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Thursday, 21 May 1936


Senator McLEAY (South Australia) . - I congratulate Senator Abbott on having introduced the subject of an international thought exchange, and on his speech thereon. I promise full support of his proposal, which is designed to accomplish what I consider to be a great humanitarian ideal.

I support the request made by my colleague from South Australia, Senator James McLachlan, for assistance to citrus-growers to enable them to improve their export trade. I hope that the department will act immediately in this matter to see if something along the lines suggested can be done. Apparently the Government's unwillingness to act is due to the refusal of the citrus-growers of New South Wales to fall into line with the proposals of growers in the other States. In a Sydney shop recently I was amazed to be informed by the vendor that he had only American oranges in stock. To see what these were like I bought one; it was the worst orange I have ever tasted. Even if the growers in New South Wales persist in their attitude on this matter, I suggest that the Government would be justified in acceding to the request of the South Australian growers.

In regard to the trade negotiations with Belgium, I feel sure that all honorable senators hope that a long-term agreement will soon be arranged, in order that the barley-growing industry in this country may be stabilized. South Australian growers supply 80 per cent, of the total harley produced in Australia.

A matter deserving of the fullest consideration of this Government is the cost of living allowance for Commonwealth public servants resident in Canberra, particularly those on low salaries. It was stated recently by the Commonwealth Statistician that the cost of living here is now 20 per cent, higher than in any of the other capital cities. I trust that, in view of the improvement of our economic conditions, and in order that justice may be done to these people, the Government will restore this allowance. Coupled with this problem is that con fronting families in which two or three boys are approaching the age of employment. Replacing of these young people in industry iis a serious problem for parents residing in Canberra. I urge the Government to act in this matter as soon as possible. It must be obvious to all honorable senators that this problem will become more pressing as time goes on, and that if it is not dealt with quickly and effectively a serious disability will be placed on residents of the Federal Capital Territory during the next 20 or 30 years.

Last year I drew attention to the unsuitableness of the workshop provided for linesmen at the Causeway. This may seem to be a matter of little consequence, but it is of the greatest interest to the men concerned. I was told by the PostmasterGeneral last year that something would be. done in the matter, and that an amount had been placed on the Estimates for improving this workshop, but we find that these men are still forced to work, in all seasons, in what is little more than a dog-box. Such conditions, I feel sure, would not be tolerated in industry.

In view of our economic recovery, and the consequent increase of employment, I am very sorry that so much has been said recently in regard to the introduction of a 40-hour working week in industry. I say definitely that it would be in the interests of this country as a whole if consideration of this matter were left solely to the Arbitration Court.


Senator Brown - Does not the honorable senator think it is a national matter ?


Senator McLEAY - Yes; but I think that the Arbitration Court is the proper authority to thresh it out; I regret that some people have seen fit to endeavour to make political capital out of it.


Senator Collings - Does not the honorable senator think that this Parliament should give a lead in the matter?


Senator McLEAY - We would be giving a lead if we left it. entirely to the Arbitration Court. If this Parliament is not prepared to follow that course, it would be proper for it to say clearly where it stands in the matter. I shall not go into it in detail, but to members of the Opposition and their friends, who have been talking so much about it - and I give them credit for being genuine in their desire to improve the standard of living - I say, without hesitation, that, if they thoroughly analyse the problem, they will realize that the introduction of a 40-hour working week in industry will increase the costs of industry, while, at the same time, tending to lower the standard of living. I ask honorable senators who support such a proposal to bear in mind three or four contingent matters. Firstly, is it suggested that a 40- hour working week shall be appliedin primary industries? "We can easily imagine that, if this were done, the price of milk, to name only one commodity, would rise tremendously, and that, through similar increases in respect of other commodities, the cost of living, generally, would undoubtedly rise. Furthermore, in this connexion we must bear in mind that we have to meet interest on our national debt which, to-day, is approximately £1,250,000,000. Again, do honorable senators who support the 40-hour working week proposal remember that we must pay an old-age pensions bill, amounting to £14,000,000 annually, and pensions to soldiers, amounting to £12,000,000 annually? In considering this matter we should keep these related financial obligations in mind. I suggest that members of the Opposition should weigh these aspects carefully, and then ask themselves whether they are not leading the people they profess to be assisting to a fool's paradise.


Senator Brown - What of the 200,000 people whose labour is not utilized to-day ?


Senator McLEAY - There will always be a certain percentage of unemployables, but, in view of the improvement which is taking place in governmental finance, the time is not far distant, if Governments will push on with essential works, when this problem will be overcome. Undoubtedly, work makes more work. In this connexion, also, we should bear in mind our financial obligations in respect' of our railways, both State and Commonwealth. I ask honorable senators opposite to visualize the effect of a 40-hour working week if applied to our railway employees. If We earnestly desire to improve our standard of living, our slogan should be : " More work and more money." I suggest that, in considering industrial matters of this nature, the Government should start from the bottom and increase the real wages of those engaged in industry, in order that they may be enabled to reap the benefits from our increasing prosperity to which they are justly entitled. [Quorumformed.]







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