22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.38 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to address a question to the acting Minister for External Affairs. On 27th February I asked the acting Minister a question without notice about the Government’s policy on proposed summit talks, and he has been good enough to give me a written answer. I now ask the acting Minister whether he will give that answer to the House, or to the public, so that it can be considered and the matter debated, if necessary, and discussed by honorable members. I have the letter here. I understand that it has not yet been released to the press, but it is not a confidential document. Will the Minister be good enough to .make the terms of his answer known to the House?
– I shall certainly give consideration to the request of the right honorable gentleman.
– Has the acting Minister for External Affairs any information to give the House regarding the nature and the extent of the support being rendered by the Soviet Union to the central Indonesian Government? Can he state, in particular, whether there is any substance in the allegation that the Soviet Union is currently training Indonesian pilots in the Suez Canal region?
– We have no information confirming or disproving the suggestions that have been published in the press.
– I preface a question which I address to the Minister for Primary Industry by stating that the New South Wales and Queensland Woolbuyers’ Association has decided to cease buying at the Goulburn wool sales. Originally, that decision was to operate this year. It has now been deferred until next year and I am sure that that is partly due to the action of the Minister in conveying to the buyers’ association the strong opposition of the Commonwealth Government to this move, and in expressing the view that it would be a very retrograde step. In view of the fact that this association is holding its annua! meeting on 15th March will the Minister be good enough, even yet once again, to approach the association before that date and express the view of the Commonwealth Government that the abandonment of the Goulburn sales would be a most retrograde step and most injurious to the cause of decentralization, as well as likely to cause considerable unemployment in the Goulburn district? The Minister could well add that this is the view, not only of the Government, but of all parties in the Parliament.
– The views of the Government have been put as strongly as we can put them to the wool-buyers of New South Wales and Queensland. However, I shall be only too happy to stress these views again to the buyers in those States. Also effective, I think, would be action to get the brokers, producers and buyers together in order to ensure that the Goulburn wool sales are not terminated unless an alternative centre satisfactory to the growers and brokers is obtained on the south coast. I shall take the matter up promptly with the Graziers Association of New South Wales and with the Australian Wool Growers Council and will suggest to them that a further conference be held if possible before the next meeting of the buyers.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question relating to the syllabuses for certain Public Service examinations. The German, French, Dutch and Italian languages, and Latin, are included in the syllabuses, and I understand that the Russian and Chinese languages also were included at one time, but have been excluded in recent years. In the present state of the world, with our great interest in Asian affairs, would it not be desirable to encourage people to qualify in the Russian and Chinese languages and take examinations in them for the Public Service? If this ls considered to be desirable, will steps be taken to have these two languages included in the syllabuses for Public Service examinations wherever possible?
– I am not informed on this matter myself, but I will find out about it, and will give the honorable member full information on it. Speaking of instruction in Chinese, I looked to see whether my friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was present, thinking that I would consult with him.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that the Minister for National Development recently stated, in reply to a question asked in another place, that in his opinion the time was now opportune for an approach to the United States Government for an increase in the Australian gold price, and undertook to discuss the matter with the right honorable gentleman. I now ask the Treasurer whether the discussion has taken place, and if so, what has been the outcome.
– If I remember correctly the Minister for National Development did mention the matter to me, but I assure the honorable member that this Government has been persistent in its advocacy with regard to the price of gold. The South African Government, which also has a very decided and direct interest in gold, is represented by the Australian representative on the Board of Governors of the International Bank. I assure the honorable member that the Government will never relax its efforts to have the price of gold increased.
-I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether his attention has been drawn to a report that the Department of Agriculture of South Australia is seeking materials for fruit fly bait from overseas. I understand that these materials are oil of angelica and anisyl acetone and that they are reported to have been giving great results overseas. Has the Minister any information in this regard, particularly in view of the importance of the fruit-growing industry to Australia? If the Minister has no information, will he have his officers study the use of these materials and ascertain their effectiveness, and particularly whether they would be more effective in combating the Mediterranean fruit fly or the Queensland fruit fly?
– The Government last year allocated a substantial sum of money for research into fruit fly, and the programme of research will continue over a number of years. I had not heard of the South Australian Government’s interest in this matter, but I shall make certain that my department investigates both the efficacy of the chemicals mentioned and their application, and I shall let the honorable member have a detailed report as soon as possible.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether he is aware of the uncertainty that exists as to the future employment of the employees of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Proprietary Limited at Lidcombe. As this uncertainty, if allowed to continue, will undermine the morale of those likely to be affected by any change of policy, can the Minister say what is the firm intention of the Government with respect to the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation’s factory at Lidcombe?
– I think the honorable member will appreciate that the first thing that the department must have is orders for aircraft. That is the crux of the whole matter - orders for aircraft. One or two other things, such as the Jindivik, and certain modifications of the Jindivik for high altitude work, for example, are relevant, too. As the honorable member knows, I have not held this portfolio for very long. Only a week ago, I was instructed by Cabinet to investigate all angles of the aircraft industry in Australia, including the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Proprietary Limited. That investigation has been commenced, and I hope that two or three very helpful men in industry, and certain men of great capacity in the accountancy world, will be available to assist me in the inquiry.
Further to my question to the PostmasterGeneral two weeks ago concerning the direct telecast by micro-wave from Canberra to Sydney, I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether the 79 new steel towers, 250-ft. high, with a maximum deflection of one degree in a wind of 75 miles per hour, for which the Postmaster-General’s Department called tenders, schedule number C7808, which closed on 4th March, are to be used for television or for telecommunication, or for both, as I understand they can be. If they are to be used for television, are the commercial stations to be accommodated on the same link, or will it be for ABV Channel 2 only? Secondly, has this method of telecommunication been operating between Calais and Dover since the 1930’s. and last year were all major European cities tied up to London on a television programme on micro-wave? Thirdly, when these towers are erected, will all important country centres be able to receive television by bleeding off the main trunk micro-wave routes? Fourthly, is it a fact that the MelbourneAdelaide link by micro-wave would cost just over £300,000, as against £2.250,000 for a link by coaxial cable?
– I do not think that the honorable member would expect me to be able to answer offhand these highly technical and fairly lengthy questions. It is possible that the steel towers are being considered in connexion with the development of a micro-wave system, and if it became necessary eventually to use such a system for the development of television, both national and commercial, I think they would be so used. However, I cannot give the honorable member a firm undertaking to that effect immediately. I undertake to have his other questions fully investigated and to give him a considered reply.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Immigration to a booklet entitled “Australia needs all these people “, issued by the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. On pages 14 and 15 of this booklet two photographs are shown, one of a workman, and the other of a number of people being naturalized. The caption reads, “ British by birth (left); British by naturalization (right)”. Is it a fact that at naturalization ceremonies the candidates, after taking the oaths of renunciation and allegiance, are informed that they are now Australian citizens? If so, why does the caption read “ British by naturalization “ rather than “ Australian by naturalization “? Is it because the Govern ment and the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council still regard Australia as a British colony?
– I think that there has possibly been a typographical error on the part of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. By the naturalization ceremony people become British subjects and Australian citizens, but whether we are naturalized or native-born Australian citizens, I hope we are still British.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question which deals with finance for education. Whilst the Government’s ready endorsement of the Murray report promises a most acceptable development of this country’s tertiary, education, I am concerned with the serious situation of primary and secondary schools, and I ask the Prime Minister whether in view of his statement some time ago that “ there is no legal reason why the Commonwealth should not come to the rescue of the States in the education field “, the Government might, in the immediate future, prepare a plan for federal aid which would help to overcome serious problems in relation to buildings, equipment, salaries and training of teachers.
– I venture to remind the honorable member that we have come to the aid of the States in a very big way through our decision regarding universities. For other forms of education and building construction, this Government has, more and more every year, found money for the States. A very substantial percentage of all that they spend on these matters comes no’, from the loan market by itself, but from large supplementary provisions made by the Commonwealth of Australia.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the recent serious decline in the price of wool and its impact on the Australian economy and the primary producers concerned, will the Minister have an inquiry instituted to ascertain to what extent buyers’ rings - either rings of local buyers acting on behalf of foreign interests or foreign buyer rings - are operating?
– I feel sure that this is a figment of the honorable gentleman’s imagination. I have no evidence, and I have never heard it suggested, that buyers’ rings of any kind are operating in the Australian wool market. I feel reasonably confident that if they had been operating, that fact would have been brought to the attention of the Government, the department or myself. Nevertheless, knowing the honorable member’s great interest in this matter, I will ask the department to gather whatever facts it can, and convey the information to me. I shall then be only too happy to discuss the matter with the honorable member.
– Supplementary to the question asked by the honorable member for Chisholm, I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether there is a micro-wave link between Melbourne and Hobart at a place known as Arthur’s Seat. If so, would not another reflector give Hobart the benefit of television? Will the Postmaster-General give consideration to the installation of an additional reflector?
– As I assured the honorable member for Chisholm, so I assure the honorable member for Franklin that I shall have the point he has raised looked into, and supply him with an answer.
– I ask the Treasurer to make a statement, setting out the principles governing the release of funds held in the Special Account of the Commonwealth Bank. Will he tell the House what factors determine the release of moneys from the Special Account? Are these considerations based on growing unemployment, lack of earning by our export industries, or the need for housing or other forms of development?
– I will have the honorable member’s question looked at and see to what extent I can reply to it.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether he can indicate what stage has been reached in the development of the tuna fishing and canning industry in Australia. Are operations being carried on in the areas previously surveyed by Government survey ships? Are statistics available showing the production figures for both the local market and for’ export?
– There has been a substantial increase in the tuna catch and in tuna canning in Australia. Since 1949, when my good friend, the honorable member for Lalor, commenced research into the tuna industry, I think the catch has increased steadily. It was something like 95 tons in 1951-52, and increased to more than 1,000 tons last year. This year it is expected that 1,200 tons will be caught. An increasing proportion of the catch is now being exported, and is an earner of foreign exchange. As to the waters, I cannot remember whether catches are taking place in the surveyed areas, but I know that there has been an increase in both New South Wales and South Australian waters. It is not thought that Queensland offers sufficient potential to justify operations there. As to statistics, T. understand that there are only two major canners. It is not usual to make detailed statistics available in such circumstances.
– I ask the
Minister for Trade whether he has seen a letter which has been sent to members of Parliament by a member of the Tariff Board in which it is alleged, against the Government or somebody responsible for printing the board’s reports, that certain important findings have been omitted from the printed reports of the board? Will the Minister indicate to the House what is the position in this regard and state what action it is proposed to take?
– A couple of hours ago, I received a letter purporting to be signed by Mr. Date, a member of the Tariff Board, and, I think undoubtedly signed by him. The heading of the letter indicates that it is addressed to all members of Parliament. In this letter, Mr. Date raises certain questions of legal import. I offer no opinion on those questions, but. previously, when Mr. Date has raised a legal point in connexion with his membership of the Tariff Board or his activities arising from such membership, the matter has been referred, naturally and correctly, to the Government’s legal advisers. If Mr. Date in this letter raises any new point of legal consequence, it will be treated in a similar way. All I can do is to assure the House that, in all the multitude of points of this character that Mr. Date has raised over the years, there has never been a suggestion by the Government’s legal advisers that the Tariff Board or the Government has been acting improperly.
– He says that you altered the nature of the report; that you left out certain parts.
– There is no question whatever of any Tariff Board report being altered after receipt by me as the responsible Minister. I give an unqualified and immediate assurance on that point.
– Were minority reports deleted?
– No; no report has been altered and no minority report has been deleted by me or by an officer of the Department of Trade during my administration of the department. If Mr. Date claims that there has been an omission of any minority report or any alteration of such report subsequent to his having indicated his position in respect of the report, then that claim will be investigated.
– He referred to the printed report.
– 1 have not refreshed my mind on the letter, but Mr. Date is liable to make such a claim. If he did, it will be investigated. To put this matter a little more into its correct perspective, I say that of the hundreds of members of the multitudes of boards connected with the administration of this country, Mr. Date must surely hold the record for protests on legal and other points. I think that over the last two or three years, his protests addressed to me as the Minister, to the permanent head of the department, to the Prime Minister, to Mr. Speaker, and to the Governor-General now number about 150. He has the record for all time.
– I ask the Minister for Trade a question supplementary to the question that he has just answered. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether, instead of brushing aside this matter in the way that he has, he will address himself specifically to what is suggested in the letter. The suggestion is that the views of a responsible person on the Tariff Board have not been included in the official report. I ask the Minister: Is it known to him that any report by Mr. Date, dissenting from the majority view of the Tariff Board, has been excluded from the official report to the Parliament? Instead of generalizing in his airy-fairy manner, will the Minister address himself to that one question?
– I will address myself to the questions that are asked. I shall repeat my reply because it was quite adequate. If Mr. Date raises a question of law, as he has done in this letter-
– I am not talking about the law; I am talking about facts.
– No, but I am talking about the issue which has been raised. You will not push me around. If Mr. Date raises a question of law, it will be referred to the Government’s legal advisers, as has always been done. That is the first point. (Opposition members interjecting) -
– If Opposition members will not allow me to answer their leader in silence, I will not answer him.
– You will omit your reply, also!
– Order! The honorable member for Werriwa will remain silent.
– If Mr. Date claims that there has been an alteration of any report-
– A failure to include dissent!
– Who is answering the question?
– I am asking you.
– If Mr. Date claims that there has been any alteration of, or any omission from, a report signed by him, I will make inquiries and I will inform the House.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether it is a fact that negotiations are at present being conducted between the representatives of Australian wheat-growers and the State governments concerning proposals for a new wheat stabilization plan. If such negotiations are taking place, when is it expected that they will be completed? ls it expected that they will be completed before the next meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council?
– Negotiations are continuing between the wheat-growers’ federation and myself concerning a new stabilization scheme. I am to meet growers’ representatives in Melbourne on Friday, and I hope to establish common ground between us, so that we can subsequently examine in more detail the problems arising from possible differences of opinion. As soon as we have reached agreement the matter will be taken to the Australian Agricultural Council and, finally, the plan will be submitted to the Government for approval.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to make a statement concerning the Morshead report, which refers to the departments concerned with defence? If he does intend to make such a statement, when will he do so, and will the report be made public?
– 1 shall make a statement on this matter as soon as possible - I hope within a few days. Work on the report and statement has not yet been completed, but I propose to make a full statement as soon as possible.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service take action which will result in this Parliament and the people being given much more accurate reports on the unemployment position in Australia than is the case at present? Will he have included in future reports on unemployment trends specific references to and figures concerning the numbers of dependent wives and children of all persons registered as unemployed, the numbers of unemployed waterside workers and other semi-casual employees, and the numbers of immigrants in holding centres? Furthermore, will the Minister give a dissection, on a work classification basis, of the numbers of unfilled vacancies claimed to exist? Is it a fact that most of the alleged unfilled vacancies mentioned in the last monthly report issued by the Minister, on behalf of the Commonwealth Employment Service, were available only to applicants under the age of 40 years?
– The Government endeavours to give the most complete information that can reasonably be provided to the public and to the Parliament with regard to the employment situation. It does so periodically. I do not know of any country in which it can be said that more information on these matters is made available to the public and to interested organizations than is provided in Australia. Honorable members are also aware, I think, that it has been the practice of the Government during recent years to have a detailed examination made each quarter of the employment trends, so as to obtain the kind of detailed information to which the honorable member has referred, by the Ministry of Labor Advisory Council, on which senior representatives of employer organizations and trade unions have been directly represented. It is a matter for great regret on my part that, for reasons best known to itself, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has decided to forego the very valuable opportunity periodically provided in this way to make a close examination of employment trends. I have never at any time heard responsible persons in that organization challenge the accuracy of the figures supplied by the Department of Labour and National Service. Indeed, I have offered to co-operate with the trade union organizations in devising any mon: satisfactory method of compilation of the statistics, or of the analysis, of employment that they can suggest to me. That offer remains open so far as the A.C.T.U. is concerned. We do endeavour to present a fair, objective examination of trends. Nothing more than trends can be revealed, except at such time as a census is taken. An interesting fact brought out by the last two censuses in 1947 and 1954 is that on the census date the number of people registered with the Department of Labour and National Service as applicants for work was appreciably higher than the number of people who on the census date declared themselves to be unemployed and seeking work. So I think that, although we do not endeavour to convey more than trends, it can be taken that the figure given for total applicants in on the high side rather than on the low side. As to whether or not there is an age limit in respect of most of the vacancies recorded with the departments, 1 do not believe that there is. I shall see whether I can get any facts for the honorable gentleman on that point; but most of the vacancies these days are for people in some trade or specialist classification. That is a symptom of the reduced demand for labour which, undoubtedly, has developed over recent times. As to the number of immigrants in camp awaiting placement, that figure at the present time is a comparatively low one, and applies principally to people who have recently arrived in Australia.
– Has the Premier of South Australia raised with the Prime Minister the question of Commonwealth assistance in the building of a rail link between Port Augusta and Whyalla in connexion with the steel-works which Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited intends to build at Whyalla? If so, can the right honorable gentleman give the House any information on the matter?
– The Premier of South Australia was in Canberra yesterday on another matter, and he told me that he would be sending a communication on that question within the next few days.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the urgency associated with the depressed condition of the Australian almond-growing industry because of lowpriced importations of this product, can the Minister indicate whether action is to be taken to correct this serious situation, and thus relieve a large section of growers of the great anxieties that they feel as a result of the present position?
– I am not aware of the position mentioned by the honorable gentleman, but I shall have inquiries made and. if the facts are as he has stated, I shall make sure that the Department of Primary Industry takes the matter up with the other relevant departments to see what action can be taken.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Since we hear so much about unemployment, will the Minister ascertain the cost, not only to the waterside workers in lost wages, but to industry generally and, if possible, the general effect, of the total banning of the handling of cargoes on Sundays at the port of Fremantle, particularly in respect of the last fourteen days, during which, I am informed, a great deal of cargo from England was overcarried to Adelaide and had to be transhipped back to Fremantle, whilst other cargoes were not picked up for export from Fremantle? I should appreciate any information in that regard that the Minister can supply so that we may see the effect on industry generally and on the waterside workers themselves of the tactics used on the Fremantle waterfront.
– I shall see whether I can get the details of the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred. In the course of last week I released some comment on strike statistics for 1957, and I commend a study of those to all members of this Parliament. Those statistics show that over the whole field of industry Australia has a very much better record in respect of strikes than, I think, most people in this country realize. They show that last year our performance compared favorably with that in the United States. The United Kingdom and most other English-speaking countries. The percentage of time lost in Australia was only a fraction of the total available working time. However, it remains true that in the stevedoring industry, in which industrial trouble has perhaps a more direct and dislocating effect upon industry generally than has trouble in any other section of industry, we have a continuing bad record of industrial relations and an abnormally heavy incidence of time lost through industrial disputes. Just how far this affects the work opportunities of other Australian trade unionists would not be easy to assess, but undoubtedly the effect is quite considerable. Somewhat tragically for that section of industry itself, there are declining opportunities these days for men working on the waterfront, simply because shippers are no >.->-! ~er a…C to r’v cn t!:c r?.g-;!ar transport of cargo around the Australian coast.
– Pursuant to Standing Order 17, I lay on the table my warrant, nominating Mr. Bowden, Mr. Clark, Mr. Falkinder, Mr. Freeth, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Lucock, Mr. Makin, Mr. Peters, Mr. Timson and Mr. Webb to act as Temporary Chairmen of Committees when requested to do so by the Chairman of Committees.
Debate resumed from 27th February (vide page 131), on motion by Mr. Malcolm Fraser -
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to -
May it Please Your Excellency -
We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the address: - “ But we desire to inform Your Excellency that Your advisers have failed to realize the urgent necessity of putting into effect positive policies and measures aimed at -
the prevention of unemployment and the securing of full employment;
the building of sufficient homes;
an immediate and substantial reduction in the migrant intake until the serious deficiencies present in the existing programme are removed;
the provision by the Commonwealth to State Governments and local governing authorities of funds necessary for the building of public works and housing, roads, schools, hospitals and services essential to public health; and
effective defence administration and organization.”.
.- I support the motion submitted by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser), and reject the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). It is natural that, in a debate of this nature, we should think in terms of the country’s economic situation and discuss the various elements that make it up. Until the Leader of the Opposition spoke in this debate the Labour party was concentrating purely and simply on the unemployment problem, and completely ignoring the more favorable aspects of our economy. I believe it is right to say that members of the Labour party have ignored these aspects purposely in favour of an aspect from which they believe they may be able to make some political capital. The actual level of unemployment is something which is hard to ascertain.
The number of persons who are registered for employment slightly exceeds 70,000; the number of those who are actually receiving unemployment benefit slightly exceeds 20,000. I suggest that the actual number of unemployed in the community at the present time is somewhere between those two figures. It is impossible, within the department, to ascertain the actual figure and it is just as impossible for members of the Opposition to ascertain it.. I believe that unemployment is a matter which has to be reviewed from time to time by the Government and by all those who are interested in it. It is, particularly within our type of economy, something which cannot remain static. For many years there was a substantial shortage of labour, and during that period there was an inflationary tendency, the blame for which members of the Opposition did not hesitate to lay at the door of the Government. To-day, apparently, we have a surplus of labour and, of course, the members of the Opposition do not hesitate to blame the Government for being completely responsible for this condition. The Government has never denied that it has some responsibility in relation to this problem.
