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Wednesday, 26 June 1946

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- To-day, [ came across a document which I believe will provide me with a useful introduction to my discussion of this bill ; it was the White Paper on full employment in Australia presented some time ago by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman). I was impressed by two passages in it which in my opinion have a. very interesting bearing on the state of the nation to-day. At the outset, the Minister told us that the White Paper set forth " boldly arid unequivocally the Government's intention to secure full employment for the people of Australia after the war ". After a long process of theoretical reasoning, he wound up with this intriguing declaration -

I make for all my colleagues on this side of the House this declaration, paraphrasing Blake - '

T.   will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem

In "Australia's" pleasant land.

This, he said, was to be a charter for a new social order. I could not fail to be impressed by the contrast between -the lofty sentiments which he had expressed in this document, and the actual state of the nation, as it appeared to me when I looked round, ten months after victory had been achieved and peace had commenced. What has been the effect of this policy of boldly and unequivocally ensuring full employment in this country? We took Australia from the blacks in the first place, and we havehanded it over to a different set of blacks. Our markets, ships, factories and Dutch allies are " black ". It is true that we are also having trouble with our " reds " ; and most of the citizens of Victoria are " blue " -at the present time owing to the lack of fuel and of domestic comforts generally. The only thing that has retained its pristine whiteness and purity is the White Paper of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. But instead of the achievements which it envisaged, we have a new order consisting of go-slow tactics, collective bludgeoning in industry, and the most feeble and futile Ministers who have ever mis-styled themselves a government. To whom do we look > if we wish to criticize this result? We cannot look to those persons who have been giving us service during the war years and have now found it necessary to re-enter civilian occupations. The hundreds of thousands of men and women who were in our Services have, generally speaking, .been demobilized in a most orderly fashion and with commendable expedition, and have re-adjusted themselves to civilian life. I stress that the honorable member for -Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), speaking earlier for the Government, pointed out that a very large percentage of them had already been absorbed in industry. In fact, he said, a remarkably small proportion was unemployed to-day. So we have had on the one hand this commend-ably speedy and orderly absorption of our returned service personnel into productive pursuits. Their absorption suggests that industry is not open to criticism on the ground that it has not provided opportunities for r.hem. According to the Government's own figures, an overwhelming proportion of them has been ' taken back into peace-time occupations. Yet the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) would attempt to attach blame to industry; and his charges have been « repeated by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan). Both those. gentlemen claimed that some of the shortages were due to the manufacturers deliberately withholding stocks, or refraining from producing. If they know this to be true, they have a public duty to point to the manufacturers responsible. I invite them to do so. If they can prove their charges, we on this side of the House shall join with therm in condemning the manufacturers concerned. I believe, however, that such statements are made in order to cover up the inefficiency and maladministration of their own Government. I invite them to point to establishments which could be producing more to-day but for the disinclination of those responsible to pay more taxes. My experience in Victoria - and it is considerable - is that the manufacturers are in a desperate state, and are carrying on a handtomouth existence. In many important industries it has been necessary to lay off employees because of lack of fuel. I have heard, no responsible member of the Victorian Government make statements of the kind we have heard in this House, f know only too well the difficulties under which industry is labouring in

Victoria. The headline news in thepapers to-day reveals the conditions which exist in Queensland, where the Government has found it necessary to declare a state of emergency. We know that in New South Wales the Bunnerong power house, the central source of electricity supply for the Sydney metropolitan area, has less than one day's supply, of coal on hand. In Victoria, during the last few days, gas has been rationed, and before that there was rationing of electricity. Almost every day we read in the newspapers of the gallant struggle of some battered and ancient collier around the coast of New South Wales in an endeavour to bring coal in time to prevent darkness from descending upon the residents of Victoria. Only yesterday, I was told of the predicament of an important glassmanufacturing establishment. It cannot obtain any coal at all, and is trying to keep the furnaces going with wood. I was informed that, if the furnaces were allowed to go out, it would take six weeks to get them heated again. In this modern era people in our great capital cities are being forced to live in a state .of almost medieval discomfort (because of the shortage of coal. Office staffs are working under the greatest difficulty, and industrial employees have been laid off, or are struggling to keep factories going with substitute fuel. I believe that the Government, for political reasons, is not making a balanced distribution of the available coal. It is taking the shortsighted view that, in order to avoid immediate criticism from domestic users; it is better to starve industry than to compel the rationing of gas for domestic purposes. That may be one way of staving off political criticism, but it is a foolish method in the long run, because the public will be caused greater inconvenience eventually. These cumulative shortages are beginning to tell their tale. I was astonished to hear the honorable member for Griffith say that the position in regard to the supply of goods generally was better now than during the war. Honorable members must be fully aware from their own experience that there is a greater shortage now of goods for personal use than there ever was during the war. I need only cite food and clothing. These shortages are not entirely due to the effects of strikes, nor to the shortage of fuel. There is a difficulty in relating production to available supplies of materials, when those supplies are scanty and irregular. What are the immediate economic consequences to Australia of this disorganization of production? During the war we had accumulated savings which could have been usefully employed for the purpose of post-war development. However, those who are laid off from factories must now eat into their savings, as also must those who are out of employment because of strikes. The activities of business concerns have been restricted, and as a result their profits are restricted to a corresponding degree. The national income declines, and this is followed by decline of government revenue. This means that we are less able to maintain standards of living and to provide employment. We should note, in passing, that government expenditure is as high now as it was at any time during the war. In fact, as the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) pointed out, war expenditure for the current financial year has been at a rate in excess of that of the previous financial year, which was a full war year. We are paying a very heavy price for this 5o-called full-employment policy. Departmental expenditure continues to be inflated, and there has been no decline of government expenditure. Despite the ending of the war, taxation remains at a high level. It is, indeed, heavier than anywhere in the world. As a result, there is reduced output owing to the lack of incentive. The honorable member for Fremantle, and the honorable member for Griffith, claimed that there was increased production because so many people were employed. That is j;he futile, academic, theoretical kind of reasoning. that we are accustomed to get from the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. I was amazed that so many honorable members opposite should have been deceived by it. The only test to apply is: How much is produced by the people who are in work? Immediately before the war, the employment figures showed that between 8 per cent, and 9 per cent, of trade unionists were out of work. The general' experience is that production per employee has declined by 33 per cent, compared with what it was before the war. Therefore, even though the volume' of employment has increased, so that there is now practically no unemployment at all, production per employee has declined so much that aggregate production throughout the country is now very much less than' it was before the war. Nevertheless, economists such as Dr. Lloyd Ross continue to speak of full employment " with its concomitant - expanding production ". As I have pointed out, we do not necessarily get more production because more people are employed.

