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Thursday, 26 February 1959

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) . - Firstly, I feel that I should apologize for the consternation that I caused in this House last night by moving the adjournment. The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bowden) dealt very effectively with my motion, and the House was able to carry on with its business as usual. I am afraid that I was moved to act as I did because of the flights of fancy and imagination of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). I thought that I had been elevated to the responsible position of mover of the adjournment, but the Deputy Speaker soon brought me back !o the private ranks.

Before I deal with the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General, I want to offer my congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, on being elevated once again to your very high and noble office. I know that the tolerant and impartial manner in which you handled debates in this House in the past will be exhibited in the future with credit to yourself and to this House of Representatives. I also congratulate the new members of this House for the capable manner in which they delivered their maiden speeches. Now that they have undergone that ordeal, they will be able to settle down to the business of this House and the business of their electorates. I am sure that they will prove themselves to be capable representatives, and will serve this House and the nation with distinction.

In dealing with His Excellency's Speech I think it is probably true to say that the most salient point that has emerged from the Speech is the fact that the Government intends to push on with the banking legislation with undue haste. So great is the haste to push ahead with this legislation that one can almost hear the demands of the big banking monopolies ringing through the precincts of this House, exhorting the Government to get on with the legislation so that the avaricious demands of the banks may be satisfied. It is amazing that this legislation should be pushed ahead so quickly when so many other national problems cry out for attention, problems that are, in my view, much more important than any change in our banking legislation. One of those problems is unemployment. Another problem, which is causing much distress to the masses in this country, is the cost of living. The duplication of our transport services must be costing the taxpayers millions of pounds. Shipping and overseas trade are problems that need urgent attention, and the plight of the pensioners is another matter that requires adjustment In his Speech His Excellency said that social services would be kept under constant review. Constant review is poor consolation to the pensioners who are forced to endure a miserable existence on the pittance granted to them by this Government. They live in slums and small rooms because they have not enough money to provide better quarters for themselves.

Another matter of vital importance to the community is housing. Housing could have received more prominence in the Governor-General's Speech than it did. The home building industry is at a very low ebb in Australia to-day. I know that the building industry in general is flourishing because, as we are all aware, great office blocks are being built and large industrial establishments erected. But that is not so in the case of housing. The money that this Government says it is advancing for housing and for local government and semi-government purposes is not finding its way into those channels at all. It is interesting to note what Dr. Coombs said in his recent R. C. Mills memorial lecture. He said -

Less money proportionately is passing through institutions like savings banks, banks, and assurance houses, which are traditionally lenders to governments, semi-government and local authorities, housing societies, schools, and churches, who offer safety but lower returns.

In other words, the people who ordinarily provide money for such things as housing and local government undertakings are not prepared to lend to those authorities. Although Dr. Coombs spoke about safety and lower returns, investors are prepared to disregard safety for the sake of high interest rates. Consequently, they are investing in hire purchase. The Government claims that it is overcoming the great housing shortage but it is alarming to see that the number of homes commenced in the December quarter of last year showed the biggest drop for seven years. That is an indication that money is not being used for home building. I know that claims are made that the number of homes built last year was the highest since 1955. but the fact that the number of homes commenced during the December quarter dropped to the lowest figure for seven years shows that the money available for housing has been absorbed, and that those people who wanted to build homes during the December quarter were unable to obtain the necessary finance.

Professor Copland's statement in June last year has never been challenged. One would have thought that his remarks would have led the Government to try to meet the situation and improve on its allocation of money for housing because of to-day's desperate conditions. The Governor-General referred to the £80,000,000 that the Government intends to make available for housing, but I doubt whether that money will ever find its way into housing channels, because cooperatives cannot get money. I could establish two co-operative building societies in my electorate if it were possible to get the £100,000 that is needed for the purpose. It is practically impossible to get the money. Therefore, people who desire homes have to battle along under all sorts of conditions which are not a credit to the nation. The Governor-General said that this Government encourages home ownership. My party encourages home ownership too, but what concerns us greatly is the increasingly acute shortage of homes for rental. Private enterprise is not prepared to act. It is prepared to build homes for sale but is not interested in building homes for rental.

That brings me to a discussion that I had with an official of the Victorian Housing Commission, who informed me that because of the reduction which this Government made in the financial allocations to that State, the commission had to cut its housing programme by one-half, from a round figure of 4,000 homes to 2,000. The demand is so great and increasing so much that the commission, finding it absolutely impossible to meet, is falling further behind, day by day. To make matters worse, the rate of evictions in Melbourne and elsewhere throughout Victoria is so high that it is impossible to house also those persons evicted. This official told me that many people who are evicted from homes had to live in all sorts of wretched conditions which would not exist if adequate money was made available to enable State housing authorities to meet the demands that this problem makes upon them.

I had occasion to take up a case in Maribyrnong, in my own electorate. A man, wife and four children - there are only three children now, unfortunately - are living in what is no more than a fowl shed, a galvanized iron structure with a ceiling height of about 7 feet, because they cannot obtain other quarters. I have taken this matter up with the housing commission. The most unfortunate and tragic aspect of the circumstances of this family is that during the heatwave they lost their youngest child because of the conditions under which they had to live.