At the recent Australian Loan Council meeting, the Government made additional money available to the States, particularly to New South Wales and Queensland, which have suffered worse than the other States from drought. The Government also approved a programme of increased borrowing by municipal authorities. More recently, the Government approved of the release by the central bank of £15,000,000 from special accounts. These actions represented an acceptance by the Governmenl of its responsibility in relation to this great problem. I am sure that each one of us can rest assured that, as may be necessary, the Government will do all within its power in relation to this matter.
I feel that one is entitled to express regret that, while the Government, during the last Budget period, indicated its willingness to provide a substantial amount of money for the standardization of the railway gauge between Albury and Melbourne, there has not been an intensification of that work. I believe that a speeding-up of this project is highly desirable in order to take up the lag in the employment of unskilled labour but, apparently, something has gone wrong with the works, as it were. If the job could be hastened I believe that this would be of considerable assistance.
The same can be said of the construction of the Mount Isa railway. If it were possible to overcome the problems which are hindering the final preparation of the plans and the commencement of that undertaking there would be substantial avenues through which to take up the lag in employment. Every member on this side of the House believes that each person in the community who is willing to work should be able to find employment in the occupation in which he has been trained. I go further and say that it is preferable that he should be able to choose his own job. I believe that the greatest hurt has been afforded to the Labour party because the Government has provided more money to overcome the employment problem. With the disappearance of unemployment in the community, the hope of the Labour party for more votes and more seats at a federal election diminishes.
What has been said, largely, by the Labour party in relation to unemployment throughout this debate represents an endeavour to place this subject on a political level, not on the basis of the good of the greatest number of people in the community. The Labour party suffered quite a setback when, over the week-end, Mr. Albert Monk, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, referred to the unemployment situation and was reported in the Brisbane “ Courier-Mail “ of 10th March as follows: -
Unemployment in Australia was not extremely worrying, at present-
– What would he know about it?
– Mr. Monk is a lot less political in his views than the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and he is probably much better placed to assess trends.
– He should be political.
– I am not concerned with that. I suggest that he is in a better position to assess economic trends than the honorable member for East Sydney is. Mr. Monk went on to say -
We have been concerned at the drift in the last few months, but I will be surprised if the position does not improve.
I believe that members of the Opposition will regret any improvement such as that envisaged by Mr. Monk.
I shall leave the question of unemployment and look at some of the other aspects of the economy, because unemployment is only one. There are five things at which I want to look briefly - the situation in other countries, particularly those countries which are purchasers of the products which are grown in Australia; seasonal conditions; the level of savings and investment; the buoyancy of production within secondary industry; and the level of retail prices. It is our responsibility to study each .and every one of those aspects, and I am certain that, having studied them, other members of the House and members of the public will come to the conclusion that there is complete justification for confidence in the future.
As to the overseas demand for our products, each one of us realizes that there has been a drop in overseas prices. Consequently, there will be a drop in our income from overseas. This may create a minor problem in relation to our overseas balances. But I think it pertinent to point out that our overseas balances did increase in the six months ended December, 1957, although there has been a setback to the extent of approximately £14,000,000 since 1st January.
Perhaps the United States of America is one country at which we might look in an appraisal of the present situation. Between the third and fourth quarters of 1957 there was a drop in United States production - the output of goods and services^ - of less than H per cent. There was also a drop of less than 1 per cent, in personal income. But I think that the important thing is that the economists in the United States have anticipated that there will be an upturn in the general situation before the end of 1958. If that is to be the situation, 1 believe that we, in Australia, are entitled to expect an improvement in the prices which we shall obtain for our primary exports.
Each one of us knows that, over the last twelve months, certain States, particularly Queensland and New South Wales, have been seriously affected by drought. I believe that the unemployment in the community to-day, to a very large degree, exists within primary industry because of the drought situation. This was to some degree the reason why the Government made additional funds available to New South Wales and Queensland for drought relief. We, a? a parliament, 1 believe, should think in terms of the comments made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), on 27th February. The right honorable gentleman, who is perhaps the oldest member of the House, spoke to us in terms of what might be called drought mitigation. I think that much can be done to overcome the problems presented by the drought during the last twelve months if we adopt a national approach - or plan, if that term is preferred - in relation to drought mitigation and flood mitigation.
I turn now to a brief survey of the level of savings1 investment, the buoyancy of production in secondary industry, and the level of retail sales. Having examined these aspects of the economy, Mr. Speaker, I think that there is every justification for confidence. In December last, the deposits of the major trading banks totalled £1,647.000,000. They had increased by £117,000,000 in twelve months, and by no less than £90,000,000 since June of last year, during which period no additional amounts were called up into the special accounts by the central bank. That is an important fact which should be considered side by side with the special relief given by the central bank by the release of £15.000,000 within the last week or so. But T should like to point out that, in 1.957, advances by the banks increased by only £1,200,000. I do not understand why the increase was not greater. I am unable to say whether it was not greater because industry did not demand more from the banks, because the banks did not desire to lend more, or because of a policy determination by the central bank. It seems to me that, as deposits had increased by £117,000,000, there was an excellent opportunity for an expansion of advances in the same period. In the period that I am discussing, savings bank deposits increased by £78,000,000 - or almost 7 per cent - to £1,267,000,000. In 1957, companies listed on the stock exchange raised £99,000,000 of new capital. I stop at this1 point, Sir, to remind honorable members of what has been happening on the stock exchange in recent months. I suggest that, except for those companies dealing in base metals, share prices have continued to increase. That is a clear indication that the investor has confidence in the present situation, and I point out that there is probably no better barometer of the economic condition of the country than trading on the stock exchange.
When we consider secondary production, we can come to the conclusion only that it is increasing healthily. In the five months to November last, there were very few instances of reduced production. In most enterprises, production increased substantially. To take five or six products at random, the production of superphosphate increased by 28 per cent., that of towels and blankets by 21 per cent., that of washing machines by 22 per cent., that of vacuum cleaners by 30 per cent., and that of ingot steel by 15 per cent. In the building industry category, there were no reductions. I believe that these are facts that should be borne in mind by all honorable members and by every member of the community in endeavouring to assess the country’s economic conditions. Let us turn now to the new capital expenditure made by manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries. In the six months to December last, it totalled no less than £175,000,000. Does this suggest any lack of confidence on the part of industry in Australia? I suggest that it indicates considerable confidence and definite planning of expenditure, not only for last year but also for the years that lie ahead.
I come now to the final item in this brief survey - retail sales. The latest figures available are for the September quarter of last year. They indicate an increase of 6 per cent. AH of us recall the newspaper reports that spending by the public during the last Christmas trading period broke all records, and therefore we shall probably find, when the figures for the December quarter are available, that, in that quarter, as in the September quarter, retail sales increased substantially.
So 1 come to the conclusions to be derived from the consideration of these aspects of the economy by saying that I believe, first of all, that there is every reason for the community to be confident, and that scare-mongering - which is all that we have heard so far in this debate from members of the Australian Labour party - is not justified. The difficulties - such as they are - are being faced realistically, and there is little wrong with the economy that cannot be corrected by the Government’s fiscal policy. But I should like to add that if we judge economic conditions by the standards of Labour’s pessimism, we shall do untold and irreparable damage to our economy and our people.
In the few minutes that remain to me I want to deal briefly with a matter that was raised by the Leader of the Opposition on 27th February, when he spoke in this debate. The right honorable gentleman dealt particularly with immigration. I shall discuss only one aspect of it - the proportion of British immigrants. We all know that for some months now the Leader of the Opposition has emphasized the desirability and necessity of increasing the percentage of British immigrants. I say quite definitely that it is highly desirable to increase the percentage of British immigrants if possible. In this connexion, it was interesting to hear Professor Carrington speaking in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s “ Guest of Honour “ session last Sunday evening. He raised two queries: Can we be sure of getting more people from the United Kingdom? Are the additional people that we want available? Professor Carrington then mentioned two factors that exist in Britain. One was the ageing of the population, and the other was the prosperity that the British people have enjoyed over the last ten years. We desire to bring from the Old Country people in certain age groups, but, as Professor Carrington pointed out, there are not enough people in those age groups to meet the requirements of the United Kingdom itself and to provide substantial numbers of immigrants for the dominions. Australia is not the only dominion that seeks immigrants from
Britain in these age groups. We are in competition with four or five British Commonwealth countries in particular.
Professor Carrington’s remarks agreed with statements made by Sir Douglas Copland and Professor Borrie at the recent Australian Citizenship Convention, Sir Dougles Copland said that the United Kingdom and most of the European countries were suffering from declining numbers in the age groups from which most migrants are drawn. He was supported by Professor Borrie, who went on to say that this situation was new in the experience of Europe for at least 200 years, and pointed out that that sort of demographic structure did not lend itself to large-scale migration. I remind the Leader of the Opposition, who unfortunately is absent from the chamber, that Professor Borrie went on to say that he had not yet obtained adequate evidence to prove that there were many thousands of people in the United Kingdom who were falling over themselves to get to Australia. I point out, also, that it was the Leader of the Opposition who drew the name of Professor Borrie into this debate.
From time to time the Leader of the Opposition, and other members of the Opposition, have endeavoured to give the Australian people the impression that there are thousands of people in the British Isles who desire to come to Australia, but who are not being allowed to come because of the attitude of the Australian Government. I say quite definitely that that is not the situation. People of the type desired as immigrants are not available in the British Isles. Further, if they were available, the Government is not adopting policies that would prevent them from coming.
– What about Parramatta?
– I thought the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) would raise the matter of the Parramatta by-election. In case he is not aware of it. a new member for Parramatta will be sitting on this side of the House very shortly. 1 suggest that the Leader of the Opposition has been misguided in his judgment on this matter of British immigration. I think it would be better if the Leader of the Opposition sought the truth in relation to this matter and used the truth in statements made both within this House and outside the House.
It is a pity that the Leader of the Opposition endeavours to cause discontent within the community, and within other countries that make up the British Commonwealth, by the statements that he makes and by his misinterpretation of statements made by others. Anybody who has made a close study of the immigration problem realizes that Australia is unable to obtain from the British Isles the percentage of the total intake of immigrants that the Labour party says we should, particularly within the categories desired.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- 1 take a very dim view of the concluding remarks made by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme). The honorable member has suggested that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) does not seek out the truth, and does not speak the truth within the House and outside the House. Such remarks bring discredit to the arguments that the honorable member raised earlier in his speech, arguments that were based on abstractions The honorable member studiously avoided the facts facing the ordinary men and women of the community.
All members on this side of the House are behind the Leader of the Opposition. If the honorable member for Petrie had listened to Mr. Monk’s speech the other night, instead of obtaining his facts secondhand or from propaganda, he would understand that the Labour movement, politically and industrially, approves the policies with respect to immigration and employment that have been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition in this debate. As far as British immigration is concerned, the honorable member’s arguments condemn his own government. The honorable member has said that we cannot get British people to migrate here because England has been prosperous, and because the benefits to be enjoyed in the welfare state make it unlikely that they would wish to migrate to Australia. That is reasonable enough. Unless you can offer human beings conditions in which they would desire to rear their families you cannot expect them to travel 12,000 miles to this or any other country. That is the first serious indictment of this Government, the fact that it has failed miserably to establish a sufficiently high standard of living for Australians, let alone for immigrants.
Turning to the issues dealt with by the honorable member for Petrie, particularly unemployment, I think all members of the Opposition agree with the view expressed by the late Mr. Chifley when he said -
As far as I am concerned no man in this country will ever walk the streets looking for work again.
That is a simple, straightforward philosophy. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) once remarked that any Australian out of work was a national emergency. That is the way the Opposition looks at this question of unemployment, and the Government is peculiarly anxious to avoid any searching criticism of its attitude towards unemployment. I understand that the honorable member for Petrie is associated with the accountancy profession. He is accustomed to dealing with statistics, figures, and abstractions. The most depressing feature of the Government’s policy is its tendency all the time to get back to abstractions, to put itself on some high philosophical plane to which ordinary mortals cannot aspire. Nevertheless, the tendency is, under the Government’s policy, for ordinary mortals to end up hungry.
This is what the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) said in relation to unemployment -
There has been overfull employment and excess demand ….
And then we come to a gem of a phrase, one that should be inscribed somewhere, probably on the portals of the Liberal party head-quarters. The Minister added that we should consider this “ against the background of an economy in movement.” That is a lovely statement, if we were not dealing with the livelihoods of human beings. The Governor-General, in his Speech, said -
There has been some increase in unemployment.
What does that mean to the individual? Members of the Opposition represent the great bulk of the people who are unemployed in this country. There can be no doubt that people who are unable to find employment are faced with tragedy and the psychological effect of being unable to obtain work can be very damaging. I saw many cases of this last year when people were being dismissed from the aircraft factories, particularly people who had reached 60 years of age or more. There was nowhere they could turn to. The blow of losing their job at such a late stage in life was one from which some of them found it difficult to recover. A fundamental feature of the Labour party’s philosophy is that you do not treat human beings that way. Supporters of the Government may well go out among the people and lay foundation stones, open Sunday school fetes, and spring flower shows, and talk of the rights of the individual. It is a type of political schizophrenia, because in this House Government supporters lose all feelings for the rights of the individual. It is inhuman to consider this problem only in terms of trends and figures. The honorable member for Petrie spoke of superphosphate, ingot steel, washing machines, and dealt in various abstractions. He talked of record spending, buoyancy, and confidence in the Government, but none of these things mean anything to a person out of work. The figures themselves are a challenge to the Government.
This Government took over on the 10th December, 1949, and there were 1,240 people drawing unemployment benefit at the end of November, 1949. There were 11,181 who claimed they were unemployed when they registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service. To-day, quoting the figures of a few weeks ago, there are 27,163 drawing unemployment benefits and 74,765 registered as unemployed. That is a twenty-fold increase since this Government took office. When the Government took over it was handed a buoyant economy on a platter. There may have been overemployment and excess demand, but every Australian in 1949 knew where to turn for a job. If a man was dismissed he knew that he could find another job freely. To be able to do so is as much a part of any system of free enterprise as is the right to own a bank, a newspaper, or a steelworks. The time has come when the Government must realize that these are facts, and that it must change its policy with regard to employment.
It cannot be denied that, since 1949, there have been continual fluctuations upward in the number of people unemployed. To each of the families concerned unemployment is a tragedy, a serious blow. For ten or twelve years people have been confident of the future. Many have committed themselves to a higher standard of living. Many have bought household necessities on hire-purchase, and the threat of unemployment can only lead to unhappiness. To accuse the Opposition of scaremongering brings no credit on the honorable member for Petrie, nor on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). These are aspects that are not faced in any way by the Government’s financial or social policies. We have heard various suggestions to the effect that there cannot be full employment unless there is inflation. Unfortunately, very little study of this subject seems to have been made. Very few facts and figures are available from which one could extract information which would support a view one way or the other. Throughout most of history, of course, the ordinary working people have had to face a life of insecurity and want. Full employment for everybody as a public policy was, I understand, written into the United Nations Charter as a result of the pressure and demands at San Francisco of the Australian Government’s representatives who were led by the present Leader of the Opposition’ (Dr. Evatt), but only in very few places has it been achieved. Only under Labor governments in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand has it been fully achieved.
In the present situation over-full employment - using the term to mean a condition wherein there are more jobs than men to fill them - is something that we ought to look for. There should be freedom for the average individual to change his job if he wishes without losing a day’s pay. Surely, that it not a fantasy or something that we should regard as Utopian. We have seen this condition exist in various times of crisis. We have no difficulty in employing everybody during war.
There is ample evidence that the general standards of living in the community are not rising in accordance with rises in the national income, productivity, and so on. That is shown by the figures quoted earlier by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). The indices for real wages were 1206 in 1950-51, 1201 in .1951-52- in that year, under this Government, there was a drop- 1217 in 1952-53, 1223 in 1953-54, and 1229 in 1954-55. At that stage the figure started to recede. It was 1213 in 1955-56 and 1212 in 1956-57. Those are the indices which reflect the real standards of living. The honorable member for Yarra also cited figures in relation to marriages. Marriages, of course, are an index of confidence in the future on the part of young people in the community. In 1956-57 the rate of marriages was lower than it had been six years before in 1950-51, at which stage one could disregard statistically the fact that so many people had come back from the war a few years previously. At that time most of those young people had become married.
So, despite the view of the accountants and the statisticians, and the various indices, whether of bank deposits, wholesale prices, and such like, there are many indications that the real standards of living of the people are not improving at the rate which one has a right to expect. After all, the nation’s productivity is rising continuously. There is an increasing number of people. Capital investments of the past - for instance, £600,000,000 in railways - are being used now for the benefit of more people. Increasing population should, with due regard to our absorption capacity, mean that the general standard of living in the community will rise, but every figure that we have seems to indicate that that is not so.
These matters are of great public concern. They comprise part of the reason why the thinking people, the folk who have the time to give consideration to their politics, are showing reactions against this Government. Despite the great build-up of the Government’s candidate in the Parramatta by-election last Saturday, despite everything that the Government could do, despite its effort to label our policy as scaremongering, a great number of people who were prepared to support the Government in 1955 are now no longer prepared to support it. This is logical enough. When Australians are given enough facts, we can expect them to give reasonable answers.
The honorable member for Petrie also mentioned seasonal conditions, and I think the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) used the same argument. They said that at this stage, unfortunately, we were being hit with the results of adverse seasonal conditions. For years we have heard that all the good things in this life have flowed from the Government. Apparently when there are bad things, they are acts of God. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) so often puts it, you cannot have it both ways. If it is your responsibility when the country is going well, it is your responsibility to take action tq guard against such events as droughts and a falling off in productivity, and, after all, the drought last year was predicted some time back by the people who know. You should have taken action-
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER.Order! The honorable member has been addressing the Government as “ you “. Will he please address the Chair?
– I thought you were the Government, Sir. It is somewhat difficult to address the Government if its supporters will not remain in the House. Those are points which arise from the speech of the honorable member for Petrie. There are several other matters to which I should like to refer. The Government has spent astronomical sums on defence, and in some respects there is justification for very severe criticism. One is in relation to the introduction of such weapons as the 105 mm. gun. I believe that at this stage of military development, when we do not know exactly what the military tactics and strategy of the future will be, it is very difficult to lay down what sort of forces we should have. Therefore, it is a waste of money to indulge in great expenditure on new weapons which, on the face of it, are not significantly more effective than those which we already have. The 105-mm. guns will cost, I presume. £10,000 or £15,000 each. Goodness knows how many we shall need! The Minister has told us that we have enough 25-pounders. The 105-mm. gun has no greater range than the 25-pounder, although it fires a shell which is 5-lb. heavier. Apart from that, we have a 5.5-in. gun with a range of 11 miles, which is further than either the 25-pounder or the 105-mm. will fire. Radical changes are likely to occur if military tactics are to be based on atomic weapons, lt is folly indeed to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds - in fact millions of pounds - tooling up for guns which may well be out of date before we even have the lot.
The same criticism, 1 believe, applies to the astronomical expenditure on the new Hercules transports for the Royal Australian Air Force. We are buying a dozen of them, and they will cost £15,000,000 or £16,000,000. That is heavy expenditure to transport a small force such as our Air Force, particularly when we have such a remarkably efficient civil aviation scheme. We have, too, the background of the St. Mary’s project, on which it has been proved millions of pounds were unnecessarily wasted.
The administration of the national service training scheme has done nothing but prejudice the continuation of the volunteer system for the Citizen Military Forces. We have a regular army which, I believe, will reach a state of crisis this year. It is now six years since there was a large recruitment, in 1952, and I have found from moving around amongst members of the Army that a very large proportion of them are not going to soldier on. A crisis will arise because the Australian Regular Army will not be able to meet its commitments.
My final point on the matter of national service training should interest every supporter of the Government. The birthday ballot system means that many country units have no chance of filling their quota of recruits. This matter was raised by a supporter of the Government when the new system was introduced. Eventually it will prejudice the efficiency, such as it is, of the military forces generally.
Another vital matter of public policy is education. I believe that a time of crisis has arrived. Tn fact, it has been here for some time. I obtained a number of press cuttings on the State education systems of this country, which cater for about 1,250,000 children. There are thousands of schools, over 40,000 teachers, and the total expenditure each year is about £70,000,000. It is costing between £50 and £60 a year for each pupil. This is a large sum of money, and it is beyond the capacity of the State to find it. If we go back to 1952 we find the press directing attention to the needs of education in the States. The Melbourne “ Age “, on 10th November, 1952, published an article under these captions, “ Education now a ‘ grave crisis ‘. Professor bitter about crowded schools “. The article opened with this paragraph -
Education in Victoria, grossly overburdened and completely out of control, encompassed so many evils that it had become a crisis of the gravest urgency, the Dean of the Faculty of Education in Melbourne University (Professor G. S. Browne) said last night.
