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Wednesday, 10 September 1958


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- All honorable members will agree with the latter part of the speech just made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). That part of his speech was presumably directed to the Estimates for the Department of National Development. That department's main function is the administration of the Snowy Mountains scheme, which illustrates the practicality of the Bradfield concept. It is typical of this Government that the only constructive things that it has done or maintained are those which were initiated by the government which preceded it, the Chifley Government. There is no doubt that if a Labour government had been returned to power at any time in the last eight years, something would have been done at least to investi gate, and probably to initiate, the Bradfield concept, to do for northern Queensland, the most exposed area of this continent, what has already been so largely and successfully done for the south-eastern corner of the continent by the Snowy Mountains scheme.

The first part of the honorable member's speech dealt with the affairs of the Labour party. I am unable to find that item in the Estimates. I shall therefore go back to the first speech from the Government side of the committee this evening, that of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). He is the exponent of that very arid and futile line of argument favoured in Government circles. It has two features. First, it is regarded as debating to make remarks about preceding speakers. The Minister made such personal comments about the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who preceded him in this debate. The second line of approach which is espoused by the right honorable gentleman is that of going far enough back in history to justify the shortcomings of this Government by saying that there were preceding governments which were worse still. For instance, if one refers to unemployment, he says, " Ah, but in 1949, at one time during the coal strike, there were almost as many people out of work, and for a couple of weeks there were more ". If that does not suffice, he goes back to the early 1930's and gives still further catastrophic figures, trusting that people will forget that in those times Labour's policy was frustrated by an irresponsible Commonwealth Bank Board, by a Liberal Senate, and by Liberal-minded State Premiers.

I must apologize now for having to be factual and statistical, and therefore dry, but let me deal with the first points to which the Minister referred - the employment situation in the country, the number of people in receipt of the unemployment benefit, the number of people in employment and the number of industrial disputes. First, let us look at the number of people in employment in Australia at the end of the last three financial years, that is, the three financial years which have occurred since the last general election.

Here let me point out that I shall be quoting from figures which are available to any member of the general public, in publications of the Commonwealth Statistician. I do not propose to resort - I suppose I could not, in any case - to those clandestine figures which the Minister for Labour and National Service says he will be uncovering next Monday, together with his interpretation. I shall rely, as members of the public and of this Parliament have to do, on figures which are authenticated by the Statistician. Therefore, I quote from the " Monthly Bulletin of Employment Statistics " for June, which arrived only last week. It shows that the number of males in private employment at the end of June, 1956, was 1,476,800, at the end of June, 1957, 1,475,200-1,600 fewer- and at the end of last June 1,472,100, or 3,100 fewer still.

It is not as if the Australian population is declining; it is not as if our work force is declining; in actual fact, the population of Australia goes up by over 200,000 a year, and of that number at least one-third are people who would normally be in employment if there was employment available.

I point out that at the end of each of the last three financial years the number of men in private employment has declined. There has been a very small increase in total employment in Australia. The total employment in Australia during those three years rose from 2,120,100 to 2,128,100, but that rise in employment was due entirely to the fact that there were more females in employment and there were more persons in employment in government services. But private employment in Australia is declining while the population is increasing!

Now let me refer to the number of people in receipt of the unemployment benefit. Here I quote from the " Monthly Review of Business Statistics " for June last, which we received the day before yesterday. It shows that at the end of June, 1956, there were, in the whole of Australia, 7,003 people in receipt of the unemployment benefit. It shows that at the end of June, 1957, that number had increased to 18.071 and that by the end of June last it had jumped to 29,418.

Dealing now with the question of industrial disputes, I do not go back to depression figures. I should think they are interesting as an historical exercise, but they do very little to show recent trends. I realize that this subject is arid in its turn, but since the Minister took up the time of the committee in dealing with it, let me scotch his argument forthwith. He pointed out that in 1949, the year of the coal strike, there were many people out of work. In that year, 1,333,990 working days were lost, and the amount lost in wages was £2,611,536. But in the following year, the first year of this Government's term of office, when the right honorable gentleman held the relevant portfolio for the whole time, the number of working days lost rose to 2,062,888 - a rise of one half - and the amount lost in wages increased to £4,166,418, which was actually a greater rise than one half because inflation was already well under way.

