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Tuesday, 9 May 1961

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) .- I was amazed to hear the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) refer with some concern to the textile industry that is operating in his electorate. It is strange that the honorable member has never mentioned the large timber industry which also operates in his electorate. I refer to the timber activities that are conducted at Alexandra.

Mr Holten - I have had no complaint from that industry.

Mr McIVOR - You will; they are only waiting to complain to you. Timber milling is also conducted on the edge of the honorable member's electorate at Myrtleford, Marysville and Narbethong. There is another strange thing about this credit squeeze. Long before it was introduced by this Government, the honorable member for Indi rose in this House and asked what the Government intended to do about the deterioration of the textile industry in Wangaratta, particularly the Bruck mills. In spite of his concern - I know it was genuine - when the credit squeeze was brought down he and all other supporters of the Government voted for it. They stand indicted for that. Nothing can ever eradicate that stain on their names so far as the industries are concerned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker,the subject that is being discussed most throughout the length and breadth of Australia is the credit squeeze imposed by the Government. It must seem an amazing circumstance to the people, therefore, that the Government is seeking an additional amount of £4,415,000 for defence and an additional £2,030,000 for the PostmasterGeneral's Department. For the Postal

Department, of all departments, to need more finance in view of the profit it has made from higher postal and telephone charges is the essence of the three-card trick.

Mr Turnbull - The Postmaster-General's Department's profit goes into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and it has to be drawn from there by legislation.

Mr McIVOR - In spite of the prattle from the honorable member for Mallee, 1 still question this proposed additional vote. Those who have lost both land and homes due to the credit squeeze must find an appropriation of £393,000 for further land acquisition a bitter pill to swallow. At one time during the Second World War there was a slogan " Guns Before Butter ". To the people who desire land and homes, it must appear that the new slogan is " Dromes Before Homes ".

This is an appropriation bill, and the debate gives honorable members an opportunity to question the reasons for the measure, in view of the statements that were made on behalf of the Government when the Budget was introduced. It is time now to consider some of the performances of the Government since the presentation of the Budget. When this Government was elected to office in 1949, it promised to put value back in the £1. That promise, like other promises, was never fulfilled. As one year succeeded another, we have witnessed a shrinkage of the purchasing power of the £1; in fact, the shrinkage is such that to-day almost 100,000 people living in the so-called prosperity regime of this Government are deprived of the privilege of even having £1 to spend.

The Government said that it would arrest inflation. That has been its catchcry since it took office. In that regard the Government has failed miserably. Its idea of arresting inflation has been to peg wages, discontinue the cost of living adjustment, and interfere in wage claims before the courts. In other words, arresting inflation means to this Government that it must be done at the expense of those who can least afford it, that is, the workers. At the opening of the Twenty-third Parliament of the Commonwealth on 7th March, the Ad ministrator's Speech was delivered, and we were informed in one passage -

In the economic sphere, it remains the firm aim of the Government to maintain soundly based national expansion, immigration and full employment

Since that document was presented, what has happened? In terms of national expansion applied to national projects, it is true to say that this Government has not started any works of a national character since it took office. The Snowy Mountains scheme was started by a Labour Government, and the economic value of the scheme to the Commonwealth would be hard to estimate.

Sitting suspended from 11 to 11.30 p.m. [Quorum formed.]

Mr McIVOR - Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I was speaking about national progress and its relation to national expansion. As to national expansion, one has every right to ask, as the article appearing in the "Daily Mirror", of 15th February this year does, " Where the devil are we going? " That article reads -

Where the devil is the Federal Government heading? We don't apologize for putting it so bluntly. The "whole country demands to know the answer.

We suspect the answer will be a lemon. It seems the Government, once again, doesn't know where it is going.

But if it does, then the country deserves to know.

Is there a plan - or even a thought - for a greater Australia behind the crisis policy?

Thousands of workers, for whom the economists' term " disemployment " is merely an academic obscenity, are being handed their chips in the car factories.

All the indications are that similar nervousness is attacking the building industry, through the whole complex chain from supply to finished job.

How true those words have proved to be! Certainly, the building industry has been ruined. The article continues -

Many jobs are in fact finished, in another sense.

It goes on to say -

The Nation demands an answer.

Australia is sick and tired of Canberra's bungling.

The statement in His Excellency's the Administrator's Speech that the Government has maintained its immigration programme is quite true, but it is also true that, at the height of this immigration programme, the Government has introduced a credit squeeze which has curtailed employment, which has curtailed the home-building industry and which in fact has placed a severe check on all those activities which are so essential if we are to cope with the increase in population which results from this immigration policy.

HisExcellency's Speech also contained the statement that it was the firm aim of the Government to maintain full employment. A few weeks after that Speech was delivered, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) said in this House that the Government had not yet learned to live with full employment. In other words, he was saying, in effect, that the only way in which this Government could control the economy of Australia was by creating a pool of misery, a pool of unemployed. And this in a country the Treasurer of which speaks of prosperity unlimited, a country which the Treasurer describes as Australia Unlimited! Such statements at a time like this are nothing but wicked insincerities.