Coming to this year, only a few weeks ago, on 5th February, 1958, the “Age” published another long article under the heading, “ School Overflow in Halls, Factory. Crowding, no play areas for some “. This was again referring to the education conditions in Victoria. In the Australian Capital Territory the “ Canberra Times “ gave an outline of the situation in Canberra. It published articles under headings such as “ School problem worst at secondary level P. & C. Committee finds “, and “ Survey of Canberra school problems “. In December, 1956, a letter appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ written by Professor J. F. D. Wood, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, New South Wales University of Technology, warning of a crisis in technical education. In the Melbourne “Age” of 18th June, 1956, an article appeared under the heading, “ Warning of technical education ‘ crisis ‘ “. That was two years ago. In June, 1957, the “ Canberra Times “ published an article under the heading “ Fadden slates Heffron for statement on finance for schools “ The New South Wales Minister for Education, Mr. Heffron, had been very critical of the Commonwealth Government because of overcrowding in many New South Wales State schools. An article appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ dealing with the subject of overcrowding in many State schools.
Tn the light of reports of conditions of this kind in every State we must have some regard to the fact that the State school system is unable to meet the requirements of the nation’s expansion. In the first place it is not able to cater for the children within the State schools and, secondly, it is unable to cater for the needs of the community as they are being posed by present-day demands. In the end, the Commonwealth
Government will have to face up to this matter and accept, in the first place, some measure of financial responsibility for the State school system in Australia.
The Prime Minister to-day pointed out, as he has often done, that education is practically a State matter. If that is so, the Commonwealth should give the States sufficient money for education. Back in 1946, when the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition, in his policy speech before the elections of that year he expressed that view. lt is no longer within the resources of the States themselves to handle the State education systems or the demands made upon them. This is having very serious repercussions upon the opportunities available to children in Australia to obtain adequate education.
Figures contained in the 23rd Report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, dated 1956, in the table dealing with State expenditure on certain social services from consolidated revenue and special funds, show that the amount ranged from £10 ls. a head in Western Australia, down to £6 9s. 9d. in Queensland. The order of the rate of expenditure in the various States that year was Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. An examination of those figures - if the expenditure per head on education can be taken as any criterion - will reveal that there is a very serious discrepancy between the opportunities offered to children in State schools to take higher education and the numbers who accept that opportunity.
The Governor-General’s Speech contains a reference to the Murray committee’s report. It says that the Government has taken some initiative in the matter of university education. But it is in the States, during the stages leading up to university education, where the crisis occurs. There is a very serious wastage of students in the Australian community. Dr. Wyeth, of the Melbourne University, refers to this wastage as a deviation of talent. Of every four children who could attend a university three do not do so. In other words, only 25 per cent, of Australian children are receiving education at university level and utilizing the benefits it offers. The present enrolment in universities in Australia is over 30,000.
This means that another 90,000 students who should be attending universities are not doing so.
Last year there was a great flurry abou the Russian advances in technical education. I have here a book entitled “ Conspiracy of Silence “ written by Alex Weissberg. It refers to the 1930’s and Weissberg is certainly not favorable to the Russian system. He suffered under it. It contains this passage -
The Party had decided to create a proletarian intelligentsia to take over the cultural and scientific leadership of the country. Year after year new batches of young men from the industrial working class were sent to the scientific institutes. They had attended the so-called Workers’ Faculties and, later, higher schools, and now they were supposed to be ready to become scientists, lt was not always the most talented who were chosen in this way. The Party believed that if it went on sending masses of young proletarians to the high schools and scientific institutes a body of real talent would develop sooner or later.
Those were his comments at the time. The passage goes on -
But so far it had not. There was no single proletarian physicist who could measure himself even remotely against the scientists of the old school.
Recently, we have had some sort of factual demonstration of the result of putting large numbers of children into the schools. In the end results are produced. The conclusion is that it is first of all up to the Commonwealth Government, if necessary by way of a referendum, to obtain power over education. I know that the purists will say that this would increase bureaucracy and centralization, but 1 feel that many of our education problems - and this is borne out in particular by education surveys - can be solved without over-centralization. After all, most of the State systems are over-centralized now, but it should be possible to produce a system which avoids its continuance. 1 am continually dismayed at the failure of this Government to take up the challenges that have been offered in this country. During the last seven or eight years we have found very few instances of the Government taking the intiative to create a structure in the way that the preceding Labour government did. We seem to have fallen back into a trough as we did in 1952. Fortunately, there is evidence that the people of Australia are waking up; and Labour will offer them a better future after next December.
.- The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) advocated support for full employment. This is rather interesting.
– Tell us what “ full employment “ means.
– I understood the honorable member for Wills to refer to a state of affairs in 1949 when, according to his definition, a state of over-full employment existed. The honorable member wants more job vacancies than there are people to fill them. I ask the honorable member whether it is not true also - and I want to point out the consequences to which his thinking has led him - that at every time in the history of Australia when we have had a situation like that, whether a Liberal government or a Labour government was in office, we have had a state of inflation.
– There was no inflation when the Chifley Government was in office.
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) is entitled to his own view on that, but statistics prove otherwise. We had considerable inflation under the Labour Government. That was one of our great problems. If honorable members opposite advocate a state of over’full employment, I challenge them to produce a situation which does not involve inflation at the same time. As everyone knows, living standards fall quickest in times of inflation. We know this from our bitter experience in the past.
I do not quarrel with the honorable member for Wills on that score alone. He has spoken of a very creditable ideal - that there should never be one single man looking for a job. He has referred to statements by other members of his party in that regard. That would be the earnest desire of us all, if it were humanly possible; but again I draw the attention of the honorable member to the fact that in the most favorable times he could mention - November, 1949 - when there was a period of over-full employment, nevertheless 1,200 people were drawing unemployment benefits although many more job vacancies were advertised then than could be filled. We shall never be able to create circumstances in which there will not be one single person looking for a job. What idle nonsense it is for members of the Opposition to try to delude the people of Australia that such a position can ever be reached.
My next quarrel with the honorable member for Wills is that he took one point of time to quote a particular situation regarding unemployment. If he had put the clock back six months he would have found that, in June, 1949, 600,000 people in Australia were unemployed. I know that his excuse will be that that was caused by a coal strike.
– That would not be an excuse, but a reason.
– And there are very good reasons to-day why, at this particular point of time, there happens to be somewhere in the vicinity of 75,000 people unemployed in Australia. It is quite useless for honorable members opposite to try to make political capital by comparing the most favorable figures during their term of office with the most unfavorable figures during this Government’s term of office. It is far better and far wiser from an Australian point of view to look at the overall picture and at the trend that has developed during the years. Whatever parties have been in office and whatever may be said about parties or policies, the plain truth is that in post-war Australia we have had a period of development which has been quite unprecedented not only in this country but also in the world. The rate of growth has been magnificent. Living standards have improved, our population has grown tremendously and our national production has increased out of all proportion to anything we have ever seen before.
All Australians can be proud of this development. It has been due not to governments or policies in general but to the tremendous upsurge of human energy in this community since the war. This upsurge of human energy has had three main objectives. They are, first, to grow strong and, by growing strong, to play our part in keeping the peace in the world; secondly, to repair the damage both in human lives and in material caused by the war; and, thirdly, from that to build a great and strong nation. This upsurge of human energy has needed regulation and control, just as a powerful spring in a clock needs regulation and control so that it will not cause chaos and move the hands of the clock in all directions. The regulation and control of a national economy, as with the regulation and control of a clock, needs a delicate and skilled touch. With a period of national energy, such as we have in Australia, it is quite impossible to achieve a perfect regulation of the national machine so that a permanent and precise stability results. At one moment, the hands will move a little too fast and the machine becomes a little out of control. When it is regulated, the hands may move a little slowly. The remedies advocated by Opposition members at this time suggest that they fail to see the general achievements over the years and the general regulation of our economy. They say now that we should stand off and, instead of using a delicate adjustment, we should adjust our economy with a sledge hammer and a crow bar. During this debate, we have heard honorable members opposite suggest all sorts of remedies of panic and despair, of fear, reaction and retreat.
– And hope.
– And hope that panic and despair will prevail. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has been brewing a witches’ brew of sectarianism and stagnation. He has been pouring into this brew all the bitter ingredients of class consciousness, of fear of unemployment and of racial prejudice. One can well imagine him cast in the role of one of the witches in “ Macbeth “, saying -
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
The Leader of the Opposition attacked the great Australian immigration programme. That programme was started by the Labour party, but he seeks now to belittle it. The immigration policy, more than any other single policy, has been designed to carry us along the road on which this nation started at the end of the war. That road leads towards helping to achieve permanent international peace, towards recovery from war damage and towards building a better life in this country. Now, the Leader of the Opposition, to his eternal discredit, says that the Labour party merely started the immigration movement as a refugee movement. They were not the words of the Right Honorable J. B. Chifley or the words of the then Minister for Immigration, who is now the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The late Mr. Chifley in 1949 said-
The great immigration drive, launched by the present Labour Government in 1945 and carried out with remarkable success, will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of all her resources and guarantee her security.
That is the objective of our immigration movement. Nothing has been further from the truth than the effort of the right honorable member for Barton to write down our immigration programme as merely a temporary programme to give shelter to a few European refugees after the war. This Government’s policy to-day is the policy that Labour introduced. That policy has been continued with only minor variations and those minor variations have been designed to improve the policy on the lines that Labour intended in the early post-war years. Let us take the question of British migration. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that this Government does not want British immigrants. He made that foul suggestion in the face of all the evidence, because everything that we have done has been either a continuation of Labour policy or an offer of further inducements to encourage British immigrants to come here. For example, we have introduced the “ Bring out a Briton “ campaign. We have recently concluded a new agreement on social services so that British immigrants to this country can count their term of residence in the United Kingdom as a period of residence in Australia for social service purposes. It is all very well to argue on the Statistician’s fisures as to how many immigrants have actually arrived and how many should have arrived. I do not think that that matters very much, aslong as we try to get as large a proportion of British immigrants within the framework of our policy as we can.
What are the motives of the Leader of the Opposition in attacking the policy on British immigrants? His policy is not to maintain the intake of immigrants but to reduce the non-British intake. That is the objective behind his newly discovered policy of being more British than the British themselves. This is a new departure for the Leader of the Opposition. He was not very pro-British at the time of Nasser’s Suez Canal grab. We did not hear any very pro-British sentiments from the right honorable gentleman when it was a question of supporting British forces in Malaya against Communist aggression. This is a very convenient time for the patriotism that the right honorable gentleman has recently found. I am afraid that this is the kind of patriotism - this false sentiment which deals in racial prejudice - that led one very eminent Englishman to say some years ago. “ Patriotism, sir, is the last refuge of a scoundrel “.
How does the Leader of the Opposition justify his new policy? He says that, by reason of the dilution of the Australian population by the intake of immigrants, our Australian way of life and our democratic traditions are threatened. Has any one ever heard more fantastic nonsense? Our annual intake of non-British migrants is less than two-thirds of 1 per cent, of our population. Are our British traditions and our Australian way of life so weak and feeble that they will be dominated by an intake of two-thirds of 1 per cent, of our population each year? It is quite obvious* that the right honorable gentleman was speaking with his tongue in his cheek. What further proof of this is needed than the fact that there are influential persons in the Labour movement to-day with names like Bukowski, Schmella and Tripovich - grand old Anglo-Saxon names! The Leader of the Opposition does Australia no service by raising this1 fear of one’s neighbours, of good Europeans who have come to this country eager and happy to grasp the freedoms that they are offered here. They have been assimilated into our community and are turning out to be good Australians. They are seeking naturalization at the rate of about 50,000 a year.
If any further indication is needed that this is purely an opportunist policy which the right honorable gentleman now espouses, let me remind honorable members that he has apparently encountered some difficulty with a member of his party, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns, who recently stated that there should be no reduction of the intake of southern Europeans and no restriction on their entry, and that the policy of the present Government, which is to preserve a balanced overall intake and to secure a reasonable quantity from each of the European communities, was far too restrictive. Despite this expression of opinion by the honorable member, suggestions have been made by honorable members’ opposite that our immigration target should be reduced by at least 50 per cent. Before the present Government was compelled to introduce some restrictions on the intake of southern Europeans, those people were arriving in Australia at the rate of about 43,000 a year, and the number of applications from southern European countries was increasing. If our total intake was reduced by 50 per cent., and there were to be no restrictions on southern Europeans, we would have the curious position that British immigrants would be restricted in order to allow southern Europeans to come here. Of course, the suggestion made by the honorable member for Yarra is just as fantastic as the one put forward by the right honorable member for Barton. I suggest that the honorable member has recently discovered that there are some southern Europeans in his electorate, and that he is trying to curry favour with them.
Nor is there any more realism in the suggestion made by honorable members opposite that we could attract more British immigrants if we provided housing for them. The plain truth is* that in the programme of development we have followed in post-war years, housing has been part and parcel of the developmental pattern. We have achieved a tremendous increase in our rate of home construction as a direct result of our immigration programme. Let me give honorable members the relevant figures. In June, 1946, only 65,000 persons were employed in the building industry. In June, 1957, the number had increased to 116,000, and of these more than 46,000 were immigrant building tradesmen.
– How many have left the industry in the last few months?
– If the honorable member wishes to compare the figures for successive years he will see that there has been a steady increase. Between 1946 and 1957 about 747,000 dwellings were completed in Australia. At the current average rate of occupancy of houses in Australia, this gives accommodation for more than 3.000.000 persons, although our population increase, including that which has been due to immigration, has totalled only 2.250,000. Tt can be seen, therefore, that our rate of dwelling construction has been such that, in the post-war period, 750,000 persons who did not have homes have been provided with them, while at the same time we have provided housing for our increased population.
This satisfactory result has been achieved only by bringing into Australia immigrant tradesmen who were prepared to take their chances of getting homes, and by bringing other immigrants who were prepared to work in the basic industries needed to produce the materials for home-building and to take their chances of saving and eventually obtaining homes for themselves. That has been part of our pattern of development in Australia. At this point of time - and again let me stress the necessity to look at the broad picture over a long period - how futile it is for the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that immigration threatens employment. Immigrants create a demand for goods and services, for food and clothing. They represent just as effective a shot in the arm for our economy as would a release of extra bank credit. When demand for goods and services is falling off, how stupid it is to reduce our intake of immigrants and thus cut that demand still further.
It is well known that a proper immigration programme stimulates employment. This has been proved in Australia, because no other country has had less unemployment during the post-war years, in spite of our record rate of immigrant intake, a rate equalled only by the United States of America in its years of rapid expansion. The fact that immigration stimulates employment can also be seen from the fact that even at the end of last December, when our unemployment figures were increasing, there were job vacancies for particular kinds of employees, who would in turn create further job vacancies. At that time there were 24,000 job vacancies. These included 6,738 for skilled manual labourers, 4,667 for semi-skilled manual labourers, 4,719 for administrative, commercial and clerical workers, and 2,820 for professional and semi-professional persons, including matrons and nurses required for hospitals. If persons could be found to fit into those jobs, they would in turn create vacancies for other workers, because it is well known that every skilled worker requires two or three unskilled workers to make up the complete production team. Therefore, when the right honorable gentleman opposite suggests that immigrants take jobs away from Australians, he is simply harking back to the old policy of despair that ruled in Australia during the 1920’s, when, for the first time, Australia lost the opportunity to build and become great because of the fears, panics, prejudices and class-consciousness that were preached by the Labour party.
The Leader of the Opposition raised the question of our immigration objectives. I thought it was the height of pettiness on his part to suggest that the immigration programme was being made an instrument of class warfare, and that employers were trying to bring workers to Australia to make conditions worse for Australian employees. The plain truth is that immigrants come here as work opportunities exist. They come here, in the main, to fill work vacancies which cannot be filled from Australian sources. If they are sponsored and nominated privately, their sponsors must guarantee them accommodation. If they come in with Commonwealth assistance, the Commonwealth sees to it that work vacancies exist. But the right honorable gentleman’s propaganda appears even shabbier when one considers that large numbers of immigrants have become employers of labour, on both a large and a small scale. Every honorable member knows of cases in which this has occurred in his own electorate. I could instance the case of a Danish upholsterer who came to Australia and commenced business with a one-man workshop, and who now employs eleven men, including two Danes, one German and eight Australians. There is a Dutchman in my electorate who established a new industry manufacturing fishing rods, and now employs a number of people. He will soon be moving from his little country workshop to the city. Two Dutchmen in Melbourne started a plastics factory with ten employees, and now employ more than 200 people. There are many such cases throughout Australia.
These facts show how shabby and foolish the Leader of the Opposition makes himself look when he resorts to the petty expedients to which he has resorted in an attempt to make political capital for his party. Labour’s attack on the Government’s immigration programme is short-sighted. The
Opposition’s policy is a policy of stagnation and despair which fails to take account of the broad picture. The Opposition would have Australia fail in the great task to which we have set our hands.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) has, completely without success, attempted to belittle the attitude of the Labour party on immigration. It is apparent that the honorable gentleman has no knowledge of Labour’s immigration policy or, if he has, he has deliberately distorted that policy. We were informed by the honorable member that the Chifley administration launched the immigration policy of this country, and that that policy was then supported by the entire Labour movement, including the trade unions. I should like to point out that when Labour started the immigration policy it envisaged the continuance of certain social and economic elements in the community’ that do not exist to-day. That is why we say that in the present economic circumstances there should be a paring down of immigration - not because we oppose immigration in principle, but because we say that the Government, by reason of its inertia and complete lack of responsibility in many directions, has produced conditions which will not permit the successful operation of the immigration policy envisaged and applied by the Chifley Government.
The Government has failed to make available to the States the funds necessary to provide urgently needed homes, roads, hospitals, schools and other services essential to the public health and welfare. . It has failed to develop decentralized industries to provide full employment for both old and new Australians. It has permitted an antisocial and unhealthy congestion of immigrants in the capital cities, and has thereby created the most deplorable conditions of overcrowding of families, including young children of both Australians and immigrants, in slum dwellings, that have ever been known in this country.
Since this Government came into office these undesirable features of our national life have existed, and they are due to the <Government’s policy in certain directions.
Had a Labour government been in office this state of affairs would not exist. We would have a much better balanced economy. A Labour government would have seen that the States had adequate funds for the construction of homes, roads, hospitals, and many other national works that are so essential in a country with an increasing population. But what have we to-day? A few weeks ago, the Victorian Electricity Commission went to the loan market for a certain sum of money to be used for the development of the Yallourn project and allied projects needed for the extension of electricity services for a growing population, but it could raise only 62 per cent, of the necessary amount. Why? Because this Government has deliberately encouraged the use of money in other directions to the exclusion of the need for improved public services. It has not encouraged investors to put their money in public loans to finance the development of public services needed to cope with our increase of population resulting from immigration. We find that State governments, local governments, water boards, sewerage boards and so on all over Australia are struggling for lack of the money they need to carry out essential services. Under a Labour government that would not be the case. If the Chifley Government had stayed in office, succeeded by a government led by the present leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), we would have possibly 150,000 to 200,000 immigrants coming to this country annually without dislocation. But this Government, by its inefficiency, its lack of realization of the broad fundamentals essential to any immigration policy, has fallen down on the job, and the Australian people are suffering as a result. There are not enough houses, not enough jobs, not enough provision of essential services.
Because of the unfortunate state of affairs that has arisen from the Government’s maladministration of the nation’s affairs the Labour movement has said that, unfortunately, there must be a diminution of immigration activities. We have said that we are forced to advocate a decrease in the number of immigrants, not because we do not like immigration or do not like southern Europeans or other immigrants, but because we wish to protect the immigrants already here, and those still to arrive under the Government’s policy of bringing people here willy-nilly whether or not there are sufficient houses and public services to provide for them. It is because the Government has allowed the economy of this country to run down that Labour has had to say that, unfortunately, although a Labour government inaugurated the immigration scheme, there should be a decrease in the numbers of immigrants. This need has arisen because of the Government’s lack of recognition of the facts of immigration. We also declare, without equivocation, that we strongly support a policy of immigration based on the foundations laid down by the Chifley Government. If this Government can get back to the foundations of the immigration policy laid down by the Chifley Government, which would ensure the provision of employment, houses and other essential services for immigrants and old Australians alike, we would certainly support an increase of the number of immigrants to 150.000 or possibly more annually.
I suggest that members of the Government who wish to know who is opposed to immigration should look at themselves, because by their very inactivity and their policy of misdirection of labour and material they have made this country unfitted to take the number of immigrants that it should have in its present state of development. The real culprits in respect of cutting the number of immigrants are honorable members opposite. If they accepted the responsibility implicit in the original conception of immigration by the Chifley Government I have not the slightest doubt that we would be able to absorb 150,000 or more immigrants annually without any dislocation. I do not think the statements of the honorable member for Forrest deserve any further consideration, because he failed to convince anybody.
One of the most disturbing features of the present political situation is the increasing arrogance of the Government. Problems of the most momentous nature are bypassed in a casual fashion, or flippantly dismissed with an airy wave of the hand. The contents’ of the Governor-General’s Speech amply demonstrate the truth of this contention. Having a full realization of the tragic housing position the Opposition was appalled that no mention of the Government’s intentions in relation to housing was made in the Governor-General’s
Speech. One would have expected at the very least two or three lines about it, or a small paragraph. But there was no mention of it. To me, and to other members of the Opposition, the Government’s1 approach to the housing problem is almost unbelievable. The Government seems to think that it is only a question of time before the problem will solve itself. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is one of those who apparently believe that to be the case because, in a number of statements he has made over the last twelve months, he has said in a desultory fashion that the situation is being corrected. Only a couple of weeks ago he stated that the estimated rate of completion of houses for this financial year would be 71,500. Immediately master builders read that statement they came to the conclusion that the Prime Minister was talking a lot of hot air. A few days ago, the president of the Building Industry Congress was reported in the “ Melbourne Age “ as follows: -
The Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, was pulling figures out of the air to cover up the great housing shortage which was developing, the President ot the Building Industry Congress, (Mr. W. Balcombe Griffiths) said yesterday.
