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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- Some of us are well aware of what certain honorable members from Western Australia are trying to do in the federal sphere. The main concern in Western Australia was not whether the unemployed persons in Fremantle or Perth or anywhere else were getting enough to live on, or too much to live on, but about the accusation that a snide trick had been played by the Commonwealth Employment Service. I take this opportunity to inform the House that when I was in Perth over last week-end, an officer whose name was mentioned by the Minister, expressed great concern to me that the integrity of the Commonwealth Employment Service had been doubted in connexion with this matter. Because of the general nature of the remarks made they could have applied to friends of mine and of other Western Australian members, including the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), who are employed in various employment offices in both the metropolitan area and the country districts of Western Australia.

If the honorable member for Stirling is aware of any cases that have been dealt with on a basis other than that outlined by the Minister for Labour and National Service, he should bring them to the notice of the Director of Social Services in Perth for review, and adjustment if necessary. But the fact remains that employees of the Commonwealth Employment Service who, I honestly believe, have been doing their utmost to relieve the situation of the unemployed men who are so vitally affected, have been maligned in this House. The letter mentioned by the honorable member for Stirling at least localizes the trouble to some degree. It bears the signatures and addresses of 51 people, and it should be quite easy for the Department of Social Services to make a thorough check, not on the men whose names are appended to the letter, but on the staff of the various employment offices in Western Australia who have handled the cases of those men, and to ascertain whether the Department of Labour and National Service arranged things, as it has been accused of doing, waited for a period, and then gave the men who were unemployed a couple of days' work so that they would be ineligible for unemployment benefit. The matter must be clarified for the sake of the employees of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia. In fairness to them, the matter should be carefully investigated now that the trouble has been found to be confined, as I imagine it has been, to the Fremantle office of the Commonwealth Employment Service.

The honorable member for Stirling stated that the Western Australian Government sought a special grant of some £4,000,000 at the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council for the relief of unemployment. The council agreed to a special grant of £2,000,000.

Mr Barnard - Apparently, it was not enough.

Mr CHANEY - At the time it was made, the press claimed that it would do much to ease the position in Western Australia, but a few months later we were told that it had made no difference. I do not know which statement presents the truth. Western Australian members of this Parliament have at all times been highly conscious of the position in Western Australia. The " West Australian ", in a series of leading articles, has suggested what should be done to improve the position in that State. It is strange that one of the things pressed for by that newspaper and, I know, by the honorable member for Stirling, is the establishment of a naval base at Cockburn Sound, in the hope that the work necessary for the establishment of such a base would relieve the existing unemployment and any economic recession that might occur or that is already occurring. It is interesting to note the opinion of Admiral Sir John Collins, who, I suppose, is one of the greatest naval experts that Australia has produced. At a meeting that I attended, he said that it was foolish to think of establishing a naval base a* Cockburn Sound, which could have value only as a shipping assembly point in time of war. He said that it had no usefulness as a naval base, and that it should not be considered for this purpose when a harbour such as that at Albany was available if it were decided to establish a naval base in Western Australia in accordance with overall strategy. I would never set myself up as a greater authority on naval matters than a top naval expert like Admiral Sir John Collins, although the leader writer of the " West Australian " apparently has set himself up as superior to Sir John.

I am sure that all honorable members will recognize, as this session progresses, that if Western Australian members of this House stand together in anything in their participation in the business of this House, they do so in support of the interests oi" their own State. However, in doing that Western Australian members also have a duty to safeguard officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service in Western Australia, and to use their influence on the Government, regardless of its political colour, on behalf of men who, in the main, are of high integrity.

Mr Ward - Why do Government supporters from Western Australia not do something about the unemployment in that State?

Mr CHANEY - Strangely enough, something is being done about it! Yester- I quoted from a journal published in Western Australia evidence that the employment position is improving. The worst thing that we can do is to spread about the countryside rumours that things are going badly and will become much worse, and thereby make people fear for the future so much that they will not embark on anything. If members from Western Australia believe in the future of Australia, and in the future of their own State, they can do much greater service for the unemployed than they would do by attempting to convince the people that unemployment is severe and will get worse, as some Opposition members can justly be accused of doing.

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