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Wednesday, 18 February 1959

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - First let me extend to you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of myself and other honorable members on this side of the

House, our congratulations on your reappointment to the Chair. We feel sure that the common purpose we all pursue in this chamber, to ensure the well-being of the people of Australia, will continue to be followed under your excellent guidance.

Let me now say that the Speech delivered by Hh Excellency the Governor-General, which, after all, is an outline of Government policy, represents perhaps the most empty piece of planning, coming, as it does, after nine years of government by the Menzies administration, that this country has ever seen. The only piece of legislation mentioned in it is one about which there has been considerable public controversy. I refer to the banking legislation. We are told that within the next few weeks this legislation will come before the House. When it has been disposed of, one wonders, after reading His Excellency's Speech closely, what the future activities of the Parliament will be. Two matters stand out in importance, so far as I am concerned. The first one is the inadequacy of the Government's plan to deal with job opportunity in Australia. On page 3 of His Excellency's Speech a brief comment is made on this matter. His Excellency merely said: -

During 1958 employment opportunities continued to increase.

The question of job opportunity is left wide open. Any one concerned with this matter must have wondered why, after having been in office for nine years, the Government changed the Ministry, so that the Minister who previously dealt with primary industry now has control of the problem of job opportunity, which has been taken out of the hands of a Minister who was, perhaps, familiar with it and might know what should be done in the future. In making this change, did the Government accept the fact that it had no plan and no policy, and did not intend to formulate one? .

The brief reference to this question in the Governor-General's Speech calls for some comment. Particulars are available, to the Ministry and the Government as well as to every one else, regarding job opportunities in the last twelve months. When one considers these figures one surely must wonder why such a brief reference is made to the matter of job opportunity by a new Government coming to office. It has not been possible to obtain complete figures for 1958, but it has been possible to compare the figures for November, 1957, with those for November, 1958. Let us see what the picture is, and why this smug self-satisfaction is apparent in the Governor-General's Speech.

On previous occasions I have mentioned in this House the shortage of job opportunities available, month by month, in the field of private employment. In a young, growing country, private employment must be the basis of job opportunities. A young, developing country such as ours cannot depend upon government employment for job opportunities. When we compare the figures for November, 1957, with those for November, 1958, we discover a startling situation. The figures I am citing are taken from the Monthly Bulletin of Employment Statistics for November, 1958, which is the last issue available. It appears that between November, 1957, and November, 1958, only 6,300 additional jobs were created for males. I am dealing at the moment with private employment only. Only 2,800 additional jobs were created for females. That is the situation concerning which His Excellency made such a brief reference yesterday. It is a situation that is obviously regarded by the Government as being satisfactory, because it does not propose to do anything about it. In that period of twelve months only 9,100 additional jobs were created in Australia.

One wonders just what the position would have been if we had depended upon private enterprise to provide all the jobs required by our young Australians. Let us look at the other side of the picture. This is a matter about which this Government criticized the outgoing government in the late '40's. I refer to the numbers of persons in government employment. Whereas only 9,100 additional jobs were created in private employment between November, 1957, and November, 1958, the figures provided by the Government Statistician show that slightly more than 16,000 jobs were created in the public service in one field or another.

Mr Anderson - But not in the Commonwealth sphere, where the number of employees declined by 1,000.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - If the honorable member will wait until I take my argument a little further, he will understand why I am putting this proposition.

At the moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not concerned whether it is employment in the State, Federal or local government field, or anywhere else. What I am concerned about is: What is the Government's policy? It is obvious, from the smug satisfaction expressed in those few words, that the Government has no policy in relation to this vital matter of job opportunity. That is the very problem, and at the moment I am not concerned whether the Commonwealth or the State sphere offers more opportunities for employment. What I want to emphasize is that job opportunity at the government level, both State and Federal, will decrease over the next five years as a result of automation and the technological advances that are being made in both fields. That is the problem that requires attention at the governmental level. Let us not run away with the idea that because about twice as many additional people have been taken on by governments as by private enterprise in this ^country, as I have pointed out, we should criticize governments for employing the greater number of additional workers. I do not suggest that any individual man or woman would be employed in a governmental enterprise if it was not necessary. The point I emphasize is that the job opportunities provided in both governmental and private enterprise do not meet the requirements of a developing Australia.