Another tragic feature of the Government's credit squeeze has been the effect it has had on the person who is buying a home and on the unfortunate who is endeavouring to raise money for the purchase of a home. Such is the state of things at the moment that mortgagee sales are becoming common throughout the country and many young people who invested every penny of their hard-earned savings in homes have lost the lot. That is the sort of prosperity we have to-day. My statement is borne out by an article published in the " Age " on 22nd March of this year under the heading, " Thousands of Homes for Sale, but no Money to Buy them ". The article reads -

Thousands of houses are being offered for sale in Melbourne wilh vacant possession, but homeseekers are unable to find the money to buy them.

The Registrar of Co-operative Housing Societies (Mr. E. T. Ebbels) made this point in his annual report for 1959-60, tabled in Parliament yesterday.

Mr. Ebbelssaid it appeared that Victoria's housing problem was more one of a shortage of housing finance than of a shortage of houses.

The difficulty was that lending institutions generally would lend only on new houses.

In other words, more houses were being built simply because finance was not available for existing homes, he said.

The article goes on to mention the figures quoted by the Commonwealth Department of National Development in which the estimated housing shortage in Australia was stated to be 50,000 units in 1959. It also informs us that the Victorian Housing Minister, Mr. Petty, had estimated Victoria's housing shortage at between 35,000 and 40,000 dwellings. He stated that this figure included 17,000 applicants for housing commission homes. I point out here that since then that figure has increased to almost 20,000. Mr. Petty also said that there were 10,000 persons on the waiting list of co-operative housing societies and that from 8,000 to 13,000 people were seeking finance from other sources. Mr. Ebbels said that from inquiries he had made, it would seem that Mr. Petty's estimate was very close to the mark, and that the shortage throughout Australia at June, 1959, must have been very much greater than the 50,000 estimated by the Department of National Development. And this squeeze is imposed on advances for the construction of homes in face of those figures!

No one will deny that it has been necessary to take some measures to control excess profits and extortionate interest rates, but to blanket the whole of Australia with a credit squeeze without first ascertaining the effect that such action might have on certain very essential industries was wrong, no matter from what angle the question is looked at. The Treasurer now informs us that Cabinet has recently completed a survey of the nation's economy and that the whole of the housing situation was examined closely. He tells us that as a result of that review it was decided that some stimulus to housing activity should be achieved in the near future, and that departmental officers are at work examining how that may be done in a practical and proper way. I ask the Treasurer why this action could not have been taken before the Government ruined the building and timber industries. He has said that the Government will boost home building. Will he lend a helping hand to those who have lost their homes? Will he restore solvency to those builders who have been forced into bankruptcy? I think not. Will the Treasurer deny the assertion by Sir Douglas Copland that unemployment could rise to something between 150,000 and 200,000 as a result of the measures adopted by the Commonwealth Government last November?

Mr Anderson - He has not been right yet.

Mr McIVOR - It seems he was right when his opinion was your way. But the Treasurer does not look upon this economist's opinion as being of any value because it does not agree with what this Gvernment ha? done. Suffice to say that he is renowned throughout the world. He stated -

The work force will be increased by 100,000 in the current year, and the outlook for employment is likely to be depressed.

He then made a statement of which the Government should take notice. lt is reported in these terms -

He points out that an unemployment figure of between 150,000 and 200,000 would take earnings of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a week out of circulation. The full impact of the November measures would probably not be felt until the second and third quarters of the year.

That is a rather dismal outlook.

Mr Cash - Pretty dismal.

Mr McIVOR - Yes, pretty dismal for those who are unemployed because the Government has said that it cannot live with full employment and that therefore we must have a pool of misery.

What is the Government's policy on home building? On 13th April the Treasurer stated -

The rate of house building would not be allowed to return tolast year's boom level

Then on Wednesday, 3rd May, he said -

The Government will boost home building.

He cannot have it both ways. Many people in Australia would like an authentic statement on this matter. However, their attitude will be shown in no uncertain way at the next election. Even the Government's friends are criticizing the Treasurer for statements he has made. The " Sun " of 6th April, 1961, carried the following article which appeared under the heading, "Banks Attack 'Squeeze'": -

The Federal Treasurer had weakened the effect of his own policy by saddling the banks with responsibility for the current restraint of business, the Bank of New South Wales states in its quarterly economic review released yesterday. The aim of the Treasurer had been to distract attention from the Government.

That has been the way in which the Government has always acted. Honorable members will recall that when the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) was in Brisbane he charged the retailers with being the cause of all the trouble because they bought the imported goods.

