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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr THORBY (Calare) (Minister for Works) . - I was particularly interested to hear the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) say that the Commonwealth Government has done practically nothing t8 solve the problem of unemployment.

Mr Mahoney - Will the Minister toll us what has been done?

Mr THORBY - It would take too long. I fully appreciated another remark that unemployment is not a party matter, and that no party can claim all the sympathy for those who are still unemployed, [t is recognized by Commonwealth and State Governments, that unemployment presents a serious problem.

Mr Ward - Sympathy will not do anything.

Mr THORBY - The Government is not merely sympathetic. It is also assisting to overcome the difficulty. That is the real difference between the work of this Government and the platitudes of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). During the past few years this Government has raised £113,000,000 of loan money, £100,000,000 of which has been allocated to the States, particularly to carry out works directly associated with the employment of labour. It does not matter whether honorable members consider the works programme of the Commonwealth Government as -one item, or the maintenance vote year by year, because that expenditure has been increasing. In 1935-36 new works represented an expenditure of £1,376,000, whereas by 1936-37 the expenditure had increased to £1,815,000 and by 1937-38 to £1,948,000. Those amounts were expended by the Commonwealth Government on public works throughout Australia. In 1938-39 the works vote, which in 1937-38 was £1,948,000, was increased to £4,707,000 representing almost a threefold increase in the amount allocated to public works by the Commonwealth alone. In addition, all the States have been expending larger sums of money on various kinds of public works. The Commonwealth Government, realizing that unemployment has many phases, even went so far as to inaugurate a youth employment scheme under which last year it allocated £200,000 to the States and proposes to allocate a similar amount this year. This work, in conjunction with the States, has enabled a large number of youths to be trained and to be provided with an opportunity to learn trades. That is another indication of the way in which the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the States, inaugurated a new system to provide employment for young men between the ages of 18 and 25. That work is being carried on very satisfactorily in every State. Young men are now learning trades and are being appointed to positions at which they are earning higher rates of pay than would otherwise be the case.

Mr Holt - But the States are not expending the money which the Commonwealth provides.

Mr THORBY - Yes, they are. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has taken' only one set of figures and has endeavoured to show that the position is worse to-day than it has ever been. In the matter of unemployment it is more satisfactory than it has been for many years. As all honorable members are aware, the percentage of unemployment reached the peak of 30 per cent. in the June quarter of 1932, but from that time it has fallen steadily until it reached 8 per cent. in the first quarter of 1938.

Mr Forde - I said that we would get statistics.

Mr THORBY - The speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was based on statistics.

Mr Forde - That is nonsense.

Mr THORBY - If the honorable member will not accept statistics, what does he rely upon? Unemployment gradually decreased from the peak period in 1932, when it was 30 per cent., to as low as 8 per cent. in the March quarter of 1938. In the two succeeding quarters there was a slight increase to 8.6 per cent. and 9.2 per cent. respectively.

Mr.Ward.-It is nearly 10 per cent. now.

Mr THORBY - Those who have spoken from the Opposition side of the House ignore the fact that the trade union figures are not likely to give a truly accurate picture of developments. They ignore, too, the fact that the latest available percentage is still slightly below that for the corresponding quarter of 1937 when the industrial ' situation could only be regarded as very satisfactory. Another point I wish to make is that those figures count the full time equivalent of parttime relief work as employment. If that is not counted in as employment the latest percentage is only 5.2, compared with 6.1 last year. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to pick out a set of figures on which to base their arguments. Although they might satisfy themselves that those figures supplement their arguments, they in fact know that they do not give a complete picture of the unemployment position. All I ask honorable members to do is to realize that there is a much wider field of employment than that associated with trade union organizations which have been responsible for supplying most of the figures on which arguments have been based in the past. Some honorable members opposite seem to imagine that they have all the sympathy for the unemployed.

Mr Ward - That is all the Minister and his Government have.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is completely out of order.

Mr THORBY - Take the position in Tasmania which is controlled by a Labour government. The Tasmanian Government has admitted candidly that what I have just told honorable members now is correct, that we cannot rely upon the accuracy of trade union figures to give an indication of the degree of unemployment that exists in the community. A very comprehensive survey of the unemployment position is now being carried out in Tasmania, and is almost completed.

Mr Frost - Is that why the Commonwealth Government did not give Tasmania any money?

Mr THORBY - The figures show that the degree of unemployment in Tasmania, taking the whole of the people "of the State, is very much less than is disclosed by the figures supplied by the trade unions. What 1 wish to emphasize is that the Government does not deny that there is a certain amount of unemployment in the community; nor does it suggest that any one Government is responsible for it. It candidly admits, as every other government does, that there is unemployment and that there always has been, and always will be, a certain amount of unemployment in the Commonwealth. The Government is spending a greater sum of money this year on public works than has ever been expended in the past.

Mr Rosevear - Outside of the country.

Mr THORBY - Practically the whole of the money is being expended inside the country.

The figures which I have just cited have no relation whatever to expenditure outside of the Commonwealth. For New South Wales alone an expenditure of over £2,405,000 is provided, £1,531,000 of which will be expended in and around Sydney.

Mr Martens - What about Queensland?