There is another phase of our economic problem which was touched upon by previous speakers when discussing the dispute with the Dutch Government. It is vitally necessary for Australia to increase the volume of its exports. I do not think that most people realize just how important this has become. They have been misled by the fact that we are not importing more goods than before the war, but they ignore the fact that the goods which we import are costing us very much more than we paid for such goods before the war, and our export prices have not risen correspondingly. For the year 1939-40, the export price index was 96, whilst the import price index was 101 . 4. The corresponding figures for 1944-45 were 119 and 19S.5. Thus, whilst the export price index remained relatively stable, the import price index almost doubled. For that reason alone, there is an imperative need to develop export markets. But there are other reasons also. Before the war we could rely upon Great Britain taking most of our exportable products, but to-day the position is very different. Britain itself is a debtor country, fighting desperately to develop its own export markets. We cannot hope during the next few years, to send to. Great Britain the same quantity of goods as before the war. For that reason, it is difficult to understand why the Government has allowed to slip this golden opportunity to increase our export market elsewhere.

Mr Breen - To what other places does the honorable member refer?

Mr HOLT - We are unable to satisfy the demand for our goods from Singa-,pore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Rhodesia, and India. This opportunity, which now presents itself, will not come again. It could not come at a better time than when the demand for our goods from some of our old customers has been so greatly reduced. We cannot expect Europe to take from us so much as before the war, but in compensation, markets are opening up in the Southwest Pacific and elsewhere. Before the war, the Dutch East Indies provided a most important market- for Australian goods. Honorable members will recall that a ship was chartered to take goods to the Netherlands East Indies, and, as a. result of the mission, a most valuable trade connexion was established. We were expanding our exports at the time when war broke out in' the Netherlands East Indies. The spineless attitude of the Government towards the action of the waterside workers in holding up Dutch ships which would otherwise be taking goods to the Netherlands East Indies is most difficult to understand. It is fantastic that responsible bodies representing the trade unionists of this country are prepared to stand by and see these markets destroyed, when they must realize that only through these markets can we hope to maintain our pre-war standards of imports and, as a consequence, our pre-war standard of living. Only through them are we able to get the raw materials we need so much for our own manufactures. Both before and during the war, despite the efforts made to establish self-sufficiency, we had to import such a wide range of articles as petrol, oil, jute, rayon, kapok, timber, tea, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, heavy machinery, tinned plate, electrical goods and equipment, drugs, chemicals and paper. These commodities were necessary to enable us to establish and build up our own manufactures and to maintain our standard of comfort. We know that we shall have to import them for many years to come, just as we shall have to continue to import motor vehicles, machine tools, and a host of other things for our industries or for the comfort of our people. What respect can the Parliament and the people have for a government which per mits opportunities of this kind to be destroyed? What faith can we repose in the leaders of the trade union movement who want full employment, and dread the threat of another depression, when they stand by and see these prospects of developing our post-war markets sabotaged in this way? What suicidal folly to permit them to destroy our opportunities as they are doing! If we look back over the history of the last few years we shall see that these things do not represent a new development. Even the shortage of coal itself was foreseen. Thu Government knew there was likely to be an expanded demand for coal. The Government did not expect that industries built up during the war would collapse after the cessation of hostilities. In fact, the Government knew that in order to place the hundreds of thousands of exservice men and women in civilian employment all our industries would have to be maintained at their pre-war, if noi their war-time, level. Yet the drift was allowed to continue. No attempt was made to control supplies of coal during the summer months to meet the expected shortages during the winter months, and no attempt was made to ensure a proper balance as between the needs of domestic users and the needs of industry. The Government has stood idly by while the most pronounced drift- in industrial matters has taken place since 1929. If honorable members examine the figures of working days lost through- industrial disputes in 1945 they will find that they reach the alarming total of 2,119,000. a higher figure than in any /year since 1929. Last year there were 945 industrial ' disputes, an all-time record since the statistics have been compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician. It is obvious that the trend so starkly revealed in 1945 has been continued in 1946 when even higher figures may be expected. I believe that we have come to a pass which might be described as the new anarchy. We are not a revolutionary or violent people, but because of the trends I have outlined I believe that we may easily slide into a condition of anarchy. And all the symptoms of anarchy are present with us 'to-day. A condition of anarchy exists not merely when there is such a state of disorder that the community cannot carry on. but. also when the Government finds itself utterly powerless to. govern, when those who have political responsibility are unable to exercise it whilst those who are lacking in political responsibility are able to- wield unfettered political power. That is the condition of affairs that exists in Australia to-day. The trade union movement in this country has grown up by leaps and bounds to a position of outstanding dominance. Labour governments dominate five of the six State Parliaments, and in numbers the representatives of Labour dominate this Parliament. The Labour party itself is based on the trade union movement and would not exist to-day in its present form without the support of the movement. It looks to the trade union movement for its organization and for its fighting funds, and not one honorable member opposite could hope to hold his seat iri this Parliament if he incurred the displeasure of the movement which stands behind his . party. Over the last few years events have proved that Labour governments, whether State or Commonwealth, are powerless to withstand the pressure of the trade union movement.

