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Wednesday, 10 September 1958
Page: 1057

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) is always an entertaining speaker, and to-night he has lived up to his usual good form, but unfortunately for the honorable member, we on this side of the Parliament no longer take him very seriously. There was a time when we thought he had a good deal of promise. The hand of the late Ben Chifley had been placed on his shoulder and he was marked out as one of the coming men in the Labour party. But he saw only too clearly - and I pay this tribute to his shrewdness - the coming division inside the Labour movement. There were some not so shrewd, but a little more outspoken, who used to sit on the opposite side of the chamber.

The seven federal members from the State of Victoria who did not see eye to eye with the left wing trend in the Labour party led by the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) were a little more outspoken than the honorable member for Grayndler. They said what they thought and they paid the penalty for their thoughts by expulsion from the Labour party and subsequent defeat by Labour candidates at the polls. That was one of the first signs of serious division inside the Labour movement. Since then, the honorable member for Grayndler has gone into an intellectual and political deep freeze. I hope that he stays in that condition for some time, because whatever differences we might have with his politics, we like the honorable member and hope that he will be able to survive the difficulties which are ahead of him.

There have been some useful, serious and constructive speeches in the course of the discussion so far on this group of the Estimates. Some of the items which have been discussed will, as I have previously undertaken, be considered in more detail by the Ministers who are directly concerned, but there are three particular matters to which I want to direct my attention to-night, without taking up too much of the time of the committee, two of them having come forward from the Opposition side of the chamber and one from the Government side.

First, Sir, I shall deal with the opening remarks of the first spokesman for the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). He is an earnest seeker after the truth, and we have learned to respect him and his sincerity. He put forward the point that this Government could provide more adequate statistics on the employment situation. In the course of making that suggestion he referred to the employment situation generally and1 used some rather extravagant language, to which 1 shall refer in a moment. I can well understand the desire of the honorable member for more detailed information. That also has been my desire, but I want to remind the committee that it was not until this Government came to office that such statistics were made available to the public in the regular way that this Government has done so.

Mr Ward - What rot!

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for East Sydney says, " What rot! " He was a former Minister for Labour. During the time that he was Minister for Labour there was no monthly publication of statistics.

Mr Ward - There were no unemployed then.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Need I remind him of the coal strike of 1949? Need I remind him of the statement by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) that 5 per cent, unemployment could be regarded as the happy minimum in a normal period? Mr. Chairman, the fact is that it was during my own administration, from March, 1952. onwards, that we began to supply regularly to the Parliament and the public figures which would indicate to them the trends of the employment situation.

I know that it is pleasant for honorable gentlemen opposite to charge this Government with trying to create a pool of unemployed. The fact of the matter is that since we took office in 1949 we have had a record with regard to employment that is unparalleled and unsurpassed in any part of the free world. Mr. Chairman. And honorable gentlemen opposite know it. Would it have been the mark of a government that wanted to create a pool of unemployed to set about deliberately giving the public, month by month, details of the number of people registered for work, details of the employment vacancies available, and details of the number of people on unemployment benefit each month? That has been done by this Government.

Why, Mr. Chairman, these honorable gentlemen opposite who speak of their high regard for the workers of this country know that when Labour was in office years ago it did not even have a Labour department! It was left to the first Menzies Government to create the first Department of Labour and National Service in the history of our federation.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that unemployment was increasing and that unemployment of a serious and cumulative kind was occurring in Australia at the present time. Honorable gentlemen opposite have a certain political vested interest in unemployment. They rub their hands as they look at the figures which show that the position is worsening, and they fling up their hands in despair when, unfortunately for them, the trend goes the other way. And, during most of the time that we have been in office, the trend has been for unemployment to decrease. I have been the first to admit publicly, Sir, that over the last year or so unemployment has been at a level that we would not wish to see in this country.