The relevant statistics, Mr. Deputy Speaker, immediately pose the question: Is our present rate of progress, relative to the opportunities for employment within the framework of the private enterprise policy adopted by this Government, healthy? Does the Government believe that merely by providing job opportunities in private enterprise for an additional 9,100 people over the last twelve months - a figure that is evidently regarded by the Government as being satisfactory - it is providing a basis upon which this country can advance and develop? It is of no use for us to talk about Indonesia or any other country if we do not first provide safety and security for our own people in this country.

The figures that I have given are alarming, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when one analyses them, because the process will not stop there. Only a week- or two ago, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited announced that it hoped - I emphasize the word " hoped ", coming from a great organization like that - that over the next five years, with the advance of modern t technology and the installation of the latest o.'fice equipment, it would be able to retain its present clerical staff on its pay-roll. The company stated that it would not require so many clerical workers as at present, but it hoped that, taking into account resignations, retirements and deaths, it would be able to continue to employ the present clerical staff over the next five years. What is to happen to the thousands of young Australians who should obtain employment with the company in the next five years?

Let me now turn to something that astounded me. As honorable members know, 15,000 additional unemployed were registered during January, but the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) just puts it down to seasonal fluctuation. Let us have a look at a news release made by the Department of Labour and National Service on 16th February. The report with which it deals was evidently available when the Governor-General's Speech was being prepared1. Dealing with New South Wales, the news release states -

.   . more men registered for employment, principally for unskilled and semi-skilled work . . .

.   . more school leavers seeking initial employment. . . .

It was not so long ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that business organizations of all kinds were eagerly awaiting the months of November and December and swamped the high schools and colleges with offers of employment for young Australians completing their secondary schooling. But to-day we find that in New South Wales young, educated Australians have to line up at a Commonwealth Employment Office seeking employment, although, in many cases, their parents have made sacrifices and endured hardship to educate them and fit them for employment. Let us have a look at what this report, which was in the hands of the Minister, says about Victoria. The news release indicates that in that State it is a problem to find vacancies for those who are leaving school, and that there are more young people leaving school and seeking work than there are vacancies in employment for them.

We find that there is great difficulty in Queensland also. The news release states that young people leaving school are enrolling at the Commonwealth Employment Office this year seeking initial employment. That is something new within the framework of employment in Australia, and it is a warning to the government of the day that it must take stock of what is happening in the field of private employment. In South Australia, where a government of the :same kidney as this one has held the reins of office for a long time, the situation is indicated in the news release in these words -

.   . more men registered for employment, "principally among unskilled and semi-skilled workers; ...

.   . more school leavers seeking initial employment; . . .

In respect of Western Australia, the release states -

.   . more men registered for employment, principally among unskilled and semi-skilled workers and building tradesmen; more women and young people seeking employment; . . .

It is the young people again who are affected. They are the ones for whom I am making an appeal to-day. Whatever may have happened to those of us who are older, this Government or any other government should not neglect to provide opportunities of employment for young Australians who are coming on to the employment market. If a government neglects to provide those opportunities, it will be doing the very thing that either fascism or communism would hope to see done in a free community. In Tasmania, things are pretty good, in point of fact, because that State has a Labour government which has done an excellent job for the people. But even in respect of that State, the news release makes the following observation: - . . fewer vacancies registered for men, particularly for building tradesmen and semi-skilled workers; . . .

So we see the whole tenor of this report that was received by the Minister on 19th January. Yet Government spokesmen claim in this House that during 1958 employment opportunities continued to increase.

Mr. Deputy Speaker,I emphasize to the House and the country that it is tragic that this Government should be so smug about the inroads that automation and the new equipment resulting from modern technology have already made and will continue to make into the employment opportunities for Australians, and particularly for young Australians leaving school. I do not profess to be a historian, but these circumstances cause me to wonder whether this Government, as a responsible authority, is taking any notice at all of the historical - I repeat, " historical " - information available to us as a result of what happened in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution of more than 150 years ago. It is a fact that Britain to-day has more unemployed workers than it has had for twenty years. Again the same dark cloud is spreading across the country.

