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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4428

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I rise to support the measure introduced by the Government and I oppose most bitterly the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition. I oppose the amendment because yesterday here in Canberra the representatives of the various State Treasuries met officials from the Commonwealth Government to set up an immediate scheme for the implementation of the funds that have been made available by the Commonwealth. The business of the meeting yesterday was to discuss such questions as the distribution of the Commonwealth grants between the States, the nature of the activities to which they will be applied for employment-giving purposes, the speed with which the arrangements can be brought into operation and the various administrative aspects of the scheme. These officials have now returned to their various States and will bring the matters discussed to the notice of their Ministers.

I say that this Government has acted speedily in bringing this matter to a head so that the various State governments can bring in and implement the scheme in the country districts under their control. There has been no delay at all on the pari of the Federal Government in this very important matter. Unemployment figures have been mentioned by the various speakers who have taken part in this debate. I have here the various unemployment figures for New South Wales. I will not say that , they do not give cause for concern, but at the same time they are not of an alarming nature. But they are of such a nature that the Government has decided to give assistance not only in New South Wales but also throughout Australia. When we look at the centres that have been most affected we find that they are centres where the wool and wheat industries are prominent, particularly the wool industry. This is one of the serious situations which this Government has to face. We are al) agreed on this. So I feel that this legislation is most worth while. Although of a temporary nature, it will mean that the unemployment pools that have been created in the wool areas will be overcome for the time being.

I was very interested in the speech made in this House last Thursday by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on this very important facet. He said that, in broad terms, the Government envisages an arrangement providing for grants for employment-creating activities to be made to the States for the period up to 30th June 1973, subject to review after 30th June 1972 in the light of the then prevailing conditions. I think this is a very fair statement and one that indicates to people in these affected areas that they can expect assistance right up to that time but if there have been changed conditions in the meantime of a beneficial nature financially, this assistance will be tapered off. The objective of the scheme is to make a signicant impact on the level of unemployment in the non-metropolitan areas. Grants will be made for the purpose of reimbursing expenditure on additional labour intensive activities of a production kind. This is a wise policy; otherwise, if the money were to be expended on maintenance ventures and undertakings of this nature it would lose ils real significance.

Recent grants made lo some States under drought relief arrangements to enable the employment of persons who are unemployed as a result of drought might be taken as a broad indication of the type of scheme thai the Federal Government has in mind. We all know that the amount of money that has been mentioned is about $2m a month, spread right throughout Australia. I have been very disappointed with the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) because of the calamitous statements that he so frequently makes in this House. Here today this honourable member said that we were going back to the depression days. What sheer and utter nonsense. He spoke about refugee camps in the cities to take care of the people from these areas. Talk of this nature does not do his Party, the Government or the nation any good.

The economy of this country is very sound, particularly when compared with that of overseas countries, lt is sound because we have overseas balances of S2,600m. our exports have never been better, deposits in savings banks are at an all time high, and unemployment in this country - at 1.1 per cent of our work force - is the lowest of any country in the world. In the United Kingdom 3.4 per cent of the work force is unemployed, and over 6 per cent of the work force in the United States of America. These figures indicate that despite problems that we have in this country our economy is sound. Our economy is viable. Statements made by any member of the House along the lines of those made by the honourable member for Riverina are most damaging to everybody concerned.

The rural reconstruction scheme has been mentioned. It has, in the main, been most successful. The Commonwealth Government has made money available to the States to assist farmers who are viable and who with financial assistance can get out of any troubles that they may be in. But when we analyse the rural reconstruction scheme we find that most of the States prior to receiving this grant from the Commonwealth Government did not have the machinery to implement the rural reconstruction scheme throughout their primary producer areas. I have no doubt that this is one of the reasons why in many instances there has been delay in getting this finance out to the farmers who have been affected. New South Wales was one of the States that had a rural reconstruction department set up. I believe that it has been able to get its money out more quickly than any of the other States. Many statements have been made to the effect that the States have run out of money. The Federal Government has made it quite clear in its rural reconstruction legislation that when any of the States have allocated the funds which were made available to them and have made application to the Federal Government, further consideration will be given to the allocation of additional funds. I have heard that New South Wales and some other States have allocated all their money and are short of funds. I do not know whether the Ministers in those States have made application to the Federal Government for more funds, but if they do I feel sure that they will receive every consideration and every assistance.

The honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) mentioned that there is a high level of unemployment in the metropolitan areas. From my observation of the various cities throughout Australia, and particularly Sydney, there is an adjustment of employment from one industry to another. There certainly are some unemployed. I feel quite sure that, when the necessity arrives for the Government to give assistance in this field, it will do so. But 1 have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that the greatest problems have been in the wool and wheat growing areas. That is why this Government has given those areas assistance along the lines of the measure that we are debating here today. One of the most important aspects of this legislation is that this money will be channelled out in the States through the various local governing authorities. This will ensure that the money is spent wisely, that it is spent on projects which are worthy ones and not of a temporary nature and that it will bring great benefit to those local governing areas as well as providing employment for the people who have been affected by the rural recession in that particular sector.

I know that local government throughout Australia will welcome these funds, which will alleviate a great problem that is on their hands. At the same time the money will enable them to carry out work which will be of everlasting benefit to the municipalities and the shire areas wherever those funds are expended on worthwhile projects. So I have very much pleasure indeed in supporting the measure brought down by the Government. For the reasons which I have very clearly set out, I am certainly disappointed with the amendment moved by the Opposition.

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