Mr Cope - What has the Government been doing about it?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - We have been doing plenty about it. I remind the honorable gentleman that we have been steering the destinies of this country through one of the most difficult economic periods in its history. Over the last twelve months or so, we have been guiding Australia through a period comparable with the early 1930's when Labour was in office, and when 32 per cent, of the registered trade unionists of this country were out of work. In that period, with Labour in office, unemployment suddenly jumped from 10 per cent, to 30 per cent, of the registered trade unionists. We have had to grapple with that difficult situation. Sir, and. although T do not claim satisfaction with unemployment at the level at which it has been. I say. not without some justifiable pride, that this difficult situation has been managed in a manner that has not been surpassed in any other country, and that the trend is moving' the right way.

This cumulative unemployment which the prospective Treasurer in the Labour ranks, which provide the alternative government, has mentioned, is gainsaid not only by the figures that I was able to give to honorable members during the Budget debate but also by the figures which I now have as at the end of August. I shall give them in more detail in the normal way when we release our regular monthly survey report on Monday of next week. This, remember, is in what is normally not a very lively period of the year, because we have hardly yet emerged from the winter. These figures reveal, Mr. Chairman, that the number of applicants for employment dropped in August by 2,938 to the present figure of 62,975. In that month, in which registrations fell by the figure that I have given, vacancies for employment increased by 1,829, and the number of persons on unemployment benefit fell by 1,630. In the last week of which I have a record, the number on unemployment benefit declined by 1,015, and that fall has been reflected in every State.

So I am afraid that we have to disappoint honorable gentlemen opposite. About the last card that they had in the pack was their hope that unemployment would mount so rapidly in the middle of this year that they would be able to sail into office on the cry that another depression was on hand, although, as I remind them, in the real depression which developed during a period when Labour was unable to manage the affairs of this country, not 2 per cent., but up to 32 per cent., of the registered trade unionists of this country could not find employment.

The second matter that I turn to now, Sir, is that of housing. I refer in particular to the remarks made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) - the brash and egregious honorable member for Yarra! He chose to be critical, in a rather intelligentsia way, of honorable members on this side of the chamber. He affects to find me garrulous and platitudinous. I find him a very interesting subject for analysis myself. He has not been here very long, but that has not deterred him from attempting to constitute himself an authority on every subject before the Chair. There was a doctor in this place on the Labour side, but, flushed with his recent academic honours and knowing that the other doctor was not as popular with his supporters as he might be, he hoped that by talking often enough and volubly enough he would take a short, quick leap from the back bench to the front bench on the Opposition side of the chamber. I am afraid that, representing Yarra, he has felt it incumbent on him to behave in this Parliament like the babbling brook. But, Sir, the results have not been quite as effective as he hoped.

The honorable member chose to be critical about the Government's housing programme. As long as there is a family wanting a house, and unhoused, none of us can be complacent about the housing programme in this country. But at least, when we are attacked by honorable gentlemen opposite in political terms, it is fair to analyse what we have done and what they have done. As long as there are families wanting homes of their own - and there are undoubtedly some thousands of them at the present time - we must go on with our efforts and make the best provision that we can for them. But, on the facts, Sir, the Australian nation is unquestionably one of the best-housed nations in the civilized world, if not the best housed - and I make that statement advisedly.

An examination of the statistics relative to the last two censuses will indicate the improvement that has been taking place. At the census of 1954 there was a house for every 3.55 persons in Australia - and let us assume, for the purposes of this analysis that we can have .55 of a person. That, I repeat, Sir, is indicative of one of the best housing standards, in terms of rooms and houses available for individuals, to be found anywhere in the world, including the United States of America and the Scandinavian countries. That figure in 1954, Mr. Chairman, showed quite a marked improvement over the figure at the census of 1947, when there was one house to every 3.75 persons. So, over a period in which this Government was in office most of the time, and at a time when migrants were streaming into this country in tens of thousands, the percentage of occupancy improved in favour of the Australian population. In another sense, the situation has improved further.

Those honorable members who have visited other parts of the world will know that, in most of Western Europe, the people are housed, not in the single housing units that we regard as part of the Australian way of life, but in apartment houses. jammed one against the other. In this country, Mr. Chairman, not only are there houses providing the occupancy ratio that I have just mentioned, but between the census of 1947 and that of 1954 there was a dramatic improvement in the proportion of the people who either owned their own homes or were in the process of buying them. The 1947 census showed that 54.8 per cent, of the occupants of homes in Australia either owned their homes or were in the process of buying them. In 1954, 64.9 per cent, of the occupants of homes - a very remarkable increase - either owned their homes or were in the process of buying them on an instalment payment basis. That was four years ago, and undoubtedly the figures have improved since then, both in relation to room occupancy and to the proportion of those owning their homes. I would take a lot of convincing - there are no published statistics which would contend to the contrary in any of the United Nations publications, so far as I am aware - that any country in the civilized free world is in a better position than is Australia in respect of housing.

