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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr MAHONEY (Denison) .- At the outset of my remarks 1 wish to say that I am very disappointed at the failure of the Government to make any contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem, which is one of the most vital questions that confront this country to-day. Figures which I have obtained from one source show that at present 118,500 persons are receiving sustenance or working for the dole throughout Australia; figures derived from another source reveal that 190,000 persons are registered on the official unemployment registers in the various States. It will be seen that the figures do not coincide,but I think . we can safely estimate that there are approximately 200,000 unemployed persons in this country at the present time.

Mr Riordan - And the number is still increasing.

Mr MAHONEY - That is so. The recent trend of commodity prices indicates that Australia is rapidly approaching another depression. Therefore, it is the duty of the Government to face up to the position and to make every effort in its power to tackle this matter in a statesmanlike way. Figures which I have been able to collate reveal that 75,000 unemployed persons throughout Australia receive no assistance of any kind from governmental sources. That fact alone should provide sufficient inducement for the Commonwealth Government to do everything in its power to assist the State governments to tackle what is perhaps the most vexed problem that has confronted Australia for many years.Reports presented by the State governments reveal the huge expenditure that is being incurred by them in attempting to relieve unemployment. In the years from 1929 to 1938 the States expended no less than £53,000,000 on the relief of unemployment. Yet we have the spectacle of thousands of our Australian citizens on the verge of starvation, lacking the means to purchase the very necessaries of life. This Government has made no attempt to evolve any plan or formula for tackling the problem in a statesmanlike way in co-operation with the State governments. In my opinion, a conference of Commonwealth and State representatives shouldbe convened to consider means by which the unemployment position might be rectified. One has only to travel through the States to discover the degree of poverty and malnutrition that exists because of the inability of bread-winners of families to obtain work. How can the mothers of Australia rear their families unless they have a steady income? This nation can be developed successfully only if work is provided for those people who are doing their part by the rearing of families. The fathers of families should be given employment, not for one week in the year, but for 52 weeks. They have a right to look to this Government to bring forward a policy designed to relieve them from the dire straits in which so many now find themselves. One has only to go to La Perouse, close to Sydney, to find that the aboriginals are much better housed than the dole-workers who reside there. If that is not an insult to the unemployed, I do not know what is.

Mr Pollard - Many of the unemployed are living in houses constructed of wattle and daub.

Mr MAHONEY - That is so. How can the mothers of Australia be expected to rear families in such surroundings?

Mr Lane - Are there no slums in Tasmania?

Mr MAHONEY - Unfortunately, there are slums in Tasmania, but I remind the honorable member that there are slums even in this capital city.

Mr McCall - Where?

Mr MAHONEY - At the Causeway. I heard a reverend gentleman preaching in one of the churches in Canberra on Sunday, and during his discourse he said that the existence of these slums in the national capital of Australia was a disgrace to civilization, and to the Prime Minister and his Government. The right honorable gentleman himself listened to that discourse, and he must have known that the charge that he had neglected to make adequate provision for the better housing of the unfortunate people living in those slums was a just one. One has only to consider the striking contrast between the hovels in which the unemployed and dole workers have to live, and the palatial homes of wealthy people.

Mr Pollard - Is the Prime Minister concerned at the fate of the unemployed ?

Mr MAHONEY - He is not; at present he is more concerned with retaining his position as head of the Government, in order to prevent the reins of government falling into the hands of honorable members on this side of the House, than in facing up to the unemployment position. To illustrate the burden imposed on the State governments by the necessity for having to make provision for the relief of unemployment, I cite the following figures relating to annual collections of wages tax and special income tax devoted to unemployment relief by the various States: -


No figures are available for South Australia, but it will be seen that, from the five States mentioned, no less than £13,000,000 is collected annually for the relief of unemployment. These are staggering figures, which reveal how imperative it is that the Commonwealth should assist the States to meet their enormous expenditure on unemployment relief. Only by making adequate provision for the relief of the unemployed can we expect their families to grow into strong and virile Australians willing and able to fight for the defence of their country in time of need. How can we expect the semi-starved children of dole workers to respond to a call for the defence of the country in time of need ?

What has the Government done to meet this position? I listened this afternoon with a great deal of interest to the Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) recite the list of public works that are to be undertaken during this financial year. I found, as I expected, that whereas large sums of money are to be expended on new works in some States, others are to enjoy very little. I have no doubt that the expenditure of large sums of money in New South Wales and the northern parts of Australia is justified, but that does not excuse the paucity of the public works provision for some of the States. I charge the Government with responsibility for failing to put into immediate operation its public works programme. Recently a slump has developed in the building trade in Australia, and if the Government gave immediate effect to its public works programme, much of the effect of a stoppage of operations in the building trade could be avoided, with the result that the States would be relieved of any addition to their already staggering burden for the relief of unemployment.

