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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) .- The purpose of the proposal before the House, Mr. Speaker, is to attempt to convince us that there is in this country an unusual employment situation. Unfortunately, there is no unanimity amongst honorable members opposite in relation to the matter. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) was in Queensland at the week-end. Last Thursday night, he served notice on this House that he intended to go to Brisbane for a monster rally on unemployment. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) confined himself in the debate to the position in Queensland, so one might expect to learn that the monster rally in Brisbane had been well attended. In fact, 120 people attended. There was a riot in the place where the rally was held, and police had to be called in to eject some of those present. The monster unemployment rally just did not come off. The Leader of the Opposition was forced to change his ground. He went on to Ipswich, and he is reported as having said there that unemployment in Queensland was the sole responsibility of the State Government, and not that of the Commonwealth Government at all. There is no unanimity in the matter. Indeed, there is no unanimity between honorable members opposite and the trade unions.

Mr. Monk,the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, recently made a statement in regard to employment. The honorable member for Blaxland said that what Mr. Monk is reported to have said is not what he in fact said. The honorable member proceeded to put Mr. Monk's statement in what he regards as the correct perspective. He said that Mr. Monk's statement was to the effect that there had to be a floating pool in the work force of 1 .5 per cent, for the purpose of undertaking national projects. If that does not mean that there must be 1.5 per cent, of unemployment, I should like to know what it does mean. That is the precise interpretation that was given to Mr. Monk's statement, and that is the only interpretation that it will bear.

It is not new for the Opposition to be in disagreement with the Australian Council of Trade Unions on this issue. Two years ago, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked the House to discuss the subject of unemployment as a matter of urgency. A week or two before that time, Mr. Monk had said that there was no serious unemployment situation in Australia. The statement was denied. Then Mr. Evans, the vice-president of the A.C.T.U., said that he agreed with Mr. Monk that there was not a serious unemployment position. Mr. Souter, the secretary of the A.C.T.U., said the same thing. When the matter came before the House, the honorable member for Bass said, in effect, " Well, I must confess that the situation is not as serious now as it was before ".

Back in 1959, the honorable member for Bass gave us some figures in the course of his speech. He said that, at that time, 27,500 persons were in receipt of unemployment benefit. If the number in receipt of the benefit was so large, one might have expected that there- would have been a similar proposal to discuss the matter as one of urgency in 1960. But not a bit of it! The honorable member contented himself by speaking on unemployment during the Address-in-Reply debate. There was no attempt to discuss the matter as one of urgency in that part of 1959, although the honorable member had alleged that it was serious in March, 1959.

What is the number of people in receipt of unemployment benefit to-day? It is 29,000, or approximately 2,000 more than the 1959 figure. Let us make some interesting comparisons, using figures that were given by the honorable member for Bass during the Address-in-Reply debate in 1959. In December, 1958, there were 27,565 persons in receipt of unemployment benefit, while the number registered for employment was 64,678. In March, 1961, the figures were: 29,718 in receipt of unemployment benefit, and 81,000 registered for employment. It will be seen that while the number in receipt of unemployment benefit had increased by approximately 2,200, the number of registrations for employment had increased by more than 16,000. Therefore, the statement of the Minister for Labour and National Service that we are in a better position to-day to fill vacancies as people become unemployed is precisely right. If that does not constitute an improvement in our economic position, I should like to know what does.

Let us examine some of the other statements made by the honorable member for Bass. He said that he had1 not lightly undertaken to initiate a discussion of the employment position. He said that unemployment had been deliberately created. Why did the employment position of a couple of years ago not become the subject of discussion as a matter of urgency? In fact, in 1959 the honorable member was concerned with inflation. He said at that time that the Government ought to take action to arrest the harmful effects of inflation. He invited the Government to adopt economic measures. He referred to some of the steps which the Government had taken and contended that they had been ineffective. Although he has said to-day that the Government should do something to relieve unemployment, he has not suggested a single thing that the Government ought to do. In 1959, he took the precaution of telling everybody that import licensing was a completely ineffective means of improving the economic situa tion. Of course, he was on very dangerous ground to-day. He could not suggest that import licensing be used to cure the ill, because he had already put it aside as being completely ineffective. As one of my colleagues says, he is discredited. There are other aspects of the speeches that have been made by the honorable member for Bass to which I could refer, but perhaps it would be better not to dwell on them because they may be far too embarrassing for him to hear repeated.

The late Mr. Clarey, the former very respected honorable member for Bendigo, complained in January, 1959, that 80,000 people were registered for employment, but the matter was not then raised as one of urgent public importance. He simply made the statement during the course of the Address-in-Reply debate. At present there are 81,000 people registered for employment, a difference of only 1,000 from the position that existed in 1959; but to-day the Opposition has raised the question as one warranting urgent discussion. The position in 1959 did not so alarm the then honorable member for Bendigo and the honorable member for Bass as to warrant a request for an urgency discussion. What has happened now to prompt this request? The honorable member for Bass said to-day that he has no doubt that the present position is referable exclusively to the economic measures that were taken by the Government last November. . If this is so, to what was the position in 1959 referable - a position which caused very little concern at that time to the Opposition?

The fundamental problem which faces Australia to-day, and will face Australia in the future, is our capacity to provide job opportunities for the people who are coming forward seeking jobs - the children leaving school and the immigrants. It is interesting to remember that in 1959 the honorable member for Bass stated that he did not believe that children leaving school and seasonal workers had any effect on the employment position, but to-day we must ensure that we are able to meet the demands for job opportunities as they confront us. The economic measures that were taken last November have put us in a stronger position to provide these job opportunities. We must continue our present rate of national development. The die is already cast in relation to children leaving school because of the population bulge and the people within the various age groups who will be looking for work. How are we to meet the position? That is the problem. In proposing this urgency discussion the Opposition referred to the serious effects of unemployment in Australia to-day, but we were not given any information about it. We were told merely that there was unemployment.

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