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Tuesday, 29 August 1972
Page: 843

Mr BENNETT (Swan) - We have seen the amazing spectacle of Government speakers attempting to blame everyone but the poor Government for unemployment and inflation. I would appreciate it if Government supporters did not dodge the issue that they are responsible for the situation which exists in Australia today. I express my disappointment at the many areas of problems that the Budget fails to rectify for the people of Western Australia. I refer in particular to the employment situation in my electorate where industries such as steel fabrication works are in a serious situation due to the scaling down or, in fact, the stopping of development projects caused by the international economic situation, the effects of this Commonwealth Government's previous budgets and the failure of the Commonwealth to recognise the impending consequences of the situation and to take action on a national scale to rectify the crisis that it had .itself assisted to create.

The Government will say that the future is better: 'We promise you that things will be better in the future. We promise that the Budget is designed to do this'. Before we move into the area of promises, what about the record number of bankruptcies, of companies in voluntary liquidation or in receivers hands? Who is responsible for this? Were those concerned all bad business men or were they caught up in the national mismanagement? What about those who, as a result of the collapse of the businesses, have not been paid and have had to go heavily into debt to survive? How long will it take them to recover? Will the Government departments, such as the Taxation Office, give a sympathetic hearing to their problems and wipe the debts? Of course not. So the small Australian businessman in the main, in the past a supporter of this Government, is wiped out financially and has to look around on the already overcrowded employment market for a position. However, he finds that he is too old or too inexperienced in the work offering or cannot compete with the unemployed migrant who is similarly distressed. Of course, a number of these people who cannot find decent employment are migrants and they have no hope of repatriation to their homelands, if they should desire to return home.

This is a distressing human problem. It is of no use promising a tax reduction to those who have lost ail and cannot earn a living. Even if they do start to earn they cannot trust the stop-go policy of this Government on economic and taxation matters. Let us face facts: This is an election Budget and on the proven past performance of this very same Treasurer (Mr Snedden) we will have a further mini Budget which will no doubt impose fresh taxes and be used to curtail any, in the Government's opinion, inflationary tendencies in the economy. That is, of course, when the working man begins to purchase new cars and consumer goods, and to save money for holidays and the future security of his home and retirement. This Budget will encourage and, in many cases, force the working man to spend. The old saying of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer may apply. But a more appropriate saying would be that the overseas companies get richer and the Australian companies and resources get taken over. Not one indication of real protection is offered to Australian initiative and resources in the Budget. Even in a Budget of only promises this is hard to understand. But again I dare say that if the promise of protection for Australian industry had been made, it would no doubt be as shallow as promises that have been made on the means test in the past by this Government and its predecessors.

Let us look at 1928 when the BrucePage Government introduced the national insurance scheme. Prime Minister Bruce attended the Nationalist Party meeting which disapproved his legislation. He went back to his office saying that as he was not told to withdraw his legislation he would continue with it. But the final result was that the legislation was dropped, no doubt due to Party pressure. In 1938 Lyons promised that if elected he would introduce a national insurance scheme. The Temple Court financiers, the backers of the Liberal group, ordered Lyons not to proceed with the Bill without their permission. The result was that the legislation went through but was never proclaimed. It is still buried in the statutes. Remember that some of the inquiries associated with that legislation took 5 years. We then had to wait until Prime Minister Chifley of the Australian Labor Party was in power before any firm move was made to bring in the final planning for the abolition of the means test. A charge of ls. 6d in the £1 for social services was imposed to cushion the impact of the abolition. This collected £180m or S3 60m in today's currency. Menzies won the election in 1949 on a promise that he too would abolish the means test. But what happened to the $360m? It went straight into the Consolidated Revenue Fund to finance the Menzies regime. Newspapers called it 'The great steal' when the truth was revealed.

Now, incredibly we have another promise to abolish the means test by a government with a history of betrayal in this area. People are expected to believe the Government. However, there has been no indication of where the money is to come from or what it will cost the community. There is to be just an investigation. If a national insurance scheme is to be brought in by this Government it would be brought in only to benefit the private insurance companies, not the people of Australia. How can the Government be trusted? In the words of an old proverb quoted by Prime Minister Chifley: 'Only a fool allows the same dog to bite him twice'. In this instance the Liberals are coming up for a fourth bite. I know that the Australian people are not fools. They will not be bitten by this pie-in-the sky promise. Facts are what they want. They want performance, not promises. They will not be bitten by a Government whose first action in taking office 23 years ago was to dispose of the finance set aside to do away with the means test. This Government has made only a vague election promise to investigate ways and means of eliminating the means test, and we will find subsequently that it will not be doing so.