The report continued - “In Sydney last night, Mr. Menzies said the estimated rate of completion of homes this financial year was 71,500,” Mr. Griffiths said. “ Last financial year the figure was 65,000 and it was not likely that this figure would be reached this year,” he continued.
Mr. Griffiths said it would be interesting to hear how the estimate was arrived at, for the building industry had no knowledge of the fact that extra money had been made available to house-hungry people.
Later, the report stated -
The President of the Builders’ and Allied Trades Association (Mr. W. H. Hunt) said Commonwealth Government economists should come down from their ivory towers and have a first-hand look at home building.
In other words, men in the building game - not members of the Labour party or Labour party sympathizers - have said that the Prime Minister did not know what he was talking about when he suggested that the housing position would be corrected somewhat this year by the building of 7 1 ,500 homes. They have no confidence in the Prime Minister’s contention that the housing position will automatically correct itself over a number of years. We have to face the fact that no amount of glib, oratical sophistry can brush aside the stark, cold reality that there is a great housing shortage and that it is getting worse. Little has been done by this Government to catch up with the post-war lag.
Now, an acute situation has arisen which threatens to make the plight of the homeless indeed desperate. I refer to the changing pattern of Australian age groups. The over-all population of Australia is increasing at the rate of 2i per cent, a year, which is one of the highest rates of increase in the world. It is made up of a H per cent, natural increase and a 1 per cent, increase from immigration. If this growth remains fairly constant, as is expected, the population will rise from 9,700,000 to 12,000,000 in the next ten years, an increase of 24 per cent. This overall increase, in itself, will impose great and grave social changes. But when one analyses the increase into its changing pattern of age groups, the full implications become very clear and they are very threatening.
The most significant change of all will be in the number of young people between the ages of 20 and 24 years, the ages at which most people marry or contemplate marrying. In the next ten years the number of people in this group will rise by 55 per cent. The Government should know these facts and should embark upon a housing policy which will make provision for this explosive quality, as somebody in the home-building world termed it recently. Because we have to face this situation, the Government should have embarked upon a policy calculated to step up the rate of provision of houses and schools, and transport and domestic services. Is it doing that? Of course, it is not. To-day, we find that the deficiency in these services is greater instead of smaller.
Apparently, the Government is living in the present. It does not even look five or six months ahead, let alone a year ahead. Bceause this position will obtain for the next few years, the need for courageous, massive planning in housing is most imperative. It is due to the Government’s inactivity that housing is desperately short. Does the Government realize that 1,500 marriages take place each week in Australia, but that only 1,275 houses and flats are being constructed weekly to meet this demand? In other words, the supply of home units falls short of the current demand by 200 a week. That figure does not take into account the terrific lag brought about by the war and post-war conditions.
These facts would be less disturbing if the production of dwelling units were increasing, but, in fact, it is diminishing. I know that these figures have been quoted ad nauseum, but I want to remind honorable members that whereas in the year ended June, 1952, 78,113 houses were built, in the year year ended June, 1957, only 65,540 houses were built - a reduction of 12,573. Yet, in the corresponding period the population of Australia increased by 1,000,000! Under this Government, so complacent in its ivory tower, nearly 13,000 houses less were built last year than were built five years ago. As I have stated, many more marriages take place than the number of houses constructed each week. The number of marriages will increase by 50 per cent, during the next ten years because there will be a greater number of people in the age group from twenty to 24 years. Yet the number of houses being built is decreasing, year by year!
It is high time that the Government alerted itself to this perilous state of affairs. This problem has been talked about, argued about and written about for so long that there is no longer any doubt about what should be done. Enough money should be put within the reach of prospective home builders by the Government. The Government can find money for other things. I suggest that, under the present circumstances, housing is No. 1 problem in the community. What is the good of bringing immigrants to Australia while the number of houses being constructed in this country is falling every year? This is bringing about a position which the founders of the immigration policy never envisaged.
Under the present policy of financing homes too much is demanded by way of deposit. Even when a purchaser has a deposit he finds it very difficult to get a loan. Usually, if he does succeed in getting a loan the interest rates are so high that he has to send his wife out to work in order to help to pay the weekly instalments. In other words, the person who wishes to own a home is up against three obstacles. The first is to save the deposit. The second is to beg or borrow a loan because virtually he has to go down on his bended knee to any lending institution to get money. The third obstacle is to pay the loan off, because £5, £6 or £7 a week is outside the capacity of the average working class family to pay.
The traditional sources of housing loans, the co-operative societies and the public banks, are lending less each year. The private sources which used to make money available for housing, the insurance companies and the private banks, show no enthusiasm for housing at all. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister inadvertently admitted the existence of a grave housing problem when, a couple of weeks ago, in this House, he said that if the insurance companies and other institutions which had once been big lenders for housing returned to that field the housing lag would be well on the way to being removed. In other words, the Prime Minister admitted that the banks and the bigger financial institutions are not doing anything to ease the housing problem. Yet he had stated only a couple of months earlier that the problem would automatically solve itself in four or five years! He cannot have it both ways.
– We have man-power and materials available for home-building.
– Yes; but still we have deplorable and disgraceful housing conditions in every State. All that is wanted is money. The Prime Minister knows that the private banks and other organizations are not making available for housing as much as they provided in years gone by. We often hear the protagonists of the private banks on the Government side of the House paying tribute to those institutions for their wonderful assistance to the development of this country. But here is an indication of their present policy: In June, 1955, the trading banks had £105,000,000 invested in housing. In June, 1957, they had only £86,000,000 invested in housing. Their investment had declined by £19,000,000 in two years. We know the reason why. As the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) mentioned, on 27th February, there is too much lucrative business available to the banks in hire-purchase and similar activities.
I do not indict the Government for its attitude towards housing merely because I am a member of the Australian Labour party, and my indictment is by no means the only one. People and organizations who could never, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as supporters of the Australian Labour party, are indicting the Government. What does the Melbourne “ Age “ say about the Government’s attitude to housing? I must say that, in my opinion, that newspaper has in recent yearsbecome one of the most conservative in Australia. Nevertheless, it indicted the Government in its issue of 30th December last, in a big article headed “ Unhappy Old Year for Housing”. Referring to the building, industry, the article stated -
The industry had its toughest year in twodecades, and the shrinkage in building permits affected everybody down the line.
That is what the Melbourne “ Age “, which is a wonderful supporter of this Government at election time, thought of the position of the building industry last year. Even if the Government will not take my word for it that the housing situation is getting worse, it should take some notice of the Melbourne “ Age “, which is one of its staunchest supporters. Much more money must be provided to reverse the decline in building to enable the nation’s development to be continued in a proper manner.
I turn now to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1956, which, in my opinion, is one of the principal factors contributing to the increasingly disgraceful housing situation. Before the present agreement was instituted, the Victorian Housing Commission received £10,000,000 a year. Last financial year, it received only £8,000,000 and this financial year it will receive the same amount. As from 1st July next, it will receive only £7,000,000 a year. That compares most unfavorably with £10,000,000, which it was receiving only two years ago. This deplorable state of affairs gave rise to the following comment in the report of the Victorian Housing Commission for the year ended 30th June, 1957: -
The new agreement has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of housing units constructed by the Commission and after making provision for the allocation to the Services of 242 units, resulted in a net total of 2,338 units being available to eligible families as compared with 4.152 in the previous year.
Referring to applications, the report stated -
The Commission continued to be embarrassed oy the steady receipt of applications for housing. At the close of the year, some 17,000 unsatisfied applications were on hand.
About three years before, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, there were 12,000 unsatisfied applications. The number increased by 5,000 in three years. Yet Government supporters say that the housing shortage is being eased!
There are numerous people who, because of their economic circumstances, can never buy their own homes, and they must be provided for. I fervently believe in homeownership, and the consensus in the Australian Labour party, and the party’s policy, have at all times favoured helping people to buy their own homes. However, we have to acknowledge the fact that many people in the lower income group cannot buy homes for themselves, and that provision must be made for them by government instrumentalities. That is the reason why the various government housing organizations were formed. When the late Sir Albert Dunstan established the Victorian Housing Commission, he said that it had been formed to provide homes for the people in the lower income groups, who, because of their economic circumstances, would never be able to obtain their own homes. He said that it was the obligation of the State to make adequate provision for them. I do not think that any member of this House would disagree with that contention.
Over the last couple of years, this Government has consistently whittled down the funds provided for government housing organizations, and the position will be even worse next financial year. I know that Government supporters will say that the money withheld from the government organizations is being made available to cooperative building societies, but the allocation to those societies should not have been increased at the expense of government housing authorities. An additional £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 should have been made available to co-operative building societies in Victoria without any reduction of the £10,000,000 allocation to the Victorian Housing Commission. What is being done by this Government is making the problem worse instead of better. For some reason, this Government has almost no interest in the welfare of the unfortunate person who cannot buy a home of his own. Whatever else is done, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be reconsidered. This Government stands indicted for its unwillingness in the past to make adequate financial provision for the construction of homes by government housing authorities. The indictment must now be a hundred-fold more severe, because the Government is inflicting everincreasing misery and heartbreak upon tens of thousands of decent citizens who, owing to circumstances beyond their own control, will never be able to own their homes.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I should like to take this opportunity, first, to thank very sincerely Mr. Speaker and members on both sides of the House for the very cheering greetings and good wishes that I received during my recent serious illness. In particular, I should like to express my sincere appreciation to the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) for some very generous remarks that he made in this House concerning my efforts in an appeal made by the Western Australian Government, himself, myself, and others, to the Commonwealth Government for more funds for the provision of water supplies in Western Australia. I consider that, in the political field, the honorable member’s remarks were extremely generous.
– He is a generous man.
– I do not deny it. His action indicates his generosity. Altogether, the circumstances indicate that members of the Parliament, apart from their political differences, have- a heartfelt regard for one another’s welfare.
– We shall have to put a stop to that!
– I am sure that the honorable member speaks only for himself. He may be an exception to what I consider to be the general rule in this House.
The Governor-General, in his Speech, made a timely reference to the visit of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, who, I think. must have been as pleased and as happy with the demonstrations of loyalty and affection that were given to her by the Australian people as were all Australians with the delightful company of the Queen Mother while she was among us. Without intending in any way to criticize the Royal Family, members of which, I think, are not ultimately responsible for the arrangements made for these visits, I suggest that the restriction of royal visits to the cities, and perhaps one or two large provincial towns, needs reconsidering. I appreciate the saving of time afforded by air travel, but I suggest, also, that the practice of flying royal visitors wherever they go in this country should be reconsidered. I believe that we could give distinguished visitors a far better understanding of Australia and its people by affording country people, equally with city dwellers, the opportunity to demonstrate to members of the Royal Family in their own districts their loyalty to the Crown, lt this were done, a royal visit would probably occupy a week or a fortnight longer, but I can see no other difficulty. If royal visitors travelled by train, the people of every hamlet and village - to use a term somewhat unusual in this country - could display on their own ground their sentiments towards the Royal Family.
– A whistle-stop tour!
– It may be only a whistlestop tour, but that would be quite sufficient. I guarantee that whatever the cities might tlo, however lavish and elaborate their welcome might be, it would be put to shame by the people on these little whistle-stop tours.
I suggest that the people responsible for organizing future visits, whether it be a State government or this Government, should inquire into this matter. Instead of crowding the cities with thousands of people who never get an opportunity of seeing these distinguished visitors even from great distances, we should afford country people an opportunity of seeing them, even if it is only a flashing glimpse of them passing by. as the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) suggested. The railway services would provide comfort no less than that provided bv the airways, and the journeys would not be so tiring, nor so trying. Th’ only objection might be that the tours would take a little longer.
When speaking in a debate such as this it is difficult to restrict oneself to particular subjects. In this instance, I know that 1 could devote my speech to a criticism of the amendments proposed to the AddressinReply by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), and of his arguments which, I say, are entirely unsound. I could point out that the main criticism of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) was that this Government did not adopt the socialist policy of the direction of labour. The honorable member asserted that the Government’s biggest fault was its misdirection of labour. I could spend my time talking about that. I could spend my time pointing out that a good many members of the Opposition, if not all, pray that the One who provides will not provide so well while there is a Liberal government in power, so that there may be death, destruction, and chaos in the country, on which the Labour party battens. I have assumed, of course, that members of the Opposition do say their prayers at night.
If 1 were to speak in such a fashion 1 should be denying myself the opportunity of dealing with subjects of a constructive nature. I could point out that the argument of the honorable member for Batman with regard to housing should have been addressed to the State governments. The State governments are responsible for housing. I might point out to the honorable member that since this Government has been in office, the annual amount allocated to the State governments for housing and other government purposes has been increased to such an extent that it puts to shame the paltry pittance offered by the Chifley Government. I could point out all that, but if I do so I should be losing an opportunity of dealing with subjects that I consider far more important. If there was any substance in the points made by members of the Opposition, then speakers on this side of the House would be justified in dealing with them. I could point out to the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), who spoke so glibly about the freedom of the individual in employment, how his argument contrasted with what the honorable member for Batman said about direction of labour. Of course, there is always a period of unemployment in the transition of labour. Anybody with any humanity at all cannot fail to be touched by the knowledge that when a man goes from one job to another in seasons he suffers a period of unemployment. Governments have provided unemployment relief for that particular purpose.
– lt is not enough.
– I agree, but this Government has increased the amount so that today it is far higher than the amount provided by the honorable member’s party when it was in power. This Government does1 give the unemployed a chance of having something to eat, whereas they had to look jolly hard for something to eat during Labour’s rule. The idea is to cover the transition period. Members of the Opposition want the worker to suffer no loss of income whatsoever-
Opposition members. - Hear, hear!
– Of course, members ot the Opposition agree, and in return the worker will accept this condition: He will work where, when, and how he is told to work by the Government. That is the condition that the Labour party wants, the only condition. The honorable member for Batman said so, and on one occasion the Leader of the Opposition also said so.
I could continue to speak along these lines, completely destroying the Opposition’s argument, as po many speakers have already done, and, 1 have no doubt, as other speakers will do, but there are other subjects with which I should like to deal. I could mention all these things, but I do not wish to. I shall just let them pass.
During my absence-
– It was not long enough.
– The honorable member for Lang might think that my absence was not long enough. Perhaps, during my absence, the honorable member was able to get away with some things about which other honorable members were not as well informed as I am. I want to deal with the Governor-General’s Speech where reference is made to the increase in unemployment that has taken place due to unseasonable conditions. The Governor-General says that action ha? been taken to meet the circumstances and to make funds available to governments and local governments in order to tide them over this period. The present taxation plan was introduced at a time when there was an absolutely unsatisfiable demand for labour, often for jobs that were not of an essential nature. Labour, materials, and almost everything else was in very short supply. We had the aftermath of the socialistic policy of scarcity, created by the Labour government so that it could introduce and retain rationing and controls. This Government did away with all that. The Government had to overcome inflation, which occurred consequent upon Labour’s policy of scarcity, a policy that was applied by the socialist Chifley Government. This Government applied taxation measures that were restrictive. 1 believe that the economy has now reached a position where that policy should be reviewed, because there is an abundance of everything in Australia at present.
I see no fear of inflation if we reduce taxation to the extent where private industry, the income earner, and other taxpayers, are able to apply their money in the development of this country and the expansion of their industries in their own way. The people should not be compelled to supply their money to governments so that it may be spent in ways that are not always in the best interests of the people. Instead of appealing to the people to supply money to the Government in the form of loans, with a charge upon posterity for the works that the Government carries out, by our restrictive taxation programme we get sufficient money to use for immediate capital expenditure. I believe that the time has come to review this matter and say to industry, “ We shall encourage you to expand and to undertake all the development which is within your capacity. For that purpose we shall relieve you of the restrictive taxation which has been part of this Government’s successful policy down through the years.” I have in mind the fact that a budget will come down later this year. Now is the time to make a complete review. We must realize that the Government has arrested the terrific inflation brought about by the tremendous shortages which were the natura! consequences of the Chifley Government’s policy of rationing and control.
– Of war.
– Not of war. The Labour government had an opportunity. Supporters of the Chifley Government blamed the war for the difficulties it faced in the post-war period when carrying out a reconstruction programme, but if any supporter of the present Government dares to suggest that the drought and other adverse seasonal conditions of the last twelve months have affected the employment situation, he is accused of using a wrong argument.
– You have had years.
– The honorable member says that we have had years, but let us not lose sight of the fact that the drought was a recent happening. What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander. If honorable members opposite expect us to concede the disability of war, they must concede the disabilities that this Government faces. As the Governor-General pointed out, seasonal conditions have had some effect on the employment situation. Honorable members opposite will not acknowledge that, but we are expected to accept the fact that during the war and the immediate post-war years there were limitations over which the Labour Government had no control!
– Do you not accept it?
– I think I am prepared to be a little more reasonable in this regard than honorable members opposite are, but I am using their own argument.
I take this opportunity of saying a very sincere “ Thank you “ to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for their action in assisting Western Australia in one scheme in which assistance was so vitally necessary. 1 refer to the provision of additional funds for the comprehensive water supply system. But I warn this Government - and any other government, for that matter - that what is being provided in connexion with water supplies for Western Australia is a mere drop in the ocean of requirements. We on the western coast of this country compare the provision of a paltry £3,000,000, £4,000,000, or £5,000,00 for water supplies in Western Australia with the hundreds of millions of pounds provided by this Government for water supplies in the eastern States. I refer to the Snowy River scheme and various other schemes which have received Commonwealth assistance in past years. I say to the Government and to the Parliament that we in Western Australia are entitled to a far greater share of the funds which it is the responsibility of thisGovernment to provide for national development. Western Australia needs far more for water alone.
For very many years I have advocated1 that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization should endeavour to develop apparatus for converting: salt or brackish water into fresh water. The C.S.I.R.O. has been very busy on this matter. I would like to see the organization maintain its interest and become busier still. I do not mean a huge plant for the conversion of sea water. While such a plant might be handy, it is not what we want. We want smaller plants which can be used on individual farms. Underground in Western Australia we have ample water, but it has too high a salt content to be useful for stock or garden purposes. In America and elsewhere, processes for extracting salt and providing fresh water are being developed. The C.S.I.R.O. has worked on the problem, and I receive reports from the organization occasionally, but I should like to see the organization far busier on the problem than it has been.
The Government must be a little more mindful of returning to Western Australia a fair share of the great national wealth that it provides to the Commonwealth. Toomuch has been taken from it by the Commonwealth Government and the eastern’ States because of the fiscal policy of the nation over the last 50 years. It is not sufficient for us to have a cabinet meeting in Western Australia once in 50 years, and then only when we talk about secession, That is the record of the Commonwealth Government’s treatment of Western Australia. I would to goodness that the Government were afeared again that we would secede. Then we might have another cabinet meeting in Western Australia.
I pay a tribute to the Government for itsprovision of £2,500,000 for development in the north-west. There is a problem which the Government cannot ignore for very much longer. It is as big a problem as the constitutional relationship between the States, and we cannot continue to neglect it. This Government cannot continue to say that it is the responsibility of Western Australia or of any other State to undertake the development of northern Australia. At least this Government, by its token measure of assistance, has indicated its acceptance of responsibility for the development of the north-west. I know that many schemes and plans for the northwest have been advanced. Some people ask for full exemption from income tax and measures of that kind. I do not mind if the people there get exemption from income tax, but I do not think for one minute that that is the answer to the problem. I have discussed this matter with the men and women - particularly the women - who go to the north-west of Australia. One working woman put it to me quite plainly. She said, “ If I have a remission of taxation of £50, £60, £100 or £200, how will it benefit me and my family if we have not the amenities and the educational, medical, hospital, recreational and transport facilities that are engaged elsewhere? Exemption from taxation will influence me, but the provision of amenities and necessary public utilities will induce me and people like me to go into the north-west of Western Australia.”
That is the way in which this Government and the State Government have to look at the problem. I am not concerned about exemptions from taxation. Good luck to these people if they can get away with it! I do not think such exemptions will draw anybody to those regions, but they may draw a little investment. I am concerned with peopling the State. People will go to the outback if we provide them with amenities and facilities reasonably resembling those available in other more populous and developed parts of the Commonwealth. This Government needs to be a stimulus to the State Government. In my opinion, the Government will never do anything for the remote parts of the country until it has provided those things. So what does it propose to do? Will it give us the schools, hospitals, roads and other facilities? These are the things which are necessary for development. It is of no use to put a nian on a rice farm or some other developmental project unless these facilities, which cost money, go with it. The Government must say, “ We will provide you with the money “. The northern regions will advance only when people there have the facilities that they want.
