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Tuesday, 21 March 1961


Mr KEARNEY - That is the truth of the situation. These are the damning facts which must be faced. They are not being faced by the politicians on the other side of the House, but they are being faced by the man on the land - by the primary producer. In the electorates of Calare and Richmond and in a number of other country areas where I have participated in by-election campaigns and other activities in the last couple of years, many country men have told me that they are in debt to the eyes and that they cannot get £2,000 to buy a chaff-cutter, a binder or a reaper. They have been pushed by the banks out of the ordinary overdraft field of finance into the maws of the hire-purchase sharks, whom the private banks are supporting. At one end of the counter, the manager of a bank says to an applicant for finance, who may be a banana-grower, a wheatgrower or a wool-grower, " We cannot give you an overdraft, but if you go to the other end of the counter you can get the money on hire-purchase terms ". Those terms are at rapacious rates of interest of up to 16 per cent, or 20 per cent. This is a complete and deliberate financial racket, but members of the Australian Country Party in this Parliament remain silent about it. They apparently lack the ability to recognize the facts, and they refuse to criticize these things. In truth, they are putting a shrewd deception over the average man on the land who votes for them in good faith and sends them to this Parliament to put a proper case in the interests of the primary producers. And. after all, who is a greater worker than the average primary producer?

I turn now to the unemployment situation which has developed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is important. I come from an industrial centre. In Port Kembla and Wollongong, we have the umbrella of protection which is provided by the steel industry for the moment because of the great expansion programme which it is undertaking. But a similar umbrella of protection does not exist throughout the rest of New South Wales, particularly in the building trade and the industries which depend on it. A week ago, I was interviewed by the representatives of ten building trades unions who graphically portrayed for me a picture of what is happening to bricklayers, plasterers, carpenters and others in the building industry. The only thing that is holding back a flood-tide of unemployment in that industry is the number of new houses and new commercial buildings which are being constructed with money borrowed some time ago. Next to no new money is being made available for the construction of homes, and the result is that in two or three months we shall see the full impact of the credit squeeze.

What is happening in the building industry in Port Kembla and Wollongong? The average skilled tradesman, seeing his normal livelihood in the building industry evaporating, is entering the steel industry in order to become an ordinary operative in that big industry in which he sees continuity of employment and secure wages. But Australia will pay the price in the future, because those skilled tradesmen will be lost to their trades when they settle in as workmen in the establishments of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Australian Iron and Steel Limited and other big steel and allied companies. That is the simple truth of the situation.

The number of workers unemployed has jumped to 73,000, as was indicated by the figures released at the end of February. But those are the Government's figures, and one ought to double them to get the correct number of unemployed. Obviously, a great number of people do not rush in and register immediately as unemployed. Married women who lose their jobs do not register, and the man on short time does not register as unemployed, but he loses 'economic earning power. Many single women who are kept by their families and1 many men whose wages are reduced cannot register as unemployed. And so the story goes on and the situation becomes worse and worse. We now have no fewer than 20.900 people living on the dole, as has been indicated by the official figures released by this Government. That is not good enough. Yet I have heard honorable members suggesting to-day that the Government has reason to be proud of the low percentage of unemployment in this country.

Mr Duthie - Only 1,500 people were unemployed when the Labour Government went out of office.

Mr KEARNEY - As the honorable member suggests, the situation was very clear in 1949. Something like 100,000 job vacancies were offering and only 9,000 people were registered for work. That was a ratio of about eleven to one. Yet the Treasurer had the effrontery to suggest to me this afternoon that a ratio of five to one was dangerous and bad for the country. We were a happy nation when the Labour Government was in office. We had money to spend and we were eating more bananas, more meat, more flour, more bread and more cakes. Everybody possessed purchasing power. The situation of to-day is radically different, and our position will continue to deteriorate alarmingly under the administration of the present Government. In a nutshell, the Government is asking the wage-earner, the family man, the pensioner and the other ordinary people to bear the brunt of the present financial debacle. I say on behalf of the trade union movement and the Australian Labour Party that we do not accept that onus, and 1 suggest that all the organized forces who are able to resist the Government should resist it - and especially resist unemployment.

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