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Wednesday, 31 May 1972
Page: 2353

Senator WILKINSON (Western Australia) - Now that we have the procedure clear I wish to move briefly to the second reading debate. As the Minister has already pointed out, the 2 Appropriation Bills were considered in considerable detail in the various committees. I would think that persons who took part in the deliberations of the committees would not wish to go any further in their investigations. It is not only possible but an actual fact that some members of the Senate were not able to attend the 2 committees in which they were interested because they had to show their loyalty to either one or to the other of those committees. Therefore, it was not possible for them to carry out any investigations in one of those 2 committees. When these Bills are before the Committee of the Whole - I anticipate that this will be very shortly - the opportunity will be given to those honourable senators to look at the items which they were not in a position to investigate more deeply previously. Having said that as an introduction, I wish to make 2 comments only on these Appropriation Bills.

In my first comment, I will look backwards and in the second comment I will look forward. 1 feel that a large contrast exists between the attitude of the Government when it brought down the Budget for 1971-72 last August and the Appropriation Bills related thereto in trying to limit expenditure in order to cut down the processes of inflation as it saw them and what the Government now proposes in the Appropriation Bills before the Senate. The Budget measures adopted last year, the Government finds, have failed. I felt that those measures were far too drastic. At that time the Opposition expressed the view that the Government's approach was not the right one to put the economy on an even keel again. After a short period of some months following the introduction of that Budget the Government has realised that its approach was far too drastic. I give the Government credit for being prepared to correct the mistake as it saw it. But I think that the Government went too far in the first place, as we said, and now it appears to have erred on the other side. In retrospect, I feel that a little more care and thought on the part of the Treasury, which is really in control of the whole of the operations of the Estimates, would have helped to avoid this situation. A more careful analysis of the Australian economy, as we see it, was required.

I now look forward. We have seen that, on a seasonally corrected basis, the unemployment situation is not improving at the rate at which the Government would have us believe. The position is practically static at the moment. This most serious situation is being aggravated in many ways. We heard here only yesterday questions about the closure of the General MotorsHolden's assembly works in Western Australia. A few days ago we had brought to our attention the situation at Broken Hill where Broken Hill South Ltd proposes to close down its mine at very short notice and in doing so will put some 640 men out of employment. The families of those 640 men possibly will be denied their livelihood. This is a most serious situation. The Government was aware of the impending closure of this mine. It could have looked more closely at the situation. I have here the report of a geological survey conducted by the New South Wales Department of Mines only this year. It was completed in May. This report goes very carefully into the situation of the Broken Hill South mine and comes up with an appreciation of the problem there with information on existing mineral deposits. The known lodes there will guarantee some 3 years of operations of the mine at the present level of production which is at a slight loss.

The Broken Hill South company proposes to close this mine and to put 640 men out of work, with consequent effects upon their families, because it says it cannot continue at this rate. It does seem to me - this course is recommended in this report - that one of the things that could be done would be for the Government to subsidise this operation for a short period of 3 years, the men there would then have 3 years notice of the fact that their employment was coming to an end. This would give them the opportunity to look for other employment. I propose this as an alternative to the sudden ultimatum on the part of the Broken Hill South company that employment will cease in the very near future. This is the sort of thing that the Government, with an ear to the ground to determine what is happening in the community, might have been aware of and it might have taken some steps in last year's Budget on the lines that I have suggested to try to smooth over this most regrettable situation. The unemployment situation throughout Australia will be aggravated by the closure of this mine. If these employees move from Broken Hill, the effect on South Australia will be reflected in an increase in its unemployment figures. This action will mean tragedy for a large number of families.

In pinpointing these 2 examples - that of the Broken Hill South mine and the closure of the GMH plant in Western Australia - I am not saying that the Government should act on these matters only. The Government should look for the possibility of such problems arising. Its experts should be able to give it information on these matters. Then, in an Appropriation Bill such as those before the Senate, not only could the Government meet added costs caused by rising wages and salaries but also it could deal with some of these other matters. We know the action that is proposed with regard to pensions and so on. The Government should be considering some other ways in which it can help the community and smooth over this most difficult period through which we are going. I do not wish to continue further at this stage. I have pointed out what I believe are the errors that have been committed by the Government in these matters. The Senate estimates committees have looked at the appropriations already. I will conclude my second reading speech now so that we may enter the Committee of the Whole proceedings as soon as possible.

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