I do not think that the pioneering spirit has died in the young people of Australia, but they look at the matter from a different point of view. They do not want to go out and rough it as their forebears did. They want some home facilities and comforts. They are not prepared to live in a hessian humpy and bury their butter in water and sand to try to keep it cool. Those days are gone. In these modern times, I do not blame any one for not being willing or agreeable to accept those conditions when they can so easily get better facilities provided at a small cost for their health and happiness.
I sincerely appeal to the Government to examine this question of the development of the north-west. A sum of £2,500,000 is a drop in the ocean in connexion with what is required to supply water in Western Australia. If the Government wants to see whether it is justified in assisting that State - and I particularly draw the attention of my friends representing the eastern States to this point - I ask it to consider what it would mean to the national economy if Western Australia were to decide that it would be an independent part of Australia The trade that Western Australia conducts with the eastern seaboard is worth £90,000,000 a year, but the eastern States buy back only a mere fraction of that value in our goods. If we in Western Australia were free to trade where we liked, the amount of money that we spend in the eastern States would go five times as far as it does now. But we are compelled to trade here with the eastern States regardless of whether the people in those States are concerned about our welfare. That situation has been brought about because of the fiscal and economic policy of all federal governments.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Governor-General’s Speech is noteworthy, not for what it says but for matters on which it is silent. No positive approach has been made by the Government to the problems of the nation on the homefront or in the international sphere. The Government’s policy is one of laisser-faire. Micawber-like, it is satisfied to coast along, hoping for something to turn up to solve its problems. Attention is drawn to this fact in the following article which appeared in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, on 26th February last: -
For different reasons, bank credit policy and banking reform were features of the GovernorGeneral’s Speech at the opening of Parliament yesterday - the one being conspicuous by its absence and the other by its inclusion. On the whole economic position, iel alone the role that bank credit might play in it, the Government has confined itself to a string of platitudes. . . .
Not only has there been no action, apart from the Loan Council gesture, to steady the rapid rate of increase in unemployment, in addition we haven’t had any candid statement of the Government’s economic viewpoint.
In combination, the latest deflationary turns in the overseas and domestic economic situations are more distinct than any of the inflationary turns against which the Government’s advisers were prompt enough to advocate action in recent years-
Shades of the horror Budget - - To repeat, it is the rate of drift that is causing concern. . . . There is no inflationary threat at present. Too much is being unnecessarily left to chance. There should be some prompt stimulation of credit especially for housing.
As the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ points out, the situation here must be looked al also in the light of what is happening overseas. I refer to the ominous signs of recession in Great Britain where 500,000 are unemployed. Nearly 5,000,000 are unemployed in the United States of America, and there is a similar dangerous trend in many other western countries where capitalism is enthroned. This was pointed out and those countries were enumerated in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ to-day. The situation is very grim. Indeed, it calls for prompt and decisive action to counteract or lessen its effect in this country, but the Government merely adopts a “ wait and see “ attitude.
As in previous years of office, the Government fumbles around and makes no intelligent or scientific approach to the urgent problem of housing. Despite increased demand through natural increase of population, large-scale immigration and young couples marrying, there has been a very substantial fall in the number of homes being constructed - about 15,000 fewer a year than in the peak period seven years ago. This is a grave social problem and all boils down to a question of finance for which the Commonwealth is primarily responsible and with which the States cannot cope on their own, despite efforts such as that of the New
South Wales Premier recently in convening a conference of interested bodies and individuals to set up a committee to go into the question. This problem calls for the setting up by the Commonwealth of a national housing authority, empowered to co-ordinate housing construction in Australia, regulate the flow of finance, create more stability in the building industry and keep down costs, as opposed to this Government’s past policy of “ boom and bust “ which caused inflation and instability and drove skilled workers into other avenues of employment.
The Chifley Government’s plan aimed at an ultimate target of 80,000 houses annually, this being the figure recommended by the wartime Commonwealth Housing Commission, after a comprehensive survey of requirements of the post-war period, to overcome the lag and meet current needs. That plan should be immediately restored. Likewise the Government should undertake a more positive programme of national development, providing for, in particular, national highways, as well as adequate finance for local government works and for semi-government bodies to take up the lae in employment. Such a programme should also fit in with an orderly plan nf immigration.
The need for a national roads plan was recently stressed by Mr. R. S. Wilson, executive vice-president of Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company (Australia) Limited. He warned that Australia should not repeat America’s mistake of underestimating the value of roads, which, he stressed, are the arteries of a country. He pointed out that Australia was developing more rapidly than the United States of America. He said that in the last seven years Australia had increased its population by 18 per cent, as compared with 12 per cent, in the United States of America, and the number of cars in Australia had increased by 84 per cent. - more than twice the United States of America rate of increase during that period.
Local government bodies which have to provide so many essential services and amenities are the Cinderellas where Commonwealth financial assistance is considered. A new deal for them is urgently required. In my own electorate, as well as in other metropolitan areas, the position is desperate. Finance is urgently needed for sewerage, roads, kerbing, guttering and other facilities.
One newspaper columnist, in referring to what he described as “ Sydney’s shame “, commented -
It is a standing disgrace that a city like Sydney which prides itself upon being progressive has large unsewered sections where primitive methods of sanitary disposal are a constant menace to health.
The United States Government has had to admit that a new deal for local government bodies is the right approach. President Eisenhower has asked for large-scale credits for public works in order to take up the slack in employment. In contrast to the measly grant of ?1,000,000 recently made by the Australian Loan Council to New South Wales for local government bodies, the Minister for Local Government in that State, Mr. Renshaw, pointed out that a minimum of ?2,500,000 is needed to retain the present labour force in employment and avert more unemployment. A total of ?3,600,000 was sought by these bodies for urgent and essential works. But the Commonwealth maintains a stony-hearted attitude towards their demands. Apart from Australian Loan Council grants, the Commonwealth could utilize the resources of the Commonwealth Bank or release special deposits to private banks at low interest rates for local government bodies. This would be a sound investment because repayment by the local government bodies would be secured by the rating power vested in them.
The Government’s policy of credit restriction and high interest rates is fallacious and is causing stagnation and unemployment. Such a statement is not mere Labour propaganda but the considered view of many responsible citizens and industrialists. For example, Mr. C. P. Puzey, Director of the Australian Industries Development Association, had this to say recently in a report to his association -
Unemployment to-day was the outcome of an official monetary policy based on false promises. The events of 1957 had proved wrong official forecasts made earlier in the year.
Those predictions were -
Employment would increase.
Business would show marked improvement.
Inflation would threaten Australia’s economy.
Mr. Puzey went on to say
Tight monetary control had made it impossible for banks to use the improved cash position to pump money into the economy. Official policies failed to appreciate the significant decline in investment, particularly the fall in home construction. They also did not take into account industrial capacity expansion - representing more than ?200,000,000 in new production annually.
Dealing with the growing army of unemployed, which was then 60,000, but which, of course, is now much higher, he said -
At such a time it is amazing to hear strong rumours that an increase in interest rates is likely.
Mr. Puzey added ;
Not only will we require a policy designed to stimulate investment, public and private, but the stimulation of consumption expenditure could be equally important.
That is the crux of the situation; Mr. Puzey reaches the very core of the problem. Unless credit is pumped into the economy to keep up consumption, production will slow down with consequent mass unemployment snow-balling, as it inevitably must, unless prompt and vigorous steps are taken to prevent it getting out of hand. The decrease of 13,000 in the number of building trade workers last year, as disclosed by the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Carver, must have its repercussions on consumption and industry generally, in view of the number of allied trades dependent on the building industry. It is the key to them all. As it slows down, the others follow automatically. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the easing into the economy of ?15,000,000 through the Central Bank during the last fortnight - a belated and somewhat begrudging recognition by the Government of its responsibilities - will be followed by further releases of finance until the economic rot has been checked. It is to be hoped, also, that the Central Bank, and if necessary, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will exercise their undoubted powers under existing banking legislation to ear-mark part of this money for home building at moderate interest rates, in line with the Chifley Government’s policy.
This Government’s policy of slavishly following Britain in its financial policy has also proved to be fallacious and has contributed to the present unsatisfactory situation, as recent overseas news indicates. After all, Britain’s problem is different from ours. She is a small, densely populated country dependent on trade and the manipulation of the ? sterling, whereas Australia is under-populated and under-developed. Australia’s development is urgent and vital for our defence and future security. The financial columns of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 3rd February contained the following report -
BRITISH ECONOMISTS EXPECT BANK RATE TO FALL SOON.
London, February 2nd. -
British economists believe that Britain will soon reduce the 7 per cent, bank rate, according to Reuter’s financial correspondent.
The Government boosted the rate by 2 per cent, to its present level last September to fend off a crisis in which the pound sterling was in “ peril “.
This drastic step worked by helping to sten. inflation inside Britain and halting big selling of the £ by foreign speculators. But since then other countries have gone in the opposite direction by cutting their bank rales steeply. Their reason is that recession, rather than inflation, has now become the enemy to be fought. By making money cheaper to borrow they are hoping lo stimulate trade.
The world trend of falling money rates was led by Western Germany, Canada and the United States, and recently joined by Holland. All these countries have cut their bank rates during January.
The London bank rate is now double that of West Germany and more than double New York’s. The result is that Britain’s rate has been left high and dry.
Many prospective home buyers in this country, also, have been left high and dry because of credit restrictions and high interest rates which, with high capital costs, have made it impossible for them to purchase a home on terms within their means. I do not say any more about the home front; the recent Parramatta by-election indicates that the people are aware of the Government’s deficiencies in these matters. Iri addition, the press, which usually supports the Government, pointed out that the result of the Parramatta by-election was a warning to the Government. The “ Daily Mirror “, in an editorial, said -
Mr, Menzies and his Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden, should take it as a warning; a warning that the people will not stand indefinitely for credit restrictions, a housing shortage, an unrealistic immigration policy and growing unemployment.
Unless the Government heeds the lesson of Parramatta, it will find that by the time of the next general election the drift away from it will be far more serious than was Saturday’s.
That is the writing on the wall for the Government. A similar negative attitude and lack of constructive approach by the Government also prevails in the international sphere. The Governor-General said that the cold war continues. The first phase of it, we know, has been on the propaganda front. It is now shifting to the economic and political front by subtle infiltration methods, and that could be more dangerous and effective than the propaganda. In the first phase, the propaganda front, the Soviet bloc seems to have been highly successful from its point of view in spreading fear, suspicion and distrust, in creating division within our ranks and in keeping the Western world in a constant state of jitters, keeping us on the defensive all the time and causing us to make huge stocks of armaments for an eventual showdown. The timing of such a showdown, if it ever happens, is necessarily in the hands of the Soviet, but we have allowed it to take the initiative at every twist and turn of the cold war. Even the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) would admit that that is so.
The Soviet has its sights fixed on its ultimate objective of world conquest by international communism, while the free world, the democracies, capitalist society or whatever term may be used to describe the Western nations, fumbles along aimlessly and complacently, hoping to muddle through somehow in the end, as of yore. We must pull up our socks. We must know where we are going and what we really want, or we will be engulfed and enter a dark age. That may be sooner than many expect, although some, I am sorry to say, accept its inevitability and do not care. This is a dangerous philosophy and is becoming all too prevalent here, because of the Government’s failure to create an awareness of the situation in the minds of the people and to build up public morale. This failure is evidenced by the manner in which the Government has dithered around with civil defence. Apparently it has now abandoned civil defence because, significantly, there is no mention of it in the Governor-General’s Speech. The Government appears to have accepted the viewpoint of its defence advisers, that “ it could not happen here “ in the foreseeable future, despite the ominous signs and fastmoving events to Australias’ near north. This attitude reminds one of Singapore, the invincible stronghold, and the Brisbane line strategy. Spending £1,000,000 a year on security services, preparing dossiers, is no solution. That is a purely negative approach. A better approach would be to spend the money informing the people of the facts of the situation. Give them the truth and they will respond!
In the struggle for world power, the uncommitted countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East hold the key. Australia must be alerted to the effect of the Afro-Asian bloc set up at Bandoeng and Cairo. Soviet Russia has played a leading part in welding these nations together on a racial or colour basis. We have, as an example, the support given to Indonesia at Bandoeng and in the United Nations, and the latest developments in Indonesia itself. Indonesia could easily turn Communist, and in that event our position would be most precarious. At least, it could become another Korea with Australia and New Guinea right in the front line. 1 regret that the Government is not willing to extend the scope of the Foreign Affairs Committee or establish parliamentary committees on such matters as defence and security generally. Such action would enable the Opposition to participate and we could then pool our brains and knowledge on these and other vital problems which affect us al!. We must get together on these problems sooner or later, and the sooner the better. We cannot afford to waste valuable time and energy on unnecessary and futile controversy. The British parliamentary system which we follow is too cumbrous to cope with totalitarian regimes, which can make and implement decisions over-night. We have no ground for complacency because we just scraped home last time, when we were menaced by Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo in World War II. or by red China in Korea. Our system must be streamlined and made more efficient and workable to cope with any future challenge of totalitarianism of left or right, and it must be adapted to changing world conditions in a new technological era.
I am optimistic enough to believe that a solution can be found between the two extremes - the old order on the one hand or totalitarianism on the other - by a cooperative form of society based on voluntary association in socially useful occupation, as against compulsory regimentation and economic slavery. If a solution cannot be found, we would be better off to return to the primitive society in which people were at least kept occupied in hunting and fishing for food in the open-air and sunshine, and in propagating and caring for their young. Full employment is an ideal that must be accompanied by human happiness and social usefulness, and the industrial era must embrace it if it is to survive. The unhealthy conditions, the monotonous grind and the insecurity that are the lot of the average wage-earner in this age of industrialism make people easy prey for agitators and power-hungry individuals who capitalise on the legitimate grievances of the workers. Workers must be allowed to share both the fruits and the responsibilities of industry, and to receive the benefits of technological discoveries and scientific advances, such as automation, so that they may develop culturally and live a full life. We have to work hard for a solution of our problems before some other system is foisted on us, and I regret that there is no indication of a solution in the Governor-General’s Speech. There is no time to be lost.
Some draw consolation from the fact that Soviet Russia is, for the time being, fully occupied with problems in Europe. Bui such persons reckon without red China, which represents a vital aspect of Australia’s problems. We are in the Asian orbit whether we like it or not, and we must give a lead and set an example to Asia’s teeming millions if we are to win them to our way of life and gain their co-operation. Already red China’s leaders, such as the Premier, Chou En Lai, are claiming that the world’s balance of power has swung to the Communist bloc of nations. He made this claim recently when speaking at the National Peoples’ Congress in Peking. It may be thought that he was bluffing, but let me remind honorable members that we thought Russia was bluffing until it launched its first satellite. It is not good enough merely to laugh the matter off as the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has apparently done, according to newspaper reports yesterday of his statement concerning Soviet threats to certain Asian nations that are members of Seato.
A summit conference may bring about a rapprochement, but one must be sceptical of the outcome of such a conference in the light of past experiences of such meetings and the false promises, broken pacts and downright betrayals that followed them. It must be borne in mind that such other conferences, too, were convened with a fanfare of trumpets and with great hopes of the establishment of a true and lasting peace. Let us have more conferences on the level, for a change - that is, among the ordinary people who constitute the real foundations of society. I would have more confidence concerning the outcome of conferences if the iron or bamboo curtains and similar barriers were removed, enabling peoples of all races and all walks of life to get together, and not just a few V.I.P.’s, or sick and ageing politicians who are no match for tough, power-loving dictators. Let the ordinary people mingle and get to know and understand one another. As President Eisenhower has put it, let us place our diplomacy on a people-to-people basis. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) rightly says that the cold war is a battle for the hearts and minds of people. With fast transport available, such cultural exchanges as 1 suggest are easily practicable, and any expenditure thereon would constitute a better investment than the huge amounts of money that are spent on armaments.
Society should be like a pyramid standing firmly on its base, not on its apex, and the leaders should be the true servants of the people and not their masters. An inverted pyramid must eventually topple. That is the difference between true democracy and totalitarianism. But let us not lose sight of the fact that there are still some ruthless men at the helm in various countries. Some, such as President Soekarno, have, like Hitler, uncanny faith in soothsayers and astrologers. Others in Arab countries conduct summit conferences, plotting murder and liquidation for their rivals. These facts must be kept well in mind. But unless a solution to the problem is found, and stability and equilibrium restored to the world, the alternatives are grim. This is the challenge to statesmanship.
The extreme view is that presented by the philosopher, Earl Russell, who recently, when advocating the banning of nuclear weapons, said, “ As things are now - and is statesmen go - I think it is an even chance whether any human being will exist 40 years hence “. A slightly less grim picture was painted by Professor J. P. Baxter, chairman of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, who, in dealing with the tremendous population pressures throughout the world. said, “ A small minority could take over and rule the world “. “ The main problem,” he said, “ is to produce in the next 50 years a complete community which understands the nature of the problem.” He said that Australia cherished a democratic system with the majority of the people deciding national policy, but that unless the community was working efficiently and accurately this system would become submerged by the end of the century. This could happen, Mr. Speaker, a lot sooner, especially with a government in office that seems oblivious of the dangers or how to cope with them, and is thus unable to give a lead or awaken the people to an understanding of our dangers.
It is a great pity that a more hopeful outlook was not demonstrated in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech on these great national and international problems, because I have no doubt that if the nation could be pulled together, on a basis of co-operative team work, and if it were given the right leadership, it would go ahead and rise to heights hitherto undreamed of, in a great progressive new era. I firmly believe that the youth of the world - to whom, after all, the future belongs - will demand something better than that which immediately confronts them in this country and elsewhere.
.- If I had worked in the closest collaboration with my friend, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), I could not have arranged for a better preface to what I have to say this afternoon. The honorable member beat the drums that the Opposition has beaten throughout the debate, of unemployment and housing shortage - and in the distance, of course, we heard also the drums of war.
The answers to the problems confronting us to-day are simple, in the view of those who have spoken on the other side of the House. According to them, it is merely a matter of pouring out money, of loosening credits and reducing interest rates, and of spending government money lavishly. This policy, they claim, will cure unemployment, remove the housing shortage and make us a happy community. I think I have given a fair representation of the arguments advanced, and the attitude adopted, by honorable members on the other side of the House, and of the attitude adopted by Labour supporters in the recent Parramatta by-election.
There are some legitimate reasons for concern in the present situation. We know that the price of our wool on the world’s markets has declined, as has the price of base metals. We know that our wheat harvest has failed. All this has meant that there is less money in the pockets of primary producers, and this in turn must reflect its effects throughout the economy. In other words, due to conditions over which the Government can have no control, we face a minor recession. But I would point out that we faced a very much greater slump after the boom caused by the Korean war, a slump that was overcome, or cushioned, by monetary measures and did not cause any grave inconvenience to the people of Australia. I see no reason why, in the situation in which we are now placed, we should accept the fears and the feelings of panic that the Opposition seeks to engender in the minds of the people.
Of course, the situation in the United States of America does give cause for some disquiet. If unemployment should increase in that country the effect must be felt in the United Kingdom’s economy, and that country is the principal market for Australian goods. I can only believe that the Americans will not - because they dare not - fail, holding, as they do, world leadership. They cannot afford to allow unemployment to increase. The results would be far too catastrophic, not only for that country but for the world.
I believe, therefore, that, facing the economic situation squarely, it would be fair to say that Australia does not have to confront impossible problems, and the world situation is not such as to cause undue gloom. What I fear is another result altogether and it may be that time will prove me to have been right. What I fear is that, as a result of the baying of the Opposition, the barking of the pressure groups and the bally-hoo of the press, the Government may be induced to enter on another period of inflation, to give another twist to the inflationary spiral. I believe, not without realism, and having regard to the past and looking to the future, that this is by far the most likely outcome of the present situation - another twist of the inflationary spiral. It is that possibility which I wish to examine now, because there are things that can be done in the forthcoming Budget, matters that can be put forward in the policy of the Government parties at the next general election, steps that can be taken to meet the situation that, I believe, is going to arise within the course of the next twelve months.
I am dealing with the effect of inflation upon those who are living on fixed incomes and relatively inflexible incomes. I should say, first, that I believe that the middle classes do not wish to see unemployment, because they do not wish to see the misery that we have, unfortunately, experienced in past years, and also because they do not want to see - no decent person wants to see - the social frictions that arise when people are living under crowded housing conditions, when young people are not able to develop their independence by living in homes of their own. They do not wish that situation to exist. I make that quite clear at the outset, because I do noi want to be misunderstood. I do not want it to be thought that I am advocating a restrictive policy, in order to hold inflation, that would result in wholesale unemployment and in the continuance of present housing conditions. Let me not be misunderstood on that point.
But should the people on fixed, and relatively fixed, incomes be those to shoulder the whole burden of inflation, assuming that inflation is the only means of ensuring full employment and of getting houses built? Are they the people who should shoulder, in the future as in the past, the whole burden of these policies with which all of us agree? Those people are squeezed between the big battalions of labour and the heavy artillery of business. The workers do not suffer from inflation. Their wages rise with the times. Business does not suffer either, because a situation of full employment and high demand means more profits, and fixed assets increase in value as the value of money declines. So neither the big battalions nor the heavy artillery that are trampling down and pounding the middle classes to pieces suffer from inflation. The whole burden falls on those least able to bear it, and the Government cannot afford to see that situation continue.
