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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1418


Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I understand that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) will be unavoidably absent from the chamber during this debate because of a Cabinet meeting. I would say before he leaves that I intend to move an amendment to the motion proposed by the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock). I hand him a copy of that amendment. Briefly the amendment will be to widen the scope of this statement to include all people who are unemployed as a result of the variables he has mentioned in country areas. We think the scheme should include not just farmers, the families of farmers and the work force on those particular farms or those people affected by technology, but also people who work in country towns and are out of work because of the problems in the rural areas. I do not think that the Government has the right to discriminate between people in country areas. That will be the substance of my amendment. I will elaborate on that later.

The principal objective of the Minister's statement is to acquaint the Parliament with the Government's intentions in the field of rural rehabilitation. On behalf of the Opposition 1 would like to protest about the way in which an increasing number of these types of decisions are being taken. Obviously there will not be any legislation in this Parliament on which formal amendments can be moved and formal votes taken in respect of the various clauses which would be embodied in legislation authorising the expenditure of Federal money in the field of reconstruction and rehabilitation. It seems to me that the Government is simply going to foot the bill for a worthy principle for the country, but there will be no legislation. That is the wrong way to govern a country. Legislation should be introduced in the Federal Parliament, with or without mirror legislation in the States.

I draw the Government's attention to the relevant Acts passed in 1935 or thereabouts relating to the various moratoria, reconstruction and rehabilitation schemes of the Federal Government. They were debated in this Parliament and then suitable amendments were moved to a number of them, and the same procedure happened in the States. Apparently the only way we can debate anything in this House today is, as I am doing now, by getting up and moving an amendment and speaking generally on the subject. But we have no right and no way to debate the subject properly as would be the case with legislation. In my opinion the proposed scheme represents another unco-ordinated decision of the Government. In relation to the policy of rehabilitaton for rural areas, which is the end result, it is a good principle. But, as we all know, such policies must be complementary and not ad hoc.

Where is the Government's policy on unemployment in the country areas in general? Where is the Government's policy on decentralisation in country areas? Where are its policies on debt alleviation and stabilisation of incomes in country areas? We have heard a little about the socalled 36c average guaranteed price scheme for wool in the Parliament, but we still have seen no legislation on it. Where is the Government's policy with respect to the drift to the cities and the increased demand for urban housing it will create? All of these things are complementary. What we are seeing in this Parliament are hastily prepared, ill conceived, ad hoc decisions which are just not related. 1 think everybody would agree that we need a comprehensive plan and not just a set of decisions taken by Cabinet and relayed to the Parliament in this fashion. If we cannot get a comprehensive plan embracing all these things we are going to have chaos in the rural areas.

One thing that has become obvious is the Government's policy on unemployment. If ever we needed stark truth it is now. The Government has decided to accept a high level of unemployment in this nation. The Government has taken it for granted that there will be a wholesale closing down of properties, farm businesses and rural businesses and a reduction in the rural work force. Its orthodox antiinflationary policy is to slacken the demand and deliberately create unemployment. This is a very dangerous policy for any government to pursue. Any government that takes for granted that there will be a high level of unemployment does so at its own risk. Things are quite different today from what they were before the war. Before the war, accepted levels of unemployment were about 8 per cent, 9 per cent or 10 per cent. That was thought to be a common part of the national economy. But in post-war years every worker in this nation has been conditioned to a system of near full employment. The political fortunes of a government are very closely correlated with the level of unemployment.

This is a most explosive factor. A figure of 3 per cent national unemployment is sufficient to blast the Government out of office. The way that this Government is behaving with its anti-inflationary policies, and the fact that we are fast approaching high levels of unemployment, will blast the Government out of office even before the next election. There are many people in the country who have mortgaged their future. They have bought houses. They have bought motor cars. They have bought television sets, on hire purchase and by other means. They, believed that the Government would look after their security. I notice that in the Minister's statement no provision at all is made for loss of equity for people who will be forced to move out of the country areas. Everyone knows full well that the value of housing in those areas has decreased.

Many people have invested their life savings in country areas and they should at least be given the right to recoup some of those losses. The main intention of the scheme is to assist farmers, their families, their work force and those workers who have been displaced because of technological change. But what about all the other people in the country towns? What about the shearers, the dam sinkers, the unskilled machinery workers, the shop assistants, the people who work on councils - the amount of rates collected will decrease and these people also will be out of work - the stock firm employees and the truck drivers? They are just as important to the country areas in terms of population as the farmers and the workers on the farms ure. This is a glaring deficiency in the statement. Those people are fully entitled to receive retraining benefits, just as are their friends who happen to own or work on the properties affected. I do not think anybody could justly deny that.