The housing position has a great bearing on unemployment figures. It is true that when the home-building industry is flat one always finds a great pool of unemployed. It is rather a contradiction for Commonwealth Ministers to say that everything is rosy and to talk about " Australia unlimited ", when one knows that there are about 82,000 people unemployed in Australia. It is quite wrong to talk about Australia bursting at the seams with prosperity. I do not know whether any Ministers or other Government supporters find, as I do, men standing on their verandahs night after night asking for work to be found for them. Those are the conditions prevailing in many of the big industrial areas. I represent one of the biggest industrial areas in Australia, and I know that to be true. I have this experience night after night, and the most tragic aspect is that men aged 45 years say that they cannot get a job because they are told that they are too old and therefore not wanted. Is this a good advertisement for Australia, with all the prosperity that exists and the development that we know is proceeding about us? Has this Government made any effort to find the cause of this unemployment? I feel sure that the Government is not interested in it, because it has been said in houses of parliament overseas that to keep the workers in subjection we must create a pool of unemployed - a pool of misery. Is this the policy of the Government? Is this the reason why unemployment is increasing in this nation at the rate of 17,000 annually? Is this the reason why we have nearly 82,000 persons unemployed? If it is, I say it is to the standing discredit of this Government. Unemployment allied with lack of housing is the greatest social scourge that we have, and before Australia can talk about "Australia unlimited " this problem must be overcome.

I noticed with some concern the reference in the Governor-General's Speech to the trouble on the coal-fields. A new word, " re-employment ", has been used in relation to the unfortunate miners. I hope that the same word will be used in relation to the 82,000 persons who want to be reemployed. During this debate we heard the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) give a very fine address on scientific developments in medicine. For those who understood it, it was probably very informative and interesting. I give him great credit for being able to inform the House of all that is going on in the health laboratories with which he is acquainted; but he could have made reference to another great scientific development that is causing great distress among many people and is probably the primary cause of most of the unemployment. I refer to automation.

I was very disappointed to find that the Governor-General's Speech contained no mention of what the Government intends to do to try to offset the effects of automation. Mechanization was stated to be the cause of the trouble on the coal-fields. The position boils down to the fact that the reason for the dismissal of these coal miners is the introduction of automation. One reads in the newspapers that it is quite possible that because of automation the Public Service will be cut down considerably. It is said that some 10,000 persons may be dismissed. Will the Government just sit still, knowing that this may take place, and do nothing about it, or will it try to open new fields of employment for these people? I feel that this matter is worthy of attention. The well-being of this country demands that when such developments take place action shall be taken to absorb displaced people into other industries in order that they will not be thrown amongst the 82,000 persons already unemployed. No mention has been made of the problems of primary and secondary education. That subject seems to be studiously avoided.

I want to refer to local government economy and to some questions which were asked of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and the answers that he gave to them. I direct attention also to the statement that was made by Dr.. Coombs. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) asked the Treasurer questions concerning finance for focal government authorities and he referred to articles that had appeared in the press to the effect that £4,000,000 was to be made available to such authorities. The honorable member asked the Treasurer whether lie knew where the municipalities could obtain some of this money, and the right honorable gentleman replied that he did not know. In my opinion, this is just a gigantic hoax. The Premier of Victoria, Mr, Bolte, spilled the beans because he knows what the position is. He knows that municipal and shire councils and semigovernment authorities cannot get money. As Dr. Coombs has said, all the money is being invested in hire purchase. When authorities can offer only lower interest rates, it is almost impossible for them to get money.

Commenting on this matter, Mr. Bolte is reported in the press to have said -

Local Government authorities with the highest priority would be notified soon of an increase in loan borrowing powers. Those authorities would have to give assurances that they could borrow the money.

They would have to give assurances. Mr. Bolte knows that it is practically impossible for them to borrow money. The Commonwealth Government threw out the bait. It said that it would allow semi-government authorities to borrow £4,000,000. It wanted those authorities to relieve the Commonwealth of its responsibilities to the unemployed. A statement to that effect was published in the press as follows: -

The Commonwealth made its proposal because of the increase of 17,223 registered unemployed in January, to take the unemployed figure to 81,901.

The Loan Council has agreed that New South Wales local government authorities should be allowed to borrow the extra £2,000,000 because of the unemployment problem in that State.

I hope- that local government authorities in New South Wales can borrow the £2.000,000 they need so that they can relieve unemployment in that State; but I am sure from my own experience that the focal government authorities in Victoria will find it impossible to borrow any extra money. They could not get it under the last loan' schedule and they will not be able to get it under the current one. The Com monwealth Government is putting- a gigantic hoax over the people and is passing off its- responsibilities for unemployment to local government authorities. The fact is that such authorities are loaded already with too many responsibilities that rightly belong to this Government.

I can give an outline of some of the difficulties that are being- experienced' by State, semi-government and local government authorities. The honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) referred to the Glenbawn Dam. He said that in 1946 when it was started, it was to cost £1,500,000, but its final cost, including enlargement of the originally proposed dam, had been £14,600,000. The Government of New South Wales cannot be blamed for that. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works had to build a dam on the Upper Yarra in 1950. The estimate was £7,800,000. The capacity was increased in. 1951 and the estimate rose to £8,600,000. The total cost was £14,050,000 when it was finished in August, 1957. Between 1950 and 1956, the cost index was doubled and, therefore, the estimate was doubled. That was due to the fact that this Government removed price controls. Therefore, those who planned these projects were at the mercy of those who had the materials. Again, the money was not available and they had to stretch it out. On the Upper Yarra project, the shifts had to be reduced and, consequently, costs rose.

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