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Thursday, 16 October 1947

Senator HARRIS (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) . - I am honoured in having the privilege of supporting the budget presented to the Parliament on the 19th September, 1947, by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley). This is the second post-war budget, and it is a credit to the Government. At the beginning of the budget speech, reference is made to employment. In many respects the budget far excels any financial statement previously presented by a Commonwealth Treasurer. The Government discharged its great responsibilities during the war with credit to this country. It was confronted with the heavy task of furnishing the supplies needed by not only our own forces but also those of our allies. Following the retreat from Dunkirk, we were cut off from the source of supply of many of our requirements of war material, and, subsequently, were thrown upon our own resources. Fortunately, we had in the late John Curtin a leader who attacked that problem readily and with great ability. T do not want to dwell upon the waT years: but the record of Labour governments during that difficult period certainly proves that in the ranks of the Labour movement are to be found men willing and able to discharge responsibilities which governments formed by the Opposition parties completely failed to discharge.

We read in the budget papers that 3,212,000 persons are now employed ;n Australia. This represents an increase of 480,000 over the number in employment in June, 1939, and is 200,000 more than the number in employment in June of last year. Prior to the Curtin Government assuming office, anti-Labour governments controlled this country for an unbroken period of nine years. The employment record of those governments compare most unfavorably with that of the present Government during the last two years. Under anti-Labour governments, unemployment was rife, and the country was stagnating. I refer particularly to conditions during the regime of the Lyons Government. They were days of misery for the workers of this country. I am confident that the present Government will prevent a recurrence of those conditions. Although we may experience recessions in certain industries, I am certain that the conditions existing in 1931 will not be allowed to recur. Even before the war ended, Labour was planning for the future, in order to enable the people of this country to enjoy to the full th"; fruits of victory and peace. To-day, our people enjoy a degree of security which they had never known under anti-Labour governments. "We can now look forward to an era of prosperity. Already we have full employment, the first essential to prosperity. I am not 'perturbed when T am told that there is a shortage of labour in any industry. I understood the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) to say that, despite full employment, many workers were not pulling their weight. He referred, particularly, to the wire and wire-netting manufacturing industry. I have had a long association with the engineering industry, and ! and my mates have always regarded the wire-netting industry, including such units as Lysaghts, Sydney, as a sweated industry, because, employees are engaged on the basis of piece-work and bonus rates. Having regard to the high level of prosperity now being enjoyed in this country, is it reasonable to expect young men to enter an industry which works on that system? .1 know what that system means. It is disliked by employees, and, possibly, that is the reason why, if the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition be correct, it is not producing sufficient wire netting to meet local needs. However, I point out that prior to the war. even when this industry was in full production, we imported thousands of tons' of wire netting from Great Britain.

Having regard to that fact, it would be practically impossible for that industry, so soon after the end of the war, to supply all of the requirements of our farmers.

Some years ago I was prone to criticize the Labour Government in this Parliament on the ground that it was failing to implement Labour's policy. However, I have since learned the full facts. I now know that since the Curtin Ministry assumed office the Government has not failed to implement Labour's policy in any respect provided an opportunity presented itself for the enactment of the necessary legislation. The social services legislation passed by this Government will always remain a monument to the Labour movement: Under that legislation liberal aid is provided in the form of unemployment and sickness benefits. Those benefits will offer security to people iri casual employment in the future. In this respect, one cannot help but recall the conditions existing under the Lyons regime when our unemployed received a starvation dole. Whereas unemployment benefit in those days was payable at the rate of 14s. a week, to-day a youth under eighteen years is paid benefit at the rate of los. a week. Benefit at the rate of £1 a week is payable to single persons between the ages of eighteen and 21 years, and at the rate of 25s. a week to single persons over 21 years of age, whilst the benefit payable to a married man is £2 5s. a week. At the same time, an unemployed married man is permitted to supplement that benefit up to £1 a week. Thus, our people know that should we experience another depression they will at least have some degree of security, provided, of course, that Labour retains office and that should this Government be defeated its successor does not undermine that legislation.

Another notable achievement of the Government is the manner in which it has liberalized pensions. It has increased the old-age pension from £1 to £1 17s. 6d. a week, and, at the same time, ha3 increased the permissible income from other sources from 10s. to £1 a week. That might not appear to many people to be a very liberal improvement, but it is of great assistance to recipients. I have in mind the case of a railway employee in "Western Australia who, .after contributing to a superannuation scheme for many years, retired on a benefit at the rate of £2 a wee'k. He and his "wife are now allowed to draw a pension at the rate of £5 15s. a week. On the other hand, during the regime of the Lyon& Government all sorts of tags were tied to pensions. For instance, when the rate of old-age pensions was 15s. a week, .any assets which a pensioner might possess, such as a home, had to be sold in order to enable the 'Government to recoup . itself -of the total amount it had paid out by way of pension. That provision has been abolished by this Government with the result that all classes of pensioners now enjoy a greater measure of security. I hope that the Government will still further liberalize invalid and old-age pensions. I believe that the rate of that pension should be equal at least to 40 per «en±. of the basic wage. I do not think that that is too much to ask in view of the fact that the workers are now paying social service contribution. I believe that the Government will, if possible, liberalize pensions to that degree.

I now wish to deal with benefits made available under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act. As an ex-serviceman, I have taken a close interest in that legislation. It is pleasing to note that the Government has amended the act to liberalize repatriation benefits. This treatment o.f ex-servicemen is in marked contrast to that of returned soldiers after World War I. When we left this country to fight overseas, we were promised the world. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, visited troops in France and addressed them. Subsequently, in London, he spoke of what was in store for Australian servicemen when they returned to their own country. But if I remember rightly, he, himself, got the "biggest cut. He got £25,000, but for what I do not know.

Senator Lamp - It was £40,000.

Senator HARRIS (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I know of £25,000. The honorable senator may know of some more. But the unfortunate ex-serviceman was not treated quite so generously. We received a miserable gratuity and found that no jobs were available. Many unfortunate returned soldiers expended their gratuities on board and lodgings, and finished up visiting soup kitchens or asking the police for food and shelter. Hundreds carried their " swags " through the bush looking for work in the farming areas. They were prepared to work for 5s. a week and keep. I was more fortunate than some, but those were the conditions that had to be endured by the unlucky ones. Thousands were unlucky and could not get jobs within six months of their return to this country.

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