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Tuesday, 24 February 1959


Mr JONES (Newcastle) .- Mr. Speaker,may I, first, take the opportunity of congratulating you, and the Chairman of Committees, on your elections, unopposed, to the positions which you hold in this House. I am sure that all honorable members will get a fair go from you and an opportunity to put their cases.

I also take the opportunity to say how proud I am to represent the Newcastle electorate, which has been held by Labour ever since federation, when a member of the Watkins family was returned as the member. He came from the New South Wales Parliament, and ultimately he was succeeded in this House by his son. I am very pleased and proud to represent Newcastle, and I hope that I will be able to give good service to the people of Newcastle. Newcastle is one of the most important cities in Australia; as a city it has everything that could be desired. It has a well-balanced economy, being the centre of a large steel industry. It is also a large wool-selling centre, and it might be called the gateway to the Hunter Valley, which is one of the richest valleys in this country. One cannot help but be proud to have the privilege of representing such a seat as Newcastle and I am happy to associate myself with the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), who also represent electorates in the same area.

When I was listening to the GovernorGeneral's Speech I was astounded that the Government, which has held office for more than nine years, could not put forward one really constructive thought as to how best to overcome the problems that beset Australia to-day. Those problems include ever-growing unemployment, housing, and the state of the shipbuilding industry. What does the Government propose to do for pensioners? This subject was very ably dealt with by the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Clay). If one had time one could find many faults with His Excellency's Speech, but unfortunately one's time is limited. Therefore, I propose to deal with some matters that concern my electorate in particular.

I propose to deal with the effects of mechanization on the coal industry and workers in the Newcastle district. I listened with interest to the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) who said that in discussion with the people of Cessnock he formed the opinion that they were concerned about the calamity howlers, those people who were talking about Cessnock becoming a ghost town. I do not know to whom the honorable member was talking. He must have been talking to the coal-owners or members of the Liberal party. He certainly was not talking to members of the working class, who are now on the dole and are forced to travel long distances from their homes, up to 32 miles, in order to obtain relief work. I suggest that the honorable member was somewhat like the little boy whistling in the dark, hoping that he would fool some one with his claim that the people of Cessnock were concerned about the calamity howlers. The honorable member should talk to the Mayor of Cessnock and some of the aldermen, and to the business people who are concerned with the growing unemployment resulting from mechanization in the coal industry. The honorable member said that the people of Cessnock had nothing to worry about because they had a gas works in the town. But this Government did nothing about giving them a gas works. The people of Cessnock can thank the New South Wales Government for that. They can thank the New South Wales Government for providing the finance and the planning to erect a mental hospital there, which will provide employment not only in the building of the hospital but also in its staffing. The people of Cessnock have nothing for which to thank this Government, led by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).

It is important to look very closely at the effects of mechanization in the coal industry. I propose to cite a few figures so that honorable members will be aware of what is taking place. In 1927, there were 24,483 men employed in the industry, producing 11,126,000 tons of coal a year. In 1958, in New South Wales, 14,124 men produced more than 15,000,000 tons of coal. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) had the audacity to say at a Chamber of Commerce dinner in Newcastle last year that there was no crisis in the coal industry, that the coal industry was producing more coal with less labour. It is high time that the Government tried to absorb the surplus labour in the coal industry by providing employment for it, rather than expect unemployed coal-miners to seek relief work, such as road making or water board projects, the finance for which is being provided in the main by the New South Wales Government. The layoff in the industry has not finished. So far this year five pits have closed down and 787 men have lost their jobs. But I think that many more men will lose their jobs. Yesterday, Abermain No. 2 mine re-opened and took on another 80 men. Previously, that section of Abermain colliery employed 300 men. Now that it is fully mechanized, 120 men are employed. What will happen to the other 180? That is a typical example of what takes place when mechanization is introduced into the industry. Is any move being made by any one to do something about it? The position is that now that Abermain No. 2 has re-opened, another contract pit will close, because only a certain amount of coal can be consumed in any year. The Labour party, and the trade union movement, are not opposed to mechanization. We support it, because we believe that mechanization must certainly come. But we of the working class movement demand our right to share in the proceeds. Extra benefits must be given to workers in industry, such as additional long service leave, additional annual leave, and a shorter working week. Those things must flow from mechanization. That is why wc do not oppose it. We demand our share of it. It should not be a one-way ticket, with the employing class reaping all the benefits of mechanization.

