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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr SEXTON (Adelaide) . - I support the case put forward by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). This is the Opposition's method of drawing attention to the grim spectre of unemployment. I wish to deal, first, with the remarkable concluding sentence spoken by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) when he spoke after the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) this afternoon. He said that the Opposition would regret that it had consistently raised the question of unemployment in this House. For sheer audacity, that statement surely would take first prize! The Minister implied that the Opposition would regret drawing attention to the misery and human suffering caused by unemployment. I would not expect to hear such a remarkable andirresponsible statement even from a remote back-bencher on the Government side, let alone from a Minister of the Crown.

A recent conference of ministers of religion, held in Sydney, described 70,000 unemployed as a human tragedy. That was a very good description. If our Government could only regard unemployment as a human tragedy, it would be showing a different attitude to its present one. It continually takes the statistical approach to the subject. The percentage of unemployed to our total work force is one of the absurd smoke screens used by Government supporters. They try to excuse the Government's failure to face up to the question of full employment by using this very convenient statistical smoke screen. To the man who has lost his job it does not matter a tinker's curse whether the percentage of unemployed is 2 per cent., 3 per cent., or 4 per cent. Mere figures and percentages are quite meaningless to the person who is seeking employment in vain. He needs a pay envelope to take home in order to provide for himself and those who are dependent on him.

The honorable member for Bass has cited striking figures showing the ominous increase in unemployment since 1956. The number of registered unemployed has gradually crept from 31,000 to approxi mately 82.000. But even this figure does notindicate the true position. We know that for various reasons many unemployed do not register. Some prefer to seek a job on their own initiative. Others, after visiting an employment bureau, say, " Well, what is the use? " They see the queues in the capital cities and towns and say, " It is quite useless registering here. I might as well go home and do what I can to find a job for myself." Of course, there are others who have accumulated a few pounds while they have been in employment and who prefer to wait a few weeks and see whether anything will turn up. That section does not register for employment.

There is also another section of the community that is not reflected in official unemployment figures. Many thousands of men employed in industry are over 65 years of age. When conditions get tough, they are usually the first to be retrenched. Invariably, they become social service recipients. In the main, they become age pensioners and, consequently, they are debarred from registration as unemployed. Thisis another reason why the official figures do not reflect the true position. There are also married women in industry. When they are retrenched they do not register, nor are they entitled to unemployment relief. They are not included in the 29,000 people receiving unemployment relief. A true impression of the unemployment position may be obtained by visiting factories in various parts of Australia and seeing the idle machinery, the machinery that is working at half-pace and the machinery that is working at quarter-pace. That is a very eloquent testimony to the fact that we have unjustified unemployment in industry and commerce in Australia. The honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes), in his spirited speech, said that no one had mentioned unemployment in South Australia. I intend to mention it. But I do not think that we should consider unemployment in terms of States. Unemployment is a national disease, not a StateversusState competition. In fact, unemployment could well be described as a crime against humanity, and not be regarded as a competition between one State and another.

For the sake of the record, I can tell the House that we have unemployment in

South Australia, particularly in the motor manufacturing industry and allied industries and in the building industry. Thousands are unemployed in those industries. A daily visit to the employment bureau in Adelaide would testify to that fact. We have the right to ask, "What is the Government's reason for creating this unemployment situation? " The prime purpose, we were told, when the Government's economic policy was introduced, was to preserve our overseas balances. Everybody in Australia, bar the Government, knows that overseas balances could have been preserved by the 'imposition of selective import controls. There is a mounting body of opinon imposing pressure on the Government by pointing out this fact. The Labour Oppositon was the first group in Australia to point this out. It was sneered at and jeered at for doing so. As in many cases of foresight in economic thinking the vast body of opinion in Australia to-day is beginning to agree with the policies advocated by the Opposition when the Government's economic measures were first mentioned in the House. Before very long the Government will be forced to eat its words and be humble enough to agree that import licensing is vital if the adverse trade balance from the effects of which we are now suffering is to be corrected.

There is no question that the present economic depression is man made. More than that, it is a depression created by the Government that occupies the treasury bench to-day. If the Government had the interests of Australia at heart, as it claims to have, it would swallow its pride and realize that the vast majority of Australians are not in agreement with its policy. The Government must impose import restrictions if it is to correct the adverse overseas balance. By the release of credit it could also correct the unemployment situation that is developing to very alarming proportions. Here again, it is only a matter for the Treasurer to indicate to the banking structure the Government desires that credit be released in order to meet the present unemployment position in Australia.

As a result of the attention directed to this question, not only by the Opposition - which is playing its part- but also by the various organizations throughout Australia, I hope that the Government will do some thing to relieve the situation. I am glad that this subject has been introduced, and I hope that the discussion will have some measure of success by causing the Government to realize its responsibility in this very vital matter.

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