Let me refer now to the decline of the value of money before I go on to point out what it means to this middle section of the people. The pre-war £1, on the basis of the C-series index figures, is now, if my arithmetic is correct, worth about 7/1. It is probably worth less than that, because the index does not give a fair indication of the decline of the value of money. In each of the last two years the rise in prices generally has been of the order of 5 per cent. This means that in another decade or two the pre-war £1 will be worth precisely one prewar shilling. I am concerned with the effect of this on those people who are being ground between the upper and nether millstones. Who is it who suffers? First, the widows and spinsters, the mothers of schoolage children who have been left by a bread-winner with certain savings, some perhaps invested in such things as Government stock, mortgages and preference shares - in other words, gilt-edged securities. There is nothing less secure than gilt-edged securities. To-day they are like a block of ice standing out in the noon-day sun. Or, to vary the simile, they are like someone standing on the top of a rock, but with the tide already around their feet or their middles.
Then there are the people who have put their savings into life assurance policies. They have bought a policy that they thought was worth £5,000, but in twenty years it may be worth 5,000 shillings. Then there are the people who are living on annuities, or superannuation which generally does not increase with the decline in the value of money, although in some cases there have been such adjustments. Then you have the class of landlords, about which our friends opposite can wax so eloquent. If I had their eloquence I would point out that those are the people who have been most unjustly treated since the war. They have had no justice and no mercy. The owner of property, the landlord, has been left with a nominal income. The tenant has, in fact, become the virtual owner of the landlord’s property. There can be no justification for this situation,
These are not all the classes of people who are being affected by inflation. There are other people on fixed and relatively fixed incomes like clergymen, professional men, executives, scientists, teachers and so on. It is true that all those people have had their incomes increased as the value of money has declined, but in nothing like the same proportion as the increases in the incomes of people on wages or people engaged in business. Age pensions also always tend to lag behind the rising cost of living.
Of late there have been more imposts on the classes of people I have mentioned. Train fares and tram fares have increased, as have also municipal rates, education fees and motor registration fees. Of course, there are those who would say that people who pay education fees are merely indulging in a luxury. I do not take that view, because I believe that people in this country ha%’e a right to have their children educated in church schools, and should be in a position to exercise that right, instead of the reverse. In this Christian democracy, if indeed it is a Christian democracy, that should be a right and not a privilege.
All the people I have mentioned have borne the brunt of taxation. Everybody has been taxed, but none has suffered more from taxation than the middle classes. Why has taxation been heavier upon them than upon others? In 1956-57, a total sum of 455,000,000 was spent on development - public works of one kind or another - by the Commonwealth, the States and semigovernment and local government authorities. Only about £50,000,000 of that sum was collected from net loan raisings. Something like £300,000,000 was derived from taxation, the balance being made up from other sources. So the people who have borne so much of the brunt of taxation have had to contribute more than their fair share of the amount of £300,000,000 raised from taxes for developmental purposes.
I am not complaining about development or the immigration programme associated with it, although I believe the immigration programme has been excessive. I have said so in the House before, and I repeat the statement because I still believe it. It will prove to be true. It is already proving to be true. I am not complaining about a development programme and an immigration Drogramme that are properly proportioned. They do provide the dynamic to our economy, and I would be against their elimination. The point I am trying to make is: Who should pay for them? Should the burden rest entirely on the shoulders of those least able to bear it? Those programmes have contributed immensely to inflation, which has hit hardest those on fixed and relatively fixed incomes. Let us have this policy by all means, but let us have an equitable adjustment of the burden. I say that there should be development, that there should be full employment, that there should be more housing. But at whose cost?
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting 1 had asked a question. Before I answer that question, may I briefly recapitulate the burden of my argument. I pointed out that throughout this debate and during the by-election campaign at Parramatta the Opposition had been beating the drum of unemployment and the housing deficiency and had propounded as a remedy the pouring out of money by releasing credit, no doubt through the use of treasury-bills and otherwise. I said that, in my opinion, the real danger that faced the economy was not so much these things, which could be brought under control, but the probability that when they had been brought under control by this means the result would be another twist in the spiral of inflation. I pointed out that inflation affects adversely and in a most serious way those whom I might call members of the middle classes - those people whose incomes are either fixed or are fairly inflexible. I said that while I believed, and while they believed, that unemployment should be prevented and that better housing should be provided, they had a right to feel that the whole burden of inflation - if that were the means by which this policy should be carried out - should not be suffered by people who stood in the middle between the big battalions of labour and the heavy artillery of big business, the sections of the community that do not suffer from inflation. That was the burden of my argument. Now I come to the answer to my question.
First, I should like to take an analogy. The Australian Country party, for many years, opposed the increase in the tariff wall because its members knew that the tariff would adversely affect the costs of primary producers. But after a time they realized that the tide was too strong to be resisted and, instead of opposing the tariff, they sought compensation in other fields. They sought a home-consumption price for certain commodities. They sought freight concessions from the State railways. They sought exchange depreciation and any other means whereby they could find some compensation for the rising tariff. The tide could no longer be resisted. I believe that since we are committed to policies of full employment, development and so forth, the tide of inflation is irresistible. It must go on. If that is so - and here I come to my analogy - it is for those who are crushed between the upper and the nether millstones to seek some compensation for the burden that has been imposed upon them.
Let it be clear that I speak for a large number of people in the community. Let it not be thought that I have some quirk or idiosyncrasy of my own. There may be various ways in which compensation may be sought. I have only a few minutes left in which to put forward one - perhaps the most important. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has, for a long time, persistently and with great honour to himself, advocated the lifting of the means test. I am going to put forward, in the few minutes that remain to me, merely that, as some measure of compensation for those who are so gravely, so grievously disadvantaged by the inflation that accompanies those policies to which we are committed. The question of age pensions is not one problem. It is at least three problems. It is a problem of providing for the needy - for those in dire necessity. I advocated in this House, on that occasion, that instead of an all-round increase in pensions being made, a fund should be set up to meet the needs of those who were in dire necessity, in particular those who did not own homes. I believe that that is the right course. I am sorry that in my absence during the last sessional period, the Government decided upon an all-round increase and did not adopt the point of view which I had advocated and which, J notice in “ Hansard “, the honorable member for Sturt also advocated during the last sessional period.
The second problem of age pensions is that of providing compensation to the retired generation - those people who provided, as they thought and hoped, for their old age, but who found their savings had dwindled, had been eroded, and had melted away as a result of the inflation which is a consequence of the policies to which every party in this House is committed. I have no doubt that the most practical means of dealing with the problem of compensation for the retired generation is by lifting the means test, by giant and swift strides.
Finally, there is the question of providing for the retirement of those who are at present working. I believe that the answer to this problem lies in a national insurance scheme. I believe that those people would be ready to make contributions to such a scheme in anticipation of their retirement in their old age. Those are the three parts into which I would divide the problem of age pensions. If there should be any change in the Cabinet I believe that the Government should regard the social services portfolio, not as a portfolio for a junior Minister, but as a portfolio for a man who has drive and experience and who will bring these matters before the Government as being of prime importance.
We cannot any longer neglect and deny justice to a large section of the people of this country. I have nothing to say against the present incumbent of the portfolio. He is one of the most junior members of the Cabinet and has just come into that post. The subject has not been a study of his. I say nothing against him; but I believe that the Government should put in the foreground of its endeavours the necessity to provide some justice for the large class of people for which I speak. This is not just an economic problem. It is a moral problem of the first order. It is a question of doing justice to those people who are being ground between the upper and the nether millstones, who have seen their savings melting away like a block of ice in the noon-day sun. They see the tide of inflation rising as they climb on to the topmost rock. They see it rising to their middle and threatening to overwhelm them. This may become - perhaps it should become - a political problem as well; but I approach it as a moral problem. I believe that this Parliament must do justice to those who deserve it. These people merit assistance because of their efforts to provide for themselves. Here is a moral problem that must be tackled. If we neglect moral problems, if we do not concern ourselves with the weak, the helpless and the needy, the community must crumble into ruins and we must become as the beast of the field.
.- The astonishing feature of this debate has been the attempt on the part of the Government - both by members of the Cabinet and back-benchers - to suggest that everything is well with Australia at the moment, and to decry the claims of members of the Opposition that a very serious situation exists to which some remedy ought to be applied. We, on this side of the House, might be excused for having political axes to grind in this matter; but the only people outside this House who have had a chance freely to express their view indicated last Saturday at a by-election that they too were not satisfied with what was being done by this Government as the custodian of the economic destiny of the Australian people. It was suggested in the Sydney press last week that if the Government’s majority in the Parramatta byelection were about 7,000 votes, it need not worry, but its majority has in fact fallen to fewer than 5,000 votes, and if as many people changed their minds in the next six months as have apparently changed their minds over the last two and a half years, the Liberal party would not hold the Parramatta seat after the general elections.
For the by-election, the Liberals chose a candidate who was supposed to have all the adornments needed to bolster the weak forces of the Government in this House. It is interesting to read suggestions that there is no one, on either the front bench or the back benches on the Government side, of sufficient calibre to take the place of the ageing Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). This ageing Prime Minister, instead of becoming an elder statesman, as he might well do, is becoming merely a carping politician who, immediately his Government is criticized, shifts his argument to some other ground, and tries to delude the people of Australia into thinking that all is well. Last week, the Melbourne “ Sun “ reported that, in addressing a meeting held in the famous Parramatta by-election campaign, the Prime Minister had said that depression talk was nonsense, and that the suggestion that credit should be expanded was “ jolly silly “. When an expansion of credit is suggested by the Government, of course, it is all right, and there is to be, as there ought to be, an expansion of credit in the next few months, because £15,000,000 is to be released from the special accounts of the private trading banks by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. When the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was asked to-day what he, as the Treasurer, and the person to whom the banking system should ultimately be responsible, was doing to ensure that this £15,000,000 would be made available where it was most needed, he said he would take a few days to prepare a statement about the matter.
There is something else that I should like to mention, in passing, about these special accounts - something about which there has been very little publicity so far. I refer to the decision taken, a week or two ago, to raise the rate of interest payable on these special accounts from 5s. per cent, to 15s. per cent. It will be remembered that, about two years ago, the rate of interest payable on these accounts was reduced after the Opposition had pointed out that the increase in overdraft interest rates made then would have the effect of greatly inflating the profits of the private banking system. Ostensibly, this was not the purpose of the increase in overdraft interest rates, which was intended to have an overall restricting effect on the economy. In consequence of the protests made by the Opposition, the rate of interest payable on the special accounts was reduced. At the present time, the deposits in those accounts total about £325,000,000, nearly £300,000,000 of which has been drawn off from the various private trading banks. An increase of the rate of interest payable on the special accounts by 5s. per cent, to 15s. per cent, will inflate the profits of the private banking system by about £1,500,000 in twelve months. I suggest that a reason for this action - and, even better, a reasoned statement about it - should have been given to the House by the Treasurer.
The £15,000,000 of credit that is to be released will be lent at the average rate of interest of 5i per cent., and can be lent at up to 6 per cent. One of the effects of this will be to inflate the profits of the banking system by about another £700,000. The banking system, in effect, has been promised a present of more than £2,000,000 over the next twelve months, in addition to the benefits of the Government’s efforts to destroy the present controls over the banking system. Why has the Government chosen to increase the rate of interest payable on the funds in the special accounts? I suggest that either the Treasurer, or the Prime Minister, who, I understand, is to follow me in this debate, should at least indicate to the Australian people the reason for the increase in this rate of interest, the first effect of which will be to inflate the profits of the private banks.
The principal matter discussed in this debate has been the declining level of employment. We who belong to the Australian Labour party believe in, and Government supporters assert that they believe in, what is called full employment, which is based on the right of every individual in the community who is able and willing to work to do so. In a country such as Australia, with a population growing at the rate of more than 200,000 people a year - about 90,000 being net increase from immigration, and more than 120,000 being natural increase - full employment, if it means anything, should mean an increase, month by month, and year by year, in the total employment in Australia. To a government the supporters of which pride themselves on being the apostles of private enterprise, it should mean rising employment all the time in private industry. In a community that believes in the right of the family to develop, it should mean an increase every month in the total number of males in employment. I propose, in the next few minutes, to subject the gross, or aggregate, employment figures to tests designed to show whether they satisfy those requirements.
It is true that, in December, 1957, there were, in the aggregate, more people in employment than in December, 1956, but there were not 60,000 more. I regard an increase of 60,000 a year as a conservative estimate of the desirable increase in employment each year. The employment statistics are broken down into the numbers in governmental employment and private employment, and a further distinction is made between males and females. The treads that have been in evidence for some months were indicated as long ago as October of last year in one of these glossy publications which emanate in such profusion from this Government. Whether any one in authority takes much notice of them, 1 doubt. After listening to the various replies given by Ministers to questions asked in this House, I suggest that the Minister at one end of the front bench does not know what the Minister at the other end is doing. Whether the Prime Minister, as the overriding authority, can get them all into harness and pulling together, I do not know.
As long ago as October, 1957, it was pointed out that there was a significant and serious trend in total employment in manufacturing industries in Australia. Australia must continue, for many years, to depend on employment in manufacturing industries, and in what are called tertiary activities, to absorb the great increase each year in the number of people on the labour market. In fact there has been a decline in the past twelve months in the number of males employed in manufacturing industries. Honorable members should remember the creed of members of this Government, those apostles of private enterprise, who say that they are in favour of giving Australian families a fair deal. At the end of 1957 -‘‘here were fewer males in employment than there were 12 months previously. Fewer people were in private employment, and the total employment figures are only as respectable as they are because of the increase in female employment and in the despised sphere, so far as this Government is concerned, of government or socialised employment. What of the creed that the Government is supposed to stand by? This Government reminds one of the old fable about the king who really had no clothes on at all, but whose courtiers milled around him telling him how well dressed he was, until a small voice pointed out that he was naked. This Government is naked and devoid of any policy -
– And unashamed.
– Precisely; unashamed. For the Parramatta by-election the Government chose a paragon as a candidate. When the people had the opportunity they did not look at the glittering figure of the candidate chosen by the Government; they looked to the candidate of the only alternative party.
The Government has good reason to be fearful, despite the words of the Prime Minister, who said at Parramatta that the great thing Australia had to fear was fear itself. As custodians of the welfare of the people, the Government must examine the trends of employment in Australia much more systematically than it has done in the past, because in the Opposition’s view the reduction in employment cannot be blamed primarily on seasonal factors. The problem is much more deep seated than that. It goes to the very structure of industry itself. In its Survey of Manufacturing Activity in Australia, the Department of Trade points out that there has been increased efficiency in manufacturing industry in Australia, which is a good thing, unless it means that men are being dismissed from work and are not taken on elsewhere. That, instead of indicating efficiency, could be the road to economic ruin.
Structural changes are taking place in employment in Australia, and the Government has made no plans whatever to meet that situation, a situation that has been developing, not during the past few months only, but for a number of years. In fact, in the “ Monthly Review of Business Statistics “, it is shown that the index figure for wage and salary earners employed in factories increased steadily until 1950-51, when it was 1,408. Since then, the figure has steadily declined, until now it is only 1,280. Of course, over that period the population has increased, but the manufacturing industries are now providing a smaller proportion of total employment than previously. We hear a lot about being at the dawn of the automation age. Members of the Opposition do not regret that some of the drudgery of employment will be removed, and that technology and science should be applied to relieving people of the burden of industry. But it is no good releasing people and not finding something for them to do, or providing them with an income. That is the serious situation facing Australia to-day. Something like 26,000 people are to-day drawing unemployment benefit, and about 70,000 are waiting to get jobs.
It has been interesting of late to see how the Government relies not on the nominal wage, but on something that it calls the average wage, which at the moment is £17 or £18. The failure of 26,000 people to earn £18 a week in the course of a yea can have considerable repercussions on the economy. In fact, another apostle for private enterprise, the Director of the Australian Industries Development Association, in a very interesting document recently circulated to honorable members, suggests that the Australian community requires about £200,000,000 additional expenditure each year. I do not propose to be trapped at this stage into an argument about whether so much or so little expenditure is expansionary or not, but there is no doubt that £15,000,000, whether it is released indirectly through the private banking system, or directly in the form of treasury-bills, must have the effect of stimulating economic activity in the community. I suggest that economic activity may be stimulated much quicker if credit is released direct by the Government in the form of aid to housing rather than if it trickles through at the choice of the private banks. One might be pardoned for thinking that we were dealing not with 1958, thirteen years after the war. but with 1948, only three years after the war, when we listened to the apologies from the Prime Minister at question time last week. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) also proudly stated that the delay in the availability of finance for war service homes had been reduced from eighteen months to fifteen months. I can see no reason, thirteen years after the cessation of hostilities, why any soldier should be denied finance for a house. With the building industry in its present plight, why should these people be forced to borrow money on second mortgage at anything from 7 per cent, to 12 per cent, when the Government can make money available at 3f per cent.? If finance were provided at once in these cases, it would not result in inflation. It would provide a stimulus to the building industry. There is no reason, thirteen years after the cessation of hostilities, why a man should have to wait fifteen months before he can obtain finance for a house.
– There is no delay.
– Let supporters of the Government go out and explain to the electors in six months’ time that there is not fifteen months’ delay in getting finance for a home. I have a letter here stating that finance will not be available until April, 1959.
– Is it in respect of a new home?
– Whether or not it is in respect of a new home does not matter. Why should a man have to borrow money at an inflated rate of interest because of that delay? It just illustrates the mysticism of Treasury bookkeeping upon which this Government seems to delight in falling back, and it is time that a little of that sort of thing was cut away.
But I come back to what seems to me ought to be the principal point in this debate There can be no gainsaying that there is a decline in employment opportunities at present in Australia. In a country such as ours, which is crying out for so much development, that state of affairs ought not to exist for a moment longer than is necessary. But it will continue to exist and be aggravated if this Government does not take definite steps to remove it. I repeat that we do not want unemployment in this community, whatever its effects may be on our political destinies. We believe in the right of every individual who wants work to be given the opportunity to find remunerative employment. There are at least 26,000 Australians at present on the dole and at least another 50,000 apparently without jobs. I throw this back at the Government. Private enterprise, the Government’s own chosen ground, is flagging in Australia to-day. It is not finding jobs for the Australians who come on the labour market each year. The people who are suffering are the male employees, because comparatively very few females are on the dole. The persons on the dole are nearly all heads of families, and the impact does not stop at the individual. It is felt by his family and in the levels of economic activity generally in the community. Therefore, I hope that the Prime Minister will admit that serious problems now exist in the Australian community, and that he will indicate what measures his Government proposes to take to stimulate economic activity generally, and to restore confidence to every Australian, whether he be old or new. Once a feeling of fear or lack of confidence exists at any level, it tends to spread to other levels, and our standards and traditions as a nation are the sorrier in consequence.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
Motion(by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) speaking for a period not exceeding 45 minutes.
– Mr. Speaker, the Government is, as I understand it, under censure by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who has moved an amendment of censure and has made us a speech containing attacks on three different grounds. It is quite impossible, even within the extended time permitted to me by the House, to deal exhaustively with all of them.
– We will give you more time.
– I wonder if you will. 1 might take you up on that. But, Sir, before I deal with those matters, I hope to be allowed to correct a statement made just now by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). He was talking about the building of new houses for exservicemen. He appears to be under the impression that there is a waiting list. I think perhaps he has failed to realize that with the very largely increased sums of money that the Government has made available under this head - now £35,000,000 in this year - there is in respect of the building of houses, the acquisition of new homes, no waiting list at all. I merely mention that because what the honorable member said, no doubt quite inadvertently, may give rise to serious misunderstanding on the part of those who listened to him.
Now, Sir, I turn away from that, because I cannot undertake to answer all the speeches, to deal with the attack made by the Leader of the Opposition. He referred to unemployment, he referred to housing, and he referred to immigration. No doubt my colleague, the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley), can deal, with great satisfaction, with the particular charges that were made on the subject of immigration, but, Sir, I just want to make one comment. The right honorable gentleman has of late become tremendously pro-British on the subject of immigration, and in a recent speech at what, hitherto, has been a nonpolitical meeting, the Australian Citizenship Convention, he said that, while the Australian Labour party wanted a proportion of 60 per cent. British and 40 per cent. nonBritish immigrants, it called also for an immediate and substantial reduction in the immigration intake. So that means two things: He says that the Government has. presumably, discriminated against British migrants, though the well-known fact is that we take all British migrants for whom a berth can be found. In the second place, having alleged that discrimination, he goes on to say that the overall programme ought to be. reduced. I referred to the charges as being made by the right honorable gentleman because quite obviously it is not made by his party. It is very interesting for everybody to reflect upon what are the views of the Australian Labour party.
– Not at all.
– I know the right honorable gentleman does not like it, but he is going to get the facts to-night. He may be interested to know that although he uttered those sapient words in January of this year, one of his staunchest supporters in this House, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), in February, only a week or two later, made a broadcast in Victoria on the “ Labour Hour “, setting out the Australian Labour party’s policy on this matter. Did he say that we were discriminating in favour of Europeans? Did he say that the overall immigration programme was too great? On the contrary, in a spirited blow for independence - this may be another schism in the party, for all I know - he said -
The Australian Labour party says that Australia can and must maintain a migration programme far larger and better than that of the Menzies Government which has failed so badly.
