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Thursday, 10 March 1977
Page: 122

Mr FRY (Fraser) - It was interesting to hear the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) equating big government and big business with big unions. What he did not say, of course, is that the inevitable process of big business and its move towards automation and technological progress in its manufacturing processes in the long term cannot fail to produce unemployment among workers. This process will not only reduce the number of people in the work force in terms of their productivity but also it will tend to reduce the skill of workers. As a result skilled jobs will become semi-skilled and semi-skilled jobs will become unskilled. This is a long term problem that has been created by these people. The problem will not be overcome by repressive legislation about which the honourable member has been talking. Sooner or later the Government will have to acknowledge the problem- not just the present problem of unemployment which it has created but the longer term problem of structural change. It will have to do something about creating employment. Big Brother will not help them in this respect. I endorse what the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) said by way of interjection about placing big brother in the Parliamentary Library so that members have to channel their requests through big brother. This arrangement will not help the democratic process in this Parliament either.

It is hardly necessary to say that most Australians today are gravely concerned at the extremely high level of unemployment in Australia. I suggest that they are even more concerned with the forward projections of many responsible economists who consider that there is little prospect of a decline in unemployment. Many, of course, would go further and say that unfortunately the prospects are that unemployment is more likely to increase than to decline. I said 'most Australians' advisedly because while I know that most Australians are concerned about unemployment it is very apparent that there are many people in the Government who in their obsession with maintaining profits and reducing inflation in fact see increasing unemployment as a measure of the success of their misguided policies. Even though the policy of inducing unemployment has failed to contain inflation theardliners within the Government still persist with this misguided policy.

I believe that the lack of sensitivity and the gross lack of compassion for the plight of the unemployed is the badge of distinction of the hardliners who now dominate the Government's thinking. Some members of course are genuinely concerned at the way events are unfolding in the economy in Australia, but their voices are being drowned out by the raucous cries of those strong men, those men of steel who want to flay the backs of the unemployed; the men who want to brand them as dole bludgers and malingerers; the men who want to deny the very lowest income people in our country, the people who really need full indexation, the benefits of full indexation; the men who are completely committed to the idea of survival of the fittest; the men who are utterly and completely lacking in compassion for people who happen to be less fortunate than themselves.

To detract the attention of the Australian public from their lack of concern for the unemployed, Government Ministers have recently embarked on a deliberate campaign to discredit the unemployed by attempting to undermine the validity of their own figures in a most shameful and dishonest way. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) on 28 February in commenting on the 354 589 unemployed made the extraordinary statement that these figures are largely a myth. They may be a myth for the Minister, but I am sure that for the people who are suffering under the unemployment in this country it is not a myth; it is a reality, and a very stark and harsh reality. He went on to say that there are many people including young people who choose quite deliberately not to work. These statements were supposed to have been made on the basis of a Bureau of Statistics survey of November 1976 which was supposed to show that 147 600 people who left employment in 1976 did so voluntarily. This figure and the numbers concerned were given great prominence in the Press- large headlines in fact. But then a Department of Employment and Industrial Relations spokesman, Mr Peter Kirby, a First Assistant Secretary, a very senior man, let the cat out of the bag. He threw real light on the subject. He said:

The information is quite incorrect. It is based on a misreading of freely available statistics. The survey conducted last year shows that 38. 1 per cent of those interviewed who had left or lost their jobs had resigned voluntarily. There is no basis for the assumption that these people were registered unemployed or receiving unemployment benefits.

He gave the lie to the Minister's statement. He also said that such survey figures were suspect because many people who lost their jobs preferred saying that they left voluntarily to admitting that they were sacked. Probably the most pertinent point about these figures is that they were based on a very small sample survey from a small number of people who were interviewed and to translate that over to the whole field of the unemployment figure is quite misleading and deliberately dishonest. There are many reasons why people who leave a job may appear to do so voluntarily. People quite frequently are under pressure from their employers who want to pressure them to leave. Quite a few people come into my office, and I know other honourable members see them too, who say that their employers have made life unbearable for them, have abused them or have asked them to do all sorts of things that they are not qualified to do or are not supposed to do in their jobs. Undoubtedly a lot of pressure is put on people who for various reasons an employer may want to get rid of. Eventually the employees cannot stand the pressure and they leave the job supposedly voluntarily. There are the sorts of cases that these figures are built on.