The Government has not put into operation an effective works programme. The present Minister for Works, who was formerly Minister for Defence, has failed to do his job. Almost twelve months ago he told me that insufficient qualified technical men were available to prepare plans and specifications for many big works that were in prospect. I then asked him to seek the co-operation of the State governments in order that their quantity surveyors, architects and draughtsmen might be made available to the Commonwealth to assist in the preparatory work. The honorable gentleman did not take any definite action in this direction until last week, and today gave an answer that it had been done. How can we be expected, in such circumstances, to believe that the Government really intends to proceed with its works programme? The 1938 report issued by the Director of the International Labor Office makes it very clear that military operations do not provide any permanent solution for unemployment. It is true that in certain countries to-day many men are being absorbed in various arms of the military service, and many others are being engaged to manufacture munitions; but the director makes it clear that if this policy is pursued for long it must ultimately lead to the worst depression the world has ever known. I strongly believe in the policy advocated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), who declared some time ago that a constructive works programme of long range is essential in order to ensure security for the people. Recruiting and armaments making are no solution to the unemployment problem.

In any case, I am totally opposed to the enlistment of men in the army unless they are paid good wages. We should pay a reasonable' wage to men who enlist for service at our forts or elsewhere, and give them a good pension upon retirement.

Mr Rankin - Is the honorable member in favour of compulsory military training ?

Mr MAHONEY - I am in favour of the enlistment of sufficient men to man our forts and to form the nucleus of an army. Such men should be paid a reasonable wage. So long as we have a large army of unemployed people in this country we shall find it difficult to obtain recruits for defence purposes. It cannot be expected that men on the dole will defend jobs which they cannot get. If the Government would offer a fair wage to recruits for the army it would have no difficulty at all in enlisting 65,000 men.

I protest strongly against the practice adopted in certain departments of the Commonwealth Public Service of permitting overtime to be' worked, particularly while many young men find it impossible to obtain, jobs. Some time ago, I asked the Attorney-General to give me details of the amount paid for overtime work to officers of the Patent Department in -the last twelve months. I was astounded to learn that the staff of this department received more than £4,000 in overtime in one year. I then communicated with the Chairman of the Public Service Board to ascertain the salaries of the men in the Patent Department who had received large amounts in overtime. I was amazed to discover that many of them were receiving high salaries. It seems to me that some members of the Commonwealth Public Service to whom overtime is payable are exploiting the position. We know very well that in some other branches of the service no overtime is payable, although much may be worked. The following table gives the salaries of certain officers of the Patent Department who received amounts in excess of £1.00 in overtime last year. The asterisk at the end of the line indicates that the officers so identified also received child endowment. In effect, the list shows that seventeen of the officers concerning whom details are given have received amounts substantially in excess of £100 a year in overtime although some have no families to support: -

It is not fair that mcn receiving such big salaries should bc allowed to work so much overtime, while many young men cannot obtain appointments. We are- all well aware that in these days the parents often sacrifice their own pleasures to a. very great degree in order that their children may sit for the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations, and then pass on to a university. Ti is deplorable that, after attaining such an educational standard many young people should he thrown on the industrial scrap-heap. About 90,000 Australian -boys and girls leave school each year. Of these, about 40,000 are absorbed in industry. The remaining 50,000 find, it extremely difficult to get a job of any kind. When I have complained about the amount of overtime being worked in some branches. of the Public Service, I have been told, "We cannot fill the positions." Frankly, I do not believe it. I urge the Com mon wealth authorities to consult the education authorities of the various States to- devise ways and means by which young people approaching the school-leaving age may obtain some vocational guidance and special training to fit them to fill serviceable positions in the Public Service of the Commonwealth. I cannot help complaining again about the amount of overtime being worked in the Patent Department. I admit that the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) has said to me, " It- is not good ; it must cease"; but I ask for effective action to be taken without delay. I shall not " let up " on this issue. Next year [ shall ask similar questions, but I hope that I shall receive answers much more satisfactory to me. Wc should not permit men without families to earn such large amounts of money by overtime when many bread-winners of families are forced to walk the streets in idleness, with a consequent deterioration of their morale and general outlook. The Government has assured us that it desires to adopt appropriate ways and means to increase the birth rate in this country, but, as things are, it seems to me that the workers, at any rate, are offered very little inducement to rear families.

The attitude of honorable members opposite towards the unemployed was shown very clearly this afternoon when they refused to permit the subject to be discussed at any reasonable length. The Government wanted to. close the mouths of the Opposition so that they would be unable to ventilate the grievances of the unemployed. What is the Government going . to offer the unemployed this Christmas? There will bo no Christmas pudding this year.

Mr Lazzarini - Many of them did not get it last year.