So, while the right honorable gentleman says, “ Make it smaller “, the other doctor, the honorable member for Yarra, says. “ Make it bigger “. We cannot pretend for one moment that we are not offered a fair choice, but are the people of Australia being offered a fair choice? Having gone on to say, “ We say that it is a disgrace that the overall figures have been so low “. this is what the honorable member for Yarra said: “ We say that it is a disgrace that southern Europeans have been discriminated against “. One says, “ You are discriminating against the British “, and the other says, “ You are discriminating against the southern Europeans “; one says that the migration intake is too big and the ocher says that it is too small. I can understand the geniality of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) on this occasion, because is it not rather amusing to see honorable members opposite embracing one another and disagreeing with one another - a rather pleasing domestic scene?
I want to say no more on that subject because it will be dealt with in particular, and it deserves close examination, by somebody else. I just want to make a very short reference to the second of these problems - the problem of housing. It has become very fashionable within the Opposition and elsewhere to talk about housing in terms of deficiencies. All you have to do is to say that it ought to be so much, and then if it falls short of that figure, however much the figure may be worth, intrinsically, you are able to say that there is a deficiency of 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000. Psychologically, this is rather clever propaganda, but it is not a bad idea to look at the positive facts occasionally.
Of course, housing is a great problem, and the principle upon which the Government has acted - within the narrow limits of its power, because this is not primarily a Commonwealth matter-
Opposition members. - Oh!
– Honorable members opposite cannot roar off the Constitution like that. It would be much better if some of them read it. But every sensible person in the House knows that it is not, primarily, a Commonwealth responsibility to provide housing. Everybody knows, also, I think, that the present Government has done far more about housing than its predecessors ever thought of. In this very year, the Commonwealth Government, directly or indirectly, is finding £77,000,000 for housing. The principle on which the Government acts is that by every means, by action, example or persuasion, it should meet the normal annual demand for housing and make a substantial reduction in the accumulated arrears of dwellings every year. That has been the principle upon which this Government has acted.
I should like to point out to honorable members that if they examine the figures for the current year they will begin with a statement - I do not think it is a conservative figure; it may be a little on the high side - that the estimated deficiency apart from the new annual demand, or the recurrent demand as I will call it, is of the order of 99,000. The current need - that is to say, the number of home units that would have been built if there were no accumulated arrears - is 53,000. The estimated completions for the year will be 71,500. That is to say, the current need of 53,000 will be met and 18,500 taken off the accumulated arrears. As accumulated arrears are of the order of 90,000 or 100,000, it follows that in this one year the current demand is met and approximately one-fifth of the accumulated arrears is reduced by construction.
If we are to debate these matters in a sensible fashion and address our minds gravely to this important problem, we will agree that that is a pretty good achievement in one year.
– But it is not a statement of fact; that is the only trouble about it.
– To the honorable member for East Sydney, every fact is untrue, because every fact confutes him; therefore, he must say that it is untrue. I do not work out these facts; they are worked out by people who have no politics but are concerned with the statistics of the matter. I want to mention only one other aspect of housing. We are not to talk about the housing problem as if our one business is to build houses. One cannot build houses usefully for people to live in unless roads and other essential services, such as water and electricity are provided. To make these available, public works are necessary. A very great percentage of the public works performed by the States during the last eight years has been financed by money found by this Government out of Commonwealth revenue. Therefore, if we take the housing problem and look at the other problems associated with it - because it is not possible to separate it from these other matters, without which housing is relatively useless - and add everything together, it is quite permissible to say that the amount of money being used for housing by this Government is not £77,000,000, but very substantially more than £100,000,000 a year.
Of course, members of the Opposition always have a bit of a go at this matter. Nothing that we do is any good, in their opinion, naturally. Whatever number of houses may be built is> not sufficient. That is quite intelligible, but I think that some members of the Opposition ought to do a little reading of the record. I cannot help reminding them that when their government was in power and had all the capacity within its hands to do what honorable members opposite say ought to be done, that government managed in five years - and I am taking five completely post-war years - to see 200,000 home units built in Australia. This Government within its first five years of office saw built not 200,000 but 389,000 home units; and during the last two and one-half years, another 184,000 home units were built. We were responsible for almost as many homes in the last two and one-half years as the Labour government built in the five years when it turned its attention to housing and had at its disposal all the power, all the goodwill and all those emotions which honorable members opposite now so painfully demonstrate about this problem. That was their performance; and this has been the performance in our time.
Having said that, I do not propose to occupy more time on that matter, because I want to say something about unemployment.
– Tell us about Parramatta.
– My dear boy, I would not waste time telling you anything. I have given that up long ago. I wish to speak about unemployment because that, I suspect, is the great banner that the Opposition has hoisted. I say, with no hesitation whatever, that if there is one prayer that goes up from the other side of the House it is that there will be more and more unemployment. That is their great ambition because, Sir, if the small amount of unemployment now existing disappeared to-morrow, their occupation, like Othello’s, would be gone indeed. They know that, and that is why the right honorable gentleman, speaking at least on behalf of some members of the Opposition, in the course of his speech referred to such things as “ this great number of people idle “ - I am quoting his very words - “ this great pool of unemployed in the country “. That is extravagant talk and it is dangerous talk. It is extravagant because whatever unemployment exists at this moment is quite marginal. It is not to be described as a great pool of unemployment; it is not to be described as a great number of people idle, and the right honorable gentleman knows it. The right honorable gentleman also knows, right down in his heart, that no government, even one led by him, can guarantee that for all persons under all conditions there will be a job of the kind desired in the suitable place. Let us face that simple fact. No government can guarantee that, and, though he has a convenient memory, the government of which he was a member never succeeded in achieving 100 per cent, of people employed in that sense at all.
– You have to go back a long way.
– Order! The honorable member for Lalor will remain silent.
– I do not wonder that the honorable member is making all the noise, because sitting on his right-
– Tell us about your policy of full employment now!
-Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will also remain silent.
– The honorable member for East Sydney will not help by talking nonsense. I have stated that the fact is that, if we are talking about full employment as meaning that every person under all conditions and in all places can have a job of the kind he desires, then that is beyond the capacity of mortal man. In Australia, we have had an admitted condition of far more jobs than people to fill them at various times in the last few years and yet throughout the whole of that time there have been some people drawing unemployment benefit. That is something that we have to remember. Indeed, I can understand my friend from Lalor making a bit of a hullabaloo, if I may so describe it, because just beyond him is sitting his COl.leage who, back in 1945, said -
I realize there cannot be total employment, but if we can get down to 5 per cent, of unemployment, for all practical purposes that can be regarded as total employment.
That was said by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen).
– On a soldiers’ bill!
– The honorable member was not referring to soldiers. He now says that he was, but it was a general statement. We have never agreed with that. We have never aimed at achieving a rate of unemployment of that kind, but we have aimed at maintaining full employment - understanding the plain fact that there will always be some people who cannot be employed at the time or are unwilling to be employed at the time.
– What do you call some?
– I will tell you what I mean.
– What number?
– I will tell you. Normally in Australia, at the best, it might be 1,000 or 2,000.
– But there are 75,000 at present.
– I will come to the figures. If you look over the records of the Government of which you were a distinguished member, you will find that every month from the introduction of unemployment relief, some people were receiving that benefit. In one case, the number was just under 1,000; in most cases, it was 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000. It is just as well for you to remember that when you start making extravagant claims about the present state of affairs. As a matter of fact, since numbers have been mentioned, I will just say this: When the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, he felt a little unhappy about the fact that there had been a large number of people receiving unemployment benefit during the coal strike and as a result of the coal strike in 1949. In order to get away from that, he said -
The numbers of those in receipt of unemployment benefit in that period were only tiny when compared with the position that came into existence in 1952-53 under the regime of the present Government, and compared with the position to-day.
– That is right.
– I am happy to hear him say, “That is right”. Therefore, we can test his sense of fact very appropriately, because in point of fact during the coal strike the figures for 30th July, 1949, showed 118,000 people on unemployment benefit.
– When the coal strike was on!
– Not strikers, but because of the coal strike.
– Yes, because of the coal strike. Be honest about it.
– Just listen to the figures. I am being perfectly honest about it. I am not complaining about the government.
– Of course you are not!
– No, I am not complaining about the government of the day. I am merely quoting the figures. There were 118,000 people on unemployment benefit. Now, according to the right honorable gentleman in his speech the other night, and repeated by interjection to-day, that was a tiny figure compared with those who were receiving unemployment benefit in 1952-53 or are receiving it at the present time. I have looked at the figures. In July, 1949, there were 118,000. The highest figure in 1952-53 was 42,000. To-day it is something of the order of 27,000. Now, the right honorable gentleman cannot laugh these figures off, unless he is prepared to say - and he is prepared to say many things - that 118,000 is a tiny figure compared with 42,000 and a tiny figure com pared with 27,000. Incidentally, to-day’s figure of 27,000 is in a community in which there are 1,500,000 more people than there were in 1949.
– What are you going to do about the 75,000 unemployed now?
– If I may be permitted to continue - my time is not unlimited - I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that he still cannot laugh off this matter by pretending, shall I say, that any number receiving unemployment benefit of more than a few hundred is a grave reflection on the Government and shows that the Government does not believe in full employment. Putting on one side the coal strike and the results that arose from it, I find that in November, 1946, 15,000 were receiving unemployment benefit. He was in office; we were not. He was the man who could produce full employment quite simply, if he had the will, but he had 15,000 receiving unemployment benefits in November. 15,000 in December, 16,000 in January, 1947, 13,000 in February and 11,000 in March. I have no doubt that there are very good reasons for these things. That is not the point that I am making. The point that I am making is that in any circumstances in an economy such as this, we will have some fluctuations and those fluctuations will, we hope, be within very narrow limits. However, occasionally, because of some exceptional circumstance such as the coal strike the fluctuation is one within very broad limits.
Forgetting all about slogans, Sir, the real task, the human and social task of the Parliament and of the Government is to keep these numbers to the lowest possible level. Having quoted the figure now, all 1 need to say is that, for every hundred persons normally available for employment, very nearly 99 are at this moment engaged. If honorable gentlemen opposite and if the right honorable gentleman, their Leader, want to correct the feeling that a disaster has overcome Australia, then he ought to have a look at other countries and compare what is going on here with what is going on in the world. I have no apologies to make for the fact that, even with some change in unemployment figures, we still have little more than 1 per cent, of the total work force unemployed. I do not want to embarrass honorable members opposite by saying so, but that, of course, is why Mr. Monk, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said on Sunday in Melbourne that there is no serious unemployment problem in Australia.
– What would he know about it?
– That interjection deserves the widest publicity. The honorable member for East Sydney says of the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, speaking on unemployment, “ What would he know about it? “ I profoundly regret these little differences that spring up among my friends opposite. I know that they had one or two on their hands, but if I am now to understand that there is a first-class brawl with the A.C.T-U., whose president is alleged to be incompetent and to know nothing about this problem, then all I can say is that there are many people who will welcome the news.
We have this number of unemployed at present, small though it is when considered as a percentage of the work force. But one thing is certain: our real task in this matter is to do everything in our power to prevent that number from becoming substantial, and to reduce the number as efficiently as we can. This, Mr. Speaker, is a matter that does not call for violent, panic measures. Any government worth its salt would never dream of using violent and spectacular measures to deal with something that is relatively small. The fact is that with an economy such as ours, it is necessary to serve judgment and balance and to use a bit of good sense, not be unwilling to act but not be dragooned into taking extravagant action.
We had a special meeting of the Australian Loan Council some weeks ago. A question was asked in the House about it only the other day. This special meeting was requested by a number of State Premiers, the reason being that a certain amount of unemployment existed, and that some of the States were running into deficit on their accounts and they were a little troubled about carrying out their programmes of expenditure. At that special meeting we had to deal with four months of the year, March, April, May and June. We had to deal only with the last four months of the financial year, and not with the rest of the calendar year, because there will be another meeting of the Australian Loan Council in June, when we will discuss all the estimates and proposals for works and loan expenditure for the financial year 1958-59. That will be the time for considering what ought to be done, and how, with regard to the new financial year. The Commonwealth representative, having heard the State premiers, agreed, first, that the local government borrowing programme should be extended by £3,000,000 for local government purposes, because it was felt by us and by the State premiers, including the Premier of New South Wales - perhaps honorable members opposite have also had a quarrel with him - that local governing authorities were in a better position to put works in hand quickly and to take up some local unemployment than any other authority would be. (Mr. Ward interjecting) -
– Order! The honorable member for East Sydney will remain silent.
– That, if I may say so with respect, Sir, is, 1 think, a valiant hope. When the honorable member for East Sydney spoke in this debate, he said that it was nonsense to talk about local government authorities being able to borrow another £3,000,000, that we had, in effect, pulled the legs of the Premiers, and that it was a characteristic piece of deceit by me. If he makes that accusation concerning me, what will he say about his own party’s Premier in New South Wales, who said that not £3,000,000 but as much, as £5,000,000 could be borrowed in his own State, and who asked to be allowed to borrow that amount? That, I think, is an interesting commentary on the situation.
In the second place, the Commonwealth made a special grant of £5,000,000 to the States. It was not a loan or anything of that kind, but a special cash grant - and again in respect of the period of four months.
– Some one. more familiar, of course, with these problems than I, says that £5,000,000 is peanuts. 7 still think that £5,000,000 is a substantial sum of money. If you want a Prime Minister to say, when dealing with the present symptoms, that £8,000,000 is not enough, and that it should be £80,000,000 or £800,000,000, then I am not the man fo the job, because that would be sheer lunacy. An amount of £1,000,000 out of the £5,000,000 granted to the States was divided between New South Wales and Queensland, because those two States had been most affected by drought. The balance was distributed amongst the States according to the tax reimbursement formula. We indicated that we would like to believe that a substantial proportion of the additional grant would be used for purposes of housing, and, interestingly enough, the State Premier’s agreed. In the case of South Australia, every penny of the cash grant is going immediately into housing. Tenders will be let within the next few weeks for the construction of the extra houses. In the case of New South Wales £1,000,000 of the extra money that the State will receive as a result of this special grant is going into housing. The bulk of the money given to Victoria is to be used for housing.
We have, therefore, provided the local government authorities with the opportunity to obtain extra finance to the extern of £3,000,000; we have given a measure of drought relief to the two States mob affected; and we have provided a large amount of additional money, for the next four months, to ease the housing problem. It should be remembered that we have been dealing with these matters as interim matters only, because at the Australian Loan Council meeting in June we will discuss the problems in the broad, and in the light of the then circumstances. I remind honorable members, however, that further relief has been provided by the Commonwealth Bank releasing £15,000,000 more from special account into the liquid resources of the trading banks. I hear some honorable member opposite talking about hire purchase. This money will not be invested by the banks in the hire-purchase field; it will go into the liquid assets of the trading banks, as trading banks.
– What will they do with it?
– Of course, the honorable member for Yarra is always wanting to have it both ways, as I apologize to my friends for repeating. One moment he is clamouring for millions of pounds in credit to be released, but when some is released he says, “What are they going to do with it? This is no good! We are being put into the clutches of the trading banks “. I always thought that one of the objects of the releasing of credit by the central bank was to irrigate the resources of the trading banks, because they are the retailers of money just as the Commonwealth Bank is the wholesaler.
Those things are the things we have done. But, on top of all that, and much more importantly, if the problem be adequately understood, it is our policy to encourage industry to expand, rather than to seek to undermine its morale and confidence for party-political gain. To do the second of those things is the most dreadful act. That is the most dreadful thing that has been done by the Opposition, which is always seeking to prophesy gloom. Professional mourners, that is what they are. And because they are always seeking to prophesy gloom, they arc genuinely - well, I suppose genuinely, and 1 would hesitate to think anything else - trying to persuade business to lose its confidence and not to expand. I am happy to say that they do not appear to have had very much success, because in the last week or two, despite all this gloom, what have we seen? In the State of Victoria the industrial development that is going on is beyond all precedent. People are bringing money in from outside Australia and investing it to the tune of many, many millions in vast enterprises. Is that because they have no confidence in our economy? Is that because they have no belief in the stability of this place under its present management? Of course not! And because all this is a good thing for the country and a good thing for employment, it is a bad thing for unemployment and, therefore, it is a bad thing for the Opposition.
There is another aspect of the same thing. Whenever the Leader of the Opposition talks of employment, he thinks of it solely in terms of Government money and Government jobs. But private industry - primary, secondary and tertiary - is by far the greatest employer of labour in Australia. Therefore, to do anything to depress or discourage it is completely anti-Australian; and that, indeed, is the right description of what has been falling from honorable gentlemen opposite.
I want to say only one thing more in the time left to me. The Australian economy is a healthy economy. It is a balanced economy, and because ft is a balanced economy it will always be subject to slight movements one way or the other. That is inevitable in a balanced economy. We will, in some particular circumstances, move into a little touch of unemployment. We will, much more frequently, as we have found in recent years, move into a state of affairs in which there are unfilled jobs. Each of these has its great economic disabilities. Therefore, what we have to do, as those responsible on the Commonwealth Government level for those matters, is to preserve a balance, taking into account always the favorable factors and the unfavorable ones. It is quite true that there are unfavorable factors. There are lower metal prices - substantially lower. There are lower wool prices. We have lower farm prices. We have had, in two States in particular, a measure of drought. These are unfavorable factors.
What have we done? Have we just looked at them and said, “Well, that’s a pity! “? On the contrary, the whole trade policy of this Government, administered by my colleague, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), has been, in the direction of expanding our commercial opportunities with other countries, in order to build up our exports, to strengthen the markets for the things we sell, wool being a conspicuous example. At the same time, with all those unfavorable factors in mind, let me remind the House that internal activity is, in fact, constantly being stimulated by a high rate of internal saving for investment - a much higher rate than some people in Australia give us credit for - a remarkable volume of overseas investment in industry in Australia and great programmes of development. Dear me! Whoever wants to feel pessimistic about Australia ought to open his eyes to what is about to happen in Australia, with, for example, enormous developments in Whyalla involving, in effect, the creation of a new city and great shipbuilding enterprises, the existence of which will mean more shipbuilding opportunities in States like Queensland, to take one example.
– The B.H.P. is getting a strangle hold on the people.
– The moment a great Australian company announces it is going to create employment in Whyalla, for thousands of people, and maintain thousands of people in new homes, somebody says, “ Yes, but they are going to get a strangle hold on the Australian people”.
In addition to the factors I have mentioned, which are good factors, we have the one referred to by my friend and colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) to-day. There has been a remarkable degree of industrial peace. You do not have industrial peace in a country like ours unless you have a good measure of industrial justice. These things have prevailed, and they have been a great factor in our internal activity. We have enormous technological advances, and we have an immigration programme. Some say the immigration programme is too big, some say it is too small; but a programme which has enriched this country with a million new citizens can hardly be regarded as not having contributed lively stimulus to activity and to thought and imagination in our country.
All those things are the best justification for confidence, not for calamity howling. I can remember, as I have no doubt other honorable members also can remember, that every year for the last eight years Labour has prophesied mass unemployment or disaster. This has been the annual dish. It has been like the haggis on St. Andrew’s Night. I am privileged on St. Andrew’s Night to stab the haggis, and it has been my privilege for eight years to stab this silly argument that there will be mass unemployment and disaster. Year after year members of the Opposition have fallen back, professionally unhappy but personally delighted at finding that the disaster has not come.
Therefore, Sir, notwithstanding that we have 1,600,000 more people, including 1,000,000 immigrants; an enormous pressure on our resources; from time to time, on account of demand, a shortage of capital, replenished as it is from time to time by great importations of private capital and some public capital from overseas, we have had, for most of this period, an over-demand for labour. We have had record public works programmes, and we have had, I believe, one of the great periods of national development and industrial expansion. Yet when we find that we have stability and a high reputation abroad, when the country is regarded by people outside as a proper field for investment, we still have people here who say, “ No, everything has gone bad “. I do not know what they will say when they discover that in the last six months of 1957 the deposits in the trading banks increased by £90,000,000 and savings bank deposits increased by £40,000,000. In those circumstances it is pretty hard to support prophecies of gloom.
So, I want to say to the House that it is nonsense to claim that there is great unemployment in Australia. The unemployment of one person is, for that one person, a tragedy. But if you look at unemployment from a national point of view it is a very small proportion.
– Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is unwilling or unable to understand figures. It is little wonder, therefore, that he is unwilling or unable to devise or divulge any method to correct them. Let me deal, first of all, with the first set of figures thai he gave in a purported correction of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). The Prime Minister said that there was no waiting time for people who wished to build war service homes. He is correct to the extent that if one wants to build a war service home one can, without delay, get the successive draws on the division as ones architect’s certificates are presented. But the right honorable gentleman did not state to-night, as he stated on 25th February last at question time to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), that persons who want to purchase homes through the War Service Homes Division have to wait for eighteen months.
Those people who want to purchase houses through the War Service Homes Division will not get them this financial year, or in the next financial year, but only after the commencement of the financial year after next. Those people are not an inconsiderable number because, every year, between 6,000 and 7,000 persons purchase homes through the War Service Homes Division. Half the people who get assistance from the War Service Homes Division get it to purchase homes. The right honorable gentleman said that, with the greatly increased amount of money being made available this year to the War Service Homes Division, more homes would be supplied. Tn fact, fewer homes will be supplied this year than were supplied with the £30,000,000 a year provided in the last few years or the £28,000.000 provided in the years before that.