In 1938 benefits that were provided under the legislation at that time covered sickness, disablement, old age, widows benefits, dental treatment, travel to hospital, home nursing, infectious sickness, convalescent homes and many others of a comprehensive nature. This legislation was too progressive, and now 34 years later we are still waiting for complete protection in these fields. So much for the promises that have been made in this area. In the social welfare area there is so much to be done. Let us face it, we have a long history of neglect. On the one hand the Government says that it will provide home nursing care. Is this to be for our aged who must exist in rooms and substandard accommodation? We are made aware of the lack of Government initiative and of human understanding when the Government says that voluntary bodies will finally be formed, as did happen in the aged persons homes area. The Government did not have the courage to say to our aged community that it would tax them $2,000 to $4,000 to obtain admission to an aged persons home. Instead the Government said it would do it on the cheap. The Government would pay two-thirds of the cost and someone else would have to bear the rest. The Government said: 'If you do not have the money, it is just your bad luck'. Does the Government not realise the personal sacrifices that have had to be made by so many people, in some cases involving all of their retirement funds? I am not decrying the fine efforts of so many voluntary bodies. In fact, I belong to one myself. What I am saying is that assistance must be extended to include State governments which have waiting lists of people not able to . be accommodated by these voluntary bodies. Accommodation must be supplied with no charge for rent.

There is no real relief for the working mother. If genuine concern had been felt, immediate taxation relief by way of tax deduction for money expended on child minding in day care and family care centres would have been provided; These mothers' efforts to maintain themselves and their families should be rewarded. The diligence and initiative of these mothers- in not placing their burdens on the community should be recognised. This is particularly so in the case of the single parent. If the Treasurer listened to the voice of protest in Western Australia and paid attention to the current signing of petitions in this regard he would take another look at the matter. Many of these people are Working for a subsistence wage because of the charges which they must pay to child minding centres. Some are receiving a lower real wage than they would receive if they were on social services.

The Budget also highlights the situation of the separated couple where a person paying maintenance is not able to achieve further taxation relief. He has 2 families to support. This restricts and retards the future of the children of both families. With the lesser amount of money to be distributed between so many, what chance is there for the children of either family to go on to higher education and to enjoy future prosperity. It is not enough to say that we cannot be responsible for (he breaking up of parents. Of course we cannot. But we can legislate to protect our most valuable migrants - the children of Australian citizens. The Government's record in this area is appalling. A fixed child endowment without a means test was introduced in 1941 by a Labor government. I venture to say that if it had kept pace with and been attached to wages and the current cost structure, we would have had a natural increase in the size of Australian families. This assistance would have obviated the necessity for a large number of our working mothers to continue at work. After all, the day when a woman worked by choice is gone. She must do it of necessity. It is another of the confidence tricks performed on working mothers by this Government. Paltry sums received in endownment are promptly absorbed by child minding fees or by necessities. Whatever the amount of payment is, it is totally inadequate.

In the social welfare field it is always a case of too little too late. This is what happens to our pensioner community. When the Government is going bad and is in need of votes the age pensioner receives an increase at the whim of that Government, irrespective of the Party in office. There is no tribunal to which pensioners can appeal They must take up a political campaign to put their message across. Any increases that come are far too late and have no retrospectivity, and are given after the Government has had the maximum of publicity from them for the purpose of obtaining votes. This is not good enough for our senior citizens, who have been granted an increase which is now $3 per week below the recognised present poverty line.

So the pensioner will be asked to support a government that has refused to attach the pension to an independent scale as requested by thousands of petitioners to this Parliament - that is, a fixed percentage of the average weekly national wage. No wonder they are frustrated as they realise once again that pensioners are being given an inadequate rise because of the lack of proper recognition of their plight by this Government which wishes to retain the ability to use pensions as a political ploy at some future date. The Government is not really interested in the pensioners' welfare.

Another disaster is this Budget's refusal to recognise the unemployment situation in Australia, in particular in the metropolitan area of Perth. No emergency grants are provided to relieve unemployment or to repatriate migrants affected by unemploy ment. Many of the people who came from overseas during the boom years for construction work are now unemployed, heavily in debt, and have little future. All they want to do is to return to their home country. Many of the unemployed are New Zealanders or from the eastern States. The very least that the Government could do would be to make repatriation relief available to these people. But what does this Budget do? It foreshadows the arrival of 140,000 migrants who will only add to the employment queues and to the cost to the Australian taxpayer of social services, and who will offer further competition to our already record and increasing level of unemployment. Of the 132,000 migrants who came to Australia in 1971-72, 11 per cent are registered as unemployed. The figures do not include the part time workers, the building workers and the people who are just too proud and are not registered for unemployment relief. The figures issued are at best a guesstimate, not an estimate.

