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Wednesday, 17 May 1972
Page: 2680

Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - We are now debating the motion for the second reading of the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1971-72, to which the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) has moved an amendment as follows:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not opposing the second reading of the Bill, the House is of opinion that a Parliamentary select committee should be appointed to investigate and report to the Parliament on the closing down of particular sections of industry and consequent loss of employment'.

The previous speaker referred principally to one industry, the wool industry, developed, by virtue of its nature, solely in country areas. That industry employs many thousands of people and contributes to the employment of many thousands more. The wool industry has had problems developing within it for at least 10 years and the deterioration in its stability has been progressive and steady. About 12 months ago the situation was reached where the price paid for wool was the same as was paid in 1946-47, despite prices generally and wages having increased by a factor of two or three in that period. The honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) referred to the setting up of committees and he said he thought them unnecessary because men ought to be able to arrive at the decisions required and necessary for the development of our country.

Obviously this is the thing that is lacking most in the present Government. It is the factor that has contributed to the marked increase in prices in the last 12 months and the marked fall in employment to the point where prices rose in the March quarter of this year by the greatest amount for 19 years and where unemployment was running at a rate higher than for the past 10 years. These things themselves have been progressive and steady in their development but no action has been taken to meet the situation or to arrive at a solution of the problems as they developed. Instead, when the situation was grave the Government introduced rural unemployment relief which was meant to reduce unemployment figures and not to go to the seat of the problem at all.

For many years the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and other members of the Opposition have been advocating the need for the Government to bring down a decentralisation policy and to come to an agreement with the States for the implementation of a decentralisation policy, but nothing has been done about it. Perhaps that is not quite true. The Minister for Trade and Industry and Leader of the Country Party in this Parliament (Mr Anthony) set up a committee to examine decentralisation in 1964, so something was done. But that committee has not presented a report to the Parliament, so it has achieved nothing. Yet the same Minister has said that this is a matter of national concern and national importance. This is indicative of the way the Country Party deals with matters of national concern and national importance. The Party is responsible for administering the rural industries of Australia. That Party is responsible for the present situation in the wool industry. That Party is responsible for the inaction at present, lt is that Party's Minister who is saying that we must wait until a series of Randall reports come down before action is taken. That Party must accept the responsibility for that attitude. That Party has been charged with the responsibility of setting up decentralisation machinery and of coming to agreement with the States. The Party has failed to do this. The Country Party took 4 years to come to agreement with the States over the marginal dairy farm legislation- 4 years to come to an agreement on a Bill that was to operate for 4 years. Although the industry was in a parlous state this proposal was gone about in a dilatory manner. The same thing is likely to happen, and indeed has happened, with the wool industry which has been 10 years in reaching its current state of need and recession.

The present situation is illustrated by Australia's population figures from 1949 to 1971 - the period of office of the Government. When it came to office in 1949 only S0.02 per cent of our population resided in the metropolitan areas. During 20 years of this Government there has been a steady progression and the point has been reached where that figure stands at 63.01 per cent. The figure for Western Australia was 54.40 per cent in 1949 and is now 68.27 per cent. At present in that State it is difficult to obtain employment even in the timber industry. All rural industries there are maintaining a minimum of employment and the mining industries are putting men off and are in a state of minor recession. Yet the Government seems to have no concern for this situation. It would be bad enough if that were the sole side of the picture but the situation is such that concern is felt in many areas of our community about the cost of the continued growth of our capital cities and the strategic danger that is inherent in having so large a percentage of our population residing within the 5 major capitals. Indeed, in the May 1972 bulletin of the Australian Industries Development Association it was said:

Decentralisation is becoming an unavoidable issue in Australia-

That is the only time that the Government ever faces an issue - when it is an unavoidable issue - as the Slate capitals are pressed lo absorb increasingly larger populations, while country areas suffer from the rural decline and the growing rate of non-metropolitan unemployment. The reduction of employment opportunities in rural industry and in country towns is pressuring young people toward the metropolitan areas in search of work. There appear to bc two alternative choices for countering this drift to the cities. Either the problem can be faced through an endless provision of subsidies, with the rather dim hope that the problems underlying the present situation will eventually disappear, or through the formulation of a national policy for regional development supported both by the States and the Commonwealth.

I believe that the latter is the desirable choice. It is one that the Government should accept and should work for, right from the present time. Indeed it has only 6 months in which to make some preparations. We know that once that time has expired a Labor government will see that it is carried forward at a far more rapid rate and more effectively than under the present Government. I contrast the attitude of the Government with the attitude of the State Government of Western Australia. Immediately on attaining office the Western Australian Government set up a Department of Decentralisation within the Department of Development. This year in Western Australia 2 seminars on decentralisation have been held. It is obvious that people from the eastern States are prepared to travel to Western Australia to attend seminars because they see in that State some desire to come to grips with the problem. The Western Australian Minister for Decentralisation, Mr Graham, has set down guidelines for decentralisation as follows:

Financial assistance for land and buildings be extended from 30 per cent to 75 per cent for country industry generally and to 100 per cent for selected country industry.

Interest on loans for capital expenditure be subsidised up to 5 per cent per annum for selected country industries, the subsidy phasing out over 5 years.

New, more effective rail freight concessions be introduced on a selective basis to replace existing concessions.

The Industrial Lands Development Authority acquire and develop land in the main country centres to attract new industry.

Government administration be further decentralised.

These guidelines have been laid down in that Government's first year of office. They show that the State Labor Government is prepared to come to grips with the problem, even though it is not as serious a problem in Western Australia as it is in other States. 1 hope that the House will carry the amendment so ably moved by the honourable member for Newcastle and that a committee will be set up, because the Government will not make the necessary decision. I agree with the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) that committees are undersirable when there is a government that will make decisions, but when there is a government that will not make decisions someone must be found to do the work, carry out examinations and intro duce proposals which then only have to be implemented. However we know from experience that even when committee reports and recommendations have been received, the Government has failed to act.

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