Let us look at the provision this Government has made compared with that made by our critics opposite when they were in office. In the last complete year of Labour's term - the financial year which ended on 30th June, 1949 - the Labour Government provided £14,492,000 for the States for housing. In this current year we are providing £35,810,000 for the States for the same purpose. But that is only part of the story! The Commonwealth finances the building and purchase of war service homes by ex-servicemen. In the period of about 31 years from the end of World War I. in 1918 to 1949- which included the last period of office of a Labour government - a total of 55,541 war service homes were built. In the nine years we have been in office a total of 111,639 war service homes have been provided under the scheme, which is about double in nine years the number provided in the previous 31 years.

I could go on at great length pointing to the reduction of the war-caused housing lag which has occurred during our term of office. I could point to the fact that this reduction has taken place despite a great influx of immigrants; but I think that I have said enough to show that, whatever may remain to be done, a very remarkable job has already been done. That job has been done not only by this Government, because we have merely provided the sinews in the form of finance, but also by the men and women working in the building and associated industries who have produced a housing record of which we, as Australians, may be justifiably proud.

The third matter is the very important topic raised by my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler). He produced to the committee figures showing the abnormally high incidence of industrial trouble in the coal-mining industry and on the waterfront. He went on to demonstrate that both of the major trade unions connected with these industries are under Communist control. I think that the truth of his statement will not be denied by any member of this Parliament. He went on to say that the Communists are able to retain their control of those unions because of the unity ticket technique which is now rampant in various unions and various sections of the industrial movement.

I want to take that story just a stage further, and bring it up to date, because the honorable gentleman was quoting from a document published by the Department of Labour and National Service which carried the figures up to, I think, the end of 1957. I should now like to give the committee the latest position as at the end of July this year - and this year, I am glad to say, has been comparatively quiet so far as industrial trouble generally is concerned. Last year, we lost fewer working days through strikes than were lost in any year since 1942. The loss in terms of each working man amounted to less than onetenth of 1 per cent, of working time. The performance in the first six months of this year has been very good. Working time lost in that period has been rather less than that lost in the corresponding period last year, and I sincerely hope that that trend will continue.

The significant thing shown by an analysis of the figures is that, of 304,900 working days lost through industrial disputes in the first six months of this year, no fewer than 223,000, or 73 per cent., were lost in those two sections of industry - the coal-mining and stevedoring fields. Yet employees in those two sections of industry constitute less than 2 per cent, of the total work force of the nation. Let me put that point again in another way: Less than 2 per cent, of the total of Australia's work force was responsible for more than 70 per cent, of the working time lost through industrial disputes in the first six months of this year. Both of the trade unions concerned are under strong Communist control.

In passing, let me point out that it is a tragic irony that the coal industry, which is in such a difficult plight in New South Wales at this time, and about which honorable members on both sides of the Parliament have been expressing their concern, has been responsible for more than 40 per cent, of the total working time lost in that period of six months, although its workers constitute only 1 per cent, of the total work force of the nation.

Mr Bird - But you have more coal production than you want.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - We have had a great deal of mechanization. The honorable gentleman is trying to drag a little red herring across the trail. If the honorable gentleman will analyse the Joint Coal Board's figures for coal production, and separate the figures for coal produced manually from those for coal produced mechanically, he will find that, whereas the overall output per man-hour has increased very appreciably the output of coal produced manually has hardly moved.

Mr Curtin - Who said that?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The Joint Coal Board, the representative body set up by the Labour Government of New South Wales and the Commonwealth Government under complementary legislation. That is the authority which is the source of what I am now telling the committee. It says that the output, per man-shift, of coal produced manually has hardly moved, whereas the output of coal produced by mechanization has been increased very considerably. And it is mechanization which will be the salvation of this industry.