As could be anticipated, Mr Kirby 's statement, which gave the he completely to the Minister's statement and to the headlines in the Press, was buried at the bottom of an article where only those who were reading every word of the article would have seen it. No headlines of course for

Mr Kirby's statement. This is the sort of thing we have come to expect from the Press, which orchestrates its publicity to fit in with a deliberate policy of the Government to take attention away from the unemployment problems and to mislead the Australian people by deliberately using dishonest methods to undermine official statistics.

I want to say a few words about the rural sector and the beef industry in particular because of the emphasis in the Queen's Speech of the need to sustain and support the private sector as it is always referred to and to increase those areas of productivity where there is some scope for increase. The beef industry is a complete disaster area. An industry spokesman said recently that low cattle prices throughout 1976-77 coupled with a substantial increase in farm costs will result in beef dominant producers in the high rainfall zone receiving average net incomes of $3650 per annum or the equivalent of $70 a week. This is the private sector which Ls supposed to be supported by this staunch supporter of private enterprise, the existing Government. This is forcing producers to continue to offer cattle for sale that are either unfinished or could be retained until the market improved.

It is very interesting to look at the profit figures of meat exporters. I have tried to keep the House up to date with the very strong rising profit trend in every meat exporting company. It was interesting to read in the paper a couple of days ago that Anderson Meat Industries, one of the biggest meat exporters, recently announced a 39 per cent increase in profits. That was very good, but in the year concluded at the end of December 1975 it had a 102 per cent increase in profit. On top of that it now has a 39 per cent increase in profit. It would be all very well if the producers were sharing in this prosperity the meat exporters are experiencing, but, of course, they are not. The meat exporters are making their profit at the expense of the producers, and this Government is doing nothing about it. This Government is supposedly committed to sustaining the rural sector.

Of course the beef industry leaders are up in arms because the Government is doing precisely nothing except offering gratuitous advice such as the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) gave to the beef producers last week. It is all so interesting to see a meat export company at Townsville manipulating the market by stopping its buying from the producers at certain stages and killing its own cattle, at the same time killing the demand in the market. There is a very limited time for people to market their stock. The meat company is manipulating and deliberately depressing the market. This is just another concrete example of the way meat exporters are exploiting producers and the way the Government is doing nothing about it.

The Australian National Cattlemen's Council has called for a national inquiry into the marketing and distribution of beef in Australia and overseas. There is a crying need for this inquiry and the Government has been completely silent about it. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will not be drawn about it. Obviously he is in a bind. He does not want to upset his friends in the meat exporting industry. He is not pre-

Eared to do something for the producers whom e is supposed to represent. There has been an inordinate delay in restructuring the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. There has been a delay in establishing a national rural bank which was promised by this Government. There is a standoff or an inability to do anything about the way beef is marketed in Australia which allows exporters to exploit the producers continually.

The Deputy Prime Minister has suggested to producers that they withhold stocks from sale to increase prices. I suggest that primary producers do not need him to tell them when to sell thenstock or when to withhold it. Most of these people have been in the game for a long long time. They know the restrictions under which they operate. They know the pressures under which they are from their financial institutions. They do not need that rather stupid advice from Mr Anthony to withhold their stock to force up market prices. A lot of them, of course, cannot alford to withhold stock. Many of them have a bank breathing down their necks to meet their interest payments. They need a cash flow and there are very few avenues of credit available to them. I suggest that in order to follow up the Minister's suggestion the Government should agree to assist beef producers to meet interest charges which will mount up while they are withholding their stock. The attitude that the industry has to Mr Anthony's suggestion is summed up by Mr Rod Black, the President of the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation:

The withholding of finished stock will not assist beef producers to meet their already crippling financial commitments. Indeed it will only increase the problem.

