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Wednesday, 15 March 1961

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) has just proved not only that he cannot hear but also that he cannot read. He has only to read the speeches that have been made by Opposition members and to study the statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) to realize that our criticisms are valid, well presented and based on fact. Statistics are available to support every argument that has been advanced.

Government supporters follow the line of abstraction, generality and not getting down to facts. It does not matter to them what happens to the human beings on the receiving end of their policies. In all the speeches that they have made not one word has been said about the citizen who is out of work. One of the greatest personal tragedies that can happen to any individual is to find himself out of a job, with three children to go to school next morning and nothing in the house to eat. If honorable members opposite care to come to my office at any time I shall give them the names and addresses of some people to whom this has happened in the last few weeks. If it is happening in my electoral, it is happening all over the country, 'i There does not have to be a great number of men out of work. It is a national calamity to have any man out of work. It is time that the Government gave up statistics, generalities about strains and stresses and all the other cliches and gimmicks that it has used to describe the economic position, and got down to concerning itself about what is happening to the human being on the receiving end. This is a government of gimmickry. Tt does not do anything by direct action.

Let us consider our balance of payments position. The matter is quite simple. How would you stop a great deal of money being expended on imports? You would stop imports. But the Government has suddenly discovered that it is a sin, an offence against the free enterprise idea, to interfere with imports, and so the whole country is thrown open to a flood of imports. In a few moments I shall describe specifically, and not in general terms, what is happening to one industry. It would be the simplest thing for this Government, by regulation, decree, ultimatum or however it wishes, to stop the flow of imports. But, being the simplest and most direct method of solving this problem, the Government does not adopt it. The Government set out to do something about exports, the thing about which it is most difficult to take any positive action. Only in the long term can it take any definite action in relation to exports. So, while avoiding the most direct method of approach, the Government does that which is most abstract and least positive.

In the present state of the nation we believe that it is necessary to re-impose import controls. They may well have been badly administered in the past. We say that, to judge from the past actions of this Government, export development is unlikely to produce any immediate, positive results.

The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) was loud in his praise of the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and his department. But what is the history of this department? For years the right honorable gentleman has pleaded with the Americans to buy more Australian metals, to open their doors to o ir wool and to buy other products from us, but not a bit of progress has been made in that field on which all the effort has been concentrated. If we look in the Estimates at the financial provision for trade promotion, we see where the greatest expenditure is incurred. America is the place to which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Trade flee when they are trying to do something in this regard, but with no result. The country which they choose to ignore and which they apparently presume to be non-existent, China, is the place where Australia has the greatest access to markets at the moment. Where they are working so diligently they are making no progress, while in the country that they ignore they have their greatest successes. This seems to be proof positive that the Minister, or the Department of Trade or the whole philosophy behind it is in error.

These are the things which beset us. We, on this side of the House, are concerned, as everybody is, with the trend of events, the stability of the nation, the export position and the position of the wool industry. We are just as vitally concerned about this as you are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I think it is safe to say that we on this side of the House are more inclined to get down to specific things and avoid generalities than is the Government. It seems to me that these are the factors by which you can judge the trend of events such as the falling wool prices.

With falling wool prices there is a fall in our export income, increasing invisible overseas payments and an increasing trend towards unemployment. There is no use denying it. We are faced with rising interest rates, increasing overseas control of Australian industry and a trend towards monopolies. The honorable member for Lyne wants the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) to do something about monopolies and restrictive trade practices. Members of the Government have been talking about it for twelve years. There is the trend in banking and finance as the result of which a great part of the financial structure is out of the control of the Government. There is a trend towards increased indirect taxation and strangulation of the economy. The financial policy of this Government is responsible for such movement.

