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Thursday, 20 April 1961

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I bring to the notice of the House an important matter. During the last week or ten days, there has been accumulating evidence that unemployment is increasing in Australia and has become a serious problem in a number of areas'. This evidence has been met by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) with explanations dealing with transfers of labour and seasonal changes and with assertions that the economy is in a stronger position as a result of what has happened. Any one who knows anything of the circumstances knows that these explanations and assertions either are the result of definite ignorance of the situation or are made deliberately in order to put a favorable complexion on the circumstances for political purposes.

We know that over the last few weeks the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures has made a widespread survey of manufacturing industry in Australia. This survey has established as a fact that aggregate unemployment now stands at 82,000 unemployed - as high as any figure reached in this country over the last twenty years. The survey has shown, also, that the rate at which unemployment is rising is increasing rather than stabilizing or easing off. The survey has shown, too, that there is very much unused capacity in industry and, further, that there is a great deal of what I term misemployment in the economy. Among those who are in fact employed are men who are skilled, for example, in the building industry or the engineering industry and who, having lost their jobs in those industries, have been able to get unskilled work elsewhere. As a result, skilled technicians and carpenters are now employed in unskilled capacities.

The survey which I have mentioned has shown, furthermore, that there are in certain parts of Australia very serious pockets of unemployment which are far greater than is the average level throughout the country. A good many country areas and fairly large country cities are in much the same position as is Rockhampton, where the aggregate number of those unemployed is 1,299. In a good many country towns in Victoria 300 or 400 workers are unemployed. That is not just a temporary feature of the economy. These circumstances have existed for months. They really mean that economic development of these towns and areas has come to an end, and that economic activity has stabilized or even begun to decline.

Unemployment is serious in particular industries. I should like to read to the House part of a letter which I received to-day from Furnishing Textiles Proprietary Limited, 71 Victoria Crescent, Abbotsford, in my electorate. It states -

We confirm having telegraphed you as follows: - Have dismissed to-day further 30 people making total reduction 100 out of maximum employment of 170. Copy of this sent to Carmody Department of Trade. Furnishing Textiles".

Then it continues -

Frankly the situation is desperate. We made this decision only after long discussions with our customers, with the Textile Union and amongst our own Board and Executives.

We cannot see any light at all. We have a number of small orders which will soon be woven out, but they are insufficient to keep more than 6 to 7 weavers working out of a total complement of 36.

That is the situation in the textile industry almost all over Australia.

I turn now to another form of industry. To-day I received a telegram from a very old, long-established, very efficient heavy engineering concern which has been exporting to markets in almost all parts of the world for a number of years. The telegram reads as follows: - - Duplicate of telegram sent to Prime Minister Treasurer Minister for Transport Quote reference Minister for Transport telegram Chamber Manufactures published todays Sun we too are astounded at Government attitude stop Sincerely invite you visit our works to view situation first hand at your convenience any hour night or day unquote As our federal member requests your support Chamber policy in interest of your electorate.

It was signed by Alan McDonald and Neil McDonald for A. H. McDonald and Company Proprietary Limited, Bridge-road, Richmond. In this section of the engineering industry, which is totally unconnected with the motor car industry, the problems are as serious as that telegram reveals.

The general level of unemployment, the stagnation of the economy and the occurrence of severe pockets of unemployment in various parts of the country reveal a serious economic situation. It is not only a question of there being a greater level of unemployment; it is a question also of economic stagnation. The rate of growth of the economy is quite unsatisfactory. Such a state of affairs has not occurred as the result of a natural catastrophe. It is the result of deliberate government policy. The present level of unemployment, the stagnation of production and the setback in housing are all the deliberate result, as I have said, of government policy. The first act of policy which brought about this result was the removal of import controls in February of last year, which led to a run-down of overseas balances. In order to prevent a crisis in the external trade situation, which in itself would have been the result of government action, the Govern, ment had to apply a severe credit squeeze.

The credit squeeze has produced a very serious situation in various parts of the country. For example, 100 employees of the Castlemaine woollen mills have been put off since Christmas. In such localities there is no alternative employment. The possibility of transferring from one place to another does not exist. All these things are the result of a haphazard policy which is quite inadequate to meet the needs of the economy. The Government said it wanted to cut down imports, to restrict speculative building and to cut back the motor car industry. So what did it do? It applied a general credit control which depressed the whole of the economy, particularly manufacturers and producers who themselves have not enough capital to draw upon and who have to rely upon borrowing from other people. Those who can rely upon their own funds or reserves are not adversely affected by the credit squeeze. Sections of industry which make reasonable profits are quite adversely affected, but those sections that make excessive monopoly profits are not adversely affected by the squeeze. The result of the adoption of a policy of this kind is that not only is unemployment caused but also that production is cut back, particularly in places which can least stand the strain. lt is not surprising, Mr. Speaker, that the Chamber of Manufactures should have inserted, at enormous expense, advertisements in the daily press which obviously are designed to force the Government to change its policy rather than to force a change of government. I have no illusions about what the Chamber of Manufactures is trying to do. It is not trying to change the Government; it is trying to knock a bit of sense into the hard heads of Government supporters so that the Government will change its policy in time to win the next election. We realize what the situation is. The Chamber of Manufactures must realize that the kind of government which is now in office can never produce the type of economic policy that is necessary for the rapid development of this country.

Mr Erwin - Do you support that press statement?

Mr CAIRNS - I support this protest to the hilt. Those honorable members who are interjecting, those who are not concerned with employment, those who do not worry about unemployment, those who are not concerned about economic stagnation would surely be concerned, as I am sure the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) is, about the threat of communism. But do you think we will be able to meet that threat with a stagnating economy and unemployment? Do you think that, with the inadequate economic policy the Government has pursued over the last ten years, we will be able to keep the Commonwealth of Australia in the forefront of the economic advance? Australia is lagging behind the European countries, which in their turn are lagging behind others. It is not of much use for the Chamber of Manufactures to hope to be able to force a change of policy, because it is up against a government which is committed to private monopoly and exploitation.

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