Of course, it will increase the problem if it delays the time when large numbers of stock have to be put onto the market and upsets the normal ebb and flow of the market.

To come nearer to home, I just want to refer to another disaster area in my electorate which has emerged as a result of Government policy. This is, of course, in the building industry in the Australian Capital Territory. In this area some very interesting and rather frightening statistics have emerged in the last few days. The number of people working in the industry fell 22 per cent last year. To bring these statistics further up to date, in the last 2 months building permits taken out in the Australian Capital Territory have dropped by 50 per cent. It is good to see that my colleague the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslam)-the independent member as some of us are calling him; he is a member of the Liberal Party but quite often I think he would much rather be an independent member and he might feel more secure if he were- has to his credit brought out the facts concerning the building industry in Canberra and described its deplorable condition. While building permits have dropped 50 per cent in January and February total unemployment in the Australian Capital Territory has increased by 235 per cent in the last 12 months. It has been the most rapid increase in unemployment in the whole of Australia and this is in a place which traditionally is free from unemployment problems.

One of the greatest deterrents, of course, to the building industry in Canberra is the cutting back on Government spending particularly by the National Capital Development Commission. Most of the projects which it is now completing were initiated by the Labor Government. Very few new projects have been undertaken despite all sorts of promises by the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley) that some great projects are just about to materialise; they are just about to come to fruition; they are just around the corner. They are still around the corner. I have not seen any major projects that have been initiated and brought forward by the present Minister for the Capital Territory. The other deterrent is the extremely high interest rates in the Australian Capital Territory on housing loans which prevent people who want to build houses from embarking on a construction program because they just cannot meet the extremely heavy commitments that are brought about by high interest rates. This is not helped by the increase in the statutory reserve deposits which the banks are called upon to meet from time to time. Every time they are increased this puts further pressure on the industry because it deprives the industry of some funds which are badly needed.

I have tried to help the Minister for the Capital Territory. I have some sympathy for his situation but I find him very difficult to help. I suggested recently that it would be very easy to increase the pine planting program in Canberra by 50 per cent. There are ample seedlings available. The land has already been prepared. It is ready for planting. All that was wanted was money to employ a few more people. The Department did not want any more resources. It would not have had any influence on inflation. The equipment was there. The plants were there and the land was there. All that was wanted was the manpower. I suggested that another thirty people could be employed for a whole year or fifty or sixty people could be employed for half a year. This would have increased the program by 50 per cent. I do not know what is wrong with this proposition. The people are available. It would create a long term resource that this country undoubtedly needs. The land is ready. Everything is ready to go ahead, but so far I have had no response. I am quite pessimistic about it because I think once again the Minister has failed to convince the Government that it should in fact try to get a few people off the unemployment list. Here was an opportunity to get thirty or sixty families off unemployment and back into productive work but the answer apparently is no. I hope it is not no, but I put it to the Minister several weeks ago and I have not heard a word about it so I am beginning to fear the worst.

In other areas there has been gross waste. The Department of Construction has embarked upon a policy of not employing a day labour force despite the fact that it has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of heavy machinery for day labour jobs just sitting there- graders, bulldozers and these sorts of things. The Government has insisted that the work be let out to private enterprise. The Government finishes up paying a good deal more for the job because the private enterprise developer has to use his equipment and the Government is paying for that while its equipment is left to go rusty just because it has this crazy policy of cutting down on the day labour force.

All the problems in Canberra have been deliberately induced by this Government. The staff ceilings set for the Public Service have contributed to a great deal of hardship. It has caused a drop in morale in the Public Service in Canberra. It will be very interesting to see the response of Canberra people in a few months time when the election for the local Legislative Assembly will be held. That will be the first opportunity that the people of Canberra will have to say what they think of the performance of this Government. I am quite confident that they will give a resounding vote to the Labor candidates and show the Government just what they think of its policies for Canberra- policies of deliberately inducing unemployment and hardship in an area in which there is no justification whatsoever.

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