Many of these people have worked in the country for generations. They have been brought up in those country towns, and that is their whole life. They are out of work because of the crisis in rural industry. Surely they are entitled to some consideration. I think it is time that the Government widened the scope of its decision and included every person in the country who is unemployed, to give everybody the chance of rehabilitation and retraining. There are plenty of examples of this need in the pastoral areas in particular. Those areas are the ones being hit the hardest at the present time. The most vulnerable are those who have been affected by drought for a number of years. In the most intensely populated areas crises are developing in the dairying and fruit industries. The people in the country towns are entitled to rehabilitation and retraining under the reconstruction scheme. That is my main point. I therefore move:

That the following words be added to the motion: but this House is of opinion that the scheme as proposed by the Government should not be confined only to displaced farmers, their families, their work force or those workers displaced by technological change but should include all people in rural areas whose occupation is directly dependent on th? viability of farming such as people engaged in local businesses or country town works who will also be unemployed'.

It must be obvious to anybody that there is justice in the amendment. If honourable members do not vote for the amendment they will be showing blatant discrimination against sections of the work force living in country towns. What concerns me is that the statement contains no complementary statements relating to the whole facet of reconstruction and financial assistance to producers in the country areas and it contains no decentralisation policy and no policies relating to unemployment in the country areas or in the country towns. There is a lack of information and this is one of the reasons for the uncertainty in country areas. The Government has not announced a comprehensive policy embracing the reasons for the present decline of economic activity in rural areas. This is needed, not the ad hoc decisions which this Government takes from time to time. We had a statement by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) a few weeks ago relating to a guaranteed price of 36c a lb for wool but we have heard nothing further about this. 1 understand that the preparation of the Bill is in chaos because the Government cannot agree on the types of wool to be included in or excluded from the deficiency payment. This is not the way to run a government. We have to have comprehensive policies introduced speedily into this Parliament, debated and passed. If this were done confidence in the country would be stabilised at least to a degree.

The statement on the rural reconstruction employment training scheme has to be closely examined. Neither I nor any member of the Opposition have had time to study this statement in detail. We had approximately 1 or 2 hours in which to try to digest it before it was presented by the Minister. It is a most complex statement dealing with specific allowances, rates of pay and terms and conditions for trainees. It is quite obvious that the provisions of this statement must be looked at very closely by those concerned. I ask honourable members on the other side who are to speak in this debate whether my assumption is correct from the Minister's statement that legislation will not be forthcoming in relation to this scheme? We have not had sufficient time to study the proposals under this scheme introduced by the Government. If there is to be a pool of unemployment in country areas - and this is the basis for this statement - there are 2 major things we have to decide. What will happen to the unemployed? Is it the intention of the Government to train them and then to employ them in the capital cities? Is it the intention of the Government to try to keep these country people in country areas? What is the intention of the Government? It is certainly not set out in this statement.

Obviously such a scheme must lay down principles. The Australian Labor Party represents all sections of the community. Our priority is to allow people to go to areas where they would be of the greatest benefit to the nation. Our first priority is to try to retain them in country areas in the interests of decentralisation. The Government has no policy of regional development or decentralisation. We have heard it put in this House time and time again that the Opposition has no policy on regional development or decentralisation. We have had promises by 3 Prime Ministers of information and findings by committees on decentralisation but we have not received any concrete proposal on this matter. It is quite obvious that reconstruction, rehabilitation and decentralisation are part and parcel of this scheme put forward by the Government. As I see it this scheme is deficient in the principles I have elaborated.

I commend to the Government the Labor Party's policy on this matter. I have not sufficient time in this debate to read it. It is published in the annual conference platform of the Labor Party. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) has had a lot to do with the formulation of this policy. Our policy makes it quite clear that the Labor Party places human rights and values first and provides for the development of full human dignity in this sphere. This means that every person should be entitled to consideration in the expenditure of Commonwealth funds on rehabilitation, reconstruction and retraining for the future development and benefit of Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hallett)Isthe amendment seconded?


Mr Grassby - I second the amendment and I wish to speak to it now.


Dr Patterson - On a point of order. I assume that the honourable member for Riverina wishes to speak in this debate now because he is not certain whether he will be able to speak to it later. Is there an agreement that there will be 2 speakers from each side in this debate? The Government Whip did tell me that this would be so.


Mr Fox - I understand the arrangement is for 2 speakers from each side.







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