All this is increasing inflation and, in the battle against increasing inflation, whom does this Government assail? Does it try to get stuck into the great manufacturing concerns and great commercial enterprises? Of course, not! The only people the Government assails in an attempt to defeat inflation are the wage-earners. Last year and the year before the Government went to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in an endeavour to get wages pegged, and succeeded. In fact, the only part of the economy which the Government attempts to control is the wages of the workers. In every other respect it attempts to do things by indirect means. So, we have a constant balance-of-payments problem. It has become almost a neurosis.

It seems to me that if we analyse the position we discover that these are not difficult matters to deal with. They may be difficult to control, but it is not difficult to see the kind of direct action which should be undertaken to overcome these difficulties. Let us consider the wool industry for a moment. If we could stabilize it we might improve the position of our overseas balances and make a gain of £50,000,000 to £70,000,000 a year. But the arch-priests of private enterprise on the other side of the House - the private enterprisers - say that this is offensive and wicked and false to the spirit of the Liberal Party. They are prepared to keep up the ideology of the Liberal Party at the expense of the nation as a whole. The wool industry is fundamental to our well-being. A year or so back, 43 per cent, of our total income was earned by the wool industry, but the figure has now fallen to 37 per cent. A fall of Id. per lb. in the price of wool results in a drop of £7,000,000 in our income.

What should be done about this? Surely the lessons of history prove that it is necessary and possible to control the price of wool, as was done after both the First and Second World Wars. We have the machinery, the administrative experience and the know-how to do it. We have even the idea which the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes used in 1920, when there was a sudden collapse in the price of wool on the introduction of the free auction system. He used the customs power so that wool could not be exported unless it was sold at a certain price. This seems to be a logical step to take and that is the view of a number of people in the wool industry.

You do not have to move around the country very much and talk to many small wool-growers - and most graziers are small wool-producers - to ascertain that they want something like this done. They want a floor price for wool. They do not want to be threatened with penury and with bankruptcy because of the ideology of a free auction system. We have come to a stage in the wool industry - and it is obvious from the inquiries that have gone on - where we are in the hands of a few hundred wool-buyers.

We have only to get hold of the report of Mr. Justice Cook, of New South Wales, or talk to the people engaged in the industry to realize that the brokers and buyers and all the rest of them are part of the machinery which is holding the rest of Australia to ransom. The evidence is in the report of Mr. Justice Cook, for anybody who cares to look at it. that these people are not congregating to form pies for the good of the national economy. They form pies in order to obtain wool at a cheaper price. It is essential to the national interest that the price of wool be kept stable and well above the cost of production; and it is essential also that the Government act in this regard.

But what do we find at the present moment? The Minister for Trade, upon whom Country Party members heap eulogies, appointed a committee to inquire into the wool industry. He was asked by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) this morning what the powers of the committee were. We are told that it cannot demand the production of documents and papers and cannot demand that witnesses attend. What kind of an inquiry can that be into a group of very smart operators involving, in an intricate way, the operations of woolbuyers, wool-brokers and all the rest of them? You cannot find the answer to the problem in this way.

That, again, is symptomatic of the Government's whole approach to the question of the control of the economy of the country. Where direct action is called for. the Government avoids it. If the country cries out for some kind of activity on the part of this Government. Ministers call a conference and go around the matter in the most indirect fashion possible.

I say that the first step that should be taken to stabilize our balance of payments position is to stabilize wool prices. All the evidence and all the experience gained in the First and Second World Wars show that this should be done, and should be done effectively. I would like to hear, from the other side of the House, the reason why the Government does not do this. Tt is no use putting headlines in the paper or organizing a wool promotion campaign. What is the use of running a wool promotion campaign when we sell all the wool we produce? Every fibre of wool produced is sold already, and there is no carry-over. It is a question not of promoting the sale of wool but of protecting its sale.

If we allow the control of our major industry to stay in the hands of a few hundred buyers we are asking for trouble. The honorable member for Lyne has spoken of the Government's courage. In the matter of wool, the Government is deficient in courage.