The building unions in Western Australia have written to overseas countries requesting that no further migrants come to Australia until the situation changes. It is up to this Government to take immediate steps to stop immigration to Western Australia until the employment situation eases. More importantly, it must take a direct interest in the welfare of migrants who have been brought to this country by private project development firms which have nominated migrants and made promises which cannot be kept. Their entry is based purely on home project building and profit projects of the nominating company. They come not on the initiative of the Commonwealth or State governments but at the behest of private firms which have no responsibility whatever to the migrant, the taxpayer or the electorate. I ask that the franchise of these usurpers of the economy be withdrawn and that an investigation of firms so involved be made. I do not believe that any firm which nominates people, has them accommodated in its flats at the going high rentals and then sends commission salesmen to sell the migrants the company's project homes or first and second mortgages and in some cases, offers personal loans at interest rates of up to 14 per cent, should be allowed to continue to operated unchecked. I do not believe that firms such as this should be able to add to the already high unemployment figures that exist in Western Australia or should have any say as to what happens to Australia's immigration. It must be a matter for the Government alone.

What has the Government done about the situation? Has it stopped immigration and redirected the finance saved to unemployment relief? Of course not. It wants to play politics with the human misery of the unemployed and the bankrupt. Why, we even have the situation of political canvassers representing Government candidates knocking on doors saying that the Government will cure the situation and blaming the State Government for the problems. Even newspaper advertisements have been used. It is incredible that after 23 years of Federal Liberal administration a national employment and financial crisis has been created. The Western Australia Liberal Government left the present State Government with a growing unemployment problem and a State Treasury deficiency of some $12m - approximately $lm a year for each year of its office. No wonder the average man refuses to believe anything that is promised by people who support this Government.

Performance not promises, is what the public wants. The performance to date has been that of a stop-go economy, of stop-go welfare schemes and broken promises, particularly on the means test, and of Federal Government bond rate moves which have caused soaring home loan interest rates that have been passed on by building societies. No attempt has been made to ease this burden. In the area of home ownership and of direct assistance to existing home purchases there is a pitiful lack of assistance or of the understanding for the need to assist. But this lack of understanding and of compassion is again reflected in the failure of the repatriation benefit percentage payments to move forward. If a repatriation pensioner is receiving a 10 per cent or 20 per cent disability pension, or whatever the percentage might be, he is appalled by its diminishing value. In an inflationary economy it becomes poor reward for the sacrifices made. While other repatriation benefits move forward this aspect remains stagnant.

All people are amazed at the lack of firm provisions to establish prices justification machinery. If this Government or any government wishes to control its economy, the inflationary spiral needs to be checked. This can be done only if the cost of goods and services to the community is stabilised and the employer, the worker and the arbitration authorities have time to stop and look at the overall costs which every worker in the community must meet. Then wage justification and price justification can be linked and time allowed for the economy to stabilise. Instead, we have price increases, often in anticipation of wage increases. But why is this allowed to continue? Why is a stand not made in the interests of the community, the farmer and the worker? I suspect that it is because this Government has not the courage to stand up to overseas companies, finance houses and the banks that own the finance houses, and say that this has to stop.

The Government continues its never ending feud with the trade unions, provoking arguments by appointing a referee in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and then saying to that referee: 'We don't care what you do so long as- our side wins. If it does not, look out'. Australia is a nation known for and proud of its sportsmanship and fair play. So let politicians start acting in keeping with our tradition of national sportsmanship of which we are so justly proud. Let the referee decide industrial matters and let the Government stop intimidating the referee. In fact, let us appoint more referees to decide prices, and pensions. Above all, once a decision is made on such matters let us respect that decision. Of course, it is good tactics in an election year to stir up a few strikes and to create a situation where employers and employees fight each other publicly. Threats from Canberra, always made with an eye to the uncommitted voter, are not needed in such a situation. Recent industrial disputes in which members of the genera] public have been the principal sufferers show the need for genuine preventive conciliation.

Australia needs industrial peace and an end to using the trade unions as a whipping boy. It needs a government' that will treat the unemployed as people and not as statistics. The poor and unemployed will always be with us as long as a LiberalCountry Party government is in office. Previous performances indicate that members of the Government are devoid of any political morality. Their duty should be to govern Australia in a way that will benefit the entire country. Instead, their decisions and their whole attitude to government are based not on whether Australia will benefit but on whether they will keep the LiberalCountry Party coalition in power. The Government's attitude to unemployment in Western Australia is a case in point. The majority of the 12,846 persons now out of work in that State are in the Perth metropolitan area. The Government's attitude is: They are Labor voters, so why help them? Providing work for the unemployed would bring benefits to everyone in Western Australia. Indeed, with more money in circulation from the wages that those people would earn, the Government might help to bring about an end to the recession it has caused. But from the Government's point of view, money spent on helping the unemployed in Western Australia is wasted money because it will not bring the Government more votes. Very few members of the general public see the report issued monthly by the Department of Labour and National Service on the employment situation. Not many people would choose it for light entertainment. Month after month it has made grim reading. Page after page of it contains statistics that record the failure of the McMahon Government to come up with any ideas, suggestions, programmes or even sympathy with the unemployment situation it has created.

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