Mr Lazzarini - Members of the party to which the honorable member belongs have been saying that for many years.

Mr HOLT - I point out to the honorable gentleman that great changes have occurred in the political arena. Until comparatively recently there were no Labour governments in office in the Commonwealth sphere. In fact, until its present term, Labour was in office in this Parliament for only two out of . 25 years. Whatever influence the trade union movement may have had on the Labour party during those earlier years, with the exception I have mentioned, it has been unable to exert pressure on the governments of the past. There has been a very rapid growth in the movement. It has now grown to a point where members of unions constitute 54 per cent, of our total working population and a very large percentage of our total adult population. N"o honorable member supporting the Government will deny the influence of the unions, or challenge my statement that he would not bold his seat in this

Parliament if he incurred the displeasure of the trade union movement. Thus it has become the most powerful political force in Australia to-day. Even within the movement itself there are divisions that accentuate the trend towards anarchy. Instances of this are to be found in the recent antagonisms that have arisen between its Communist party members and those who claim to be moderates, and between the adherents of the Roman Catholic church and those who claim to be supporters of .the Communist party. This anarchic, chaotic state of affairs has brought about a total of 941 disputes in 1945 and an even greater number in the present year. The trade union movement must accept a great deal of the blame for the situation that has developed. As an illustration of this I propose to quote the words of one of its most respected members, a man I know to have great ability and to be in. very high standing' in the Labour party. Mr. Monk, secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, made a statement recently, which was quoted by the Leader of the Liberal party (Mr. Menzies) earlier in the debate, with respect to the dispute over the Dutch merchant, ships, dissociating the Australasian Council of Trade Unions from the tactics, employed by the Waterside Workers Federation. Mr. Monk saidThere has been more chicanery in this dispute .than T have experienced in any other dispute.

There you have, a. situation in which the official spokesman of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions condemns a dispute; but he is as powerless as the Government to do anything about it. But Mr. Monk cannot, escape blame for the lawless state of mind which has been permitted to manifest itself in the Waterside workers Federation. More recently we find him saying in regard to the 40- hours case -

This is not intended as a threat to the court but if the 40-hour week is not granted by the Arbitration Court, the trade union movement will take up the struggle - and it will be a long and a bitter struggle - until we attain our objective.

That statement by the official spokesman of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, an organization which I have claimed to be the most influential political power in Australia to-day, reeks of lawlessness and incites those who desire to disobey the industrial law of the Commonwealth and encourages them to the sort of lawless actions which are. dislocating so many of the industries of this country to-day. We are not a violent people; we are an easy-going people, not easily stirred; but unless we raise ourselves from the quagmire in which we are floundering our hopes of a secure and prosperous peace will be utterly submerged. Labour has shown itself powerless in office and unfit to govern. It has surrendered its authority to forces' which have no responsibility to the Australian electorate and which defy the industrial laws of the country with impunity. Labour is fast squandering the peace. This go-slow Government must be swept aside for a production government which would so reduce government expenditure and taxes as to provide .incentives to the nation to give of its best. ' A production government would uphold against the force of anarchy the laws enacted by democratically elected governments and declared by impartial tribunals.

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