increased by £5 7s. a week. This resulted in the complete smashing of the Australian economy.

We have now a government that has pegged child endowment ever since it came to office. Child endowment payments have remained at the same level since 1948, and I believe that the Minister for Labour and National Service, the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme), and all their colleagues who have followed this policy of imposing hardship on the family group will no longer be tolerated by decent-thinking people. Let us consider why the Government has followed this policy. Fortunately we have a Labour Government in New South Wales that still uses, for the purpose of assessing the wage requirements of the community, an index that was adopted in 1934 for measuring the minimum standard. This C series index was decided upon in 1934 ?s the method of establishing the minimum wage on which a family could live. It is to the outstanding credit of the Labour Government which has adorned the treasury bench in New South Wales for twenty years, that when this Commonwealth Government, through the machinery it set up, pegged the basic wage in 1953, the Government of New South Wales continued to grant quarterly increases according to the C series index. The Bolte Government in Victoria, a government of the same kidney as the Commonwealth Government, made promises at election time that it would not interfere with quarterly basic wage adjustments if re-elected. But what happened in Victoria? Let me tell honorable members the story.

Mr Stokes - And it is a story!

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I have the actual figures before me, and they will catch up with you in due time. As from 30th June, 1959, the basic wage in Australia was pegged. As from December of the same year margins were pegged. In New South Wales, where regular increases have been granted according to movements in the C series index, the basic wage has risen, between the time when this Government and the Bolte Government in Victoria pegged the wage and now, by 23s. The increase has been paid to all State employees and to all employees under State control working under federal awards. As I said, the Bolte Government ratted on its promise and decided to follow the practice of the Commonwealth Government and no longer to recognize the C series index figures. When it made this decision it hoped that there would be no further inflation in Victoria, but what has been the result? Using the same barometer, the C series index figures, while the increase in New South Wales amounted to 23s., in Victoria the increase has been 43s.

Of course, this is a government which always imposes financial burdens upon those least able to bear them. We remember that thirteen months ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that all we needed was a steadying of wage levels and the grant of no further wage increases in order to give us a sound economy. That was in February of last year. In March of this year we see a situation that the Minister for Labour and National Service will not face up to. Costs in Victoria have risen at twice the rate at which they have risen in New South Wales, and under an administration of a similar kind to that which operates in the Commonwealth sphere we cannot expect any different result.

Mr. Speaker,I support in full the motion of the Leader of the Opposition. I support it particularly in its application to the unnecessary sufferings of people who have lost their employment. Those people had a right to learn from the Minister for Labour and National Service what his programme was to guarantee full employment. But, let me repeat, the Minister gave the game away when he said that we have not learned to live with a policy of full employment. This motion that we have before us would be worth while if it had no other purpose than to censure the Minister for a remark of that kind. When he comes to this House, after his Government has been twelve years in office, and tells us that the Government has not yet learned to live with a policy of full employment, he indicates to the whole community that the Government does not understand a policy of full employment, does not know how to apply it, and, in point of fact, is against it.

The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), who is interjecting, should remain quiet. During his speech last night he did not say one word about unemployment in Queensland. He merely engaged in diversionary tactics.

Mr Wight - What about the Communist influence in the Labour Party?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I will debate that question with the honorable member any time he likes in his own electorate.

Mr Wight - That is a date.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - In fact, I shall be there during the election campaign, and I can assure him that he will not be sitting in the place he now occupies in this House after the next election.

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