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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - Mr. Speaker, I hoped that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) would give us something better to-day than we have heard from him for some time about th? Government's planning for the purpose of taking up the slack represented by those who have now joined the dole queues of this country. I can interpret only in one way his remark that we have been in a stage of transition. During March, 2,521 more people were added to the dole queues in Sydney, and I suggest that apparently the transition is from full employment to large-scale unemployment and that the Minister is not very much concerned about the people in the dole queues and does not care whether their number grows without limit. I am not unmindful of the fact that the same Minister, on the last occasion on which he addressed the House on this subject, stated that we have not yet learned to live in comfort with full employment. He has demonstrated by his contribution to the discussion this afternoon that he is quite content for the people to live in discomfort with unemployment so long as he is comfortable.

The level of unemployment rises every day. I shall not predict what will happen in the future, because my concern is for the present. I noticed a while ago that the

Minister made a fleeting reference to unemployment of H per cent, being due to seasonal occupations. He was referring to something which was alleged to have been said by the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and which was mentioned in this House last week by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who, according to " Hansard " quoted the president of that council as having said that we do not panic over a small percentage of unemployment and that unemployment of 1.5 per cent, is seasonal. Such a statement was r.ever made by the president of the organization. The Minister and later the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) agreed with the honorable member for Chisholm and made similar statements suggesting that this remark about unemployment of 1.5 per cent, being due to seasonal circumstances had been made by the president of the Australia:: Council of Trade Unions, but both the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Treasurer should have understood that the truth about what was said was contained in the official records of the Department of Immigration. These Ministers were not sufficiently interested in the truth. They preferred to live with an untruth instead of looking up the records to see exactly what had been said.

What the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions had said was on record in a ministerial file in the House at the very time when these incorrect statements were made by the honorable member for Chisholm, the Treasurer and the Minister for Labour and National Service. In my view, Ministers do not observe proper parliamentary standards of conduct when they agree with a statement that is completely untrue although the truth can be ascertained merely by little more than the lifting of a finger in this House. The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was referring to the 1.5 per cent, of the work force which is floating and which meets the demand for the kind of employment that he was dealing with at the time - employment on undertakings such as the Snowy Mountains scheme and the Eildon Weir, and other public works as well as all the rest of the projects associated with national development. The Minister's argument suggests to me that he has lost touch with what is really happening.

I am glad to see that the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) is now in the chamber. I was privileged to visit his electorate earlier this week. The official records show that an additional 120 people joined the dole queues in Rockhampton during March. Only one more would have made a total of 1,300 people in the dole queues in that important city in central Queensland. In these circumstances, the honorable member ought to be on his feet saying the sort of thing that we are saying. Let me remind him and the House that although the Minister says that we have reached the limit in the transfer of staff, in the last fortnight or a little more, a further 75 people have been put out of work in Rockhampton as a result of several more establishments closing down. Surely nobody knows better than does the honorable member for Capricornia that the meat industry will provide employment only until about the end of August. Does he suggest that 1,300 unemployed should join the dole queues again immediately the meat season finishes at the end of August?

This Government is clever and pays the dole by cheque so that the workers who are on the dole are not seen lining up to be paid. At 31st March, 4,655 people were in the dole queues in Sydney. The Minister says that we are finished with the transferring of staff. Does he suggest that these 4,655 unemployed workers and their families who now get nothing but the dole should be thrown to the wolves by the Government? His attitude in saying that the transfer of staff is finished seems to suggest that this is what he thinks should happen. The figures for March show an increase in the rate at which people are joining the dole queues in Queensland. The increase was 1,152 in Brisbane, 120 in Rockhampton, as T have already stated, and 122 in Townsville, and the dole queues lengthened also in Mackay. Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Ingham, Innisfail and Ipswich. In all these important towns, more people are joining the dole queues. And I remind honorable members that the dole is only about £6 a week for a family.

I repeat that 1,152 more people went on lae dole in Brisbane during March and ore than double that number in Sydney. Yet the Minister has just told us that we have been passing through a transition stage and that he believes the Government has achieved something. It has achieved something, Mr. Speaker! The Minister said that since October the number of people in civilian employment has increased by more than 12,000. This represents an increase in jobs available of about 12,000 over a period of about six months, although approximately 80,000 people a year are being added to the work force from within this country, quite apart from the workers brought here by our immigration programme. If the Minister is happy about an additional 12,000 jobs having been found, it shows quite emphatically, Mr. Speaker, that he has lost touch with the developmental needs of this country.

Let us consider the dole queues. Unemployment in the city of Sydney increased by 2,561 between 1st March and 1st April. Those 2,561 people were working on 1st March, but none of them was working on 1st April. Surely the Minister will not attempt to place them in the category of persons who were unemployable. I have looked at the figures for as far back as 1929. I did not find one month, not even in 1929, in which the number of people joining the dole queues had doubled. 1 have examined the employment position in the town of Orange, from which I came originally. Incidentally, the Orange figures were dropped from the March employment statistics. In February last, there were 132 people on the dole in Orange. There were only 600 on the dole there at the height of the depression.

If the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Government are not alive to the present position they will have to answer for the consequences.

Mr Pearce - Calamity howling!

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - The honorable member for Capricornia, who represents the Rockhampton district, says that I am calamity howling. Is it calamity howling to come to this Parliament and direct attention to the fact that an additional 30 people each week have been joining the dole queues in Rockhampton? If that is the honorable member's view, he is entitled to it, but I suggest that he cannot expect to be here after the next genera] election. Does he want to see employees in the furnituremanufacturing industry and other industries in

Rockhampton join the dole queues because no employment is being found by this Government? I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the Australian Labour Party is to be commended for bringing to the attention of the House the continued existence of an unsatisfactory employment position, although the Minister says it has already settled down.

The Government has done greater damage to the economy than has yet been revealed. There is a lack of confidence throughout the economic structure because of maladministration. Unless somebody takes a hand and alters the present policies, the Government will continue to make one bad decision after another. As 1 have said, the number joining the dole queues in Rockhampton increased by 120 in March. I remind the honorable member for Capricornia that in the Rockhampton area not one new building project has been commenced, in a city of 43,000 people. The only building under construction there will be completed in about a fortnight's time. Not even a home has been commenced. When an approach was made to the State Government about the construction of housing commission homes it had nothing to say.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

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