Mr MAHONEY - Yes, some of them told rae that they did not get even an apple dumpling. Yet, while thousands of men . are out of .work, and their families are unprovided for, the Government has increased the salaries of tho Ministers by £1,600, and they will be able to buy the best for their families. This is the sort of thing that will bring about a class war. Who could blame tho workers if they revolted against such damnable conditions ? At tho present time, thousands of men are walking the streets almost barefooted looking for work. Many of them have been evicted from their homes because they cannot pay their rent. I do not blame the men who own the houses; I blame the Government which fails to ensure that every man with a family has a roof overhis head. Every one who is willing to work should have a home. Conditions in Sydney at the present time are disgraceful, probably the worst in Australia. There one sees hundreds of families living in tents, and no effort is being made to provide them with decent houses in which to rear their children. My purpose is to look after those whom I represent in this House. The Government of Tasmania cannot carry out the various public works which would provide relief for unemployment, because the Commonwealth insists that it shall co-operate in a defence programme. The Commonwealth, in its turn, promised that, Tasmania should have its share of defence work, and the Minister told us the other day that £74,000 was to be expended in Tasmania. I remind him, however, that, of this amount £34,000 was passed last year, yet the works have not yet been commenced. The Government of Tasmania cannot carry the burden of unemployment alone. Upon reading the Commonwealth labour report, I find that the only thing that has been done by the Government is that in 1934 it agreed to the raising of a loan of. £7,000,000, as part of a programme of £15,000,000, for the carrying out of reproductive works. In that year, Sir Frederick Stewart was appointed UnderSecretary in charge of unemployment, but in February, 1936, he resigned, and no wonder. He was unwilling to carry on the position when the Government had nothing to put up to him. All the Commonwealth has done is to lend money to the State governments with which to pay interest on money raised by them through the Loan Council for the relief of unemployment.

We know that in Canberra, the position in regard to housing is disgraceful. Civil servants are being brought to Canberra when there are no houses for them and their families. I am glad that they are refusing to go into the slums at, Molonglo and the Causeway, where it is so hot in the houses in the summer time that the wife does not have to light the fire in order to roast the meat; it can be roasted in the heat from the corrugated iron roof.

There is no hope for the unemployed until the Commonwealth Government agrees to co-operate with the States in a programme for unemployment relief that will enable the youth of the country to participate in industry. The young men of Australia are entitled to share in the good things of life that honorable members are able to enjoy because we get good salaries. If we wish our youth to be a force in production, and to be prepared to defend the country in time of need, they should be put in the way of earning a decent living for themselves. Make no mistake, the burden of the defence of Australia will fall on the young men ; very few over 40 years of age will take any part.

At the present time, in the big cities, employers take on boys of sixteen years of age, work them for four years, and then, when they are approaching 21, and would be entitled to an adult wage, they are dismissed, and must join the ranks of the unemployed. This should not bo permitted. They should be kept in employment, because they are the most important assets the Commonwealth possesses.

In regard to immigration, I claim that, while there is a shortage of work in Australia for our own people, we should be very careful regarding the admission of others from outside. I hope that the Government will not admit a large number of immigrants while men are walking the streets of the cities looking for jobs. A careful watch should be kept on those entering the country to ensure that they are of a type worthy of Australia.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 until 8 p.m.

Mr MAHONEY - The Government was returned at the last election with a majority in both Houses on a promise that it would cope with the unemployment problem, but, despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has urged upon the Government a. plan to absorb the unemployed and to prevent the recurrence of a depression, it has done nothing. Indeed, since this Government has been in power, we have had from it nothing but promises, and it seems thatthis is all the future has in store.

Sweden is the only country in the world which has planned for the future. The report of the International Labour Organization contains the following interesting passage : -

It is therefore to some extent reassuring thatthe discussion of measures to maintain the volume of employment in times of depression has continued to attract a great deal of attention. It is significant that, in spite of the high level of prosperity which the country now enjoys, the Government of Sweden has continued its systematic effort to frame plans for meeting the next depression. A committee was set up at the beginning of last year by the Minister for Social Affairs to consider schemes for dealing with unemployment in times of economic crises. The committee undertook a complete survey of all public works, whether government or municipal, which might be put in hand for this purpose. They recommended that a large number of projects should be kept in reserve which could be started as soon as unemployment again threatened to become serious.

It would be well if the Commonwealth Government followed Sweden's lead. Ministers were not backward last week when they committed the atrocity of the salary grab, but they are loth to do anything which would enable the workers of Australia to have decent houses in which to rear their children, and decent conditions of life which would enable those children to be reared under more reasonable conditions than are provided by the dole system of to-day. There is no excuse for the failure of the Government to grapple with the problem, because it has had enormous resources of revenue at its disposal. It has no public works projects. The war that might have saved its face in this respect was averted, and the Ministry stands condemned in the eyes of the people. 'The workers are despondent, because this Government, which has squandered thousands and thousands of pounds on things of no economic value to Australia, such as journeys abroad for the Ministers, has left the problem of unemployment to the States. Journeys abroad by Ministers might be justifiable, if they achieved results; but the three Ministers who recentlywere abroad for the purpose of negotiating a trade treaty came hack empty-handed.

TheCHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member's time has expired.

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