I should just like to make some brief reference to a statement made, or alleged to have been made, by the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) at the recent summer school of the Australian Institute of Political Science in relation to trade unions breaking away from the Australian Labour party, and also to his statement at the opening of the Arbitration Court building in Melbourne that there has to be arbitration all the way. This I interpreted to mean that the Arbitration Court was there to protect the workers from themselves and to prevent them from using their organized industrial strength to improve their standard of living and to achieve those things about which I spoke earlier, increased leave and a shorter working week. Let us see what is the attitude of the coal owners. We are asked why we cannot get greater co-operation from the trade unions and from the men on the job. One does not wonder why hatred exists between the miners and the owners when one sees the way that the owners have treated the miners like dogs over the years. At a meeting of the re-employment committee on the 13th of this month, the owners' representative was asked the position with regard to any further laying off of men in the industry. He said that no intended dismissals were known but that deferred dismissals included ten from Aberdare Central colliery in a fortnight, and nineteen from Aberdare Extended colliery in from three to five weeks. He did not know anything about any further dismissals. What was the position next day, as shown by newspaper reports? The headlines read, " Another pit in north to close ". These were the fellows who did not know anything about it! Of course they knew, but they were not prepared to be fair dinkum and to treat the trade union movement as an equal. They wanted to treat it as they had treated it in the past, ignoring it, and giving only as much information as they liked to give. Those are the conditions that exist.

I suggest that the Attorney-General should have a look at his aims, which are only to try to break down the unity within the trade union movement and to sever the connexions that have been in existence since the trade union movement created the party of which I am proud to be a member, the Australian Labour party. That has been the policy and the objective of the Liberal party and of the other anti-Labour-class parties that have been in existence over the years. We have never changed our name, but time and time again we have seen them change their name - the United Australia party, the Democratic party, the Nationalist party, and the Liberal party. They are still anti-Labour parties whose one objective is the furtherance of the policy that those who have it should get a bit more.

We should also have a look at industry as a whole and at what this Government is doing to overcome its problems. A committee was appointed to investigate the possibilities of a coal-based chemical and liquid fuel industry. I have a copy of its report, but I do not propose to weary the House by reading the whole of the recommendations. Anybody who wants to read them may find them at page 13 of the report. On this committee the Commonwealth was represented by officers whose names are listed. The committee members were not members of the Australian Labour party. In fact, I think the only one who was a member was the Minister for Mines in the New South Wales Government. Hon. I. B. Simpson. The recommendations which were made were, in my opinion, completely sabotaged by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The way that he played around with the matter - I shall not spend a great deal of time on it - makes me think that sabotage was going on because this Government was aware of the proposal to establish a petro-chemical plant in Victoria, involving the investment in this country of additional foreign capital, with additional Australian money going overseas in profits from time to time. The Government was fully aware of what was taking place and therefore was prepared to sabotage this inquiry, which aimed at the use of Australian materials with Australian labour, to produce a product for consumption in Australia. The talk by this Government during the recent election campaign of " Australia unlimited " is just a lot of hooey put out to fool the people. The Government is continually pulling the wool over the people's eyes, so that it is elected on catch-cries and not realities.

I am very pleased to hear new honourable members opposite criticise the Government, but they will do it for only a short time, because the Ministers on the front bench will soon roll them into line. These new members will accept their dictates, in the same way as have other new members who have come here from time to time, but it was refreshing to listen to their comments and to their criticism of the Government.

I feel that some solution can be put forward in regard to this problem of the surplus of labour on the coal-fields. I have not time to cite all of the figures, but the number of unemployed in Newcastle today is the greatest since the outbreak of war, or since the Menzies Government collapsed and went out of office in 1942 and Labour took over to provide full employment. The number of unemployed in the NewcastleMaitlandCessnock district, about 2.087, is the highest since that time, so the Government has something to be proud of! What is the solution? If the Government had a solution, it would have been put forward much sooner than this. I suggest that there should be a decentralization of industry, such as members of the Australian Country party have talked about, but about which they have done nothing. Whether these industries be in Western Australia, South Australia. Victoria, Queensland, or New South Wales, they m"st be removed from the capital cities. There are only two ways of doing it. The first is by means of a socialized economy, where industry is placed in those places where it can do the greatest Food for the greatest number of people. The second is by an extension of the system of granting tax concessions according to zones. At the present time we have a zone A and a zone B. By granting tax concessions, we can attract industry for establishment in country districts. That is a matter which can be discussed at a later stage when we have more time.