The next essential to the improvement of our overseas balance of payments is to trade in our own ships. At the present moment we are spending something like £120,000,000 per year in freight on our exports. To whom are these freights paid? Of course, they are paid to overseas shipowners! Every single penny of it is paid to them. The first logical step for any government conscious of its duty in this regard to take would be the shipping of our goods overseas in Australian ships. We have our national shippin.g line, and should be able to expand it.

We have from history the example of the shipping line that was purchased at the end of World War I. That is another example of how, out of perhaps £120,000,000 that we spend overseas now in payment of freight charges, we could save anything from £50,000,000 to £60,000,000 a year and still retain in Australia the money actually spent on freight. I repeat that is one logical step that could be taken by the Government to reduce the cost of exporting overseas. It could buy its own ships, but it will not do that. We cannot afford to sacrifice the interests of this economy on the altar of this Government's free enterprise ideology any longer.

The next matter with which I wish to deal is import controls. The Labour Party is not addicted to the way in which import controls were administered in the past, but it is obvious that import controls have become almost inbuilt in the community. In my electorate there is one very important industry. I refer to the hosiery industry, and I propose to give specific examples of how the lifting of import controls has affected this industry. It is the centre of hosiery manufacture in Australia. The factories at Brunswick, Coburg and two or three other places in Australia can produce the 2,700,000 dozen pairs of stockings a year which the people of Australia need. Last year, immediately after import controls were relaxed, there was a rush of buyers overseas to the United Kingdom and other countries and we suffered a flood of imported stockings. The figures are there fo: everybody to see. For instance, in 1958-59, we imported 61,211 dozen pairs of stockings as against 51,540 dozen pairs in the previous year. In 1959-60, that figure jumped to 133,209 dozen pairs. As a result of this flood of imports from overseas, the shelves of the big stores in Melbourne - and I assume the same circumstances apply in other capital cities - are loaded with imported stockings. I quote that as a specific instance of the effect this Government's policy has had on one factory at Coburg which is capable of producing 300,000 dozen pairs of stockings a vear.

Mr Wight - Working how many shifts a day?

Mr BRYANT - This was that factory's ordinary production, and it employed between 400 and 500 people. That factory was producing at that rate until just before Christmas. Because of the way it is constructed, the type of yarn it was using and the desirability of utilizing the machinery to '.he best advantage, a good part of the factory was working round the clock. But that was done more in the interests of economic production than for any other reason. In the last few months, that factory's sales dropped by 32 per cent., its employment went down 33 per cent, and the wages paid out declined by 28 per cent. All this in an industry built up by one man over the last 30 years! That factory, which can produce one-ninth of the stockings manufactured in Australia, has been hit in this savage way. because on the shelves of the big stores in Melbourne there are lying countless thousands of pairs of imported stockings while countless thousands of pairs of Australian-made stockings are lying in the factory's store rooms. When I visited that factory a fortnight ago there was £100,000 worth of stockings in the store which the management was unable to sell because so many stockings had been imported. They had been imported mainly from the United Kingdom where the employees work longer hours for relatively lower wages and where conditions of employment such as recreation and sick leave are not to be compared with those obtaining in Australia.

In the last month or two, in the hosiery industry at Brunswick and Coburg alone - only two of about 30 suburbs of one large city - 500 people were retrenched, disemployed, unemployed, or dismissed, whatever term one wishes to apply. It is of no use to talk about statistics and endeavour to establish some other fact. It is of no use for the Treasurer to say that there are 50,000 vacancies, or a vacancy for a nurse in Papua, New Guinea or the Northern Territory, or for a school teacher in Queensland is of no help to the hosiery employee who has been sacked from the factories in Coburg and Brunswick. There must be countless instances of similar dismissals all over Australia. I mention the hosiery industry merely to illustrate the need for a change of policy in connexion with import controls.

