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Thursday, 16 March 1961

Mr SEXTON (Adelaide) .- In supporting the motion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), we take advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions on the policies of the Government, and in particular the extraordinary policies which are alleged to be in Australia's best interests but which have been criticized by the vast majority of citizens and organizations of all kinds as well as by Opposition members. It is interesting to hear some of the speeches of back-bench members. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) commenced his speech with a tirade against socialism. It is rather humorous to hear honorable members criticizing socialism, because government itself is socialism. When backbench members criticize socialism, they are either ignorant of the concept of government or they are trying to drag a red herring across the trail.

The motion of the Leader of the Opposition can be considered under three headings - first, the Government's failure to safeguard our overseas funds; secondly, its policies which have caused confusion, dislocation and hardship to many sections of production and commercial enterprise; and thirdly, its financial policy which has caused human suffering and mental anguish by depriving thousands of good Australians of their means of livelihood.

History now shows that the Government last November suddenly discovered that Australia was going through an economic crisis. It brought forth a four-point programme. The first point was a credit squeeze involving the calling in of existing overdrafts and the refusal of new overdrafts. The second point was the imposition of an extra 10 per cent, sales tax on motor vehicles, raising the tax from 30 per cent, to 40 per cent. The third point was the compulsory investment of surplus money of insurance companies and superannuation funds in government securities. The fourth point was the discontinuance of tax deductions for borrowed money used in hire purchase and allied businesses. These four points were supposed to cure Australia's economic ills, but instead they caused confusion, dislocation and hardship and the community generally is in a state of uncertainty and insecurity.

It is rather remarkable that only three months after this action was taken, the Government abandoned two of its four points. There is no doubt that public opinion forced the Government to somersault. Before long public opinion may force it to abandon the remaining two points.

The Government has shown a lamentable weakness in attacking the problem of our overseas funds. Instead of improving the position, it has actually worsened it. The real test of government policy is the effect it has. Had the policy of this Government been effective, it would not have been vulnerable to the criticism so freely voiced in many quarters. On the other hand, Opposition members have urged the Government to use selective import licensing, which has been effective in the past. I grant that the system has some unsatisfactory aspects, but they are by and large quite infinitesimal when compared with the overall benefit that is derived from the system. Import licensing has been used by both Labour and Liberal governments, but for some reason which this Government has not disclosed, it now stubbornly refuses to use import licensing to control our balance of payments. lt was painful to hear the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) last week use the domestic scene as an illustration. He said -

We can understand it in the domestic scene. If domestically there were these violent fluctuations in the wage packet, the dreams of buying a house and furnishing it would became a nightmare for the average person.

Has the Acting Prime Minister no knowledge of the fact, that, as a result of this Government's policy, that nightmare has been experienced in many Australian homes? Does he not know that the dreams of buying a house and furnishing it have been shattered by the very policy that the Government has outlined and which it has inflicted on the people? I only wish the Government would attach more importance to the dreams of buying a home and furnishing it. If it did, we might see a different approach to this very problem. Many thousands of Australians who are on the scrap heap of unemployment have had their dreams shattered. Their mortgage and time payment commitments will become ghosts which, in time of financial need, will haunt them. The Government should consider the physical suffering and mental anguish that are the product of unemployment. The sudden cessation of the receipt of pay envelopes means cutting down on food and clothing and a dislocation of housing mortgage and time payment contracts made at a time when full employment appeared to be a continuing policy of the Government. These difficulties are the by-products of the foolish, ineffective policies that were adopted by the Government and which have aroused the hostility of the majority of our Australians.

On the question of controls, the Government exhibits a false front. It holds up its hands in horror at the suggestion of import controls, yet it has no hesitation in supportting the control of wages and salaries. It had no hesitation in supporting the pegging of cost of living adjustments in 1953. It assured us on that occasion that such action would stabilize our economy and halt inflation. Its policy to-day is just as effective as was its policy in 1953. Honorable members opposite display a great deal of hypocrisy in debating the question of controls. A favourite technique of supporters of the Government is to use the word " control " only when it suits them. On other occasions they use other words and phrases which, when analysed, still mean that controls are being applied in varying degrees. In point of fact, all our laws contain controls. Almost every bill that comes before this Parliament tells the people what they can do and what they cannot do. In essence, such bills impose controls. The controls in which the Labour movement is interested are socially desirable. They have been referred to in the various arguments that have been advanced by honorable members on this side of the House from time to time.

