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Tuesday, 30 May 1972
Page: 3226


Mr BURY (Wentworth) - What gave rise to this discussion originally - the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) made this quite clear - was the decision of the management of General Motors-Holden's Ltd to close its Mosman Park assembly plant in Western Australia. This plant was built in 1926 at a time when the Australian motor car industry consisted of a series of assembly plants for putting together parts imported from overseas for sale to the Australian public. At that time it cost about as much to send parts from the overseas sources to Fremantle as it did to send them to Sydney or any other main city in Australia. The remarkable thing about this plant is that, despite the great changes that have been taking place, it is still in operation. As I understand it, it is only a small plant in the midst of a large industrial area. Therefore in itself it is intrinsically unsuited to expansion, and considerable extra accommodation has had to be hired by General Motors-Holden's for both parking and storage purposes. When we consider that the Australian motor car industry is so radically different - it is concentrated in a much fewer number of plants in which components are transported from one part of the assembly to another by a highly elaborate system - it is really remarkable that the Mosman Park plant should still be in existence at all. Maybe there are reasons why it is. I suppose that General Motors-Holden's, like any other company, has always been rather hesitant about closing down plants that have been operating, thus throwing out of work those who are employed there. In 2 months time we should examine what has happened to those people who have been displaced. The company itself has offered jobs to a good many, particularly the more skilled ones, in other places. It is endeavouring to get into contact with the Government. It has put the Department of Labour and National Service on the job. If the 230 people who are now displaced are not substantially reabsorbed into the economy within 2 months I personally will be very surprised.

The honourable member for Fremantle might have mentioned one or two other things. One is that the population and the work force of Western Australia have for some years been expanding at twice the Australian average rate. Although, like every other industrial State, Western Australia has had its vicissitudes, there has been a powerful, underlying, continuous story of expansion and of absorption of new people into the work force. The matter of public importance we are now discussing is, as several speakers subsequent to the honourable member for Fremantle have emphasised, in these terms: 'the continuing closure of industry with consequent aggravation of unemployment' throughout Australia. The evidence in support of this proposition is very much weaker. In fact it was weak in relation to one or two aspects of the case based on the decision by General Motors-Holden's.

It was suggested that one of the reasons General Motors-Holden's is in its present position is that it owed a lot to social action taken on its behalf, including the extending of tariff protection to this company. As far as my memory goes, one thing that General Motors has never asked for is a tariff to protect its operations in Australia - far from it. In its early days it made it clear that it did not need protection and would not seek it. In fact tariffs were not applied to the motor car industry at the request of General Motors-Holden's but were applied to keep alive other sectors of the industry which otherwise would not have been able to withstand the overseas competition. Blame certainly cannot be laid at the door of General Motors. In a large industrial structure such as Australia has, hundreds of firms each year can go bankrupt and out of operation, but fortunately even more come into business, start operations and increase their employment. This is always happening. The Mosman Park closure is surely one of the most minor ones to bring up. Of course it is important to Western Australia and to the electorates of Fremantle and Perth. The honourable members for Fremantle and Perth (Mr Berinson) have drawn attention to this. But they have dragged out of perspective the general growth in the economy and the new growth that is always taking place.

Honourable members on the Opposition side have suggested that unemployment is increasing and that economic conditions are becoming more depressed. This was particularly the theme of the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). In fact the opposite is the case. It could have been said until some considerable time ago, for the better part of a year now, that the aim of the Budget was to combat the very serious problem of inflation, but surely any fairminded member must realise that for the better part of a year these policies have been swept under the carpet and that everything is being done now to increase employment, stimulate business and so forth. That the Government has been creating unemployment is not a charge that could fairly have been laid for some months now. In fact a number of other features could be pointed to, for instance the very big increase in the wages bill. One thing that does not seem to be recognised by honourable members opposite is the effect that tremendous and sudden increases in wages in so many industries have on employment in those industries. There is no doubt that in a good many cases sudden wage increases have led to much of the labour force pricing itself out of the market. This trend has been followed in Britain, quite clearly and vividly, until unemployment there has reached a very high level. It is now happening here. The theory which honourable members opposite continually put forward is: Increase wages and forget all about the costs, and if wage increases result in higher costs they can be eased by clapping on price control to force prices to stay where they are. Apart from the fatuity of it, this process has been tried and has put a good many people out of work. There are so many demands still operating that unfortunately and undoubtedly many more people will be put out of work in the near future. This process does play its part.

Until we can get stability in wages, costs, prices and so on and a general spirit of greater contentment in the community about these matters we will continue to face very serious problems, and amongst these serious problems will be increasing unemployment for a good many industries and a good many trades and individuals quickly pricing themselves out of the market. This gives any government a difficult problem to handle, and no Western country has yet been able to handle it any more successfully than has Australia. But until we recognise these phenomena, and the general community recognises them, these things will happen. It is certainly not true at the moment to say that there is an increasing closure of industries and aggravation of unemployment. At the present moment more employment is opening up, and more firms are starting than are closing.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order 1The discussion is now concluded.







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