The real point I want to establish - and this supports what was put forward by the honorable member for Mitchell - is that we have two of our most important industrial unions, the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia and the miners' federation, under Communist control. Together, these two trade unions embrace less than 2 per cent, of the work force, but their members are responsible for more than 70 per cent, of the working time lost through industrial trouble, and so are responsible for a great deal of industrial dislocation arising from interruptions to the supply of key products.

An interruption in the supply of coal is not these days so vital because, partly as a contribution to sustain employment in the coal industry, this Government has helped to finance the aggregation of a stockpile of coal of more than 2,000,000 tons, so we have some guarantee of continuity of coal supplies. But the position is different on the waterfront. If shipping can be held up for a day, that is a loss to the economy of this country that can never be recovered. It is for that very reason, of course, that the Communists have made the waterfront industry one of the most critical targets for their attack. It is because the industry is so crucial to the Australian economy that they have there this concentration of activity and strength. The lesson to be drawn from this fact is that the Communists could not survive in charge of these key unions if members of the Australian Labour party inside those unions voted, not for Communist candidates, but for either Australian Labour party candidates or some anti-Communist candidate who presented himself to them.

We all know that when the Communists submit themselves at an ordinary political election, almost invariably they lose their deposits. They cannot muster more than a small proportion of the votes that are cast at any such election in this country. But, because at industrial elections they are able to attract to themselves not merely Communist support, but also the support of many thousands of people who, at political elections, go along to the polling booth and cast a vote for an Australian Labour party candidate, they are able to remain in office. If honorable gentlemen opposite, instead of attacking this Government, were to attack the real enemies of this country and root them out of these key unions, that situation would not exist. It has become one of Australia's political tragedies that, instead of doing that, these honorable gentlemen themselves are so split that the Communists are able to sweep on from success to success.

Quite recently we tried to pin honorable members opposite on this issue. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), having been pushed into a corner, did a complete somersault on what he told us in April this year when he said that these matters were entirely for the unions themselves to resolve. Now he says quite firmly that no A.L.P. man can associate with a member of the Communist party. The federal executive of the A.L.P. tells us precisely the same thing.

Mr Webb - You have lost your election issue. That is all you are worrying about.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member will be surprised. We are not trying to magnify this into an election issue. It is you people who are making it an election issue. You could destroy it as an election issue to-morrow if the instruction of the federal executive was carried out to the letter in every A.L.P. branch in the country. It would be dead and buried, and everybody would be glad to see it dead and buried. But, of course, that is not your performance. The federal executive of the A.L.P. lays down this great ukase and the Leader of the Opposition finally stiffens himself and declares himself as being for it.

What has happened? We find that in the mighty industrial State of New South Wales the great weight of the machine was used and a couple of members of the Waterside Workers Federation were expelled. A couple of years ago another man was expelled, but he was smartly re-admitted. How soon after the next election will these two expelled members of the Waterside Workers Federation be re-admitted? We hear nothing about that. How far is this to proceed? I suggest that it will not proceed very far for the very good reason that, although the federal executive and the Leader of the Opposition may say these things, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. R. W. Holt) and the Victorian division of the A.L.P. do not say them. I have in my hand an official article from the Victorian division of the A.L.P. in which that division adopts wholeheartedly and without reservation the policy put forward by the honorable member for Darebin.

Mr Ward - What does it say?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - They say that it is a fundamental element of our democracy that people should be free to associate one with the other inside their unions. The honorable member for East Sydney agrees with that.

Mr Ward - I am not agreeing with anything.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The article to which I refer bears the caption " Labour speaks ". It was written by their official spokesman, and it appeared in an issue of the Melbourne " Herald " last week.

Mr Webb - Read it out.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Adermann

Order! Honorable members must allow the Minister to make his speech in his own way.

Mr Webb - Read it out.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! If the honorable member for Stirling disobeys the Chair again, I shall name him without further notice. He must obey the Chair when he is asked to do so.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It is not necessary for me to read out the whole article because, fortunately for honorable gentlemen opposite, it is much more conveniently available to them in the " Hansard " report of the speech of their colleague, the member for Darebin. The Victorian division adopts his speech. The article in question quotes the following passage in the speech of the honorable member for Darebin -

It is through this freedom that we enjoy parliamentary democracy, freedom of religious observance and freedom to join in the very many social activities that we as individuals prefer.

