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Wednesday, 10 September 1958


Mr KEARNEY (Cunningham) .- We have just heard from the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Garfield Barwick) - a gilded fledgling in this chamber - a most amazing statement. We expect that the honorable gentleman probably will find his way rapidly to the front bench if this Government remains in office, and accordingly we have found some of his statements astounding. He suggested that the State governments who are participating in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement were building sub-standard homes. That is an absolute absurdity. The houses that are being constructed by the New South Wales Housing Commission compare in quality and in price with those of corresponding standard which are being constructed by private enterprise. What is more to the point, they are available on a more equitable basis to those who need homes.

The honorable member for Parramatta must remember that in New South Wales, the Labour Government has constructed 49,000 homes, of which 5,000 have been purchased by the occupants. That has been made possible by the finance that has been available under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, restricted though it is. The important fact is obviously that we have not yet approached the point where we are overtaking the housing lag.


Mr Hulme - It has been overtaken in New South Wales.


Mr KEARNEY - Not at all. In my electorate, which is only a small portion of

Australia, 1,500 homes are needed now. Throughout the eastern coastal areas of Australia where the population is densest, people are living in all manner of substandard conditions because this Government has not provided the finance that is required to build homes. It is futile to suggest that, in the near future, when materials and man-power become available, we will be able to accelerate construction. We have all the materials now that we need to build homes. We have all the skilled men we need, but many of them are unemployed or are working at jobs where their skill is not being used. The only missing ingredient is finance.

I recommend the honorable member for Parramatta to address his mind in the councils of this Government to the fact that, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, less money will be available this year from the amount provided by this Government for the construction of homes for letting and selling than ever before. The Government is slipping; it is retarding the whole system of home construction which was initiated by the Labour government under the original housing agreement.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Is the honorable member referring to the money that is provided for housing by this Government?


Mr KEARNEY - Yes.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Then his statement is completely wrong.


Mr KEARNEY - The Minister for Labour and National Service will have an opportunity to speak on this matter later. At present, the Victorian Housing Commission has 17,000 outstanding applications for homes. Applications in New South Wales for emergency accommodation - that is, for anything other than a tent or living under the most adverse circumstances - total 870. That is a deplorable position in this rich young country. Our wealth is not being shared properly among those who need it. There is no justification for denying any person - Australian or new Australian - the right to a home. The provision of a home should flow naturally from Government policy whether it is for the young Australian couple who are entering matrimony or immigrants who are arriving in this country. They should not be forced to remain in hostels for six or seven years. In my district there are couples who have been waiting that length of time.

How can a man with eight children or less and taking home £29 a fortnight get a home? It is impossible, and the position will remain unchanged unless the Commonwealth Government provides finance more generously.

If we are to have a continuation of this retrograde thinking of the honorable member for Parramatta in propounding this Government's policies for the future, it is high time for the people of Parramatta, in particular, to know about it, and for the people of Australia to be conscious of the fact that he speaks, apparently, with some degree of authority, even though that may be self-assumed.

I should like to make a reference to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, that mammoth contribution to Australia's development, which reflects great credit upon the administrations that are and have been concerned with its day-to-day development, and also upon the leadership of the Commissioner, Sir William Hudson. There is no need for me to traverse in any way the history of the undertaking or the great amount of work that has been performed, but the point that obtrudes itself - and I recommend it to the responsible Minister - is that planning should be commenced now for the future employment of the great staff of skilled personnel that has been built up. After all is said and done, Australia needs many more such schemes as the Snowy scheme, though probably not as great in extent and scope. We need a continuation of that pattern of work in many, many parts of Australia. The long-range policy of any government in control of this country should be to prevent a drop of fresh water from running out of Australia into any ocean. We should conserve the lot.

That is a point which I suggest should be looked at when determining the future activity of this authority. This mammoth work could well finish in seven or eight years and the organization could well dry up unless there is advanced planning to determine what will happen to this great assembly of mechanical, administrative, and engineering skill, which is now producing such wonderful results. I recommend that thought particularly to. the Government.

We need further storage dams in the Snowy area as a supplement to the existing scheme, in order to allow the retention of all the water possible and its dispersal to where it is needed.

There is another aspect which will be of importance to this Government or to another government in five, eight or ten years. The Snowy Mountains Authority has been the employer of a great number of people, particularly new Australians. It has been a natural starting point for them, and they have made a great, positive and lasting contribution to this huge constructional activity. We should persist in overall policies to ensure that this scheme and similar schemes are maintained in order to provide sources of work for the great numbers of people entering this country.