The Acting Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for Trade, told us last year that we had to increase our export earnings by £250,000,000 annually if we were to maintain our standard of living. But we did not hear of any specific plans that would achieve the goal set by the Minister. Instead, some three weeks ago he issued a press statement in Canberra in which he suggested a few ideas for improving our export trade. He said that the Government had in mind the construction of new roads in northern Australia, which should result within a few years in the addition of £15,000,000 to our export income. He also referred to increasing our earnings by £10,000,000 by exports of coal - not by 1961, but by 1965! Of course, that was subject to the improvement of berthing facilities at ports. He also suggested an expansion of the steel industry, but here again certain provisos were mentioned. This expansion was subject to the erection of a new steel mill in Western Australia and the construction of a standard-gauge rail link from Kalgoorlie to the coast. We have fallen far short of the target that was envisaged by the Minister last year when he told us that we had to increase our export earnings by £250,000,000 per annum.

There has been no evidence of any longrange planning by this Government. That is why the public has coined such phrases as " fits and starts ", " stop and go ", and " put and take " to describe this Government. The Government has performed so many somersaults during the last twelve months that it has deserved those appellations. We can accept a lot of the Government's statements as being purely press propaganda and as placards and hoardings designed to soothe the disturbed mind of the public.

The next important matter is that of inflation. In this connexion the Government has a sorry record. One of the promises it made before it was elected to office in 1949 was that it would put value back into the £1. Every one knows that value has not been put into the £1 but has been drained out. Inflation, which was mild at that time, was not halted but was allowed to continue. That has been the pattern over the last eleven years, with no effective government action having been taken to halt the trend. The Government's new-found concern about inflation does not impress us when we see its failure constantly to safeguard the economy against the evils of this problem. Many people are embittered because of the robbing effect of inflation. Pensioners, persons on fixed incomes, wage and salary earners and primary producers have suffered while sheltered sections of the commercial world have reaped record profits from inflationary processes.

Early in 1960 Dr. Coombs, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, issued warnings about inflation. He pointed out that much of our inflation was profit inflation which had been brought about by price fixing and restrictive trade practices. But his warnings were not heeded at the time. Only in the dying hours of 1960 did the Government bestir itself and take action. As I have indicated, primary producers, who rely mainly on export trade, have been badly hit by inflation. They are required to produce at a time when the internal cost structure is affected by creeping inflation, and to sell their products at world parity prices. At the present time low prices are being received. These people are now experiencing the full blast of the Government's failure to halt inflation during the years it has been in office.

If our internal cost and price structure could be taken in isolation, perhaps we could regard inflation in another light. But as the export section of our economy is tied to the internal section, we must apply controls and give guidance where necessary. The Menzies Government claims to support a policy of free enterprise. The tragic fact is that it is free enterprise only for those who influence price and profit levels. It certainly is not free enterprise for citizens whose incomes are controlled, such as wage and salary earners, pensioners and superannuated persons. Nor is it free enterprise for the army of unemployed.

Many examples of factory retrenchments have been given in this debate, and some establishments have even closed down, particularly in the timber industry. Furthermore, dismissals in the motor industry have now reached a total of some 7,000 workers. It is amazing that Government supporters can pass over this tragic situation in an airy-fairy manner as if depriving a breadwinner of his livelihood were only a minor matter and of no account. Unemployment is an economic disease and those who allow it to occur are guilty of a crime against humanity. If the Government saw the matter in this light, we might get a different approach from it. Statistics, expressed in percentages of the work force, are meaningless to the unemployed. Since our society is so fashioned as to deprive man of access to the fruits of the earth, he has a moral right to employment and a moral claim on those who control the means of production and1 distribution. Reliable estimates now put the level of unemployment at 80,000. and it is still rising.