One needs only to peruse the figures contained in various publications to realize that this sort of thing must be occurring in every part of Australia. Surely the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) heard the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) speaking the other night about the effect timber imports were having on the Tasmanian timber industry. Is it not plain to anybody who has any feeling for human beings at all, or who has any heart at all, that this Government's policy is resulting in heartbreak and misery? That must be clear when it is known that in one electorate alone 500 people have been dismissed. Even if those 500 employees were married women, the fact is that they were playing an important role in building up the living standards of their families and in helping to maintain their families. Unfortunately, the high cost of educating and clothing children necessitates both partners to a marriage going to work. The Government is criminal in its disregard of these matters. It is criminal in allowing its ideology about freedom of imports to restrain it in this field. Until the Government takes the kind of action T have suggested, it is denying justice to humanity. That is only one example of the effect this Government's financial and other policies are having on the people.

Let me give another instance of the damage the Government is causing. The Coburg City Council works on an annual overdraft of between £300,000 and £400,000 from the Commonwealth Bank.

One of the immediate results of the credit squeeze has been that the Coburg City Council will not be able to obtain £100,000 that it needs for street construction. Because of this, 25 men who were employed on that work are now disemployed. The term used by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) was " redeployed ". But the fact is that 25 men have been dismissed by one local authority because of one small part of the Government's policy. By its policy, in addition to causing hardship to individuals, the Government is disregarding our national interests, it is slowing down what is in fact important national development work. After all, the streets of the Melbourne suburbs are just as important as they ever have been, and they are part of the people's standard of living, and when this idiotic doctrine about free enterprise, of which we hear so much from the other side, transcends human beings, as it is doing in this case, it is time the Government left the treasury bench. The Government is well aware of all these facts, yet, in all fields, the action being taken by the Government is hindering the nation in its attempt to overcome its present difficulties.

There are two aspects of Government policy which are detrimental to the wellbeing of the people. The first relates to interest rates which have been rising continuously during the last few years. For instance, in 1948, the interest on government loans was 3i per cent., while that on loans to local government authorities was 31 per cent. In that same year, interest on Crédit Foncier loans for housing was 3J per cent., and interest on overdrafts 4i per cent. In .1952, interest rates increased by another fraction, and by 1956 they had gone to 4 per cent, on government loans, 5i per cent, on loans to local government authorities, 5 per cent, on Credit Foncier loans for housing and 6 per cent, on overdrafts. By 1960, after another lift in 1958, the interest rates were 5 per cent, on government loans, 6 per cent, on loans to semi-government authorities, 5i per cent, on Credit Foncier loans for housing and 7 per cent, on overdrafts. I look upon the continuous rise in interest rates on loans for housing, for local government purposes and for the ordinary services for the community as not only mischievous, but iniquitous. lt is placing an impossible burden upon municipalities, upon State governments and upon the citizens themselves. Let us take the instance of a war service home, on which the lowest possible interest rates are charged. I know of one house which cost £2,000 for the framework, timber, plaster, glass and all the other materials used in it. By the time the loan on it is repaid, the interest will have amounted to £2,400.

We on this side of the House say that the policy of high interest rates adopted by this Government is a crime against the nation. It is building costs into the economy and these costs are passed on through every level. If a farmer has an overdraft of £5,000 and the rate of interest is increased by 1 per cent., the additional interest will be £50 a year or another £1 a week. Higher interest rates in the next year will cost the Coburg City Council an additional £3,000, and that is the equivalent of wages for four or five men on the basic wage.

No ideological proposition can be advanced by the Government to support its policy. The people of Australia are becoming concerned and they are convinced that the policy of this Government is taking them to their ruin. Having spoken to the people generally and heard what they have to say, we on this side of the House are convinced that it is time this Government was removed from office. The censure motion moved by the Leader of the Australian Labour Party deserves the support of every member of the Parliament, particularly the sycophantic satellites of the Australian Country Party - it is time they stood up and spoke for themselves.

Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.

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