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Wednesday, 28 October 1964

Senator BENN (Queensland) .- It will not be necessary for me to inform you, Mr. Chairman, that I propose to refer to the sum of £16 million which will no doubt be voted by the Parliament to the Treasurer to allow him to carry on the nation's affairs, probably until the Parliament meets again, when it will, if necessary, advance a further sum to him. We have almost completed consideration of the proposed allocations to the various departments. Sufficient has been approved to allow nearly all of them to carry on for at least several months, and probably for 12 months.

I should like to refer briefly to what happened last year. When the financial year had almost closed we could see that although the Government had budgeted for a deficit it would finish its operations with a surplus. Several of us referred to the probability of a surplus. At this time it is in order for one to look at the economic picture in the Commonwealth and, if possible, to assess the financial situation at the 30th June next year. Of course, that is a long time to look ahead. Nevertheless one is entitled to do so.

If we look at the economic pointers now in evidence we must conclude that some of them are not of the brightest hue. We see that there has been a decline in the sale of our primary products overseas. Although a greater quantity may be sold later, to date there has been a decline of about £12 million in the value of our exports of wheat, wool and sugar.

I may mention that last year one of the matters which we stressed particularly was the sums to which the Treasurer referred as the revenues from the various departments during the financial year. We observed that his calculations were wrong. Instead of there being a deficit in some cases, there was a considerable surplus. We know that it is not the Treasurer's function to sit beside the secretaries and the accountants of the various departments and discuss with them the revenue probabilities. So the financial year rolls on and the picture becomes clear. As I have said, only a financial magician would be able to foresee at any time throughout the year the exact result at the 30th June. For instance, it was not possible for any official of the Treasury or any official of any department functioning within the Commonwealth to foresee that the price of sugar would reach £106 a ton on the world market. Of course, the price of sugar has fallen considerably since then. It is now down to about £36 a ton, but it is still at an economic figure. Those are the kind of things that happen.

In other respects the revenues were very buoyant during the last financial year. We do not face the same situation now. In fact there will be a race this year between the revenues and the expenditures to see which will win on 30th June. From the economic pointers at our disposal for examining these things, I cannot see at this time what the situation will be.

I have looked at the volume of retail sales in the months that have already passed in this financial year. Certainly they show an increase on sales last year. Perhaps that is one of the best economic pointers that we have because if goods are being produced and manufactured and are being purchased and consumed, it follows that our revenues must be pretty high.

At present a large volume of goods is being imported into the Commonwealth. I am not prepared to say at this time whether that is a good thing for industries in Australia. Nevertheless, goods manufactured in other countries are coming in by the ship load. I do not think the Government is objecting to that. I do not think it will take any action to reduce the rising volume of imports. That may be its way of dampening the economy, so it is allowing things to take their course.

I am not prepared to say what the employment situation will be in the next eight months but at this juncture the level of employment is high. One must admit that. I am one of those who watch the employment situation throughout the year and I have observed that unemployment has fallen. Probably, it would be very difficult to improve on the existing employment situation in the Commonwealth. As it happens, there is an acute shortage of journeymen in most States. As I pointed out the other day when we were dealing with the estimates for the Department of Labour and National Service, the Government failed the people of the Commonwealth by not attending to apprenticeship matters as it should have done.

It was pointed out that the States had the constitutional power to deal with trade apprenticeships and that it was therefore the fault of the States, if it was the fault of any authority. But the Commonwealth is the big boy at all the parties - the financial picnics - that we have, and it should have been the organising force in the training of tradesmen to meet the situation that has developed. Now we are in a position from which it will be very difficult for the Commonwealth to extricate itself. It is estimated that in Queensland alone industries are short of 1,500 tradesmen. In New South Wales, the position is worse. It appears to me that the Government is doing insufficient about that situation at present.

The CHAIRMAN - I think the honorable senator is dealing with the employment situation.

Senator BENN - May I point out, with the best of feelings, that we are considering the Advance to the Treasurer, which covers all the departments, including the Department of Labour and National Service, which require funds to carry on.

The CHAIRMAN - Yes, and I think that a passing reference to those is permitted, but particular items should not be laboured.

Senator BENN - I refer to that matter only in passing for a certain purpose. It is one of the matters that must be considered seriously. If we are to decide just what the financial position will be in eight months, these matters will have to be weighed. I do not propose to say much more. One hopes for the best and for a buoyant economy from now on. I would say that it had been good up to this stage. Oil has been discovered in Queensland and although some has been sold, it is not showing much effect on the economy of Queensland. Certain deposits of metals have been found in various parts of Australia. Whether or not they are being developed, I am unable to say, but they augur well for the future.

Proposed expenditure noted.

Department of the Navy.

Proposed expenditure, £69,212,000.

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