Mr THORBY - The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) refers to his own particular State. An expenditure of approximately £600,000 has been provided for Queensland, which on a population basis, is a very substantial vote. Over £1,000,000 is being expended on new works in the Northern Territory, and a very large proportion of the men engaged on those works are draw n from Queensland. When they examine these figures honorable members should at least be fair and realize that no matter where the money is being expended it is absorbing labour in the Commonwealth. I repeat again the figures which I cited the other day in relation to expenditure on new works this year in the various States. They are as follows: -


The figures for Tasmania were inadvertently omitted the other day -


In addition general expenditure, not allocated among the various States is to amount to nearly £350,000. The point I wish to emphasize is that it is definitely wrong to view this matter only from the aspect of what is expended in the various States, and to suggest that it is not being expended on an Australian basis. Take, for instance, the money being expended on the provision of a water supply for Darwin. Almost the whole of the material going up to Darwin is being drawn from Brisbane, and the contractor who is carrying out the construction of the pipe line system is manufacturing the whole of the pipes in Brisbane. Therefore, it will be seen that a very large portion of the expenditure of £1,007,000 in the Northern Territory is filtering back into Queensland, New South Wales and even Western Australia.

Mr Mahoney - How much is filtering back into Tasmania?

Mr THORBY - A fairly substantial portion. A considerable quantity of the timber and several other materials for use on defence works is being drawn from that State for utilization. It is impossible to lay down a system whereby money for public works could be equally distributed so that every State would get the exact proportion to which it might be entitled on a population basis.

The Commonwealth Government is co-operating with the State governments in every way in order to provide the maximum amount of relief work that can be financed out of every pound expended. Additional loan funds have also been allocated for this purpose. The Commonwealth Government is working in the closest cooperation with the works departments in the various States. In preparation for the building construction works set out in the schedule in this years Estimates, I have set out on a survey to ascertain how many jobs can be commenced immediately that would provide employment for unskilled labour. All unskilled work is now being scheduled and steps are being taken to see that every available man is given an opportunity to secure some of that work in one part of the Commonwealth or another. We have had the closest co-operation of the State authorities.I am pleased to be able to say that each State government has given a definite undertaking that it will co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in the carrying out of these works. The State governments have offered to the Commonwealth the services of the officers of their works departments to expedite the preparation of plans and to supervise works undertaken in their respective States.

Mr Frost - Have you accepted that offer?

Mr THORBY - Yes, including the offer made by the Tasmanian Government. The Minister for Works in Tasmania offered the same facilities as were offered by the other States. By this means work will be expedited, and it may be found possible to expend a greater amount of money on departmental works in the various States, thereby providing employment for a greater number of men at an earlier date than would otherwise be possible. If honorable members consider the new works set out in the schedule to the Works Estimates they will find that they cover practically every trade and occupation, in which men are employed in the Commonwealth. A very large portion of these works is in respect of buildings of one type or another, which will contain a very large quantity of machinery and equipment, a considerable portion of which is being produced inside Australia. As I have said before, no class of work spreads employment more evenly over the whole community than that afforded by the building trade. Honorable members will see that the Government is doing everything possible to provide all the money it can for the relief of unemployment. Honorable members must realize that seasonal conditions have always aggravated the unemployment position. Although sometimes seasonal conditions result in the provision of employment, unfortunately, in several States, they have thrown thousands of men out of their regular occupation this year.

Mr Clark - And the Government is doing nothing for them.

Mr THORBY - That is not so. Everything possible is being done to keep men in employment and to find work for men who are unemployed. Legislation to be submitted to the House in the near future will provide for the distribution of funds which will make work possible for men indirectly through private sources. The Government is adhering to its policy to have as much defence work as is possible done in Australia, and to have as much local raw material used as is practicable. The policy of the Government has undoubtedly been responsible for the establishment of several entirely new industries in this country, and so has made possible the permanent employment of many men at high rates of pay. No better illustrations of this fact can be obtained, perhaps, than certain industries related to defence projects. I mention specifically the aircraft factory at Fishermen's Bend. The Defence Department is concentrating upon the placing of orders locally. In several cases this has been instrumental in the establishment of new factories which are to-day absorbing many men. This is the only sound policy that ran be implemented, and it is having the effect of reducing to the minimum the number of unemployed persons in the community. No member of the present Government has ever suggested that unemployment can be absolutely abolished. It is, therefore, partly the responsibility of the State governments and partly the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to do all that is possible to reduce the incidence of unemployment. But surely it is also everybody's responsibility, irrespective of party considerations, tq do everything possible to stimulate industry. Nothing is more likely to improve our circumstances in this respect than the establishment of industries which will not only use the raw materials available in this country, but will also draw men back into industries that have, perhaps, been languishing. The Government has increased its expenditure in respect of every department this year, and most of the public works upon which large sums of money will be expended, will require raw materials of Australian origin, or manufactured goods produced in this country. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) made reference by interjection to unemployment in the coal-mining districts. That situation has been brought about partly by circumstances over which governments have no control. We are all well aware that the replacement of coal by oil for fuel has greatly increased the use of oil in Australia, and correspondingly diminished the use of coal. No doubt this has caused a loss of regular employment to many men; but it has not prevented them from seeking employment in other, if less appropriate, avenues. But even on the coal-fields it may be truly said that some of those who have been loudest, in their condemnation of governments, have failed to play their part in seeking to meet the new conditions which now face us. Unfortunately certain individuals have endeavoured to draw men out of even the available employment on the coal-fields. Such individuals are, to a degree, blameworthy for the burdens which have to be carried in those areas.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. Gardner) put -

That the question be now put.

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