The article continues -

And he made the viewpoint of the trade union movement Quite clear when he said - " It is on this fundamental freedom of association for lawful purposes that the whole of the trade union movement rests".

Mr Clarey - What is wrong with that?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - You agree with that, do you? If you agree with that, you do not agree with the Leader of the Opposition, because he has said that any A.L.P. man who associates with a Communist on an industrial ticket in a trade union election commits an offence against the rules of the A.L.P. and should be expelled.

Mr Ward - There is nothing about tickets in what you read out.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I did read about tickets.

Mr Ward - You did not.

Mr Curtin - Read it again.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The article treads -

But this Liberal talk about " unity tickets " is more than a cheap election stunt.

Mr Ward - That is the first time you have mentioned it.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The article continues -

It is an attack on a fundamental principle of British democracy - the right of the individual to associate with anyone of his choice.

Mr Ward - Who said that?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - They said that in this article.

Mr Ward - Who said it?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - In other words, they maintain the position--

Mr Ward - Who is the " they "?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The official spokesman for the Australian Labour party in Victoria.

Mr Ward - There is no official spokesman

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The committee must come to order and allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Mr. Chairman,I know they will try to confuse this matter. They are so hopelessly divided on it themselves that they cannot tolerate it.

Mr J R FRASER - I rise to a point of order. What part of the Estimates is the Minister dealing with? Is he in order in referring to a previous debate in this chamber?

The CHAIRMAN - Order! A similar point of order was taken earlier in the day. I ruled then that such a course was in order.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I do not want to dwell on the matter. I know how painful it is to honorable gentlemen opposite.

Mr Ward - Who is the spokesman?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Who is the spokesman as between yourself and the honorable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr. Curtin)? We understand that you and the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith do not see eye to eye on this matter. Do you and the honorable member for Darebin see eye to eye on it? Where does the honorable mem ber for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) stand? Is he with the federal executive or is he with the Victorian division of the Australian Labour party on the issue of unity tickets?

I come back to the point I was trying to make a little earlier. I have used this illustration, Mr. Chairman, to establish the point. The fact is that throughout Australia communism, which earlier received severe setbacks, largely as a result of the work inside the unions of the industrial groupers, has now been able to establish itself more firmly in the industrial life of this country. It is able to do so because honorable gentlemen opposite are not merely expelling members of the industrial groups. While the Victorian division of the A.L.P. was talking about the right of a person to associate with anybody else as being a fundamental element in democracy, a certain Mr. O'Toole, a member of the A.L.P. who associated with some industrial groupers in a recent election in New South Wales, was very smartly expelled.

Mr Ward - That is not true.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member knows that it is true.

Mr Ward - He was expelled because he did not respond to a charge that was made against him.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I do not accept the honorable member's version, but let us put it at the highest point to which he can take it. He says, "We did not expel him; we merely charged him ".

Mr Ward - I did not say anything of the sort.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - There was no question about his right to associate freely with anybody that he wanted to.

Mr Ward - He was put out for not responding to a charge that was made against him.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member for East Sydney is out of order. He has not the floor at the moment.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) -I say, Mr. Chairman, that industrial trouble and disruption are greater than they need be in Australia because of the influence of Communist control. I say that Communist control has been permitted to grow because those who were fighting communism inside the trade union movement have either been expelled from the A.L.P. or have to spend so much of their time in fighting their former allies inside the Labour party that their efforts are nullified.

We have had the most recent expression of the current philosophy of honorable gentlemen opposite from the newly appointed senator from New South Wales when he offered us the counsel of despair. He said, in effect, " Look! If we did not associate with the Communists, they would take over the show completely, so let us associate with them and at least go along for the ride." That is not good enough for the people of Australia. It is because the people see a Labour party so. reft and torn on so many fundamental issues affecting the country at this stage of its history that they will refuse to turn to the Australian Labour party as an alternative government when they are given the opportunity later this year.

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