One other matter which I should like to bring forward is in relation to housing. I shall not repeat those things that were said by the honourable member for Bendigo and other speakers, but I feel that I should bring to the attention of the House just what the policy of this Government has achieved. The Government has created financial restrictions, allegedly to keep down inflation in the building industry. I shall tell the House what the result has been in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie areas. I took out a few figures with the assistance of people in the two councils in the district. The Government has caused the building of dolls' houses. Have honourable members opposite any idea of their sizes? They vary from fourandahalf squares to five-and-three-quarter squares. In these houses, the average size of the first bedroom is 11 feet by 12 feet, the second bedroom, 9 feet by 10 feet, the living-kitchen-dining room, 16 feet by 13 feet, bathroom, 8 feet by 5 feet, and detached laundry, 7 feet by 5 feet, in all amounting to five-and-three-quarter squares.

These people have not the money to enable them to go to a bank or a co-operative building society with sufficient deposit to raise the finance they need to build a decent home to Australian standards. They have to go to these people and accept from them loans on which they pay 9 to 10 per cent, interest under the same conditions as hire purchase. That rate of 9 to 10 per cent, continues from the time they take the loan up until they pay it off. That is what is taking place as a result of this Government's financial policy.

In Newcastle during 1958, of 717 homes built, 107 were the doll's house type to which I have referred. The position is even worse at Lake Macquarie where 250 of them were built in 1958. Between 1954 and 1959, 451 of these dolls' houses were built because this Government would not make adequate funds available to enable people to build decent homes. Worse still is the fact that the Government has put those people into the hands of money lenders and they have to pay 9 to 10 per cent, interest on the same basis as hire purchase. I ask the Government to examine the situation and to try to make money available so that homes of adequate size can be built. The homes to which I have referred are cheap and nasty. They come just within the absolute minimum of local government ordinances. The builders could not get them smaller if they tried.

I suggest also that the Government review the recent housing agreement with the States under which tenants have to pay the full economic rental. Pensioners are finding it difficult to pay those rentals which have been imposed under the new agreement. Under the 1945 agreement, they could pay one-fifth of their income; now they have to pay the full economic rental. These difficulties apply also to men who are unemployed or who are receiving sickness benefit.

If time permitted, I should like to have spoken also about the failure of this Government to do something positive about shipbuilding. I should like to refer also to its failure to provide Newcastle with an adequate airport or to do something about the issue of a licence for television in the Newcastle district. Many important matters have been placed before this Government from time to time and should be considered seriously.

In the brief time left to me I should like to comment on a matter to which a preceding speaker referred, that is the inability of timber companies to get timber from Tasmania to the mainland because timber can be brought from Malaya to Australia more cheaply. It is high time that we closely examined the true situation concerning wages and conditions on ships which fly a flag of convenience. In 1958, of 9,269,983 tons of shipping that was built, 1,977,228 tons was registered in Liberia and Panama. Neither of those countries built one ton of shipping, yet last year 1,977,228 tons of shipping was registered under the flags of those countries simply in order to be able to employ cheap labour and undercut Australian seamen. One of the results is to be seen in Newcastle where there are 100 unemployed seamen on the union's books. In Australia to-day, thirteen ships of the Australian National Line are tied up because there is no cargo for them. Australia should follow the example of the United States of America. The Americans insist that 50 per cent, of their aid to other countries must be carried on ships owned and manned by Americans. We should demand that 50 per cent, of goods coming into and going out of Australia should be carried on ships flying the Australian flag and paying Australian wages and observing Australian conditions.

I should like to refer also to shipbuilding. At present, the Newcastle State dockyards have to lay off labour because this Government has not been able to make up its mind in allocating orders fairly or quickly enough so that the dockyards can plan their work. The dockyard management could not get going on several jobs recently because the plans were not in order. These matters are the responsibility of this Government, and they merit close scrutiny. I shall refer to them from time to time in this House and try to wake the Government up to what is really happening. I hope that the Government supporters will not continue to sit back like tired, lazy men, as they were referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his last policy speech.







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