Regardless of the political faith of the government of the day, if automation and the new equipment made possible by modern technology are to be used only for profit, there will be great hardship for those seeking employment in the future. Whether or not this Government likes it, automation and the advancements of modern technology will force any government in a free country to take stock of the employment situation, and it may be necessary, in some instances, to seek power from the people to take special measures to ensure that automation shall not be used entirely for profit but that the great benefits made possible by modern technology and equipment shall be shared equally not only by those who install it but also by those whose jobs it can do. The problem of fairly sharing these benefits is the greatest problem that confronts this country to-day. I know that in the press to-day appears a report of a statement by a leading trade unionist that automation has not yet greatly affected the Australian employment field. Perhaps I should agree with him. He has made a wider examination of the matter than I have made.

Mr Cope - Except in relation to the coal industry.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I shall come to that. Let the Government use the words of that trade unionist if it wishes. If, in point of fact, we have not yet felt the full impact of automation, why have only 9,100 additional jobs been available in private employment in twelve months? If that is the position, and we have not felt the impact of automation, what a bleak future there is for us if nothing is done about the matter! Let us not deal with this matter as we have dealt with the coal-miners. There is a brief reference in the GovernorGeneral's Speech to the position on the coal-fields. Conditions there are tragic. Everybody in this country knew that there were great movements on the coal-fields. We remember the attempts to organize stoppages as protests against mechanization. The miners were promised that if they produced coal at lower cost their jobs would be secure and more miners would be wanted. What do we find to-day? The Governor-General said -

Australia now has an adequate supply of coal from more efficient mines. However, mechanization has also led to re-employment problems in New South Wales, but my Government has co-operated with the State government and with industry in measures to overcome these difficulties.

That underlines a situation that we cannot afford to allow to develop in other spheres. If we want to make progress in this young, developing country, we must do much better with the modem equipment that is now becoming available than we have done on the coal-fields. There must be planning and an understanding of the ramifications of these developments. Provision must be made before people become unemployed and not after. I have seen married people thrown out of their homes in Taree and South Grafton merely because of the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives in the New South Wales Railways. Somebody will say that railway service is terrible and is not paying. There is a suggestion that within five years it will pay, but what will have happened? The number of people employed in rail transport in New South Wales will have fallen by about 7,000. It is the job of this Government as well as of every other government to see to it that government instrumentalities follow the same course with their employees as does the Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited, which is trying to hold its employees, letting retirements, dismissals and deaths take up the slack.

What will happen about the 7,000 railway jobs that ought to be there for the young Australians coming on? Alternative employment must be found for them. That is a task that this Government must undertake now. I submit that it is a task for a commission, and I urge the Government to give immediate attention to setting up, within the framework of its own responsibility, an employment opportunity commission. That commission should be charged with studying the impact on industry of automation and the improved machinery now available, and then presenting a report on the opportunities that exist now and that will exist in the future. Its principal duty should be to report upon the area of immediate and future impact of automation and modern machinery upon the workers in industry. Then, if workers are to be displaced in Taree and South Grafton, or at Albury, as they will be in two years' time, let us plan in advance for alternative industries and employment in those areas.

Let us not allow these people, wherever they may be, to be thrown to the wolves. We do not want to drive them all to the capital cities. If the City of Albury is to be faced with finding work for hundreds of men who will be displaced as a result of the standardization of rail gauges, surely somebody will be big enough to plan something for them. Let us not say that it is a State responsibility; it is the responsibility of every government. We must do better than has been done on the coal-fields. I stress the urgency of establishing such a commission as I have suggested. New South Wales has already appointed some sort of organization to study the impact of automation, but that will not serve the purpose. This Government is responsible for employment and unemployment. The people have already determined that question. The responsibility of facing up to this problem rests squarely on the Government in Canberra.

Whatever happens during the next three years, there is nothing else so urgent and important as the establishment right now of an authority to analyse properly the advantages that can be derived from modern equipment and the opportunities that exist in this country. With the aid of automation and the latest in production lines, Australian workmen can compete in costs, with those of any other country. A commission should be established to study the situation, so that we will not have an extension of the conditions that operate on the coal-fields, with people being told they must go somewhere else. We will not have such a situation as we have had at Taree, where 156 men were told that as from the following week they would not be required. That resulted from the public being given a better and more efficient rail service. The achievement of greater efficiency should never be the instance of good Australians being thrown out of work. Greater efficiency should provide more job opportunities, but this can only be achieved by a planning authority, which knows the results that will follow and which plans to take up the shock of the impact. I think that this is the most important problem that arises out of this matter, and I urge the Government to do something about it as a matter of urgency.

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