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Thursday, 29 October 1931

Mr THEODORE (Dalley) (Treasurer) .- I move -

That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue, bo made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of £250,000 for the purpose of expenditure on works to provide relief to persons out of employment.

The purpose of this appropriation was stated by the Prime Minister on the adjournment of the House on Friday last. The intention is to utilize the money to he voted by this bill for the purpose of offer- ing some slight measure of relief to persons who are suffering distress through unemployment, and especially to apply it to the relief of those who have been unemployed for a lengthy period. It is recognized that £250,000 will not by any means solve the problem of unemployment, but it will furnish, at any rate, some relief to the worst cases of distress, during the period prior to Christmas. It is not possible to include in the bill which will be founded on this motion, a schedule of the works to which the money will be applied, because the departments are now working on that matter; but the money will be used exclusively for the employment of persons now unemployed. No portion of the money will be used for the employment of men now in the service of the Commonwealth. So far as possible, the money is to be spent in wages, and expenditure on material is to be cut down to a minimum. Of course, the latter expenditure cannot be eliminated entirely, because materials such as cement, timber, paint, &c, are required to enable work to be done; but, so far as practicable, the- money will be apportioned for such works as will give the maximum amount of employment. The employment is to be strictly rationed, so as to divide the work among as many men as possible. The minimum period of employment will be two weeks, and the maximum four weeks, so that this will be strictly a relief provision. Tho works are to be put in hand at the earliest possible moment, and preference is to be given to works which can be undertaken before Christmas, and completed within a short period.

The money will be chiefly allocated between the Postal and Works Departments. It is proposed to allot £50,000 for the Postmaster-General's Department, for work that can be put in hand in the various States, and managed by that department, and about £180,000 will be spent by the Work3 Department on works undertaken for the benefit of that and other departments. In connexion with this undertaking, a general appeal is made to employers everywhere to join in the widespread attempt to create additional employment, with a view to alleviating the distress, especially during the Christmas season. It is conceivable that, by an effort of this kind, if sincerely entered upon by all who have the capacity to employ men usefully and profitably, there may be initiated a nation-wide movement which will result in our turning the corner towards prosperity. We do not wish to be unduly optimistic, or to begin something which may have an undesirable reaction, but I think this is well worth a trial. It is in the nature of an experiment. No harm can come of it, and it may do much good. There are indications that the employers will enter into the spirit of the plan, and cooperate with the Government. The plan will at least furnish a good deal of temporary relief, and may lead to a large measure of permanent relief.

While employers, manufacturers, and others are being solicited to put on as many men as they can, and to keep them on as long as possible, the public will be asked to co-operate by not refraining from useful spending. It is noticeable that in some quarters people are tending to restrict their expenditure unduly. There are some whose incomes have not been impaired, whose power to spend their money usefully has not been in any way interfered with, but who, because of their fear of the future, are refraining from spending in the ordinary way. By so refraining they' have, I believe, aggravated the depression. It is becoming' recognized by economists pretty well all over the world that i n these times the public should be encouraged to spend usefully, not wastefully. I read the statement in an American newspaper recently that an important savings bank in the State of New York was appealing to its customers to spend their money. Indeed, this appeal has led to the waggish criticism that the savings bank is not an institution of thrift, but an institution of spend-thrift.

Mr Thompson - £50,000,000, which might be usefully spent, is locked up in New South Wales.

Mr THEODORE - I agree that it might be usefully spent if the depositors could obtain access to their money.

Mr Ward - They would be able to get their money if the Commonwealth Government had assisted the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales in the same way as it assisted the private banks.

Mr THEODORE - How does the honorable member suggest that the Commonwealth Government could have assisted the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales?

Mr Ward - By accepting the challenge of the Commonwealth Bank authorities,, and taking .the measures necessary to secure control of that institution.

Mr THEODORE - The Commonwealth Government does not control the note issue.

Mr Ward - No, because it was too cowardly to take the steps necessary to obtain that control.

Mr THEODORE - The closing of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales was a most deplorable thing, and nobody should try to make capital out of it. Whoever was responsible for tho closing of that bank, the honorable member will surely admit that the blame does not lie at the door of the Commonwealth Government.

Mr Ward - Nor was the Government of New South Wales responsible for it.

Mr THEODORE - Very well; let the honorable member content himself with saying that, and refrain from making charges against the Commonwealth Government. By this proposal we are making an effort to bring some measure of relief to those now out of work. It is not a spectacular scheme, but it will provide a modicum of relief for those who are greatly in need of it. It will provide a few weeks' employment for a few thousands who are unemployed.

Mr Thompson - None of this money is to be advanced to local bodies?

Mr THEODORE - No; it will be spent' by Commonwealth departments.

Mr Coleman - It will be supplementary to the advances made by the banks.

Mr THEODORE - Yes, and to whatever effort private employers can be induced to make.

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