I should like to touch upon another aspect of the Snowy Mountains activities, in a general sense. My remarks are not directed to the authority more than to private contractors. Naturally great engineering works of this character are not carried out without a high accident rate amongst the workers. There has been a high accident rate in this undertaking. On that point, I refer to Part I. of the eighth annual report of the authority. Unfortunately, whilst the report gives the accident rate in percentages, it does not indicate to the public how many accidents have occurred in this great constructional activity, and how many of them have been fatal. That point should be made clear.

The work, despite its advanced nature, is still in certain respects most dangerous. Rigging and tunnelling are always highly dangerous occupations. It was pleasing to me, as a recent visitor to the works, to learn that an officer of the New South Wales Department of Labour is to be permanently located on the Snowy to exercise supervision over mechanical devices, including power moving equipment, rigging, cableways and other things of that character. Whilst on this point, I want to pay a tribute to the men who worked in the bowels of the earth there, under the most adverse and primitive conditions in the early stages. T can speak on this matter with authority, as I was organizing for a trade union - the Australian Workers Union - on the Snowy in 1949, when the men were living in tents in that snow bound, frozen country, without any amenities. They had to struggle, and conditions were most arduous, although their rates of pay were no different from those of men on similar construction work in the environs of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. These men made a great contribution and enabled the ideas of the great engineering brains to be carried out. Over the years, a number of men have made the supreme sacrifice, and, unfortunately, it is fair to assume that further lives will be lost. One life was lost one day last week, as I was leaving the Snowy, when a man was crushed in a tunnel way. I suggest that the Minister concerned should take up with the authority the question of erecting a monument in the Snowy Mountains to the workers who have lost their lives or suffered major injuries in the service of this great undertaking.

I also wish to touch upon an important aspect of the responsibilities of the Department of Labour and National Service, in relation to employment. Despite what the Minister has said from time to time, and what Government supporters have echoed, unemployment in Australia continues to give rise to widespread anxiety. In August of last year, the Minister said that the Government was justifiably proud of its record on employment. In July, 1957, the official figures showed that 53,000 people were registered as unemployed and that 20,291 were receiving unemployment benefit, in other words, the dole. Twelve months later, in July, 1958, the numbers had jumped to 65,913 registered as unemployed and 29,908 receiving unemployment benefit. There was an increase in twelve months of over 12,000 in unemployed registrations and 9,617 in those who were dependent for their Sunday dinners and for everything they get out of life on the meagre unemployment allowance. If any person can say that he is justifiably proud of that record, something is fundamentally wrong with his mental apparatus, and he is not entitled to be in a position of power in this country at any time or under any guise.

The situation is serious. The Minister, in his news releases, which are cloaked, smooth statements, talks about percentages. That is all tommy rot. Let us get down to essentials. It is not a question of whether the figure is 1.7 per cent, or 2.1 per cent. The fact facing business men and people engaged in every form of commercial activity is that we have in this country to-day 60,000 to 70,000 people who are not receiving the means to purchase the goods they need, the purchase of which would permit our economy to flow easily. We have a condition which is abhorrent to any decentminded person. The Government carries the responsibility for promoting a plan for the absorption of these people and for putting an end to this condition. What has it done? Nothing! What plan has been propounded, or what has the Government in mind to do? Nothing! What is the position on the coal-fields?


Mr Anderson - Read the Budget and understand.


Mr KEARNEY - The Budget does not mean a thing in relation to this question. lt does not contribute one extra job. In six months' time the honorable member will be eating those words. In J une of next year he will recognize that in his electorate there is a greater number of unemployed than there is to-day. I hope that the people recognize before 22nd November that that will happen. These conditions must be remedied, and the responsibility for doing it is in the hands of the Government. The Minister admitted yesterday that there are several thousands of men on the northern coal-fields out of work. There are about 150 vacancies on the south coast for miners, but we cannot bring the men and the jobs together. What is the missing factor? There are no homes in the south to' enable the northern miners to take up those jobs. That, 1 suggest, should be a matter of the utmost concern to the Minister for Labour and National Service, and it is a matter upon which the honorable member for Parramatta should browse and ruminate. Men want to go to the south coast. We know that jobs are available on the coalfields there, but the men cannot go to them. That is the position, and apparently the Government has no intention of doing anything about it. To that extent the Government has lamentably failed.







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