Accepting the official figures showing the number of workers registered as unemployed is pointless, because we know from experience that many thousands of people do not register as unemployed. It is strange. Sir, to hear Cabinet Ministers say that they believe in full employment, because, in practice, they are creating unemployment. How many unemployed must we have before the Government will admit that we do not have full employment? The Government still clings to the statement that we have full employment. It often throws up another favorite smokescreen by emphasizing that jobs are still listed as vacant. But what it does not point out is that only a small proportion of the vacant jobs can be filled by the men who have been retrenched. Most of the advertised vacant positions are for highly skilled, experienced persons who can do special kinds of work. Many vacancies are for juniors and females, and these, therefore, are unavailable to the average unemployed worker. In many instances, a new job would mean the uprooting of a family from its home and its transfer to another locality, usually to one of the capital cities. This sort of thing does not result from good government, and any government that allows it deserves our censure.

Two other vital matters that I want to mention briefly are housing and education. Despite the quoting of statistics and percentages shown on graphs, we know that the construction of homes has been seriously curtailed. Any one who cares to move about among those engaged in the building industry and obtain first-hand knowledge will find a marked reduction in the number of new homes being built. In fact, reports from Sydney indicate that some finance companies have repudiated contracts for home finance to which they had committed themselves. Builders' organizations in all States are complaining about the position, and the situation of many builders is becoming precarious indeed. Added to this, there are general confusion and dislocation of continued planning which is necessary if the industry is to maintain the building programme without interruption and without violent fluctuations. The financial squeeze is having a marked effect on home building, and the Government cannot evade this fact. In my own State - South Australia - only the work being done on large new industrial and commercial buildings is preventing a collapse of the building industry.

The housing position was bad before the credit squeeze. It is infinitely worse now. We need to provide not only for the demand resulting from the natural increase of the population but also for the demand created by the annual intake of some 120,000 migrants who need homes. So the problem snowballs and it will become progressively worse under the Government's present policy.

Another permanent burden that the home purchaser must bear is the increased interest rates. Unfortunately, this burden will not be removed as was the additional 10 per cent, of the sales tax on motor vehicles. Home purchasers are not organized to the point at which they can influence public opinion sufficiently to make the Government modify its policy. They must carry this greater financial burden simply because the Government refuses to try to control interest rates in our secondary banking structure. Instead of controlling interest rates, the Government meekly tries to compete with the secondary financial institutions in the rat race for investment funds.

With respect to education, the Government continues to bury its head in the sand. As a consequence, there is now being widely circulated throughout Australia a petition the purpose of which is to bring home to the Government the urgency of the need for more finance to promote technological education and thereby provide for technological expansion, as well as to emphasize the need for adequate financial provision in other fields of education. For years, our educational leaders have tried to impress on the Government the urgency of the situation, but they have tried in vain. Even the added weight of the influence of the State governments has not brought the desired results. These educational crusaders have been encouraged to continue their fight by the knowledge that President Kennedy has recently announced a spectacular increase in the funds to be voted for education in the United States of America. Since this Government often is influenced by American policy, we may hope that it will be moved to follow the lead given by President Kennedy. Better educational facilities are just as urgent a requirement as is balancing our external trade, and whatever influence can be brought to bear on the Government should be used in order to move it to expand our educational facilities.

Summarizing the immediate situation, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I see this picture: In overseas trading, we are buying more than we are selling. Our overseas reserves have run down and are at a dangerously low level. The Government is faced with the responsibility of balancing our trade, and, if possible, building up our reserves by increasing our export earnings. Two main approaches are open to it. First, it could, by selective imports control, allow only essential imports into Australia until the position was rectified and the future placed on a sound footing. Secondly, it could so depress our interna] economy by creating unemployment and reducing purchasing power as to retard the demand for goods, both imported and locally produced, to the point at which we could balance our external trading budget. The Government has chosen the latter course, which brings with it unemployment, hardship, commercial and industrial confusion, and a general state of fear and loss of confidence. This Government has broken the high human principle of full employment and to-day about 80,000 Australians are denied their weekly pay for the sustenance of themselves and their dependants. This fact alone warrants this motion of want of confidence in the Government. Only yesterday, the Australian Council of Churches organization in Sydney, in a letter to the Acting Prime Minister, condemned the unemployment which has been caused by this Government's policy. It described 71,000 unemployed as a human tragedy. That is an appropriate description, and I hope that it will impress itself on the minds of Ministers and Government supporters generally.

The motion before the House is justified. We would be vindicated if the Parliament were dissolved and a general election held. Therefore, the motion should be carried.

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