This argument about the number of days lost through strikes is just a smoke screen to cover up the Government's failure to tackle the problem which causes the greatest loss of working days and of wages in the community - industrial accidents. Five times as many days are lost, five times as much is lost in wages, and five times as much skill is wasted through industrial accidents as are lost through all the industrial disputes that occur from year to year.

This is not something that the Government can do nothing about. One has only to look at the appalling record of the Minister for Labour and National Service himself in the failure of his department to implement the International Labour Office conventions, of which over half still remain unratified, some of them of the early 1920's vintage. One has only to look at his failure to co-ordinate industrial conditions in the States. The Liberal States of Victoria and South Australia are notoriously laggard in improving industrial conditions and modernizing industrial inspections and processes. The Minister appoints committees to deal with these problems, but we never see the reports, and we never see the results. Instead we have all this futile argument and talk about the number of days which are lost in the stevedoring and mining industries, the great industries in which mechanization could carry out the jobs which men should no longer be required to do.

These two industries provide excellent examples of how greatly this Government fails in its administration. It fails whenever mechanization takes over in a port, as in Mackay, and it fails whenever mechanization takes over in a coal mine, as at Cessnock. Whenever that happens, the Government is caught flat-footed. It makes no provision for the establishment of other industries in those areas where miners and wharf labourers have their homes, where their children are going to school and where they are integrated in community life. The Government makes no provision for housing in alternative places, such as the south coast of New South Wales, with mines, or new industrial areas in South Australia or the outskirts of Sydney or Melbourne. It makes no extra provision for more houses or schools to be put into those districts for the accommodation of men who are displaced from employment or, as the Government calls it, released from employment by mechanization or re-organization. It never foresees trouble; it never plans for trouble; and when trouble does occur, the Government does nothing to correct the position.

I come now to the next subject to which the Minister referred - housing. This subject was introduced this afternoon by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Garfield Barwick). His speech showed very clearly how the most brilliant counsel can fail when he has not got a welldocumented and well-prepared brief. The honorable member for Parramatta went "back to the days before the war. I see, naturally of course, a smile on the face of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who is sitting at the table. The honorable member for Parramatta looks back to the primitive stage in Australia before we had the profitable forms, the exploiting forms of investment which this Government has made available for local and foreign investors here, and when people who wanted a steady investment put their money into housing, knowing that they would have a continuing asset which would return them a steady income.

Nobody will invest in housing now because inflation has meant that one investing in housing has not a steady asset and "because, of course, this Government has made it possible for everybody to exploit industrial shares and particularly shares in credit companies with so very much more profit to themselves. You can conceal your profit when you are manufacturing something, but you cannot conceal your exploitation if you are increasing the rent every quarter in accordance with the inflation which has occurred in the previous quarter. On the subject of housing, we are always given this arid comparison of the various States. Dealing with the housing agreement of 1956, under which the State housing commissions and trusts operate, let me point out that in this financial year every State housing commission and every State housing trust will receive less money for the construction of houses - for sale or for rental - than in any previous year that this Government has been in office.

Under the 1945 housing agreement the States could get from this Parliament all the money which they could spend on housing commission or trust houses. The amounts needed were found immediately and the momentum was continually on the increase. But under this Government the amounts levelled out and now they are declining. This year, as the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley) recently told us, £25,067,000 will be available for State housing commissions and trusts to build commission and trust dwellings. Last year £26,528,000 was available.


Mr Osborne - What did the building societies get?


Mr WHITLAM - They will get 30 per cent, this year, as against 20 per cent, last year. The building societies are getting less from non-governmental sources than at any time since the war. This diversion of housing commission funds to building societies is an attempt to cover up the failure of this Government to compel banks and insurance companies - as it can under the Constitution - to make money available to building societies or directly to homebuilders or home-purchasers, whether they be those who have come to this country or those who have always lived here. There is less money available now for housing commission dwellings than in any previous year.

This afternoon the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), in a very expansive fashion, said that South Australia had erected more housing commission dwellings than had New South Wales. He quoted no authority and he quoted no figures. There is no such authority and there are no such figures. I will refute his statements from a publication of the Department of National Development, whose estimates we are discussing. It gives the housing statistics up to 30th June this year.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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