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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- It is amusing to note just how tender and thinskinned the Government has become about the matter of unemployment in general and also the policies it has adopted since November last year. The last two speakers on the Government side, the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Cash) and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), went to some lengths to suggest measures whereby unemployment could be curbed. In parts of their speeches they actually set themselves up as defenders of unemployment, but in the remainder of their speeches they suggested that industry was inefficient and perhaps was to blame for some of the unemployment that is rampant in Australia at the present time. This Government, during its eleven years of office, has continually blamed high wages and conditions in industry for the high cost of production and never once has offered criticism of the management of industry generally. The proposed legislation to curb the growth of monopolies about which the Government has been talking for the last two years and proposed amendments of the Australian Industries Preservation Act, about which it has been talking for the last two or three years, should be introduced immediately. If that legislation were introduced, it would lead to increased efficiency and would make Australian industries confident about continued production. Because of this Government's changing policies, Australian industries do not know where they stand.

In March, 81,865 persons in Australia were unemployed - an increase of 8,793 on the February figure. Undoubtedly the number will grow rapidly in the next two or three months. At present 2 per cent, of the Australian work force is out of employment. In New Zealand, which is our nearest neighbour and which also is faced with a balance of payments problem and boom conditions inside the country, only 1 ,000 persons - only . 1 per cent, of the work force - are unemployed. For the honorable member for Henty and the honorable member for Stirling to refer to countries in which conditions are worse than those in Australia and to fail to refer to countries where the level of employment is higher represents hypocrisy and dishonesty on their part. The Australian Labour Party will always raise the subject of unemployment in this House, because it is here to see that the work opportunities and the working conditions of Australians generally are preserved.

The two honorable gentlemen to whom I have referred have suggested that by discussing this matter openly and forthrightly in the Parliament we are creating a sense of fear in the community. But did supporters of this Government take any note of the fear complex that was fostered and developed by John Henry Austral and others during the campaign associated with the bank nationalization legislation? Were they then inclined to believe that because the propaganda of John Henry Austral created a fear complex in the Australian people it was not in the best interests of the community? Of course they were not. They were behind all the criticism and all the propaganda that was published at that time. But when the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, which normally supports the Government, criticizes its policy and the rising rate of unemployment, not only the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) but also the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) insult the members of that organization. Those people are entitled to voice their criticism. They have their fingers on the pulse of industry and they know what is happening.

But we have not to rely solely upon the figures that have been furnished by Mr. More and Mr. Curphey of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures to show the decline in employment opportunities and of the take-home pay of employees. An example of what is happening in the community is provided by an industry which is situated in my electorate. This industry is run economically and the price of any item produced compares quite favorably with similar articles brought in from overseas. The industry has shown rapid development over the last two or three years. But those engaged in it have discovered that since November last activity has declined drastically. Firms in similar kinds of industry also complain about the effect of this Government's policies. In the few minutes that are still at my disposal, let me cite some authentic figures that were given to me by the accountant of the firm in question only on Monday last.

Mr Cash - What does this firm do?

Mr STEWART - This industry provides equipment for other manufacturing industries in Australia. It supplies only to industry and not to retail houses. In March, 1960, the value of incoming orders was £119,661, the value of production was £85,980, wages totalled £34,622, and the total number of employees was 340. In November last the value of incoming orders was £80,070, the value of production was £107,464, the wages bill totalled £38,937 and the number of employees was 381. In March, 1961, orders had declined to £46,803, production had declined to £58,478, the wage bill was down to £24,881 and the number of employees had dropped to 271. In April, the number of employees had dropped to 263.

I have given figures for March, 1960, November, 1960, and March, 1961. They show that between March, 1960, and March, 1961, orders declined by £72,858, production declined by £27,502, wages declined by £9,741 and the number of employees declined by 69. Between November, 1960, and March, 1961, there was a decline of orders of £33,267, a decline of production of £48,986, a decline of wages of £14,056 and a decline in the number of employees of 110. If we add the ten members of the staff who have been dismissed since March, 1961, we find that the number of employees has declined by 120. The management of the firm has told me that unless something is done about the credit squeeze and about import restrictions, there will be further dismissals of employees and that because this firm is a supplier to industry, the figures it gives can be duplicated in the industries that it supplies. This has been brought about because this Government is the tool of commerce and the retail houses throughout Australia. That is the only reason import restrictions were lifted. Myer Emporium Limited. David Jones Limited and other commerce and retail houses have more say with this Government than have the manufacturers. The policy being followed by the Treasurer is a short-sighted policy. It neglects the point that unless job opportunities are available to Australians, the money that can be spent in retail houses will decline.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon John McLeay

Order! The time allowed for the discussion has expired.

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