As to the housing position, it is interesting to note, as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) has stated, that in the first quarter of this year the number of people ready or preparing to go ahead with the building of new homes fell to 31 per cent. less than the figure last year. This slump has occurred when it is estimated that in the metropolitan area of Melbourne alone there are 12,000 sub-standard homes - 12,000 decayed, dilapidated, vermininfested, insanitary homes. A survey has revealed that 51 per cent. are without sinks and that 38 per cent. have no baths. Yet 40,000 men, women and children are living in these shameful conditions! The Governmen talks about prosperity unlimited, yet curtails home building when a social problem of the kind to which I have referred exists in practically every capital city in Australia. Did the Government consider these aspects when it paralysed the building industry and closed off the supply of finance, which is the main ingredient in home building? Did it consider the demands that the immigration intake makes on the homebuilding industry? The Government must have known that there was then an estimated shortage of 90,000 homes. Being in possession of that knowledge, what a travesty of justice it has perpetrated on the young people of this country and the people who rightly consider that their inheritance is to build, buy or own a home and to raise a family in a manner that is worthily Australian.

The Government has asked for an appropriation of about £40,000,000. That sum would lift the home-building industry out of the morass into which this Government has plunged it. That sum would put into production all the timber mills that have been closed down and to which the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) has referred. That sum would open up all the furniture factories and countless other industries which have closed their doors as a result of the credit squeeze. That sum could save the most vital industry in Australia - the industry which is the hub upon which the economy of the country revolves. It is to the everlasting disgrace of this Government that it has failed to appropriate £40,000,000 to revive the building industry.

We know that the major portion of the money to be appropriated is necessary, and we have no argument about it. But the people have a right to know whether the Government has a plan to overcome the present crisis and the unemployed have a right to know when they are going to share in the prosperity unlimited in this Australia unlimited. In fact, the lot of the unemployed is misery unlimited for themselves, their wives and their children. The Government talks about prosperity unlimited at a time when unemployment is rife. The Australian Textile Workers Union has circulated a letter to all members of Parliament which prompted the honorable member for Indi to buy into a matter that he would have done well to avoid particularly as he is a supporter of the Government's credit restriction policy. The letter is dated 4th May, 1961, and is in these terms -

As indicative of the unemployment I need only to. point out to you that in the carpet section of the industry the work force had dropped by 21.8 per cent, as at 10th March, 1961, and the number of persons working short time, that is, less than 40 hours per week, was 9.2S per cent.

The letter goes on to cite a number of figures, but the sum total is that it indicates the position in the textile industry, not orly in New South Wales but also in Victoria. People have been put off work everywhere. Many married women who were working in an effort to keep the home going, to try to pay off the home and to pay instalments ar.d high interest rates on furniture, have lost their employment.

I have received also a letter from the Sunshine City Council dated 8th May. 1961. Incidentally, this council is not Labour-controlled. The letter is headed, " Unemployment in Industry " and states -

At the last meeting of the council, a discussion took place on the policy of the Federal Government which has brought about the present credit squeeze and the result that that policy has had upon the welfare of the citizens of this municipality.

As you are aware, Sunshine is heavily industrial and the majority of the residents are employed at the very many factories within the boundaries. Some of those factories have been forced to considerably reduce the number of their employees and, further, have placed remaining employees on a greatly reduced working week.

The council then sets out the following resolution which it passed -

That this council views with apprehension the disruption of industry and commerce with the re sultant unemployment and reduced hours being worked in other industries; these conditions are imposing hardship and discomfort in many homes in this municipality and that, believing the full responsibility to be attributable to the squeeze policy of the Federal Administration representations be made to the Government through our federal parliamentary representatives demanding the substitution of an expanding economy whereby the work force shall be fully employed and the productive capacity of Australia increased; and that in the opinion of this council public opinion supports this latter approach.

And public opinion will support it! Honorable members opposite should know that that letter will be circulated to every municipality in Victoria.

It is within the Government's own hands to rectify the grave position into which the credit squeeze has plunged the country. The quickest and most effective way to improve the position would be to make money available to the home-building industry at low rates of interest which the workers could afford to pay. If the building industry were revived, 80 per cent, of the economic ills of this country would be cured, because it is true to say that many of the commodities which a nation produces are concerned either with the building of homes or use in homes.

On the subject of home building, let me refer to an article that was published in the Brisbane " Courier-Mail " on 28th February last, under the heading " Holt Raises Hopes Over Building of Homes Here ". Of course, the hopes have not yet been fulfilled, because no homes are being built. The article stated -

Business men were hopeful last night that action would be taken soon by the Federal Treasurer (Mr. Holt) to ease the credit squeeze on Queensland home building.

Let us raise homes and there will be no difficulty about raising hopes. How much did the Treasurer raise the hopes of the Liberal Party in Queensland? At the first opportunity the people of Brisbane had to express their views of the Government's policies - at the Brisbane City Council elections - they gave a landslide victory to the Australian Labour Party. The same thing will happen in Victoria in July and it will happen again when the general election is held at the end of the year.

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