In an answer which the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) gave me a few months ago, he said that in the first year in which £28,000,000 was made available for war service homes, the financial year 1952-53, 12.422 homes were supplied. In 1.954-55, when the amount was increased to £30,000,000, 12,788 homes were supplied. In this year, when £35,000,000 will be made available, it is estimated that merely 12,003 houses will be supplied. That is to say. fewer houses will be supplied with the sum of £35,000,000 than were supplied formerly with £30,000,000 and, before that, with £28,000,000.
Let me go to the most dramatic treatment of figures concerning unemployment by the Prime Minister. He would have one believe that the figures for July, 1949, were typical of the whole of that year. I would not think that many people who were listening to him, either here or elsewhere, would have been misled by his treatment of the figures. He said that in July, 1949, 101,000 persons in Australia were in receipt of unemployment benefits. But in the other months of that financial year the number averaged 2,000. For the whole year, the average number of people in receipt of unemployment benefits was 10,247 a month. Let us compare those figures with the record of this Government. In the financial year 1952-53, the average number of people in receipt of unemployment benefits each month was 29,984 and in the last financial year the average number was 12,666. In January last the number was 28,755. Those who cite figures should cite them honestly and fully. They should not pick out one month when the figure was fifty times the figure for any other month in that year. They should give the average for the year and compare it with the average for the current year. The average for this year is much more than it was at the time to which the Prime Minister referred and it is not just the figure for one month but is constant throughout the year.
The Prime Minister then mentioned the question of immigration. He did not deal with it in any statistical fashion. The attitude of the Opposition to immigration is perfectly consistent. We say that the Government cannot have immigration on the cheap. Immigrants are entitled to jobs and houses, just as people are entitled to them who have been bom in Australia. The Labour party does not distinguish between people who are born in Australia and people who choose to come here so far as the quality of their accommodation or their occupations are concerned. Everybody is entitled to the same conditions whether they are Australians by birth or by choice.
I propose to deal in greater detail with the Prime Minister’s statement on housing.
He purported to rake up differences between industrial and political members of the Labour party. I challenge any Government supporter to reconcile the disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development who, from another place, superintends the nation’s housing requirements. Only twelve months ago, Senator Spooner said that in the next five years Australia would have the best opportunity that it had ever had to overcome the housing lag. He said that if a rate of commencement of approximately 77,000 houses a year could be maintained, in four or five years the back of the problem would be broken. Seventy-seven thousand houses a year! What has been the record? Last year 67,000, not 77,000, houses were completed. That was 10,000 short of the target.
If that rate of construction continues, instead of overcoming the lag in four or five years, as Senator Spooner anticipated, it will only be overcome in ten or twelve years. The reason why Senator Spooner said that we only had four or five years to overcome the lag was by 1965 the increased population resulting from births before the war will be so large that the annual demand for houses will be, not 53,000, as the Prime Minister said this year, but 65,000. By 1970, the figure will be 78.000. At the present rate of construction, unless we overcome the lag before 1961 we shall never overcome it. Yet the rate of construction is receding the whole time. It is a vanishing target.
The Prime Minister said that housing was not primarily a Commonwealth function. He said that we could not roar off the Constitution. The Constitution, of course, does not mention housing. At the time that the Constitution was framed, the State governments did not build houses and the Commonwealth did not build houses. The Prime Minister would have the unthinking public believe that, because the Constitution does not mention housing, the Commonwealth can do nothing about it. But the Commonwealth can deal, and always has been able to deal, with housing for people in the forces or people who have been in the forces, for public servants, or for people who live in the territories. Yet, in the Australian Capital Territory and the
Northern Territory the waiting list for houses is greater than it is in any other part of Australia.
The Prime Minister made out that an amount of £77,000,000 was being supplied by the Commonwealth for housing this year. True enough! But it is not enough. The sum of £35,000,000 that has been made available for war service homes has not sufficed to keep up the number of houses previously built and purchased through the War Service Homes Division. Every year, for several years the number of people who apply for war service homes has been 10,000 greater than the number who received war service homes. The Prime Minister would have the public forget that, under section 96 of the Constitution, we can make grants to the States for any purpose. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, all the money so far spent by the States has been provided by the Commonwealth. One becomes tired of hearing this Prime Minister refer to the deficiencies of Commonwealth powers. He was one of those who advocated the defeat of the referendum in 1944, which would have given the Commonwealth the power to deal with housing. He wants it both ways. He will not let the Commonwealth have the power, and then he complains about the Commonwealth’s want of power.
Let me now deal with the position of housing commission houses. This year, the housing commissions will provide fewer houses than at any time during this Government’s term of office. In 1955-56 - and here, again, I am citing figures provided by Senator Spooner in reply to a question I asked without notice - the five mainland States provided, through their housing commissions, 11,937 houses. Last financial year, the same five States provided, through their housing commissions, 8,343 houses. That is, 3,594 fewer homes than in the year before were provided through the housing commissions.
What other sources of housing finance are there, Sir? We were told two years ago that licences were being given to the private savings banks in order that more money should be made available for housing, and a condition of the granting of the licences was that up to 30 per cent, of the deposits with the private savings banks could be provided for housing. In actual fact, none of the three private savings banks has devoted anything like 30 per cent, of its deposits to housing. None of them has devoted more than 10 per cent, of its deposits to housing.
We have been told that more money will be provided for co-operative building societies. But in New South Wales, the State which pioneered the co-operative building society movement, and which has more co-operative building societies than the rest of Australia, the amount of money provided last year from sources other than the Commonwealth was less than in any year since World War II. It was £5,478,000. The previous year, it was £6,627,000, and in the year before, £6,815,000. If it had not been for the subvention diverted from the State housing commissions at the will of Senator Spooner, the co-operative building societies would have provided fewer houses than in any year since the war.
The Prime Minister refers to the Chifley Government’s record. We do not mind the comparison one bit, because, in the last full financial year of the Chifley Government’s term, 60,057 houses were commenced as compared with 69,453 in 1956-57, and in the year held in common between the Chifley Government and the Menzies Government, the figure was 68,302. There is no doubt, therefore, that if the Chifley Government’s housing policies had been continued the lag would already have been overtaken. But in actual fact, we are now receding further and further. Let me give the number of completions for the last three calendar years. They were 1955, 78,289 houses; 1956, 70,117; and 1957, 67,065. There has been a continuous diminution. The number of houses commenced - the real barometer of the availability of finance - has declined from 75,832 in 1954 to 67,739 last year. The target is receding further and further, and less and less of the demand is being met.
I turn now, Sir, to another figure given by the Prime Minister - the figure of local government borrowing. He would have us believe that the borrowings approved by the Australian Loan Council last month will automatically provide a degree of employment and local government expenditure in excess of any in recent years, but that is not so. Let me go back to the financial year 1952-53. In that year, semi-governmental and local authorities in Australia raised £98,300,000. This financial year, given the extra £3,000,000, they will be permitted to raise only £92,000,000. In five years, there has been a large decline in the amount. And, of course, there is no guarantee that the amount approved will be raised. The interest rate to be paid on these borrowings is higher than at any time since the war, and the population of Australia, the spread of our cities, and the demand for local government expenditure, are higher than at any time since the war.
It all boils down to the problem of unemployment. The Prime Minister was gracious enough, in his last words, to concede that unemployment bears harshly upon the person who is unemployed. He seems to forget Australia’s obligations, freely entered into, under the United Nations Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which lay down that every one has the right to work and to free choice of employment - not 98 per cent, or 99 per cent, of the population, but everybody. The Declaration of Human Rights is, as it says, a declaration of the rights of human beings not of percentages. In Australia, 70,000 people want employment, and we have 70,000 failures by the Government to comply with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is it any excuse to say that there are 4,500,000 unemployed in the United States of America, or 500,000 unemployed in Canada? In the United Kingdom and France - that is, in the longest established countries of Western Europe - there are not as many unemployed, proportionately, as in Australia. The unemployment in this country is not marginal unemployment; it has persisted for some months now.
The relevance of public works and housing to the unemployment situation is that those trades in which employment has fallen in the last twelve months are those in the building and construction group. In December, 1956, there were 97,000 men privately employed in the building industry. In December, 1957, there were 84,000 - a drop of 15 per cent, in twelve months, which is considerable. Taking all building employment, including private employees engaged on housing, and employment on the construction works of local authorities and State governments, the number declined from 210,000 to 197,000 between December, 1956, and December, 1957. - a drop of 6 per cent. It is in those fields, therefore, that we can most readily overtake the lag in employment. If money is made available for housing and for local authorities, the lag in employment in the worst fields of unemployment can be overtaken.
If the Government were honest, it would admit that its attempts to cope with inflation have been confined to the two fields of expenditure which the Commonwealth can most readily control, housing and public works. All the State governments depend for their public works on funds provided by the Commonwealth. Local authorities can spend only money which the Australian Loan Council permits them to borrow. The loan council does not guarantee the borrowing, but it approves the amount.
All the fields in which the home builder or home purchaser borrows money can be dealt with by the Commonwealth under the Australian Constitution. In nine cases out of ten, the person who wants to build or buy a house has to borrow money. He borrows it from banking or insurance institutions, and the Commonwealth has power over banking and insurance under the Constitution. As long as people borrow from banks and insurance companies to purchase and build houses, the Commonwealth can determine the availability of their funds.
The Prime Minister makes a virtue of the fact that a great deal of State expenditure has come from Commonwealth taxation. Honorable members on this side of the House are sick and tired of hearing that statement. The Commonwealth provides money from taxation for its public works and for some of the State public works because it can thus avoid scrutiny of its own expenditures by the Australian Loan Council. The Government can go to the council, which is supposed to co-ordinate the expenditure of Commonwealth and State alike, and say, “ Do not bother about our expenditure. We are not going to borrow money; we are going to use taxation “. Therefore the States are unable to participate in the superintendence over Commonwealth expenditure which the Commonwealth has over State expenditure. The money given to the States comes largely from taxation. It is loaned to the States, which must repay it with interest.
As the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said recently in reply to a question by the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb), the Commonwealth interest bill has remained stationary throughout this Government’s term of office. The interest bill of the States during this Government’s term of office has trebled. That is largely the crux of the problem with regard to houses and public works. Not only is money scarce; it is expensive.
This is a high-interest Government. People who have to borrow money for public works or houses must pay more now in interest than ever before. When this Government came to office the interest rate for home loans was 3i per cent. In 1952 the interest rate rose to 4i per cent. Early in 1956 it rose to 5 per cent. As a consequence, if a person borrows £3,000, to be repaid over 30 years, his monthly payments will be £2 more at 5 per cent, than they would be at 3i per cent. The house is the same; the quality is the same. The money may have been borrowed when the ruling rate was 3% per cent, but without any variation of the contract with the building society or with the bank, the Government has twice raised the interest rate. That is not an anti-inflationary measure. The house has been built, yet the owner has imposed upon him this extra interest payment to his bank or building society. The same applies to Housing Commission homes. Under the old agreement, which expired in June, 1956, the interest rate on money borrowed to build Housing Commision homes was 3i per cent. Under the new agreement, which came into force in July, 1956, the rate has been 4 per cent. Consequently, you will have houses adjoining one another in the same project, one completed and occupied in June, 1956, and the other in July, 1956. The former house has a rental of 10s. less than that of its neighbour, brought about by a completely governmental increase in interest rates. Such a state of affairs could be avoided and should now be reversed.
This Government believes in high interest rates. It believes in controls through interest. The Opposition is sometimes chided with desiring controls, or imposing controls in war-time in the form of licences. Just as effective and much more onerous a form of control has been imposed on all local and developmental works, and on housing, and consequently on the employment of Australians new and old, by this increase of interest rates, this placing beyond the new home owner and the new home builder of the means that will give him employment and accommodation suitable for his needs. This Government has controlled inflation in those two respects and has tried to do so in those two respects only. Housing and public works have bee a the principal victims, since this Government can most easily control them under the Constitution and can cover its tracks by blaming the banks and State governments whose expenditures it manipulates.
.- I have several times followed the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) in this House, but I find it rather difficult to do so on this occasion because his speech was particularly dull. The honorable member is capable of making a much better speech. I refute the allegation made by honorable members opposite that there is delay in providing finance for the building of war service homes. There is no delay in that respect, although there is some delay in the provision of finance for the purchase of homes by ex-service personnel. According to the Opposition, Australia wants more homes. Surely, it is much more laudable to provide money immediately for the building of homes rather than for the purchase of existing homes.
The honorable member for Werriwa said that in the last year of the Chifley Government 82,000 homes were started. Of course, they were, but that number was nol completed in that year. People forget that fact. It is easy to start a home, that is to dig the foundations, if you have the labourers and the implements; but in those days there was a shortage of materials. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to-day gave the figures in relation to home building in those days when he stated that approximately 40,000 homes were erected annually. So, it is futile to compare the commencement of 82,000 homes under the Chifley Government with the achievements of this Government in any one year.
I do not think the Opposition is sincere in its approach to the housing problem. Honorable members opposite are continually harping on the housing shortage because the subject has political value, but
I do not think they are sincere. They continually refer to finance. Several speakers opposite have said that the cost of a home is too great for the working man. If that is true, being members of a trade union party, why have members of the Opposition taken no action to lower the cost of housing? The greatest proportion of the cost of a house is represented by the wages of those engaged in its erection and in producing building materials. Members of the Opposition could direct trade unionists to work a 44-hour week, but not once has the House heard from any Opposition member a suggestion that when workers are building homes for fellow workers, they should work a 44-hour week and thus reduce the cost of housing by 10 per cent.
One of the main problems in connexion with housing is that the cost of a house is too great. However, over the last two years, due to the action of this Government, there has been a definite downward trend in that cost. It must be borne in mind that if vast sums of money became available for the erection of homes and it was not expended with care and reason, the cost of building would rise again and would be beyond the financial resources of the average wage-earner. It would be useless to have men and materials available to build homes if the people could not afford to finance their construction. As the Prime Minister has said, housing is mainly a State responsibility. Most of the States have now eliminated their housing problem, but it remains acute in New South Wales. There is a shortage of money for housing, but the other day the Electricity Commission of New South Wales was able to purchase two coal mines for £1,800,000 cash. That action will not produce for the commission one more ton of coal than it could buy under previously existing circumstances, but the State Government tied up £1,800,000 that could have been used for building homes or schools. Where is the point of accusing the Commonwealth Government of cutting short money for housing in New South Wales when the State government diverts money for that purpose? That money will remain locked up for keeps. It can never be used again. It is tied up in a capital purchase of coal mines.
A new method of criticism is creeping into the attacks of the Australian Labour party. I think this is because the members of the party are completely devoid of ideas. Member after member of the Opposition rises nowadays with cuttings from the capitalistic press. They say, “ Look at what the press says. Look at what your friends say. Look at what the ‘ Herald ‘ says about this and that “. They are so bereft of ideas that they must quote some leader writer for the capitalistic press. I suppose that in the sort of political fighting that takes place here the principle is that all is fair in love and in war and that one may use any implements that come to hand, but to me the Opposition’s use of the press in this way savours of the use of poison gas in war. Why should we be saddled with the capitalistic press? If press criticism of the Government is so correct, honorable members opposite should read what the press says about their own policies. I commend it to them. If the press is right in respect of us, surely it is equally right in the criticisms it makes of the Australian Labour party. If honorable members opposite do not read those criticisms, I assure them that they are not very flattering.
I listened with great perplexity to the speech of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) in this debate, and I read the report of it with great perplexity. He always introduces the doctrinaire approach. The whole of his speech was a confusion of figures. It was full of mumbo jumbo. He used vital statistics for births, deaths and marriages, and every other sort of figure to try to prove the very- simple proposition that during the last eight years under the present Commonwealth Government the country had gone to the dogs and that the standard of living had lowered. He uses this mumbo jumbo of figures because he makes a doctrinaire approach. The matter is quite simple and one does not need arguments.
In the last eight years, has the standard of living improved or has it declined, as contended by the honorable member for Yarra? When we came into office there were 200,000 refrigerators in Australian homes. To-day there are 1,500,000. How many motor cars are there in Australia today? Is it not true that one in four of the Australian population owns a car? Is that indicative of a lower living standard? Every day of every month about 16,000 new motor cars are being registered and thousands of refrigerators are being sold.
These are the things that reflect standards of living. The standard of living cannot be raised by eating more, because one’s capacity to eat is limited. One’s standard of living cannot be raised by having four or five houses. A rise in the standard of living is indicated in the way one lives. It is foolish for any one to try to prove by mumbo jumbo that during the last eight years standards have fallen. If even the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) applied for a doctorate on the same material, he would probably get it.
The honorable member for Yarra always uses the same doctrinaire method of attack on big business although apparently a big labour movement is all right. Let us analyse his ideas. If the production of motor cars were in the hands of small companies, would the price be within the capacity of a wage-earner to pay? Of course not. It is only because big business mass-produces cars that a wageearner can afford to buy one. Why does the honorable member always attack big business? In all his speeches in this House we find this curious and constant attack on the capitalist system, yet Australia has one of the highest standards of living in the world, although not according to the honorable member for Yarra.
As everybody knows, one of the points on which Labour has been attacking us, is the question of full employment. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right of a man to have a job. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) went further than that. He referred to the time when America questioned the desirability of full employment and said that high levels of employment were sufficient. But the Leader of the Opposition said dictatorially that under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a man had a right to a job. I remind him that within that document there was also a declaration of the right of free association and free assembly. How does the right honorable gentleman reconcile that right with compulsory unionism, which is contrary to the provisions of the declaration? Yet he uses the declaration when it suits his purposes. You do not act on principle if you select only those things that suit your argument. Of course, everybody is entitled to a job but, as the Prime
Minister (Mr. Menzies) said, it is not always possible for a government to provide a job. Probably a government like that in Russia could, because if employment was not available, a job could be found in a concentration camp.
Under the system that we have successfully followed in this country, we have provided jobs for people, but there are one or two factors which make this very hard, particularly in New South Wales. To obtain jobs, people may have to move from one area to another area. Even the late Mr. Chifley said that nobody could expect always to find a job within sight of the town clock. He recognized the need for a moving population. The landlord and tenant laws of New South Wales are one of the factors which aggravate the unemployment problem. A man living in Sydney, knowing that he can get a job in Wollongong, finds that he cannot get accommodation there. In the average country town, in spite of the housing shortage, 20, 30 or 40 houses are for sale. Thousands of houses and flats are for sale in Sydney. In my own town of Young to-day, 30 houses are for sale. People wanting to buy homes find that the owners cannot sell if the homes are occupied. How easy it would be for the State of New South Wales to exclude any home which is not rented to-day from the provisions of the landlord and tenant law. Then future tenants could be given a week’s notice when the owner wanted to sell. But that policy does not suit the trade unions. It does not suit all those people who are battening on the landlord as the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) said this evening. A great injustice is being inflicted on homeowners and hundreds of people are being denied homes which they could rent quite easily if the owner could obtain possession when he wanted to sell and could find a buyer. In addition, if the house-owner were given justice, people would again invest money in the building of houses for rental purposes. To-day that desire to invest has been killed, because it does not suit the doctrinaire to give any justice whatever to the landlord. When the Leader of the Opposition was talking about full employment, he referred to the actions of the United States of America to combat unemployment existing there. He cited various courses of action that that country took. Usually, he refers to action by the
United States only with disapproval, but this time it suited his purposes to use it in support of his argument. He said that one action taken was the lowering of interest rates. The right honorable gentleman is not a very clever economist, as even he will admit. Two years ago, before the interest rates in Australia were raised, we were having continual rises in the cost of living, but it is significant that as soon as interest rates were raised, in conjunction with increases in bond rates, stability came into our economy. Let honorable members opposite argue as they will, the cost of living has not risen, but has actually gone down since the interest rate went up. Honorable members opposite say that our economy has gone bad. I challenge them to say that the economy has become unstable in the last two years under higher interest rates. Creeping inflation has been stopped and the economy has become stable. Not one honorable member opposite denies that that is so. If the economy is not stable, why is it that the trade unions are asking the courts to increase the basic wage? They go before the Arbitration Court and contend that industry should be able to pay the workers fi a week more in the basic wage. But here, in the Parliament, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) and his confreres say that the Government has ruined this country. They cannot have it both ways. Members of the Opposition belong to a trade union party, and their representatives have gone to the courts asking for an increase of £1 a week in the basic wage. Yet, in this House, honorable members opposite say there is unemployment and disaster throughout the country. They are either talking humbug or deliberately telling untruths; and there is very little difference between the two.
An increase of £1 a week in the basic wage would cost the economy £62,000,000 a year. Would that help to relieve the unemployment which Labour is talking about? When we get down to brass tacks, the more one examines the policy of the Opposition, the more one suspects either chicancery or political manoeuvring. Their arguments do not make sense to me. If the economy is unstable, they have no right to ask for an increase in the basic wage; if the economy is sound, they are justified in seeking an increase.
The great battle that we have had in Australia is not to be compared with that in the United States of America. The reasons for the American economic recession are quite different from ours. There are many of them. One is the conversion of military policy from the use of aircraft to guided missiles. That has caused a great deal of trouble industrially in America. One of our troubles has been inflation. When the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) was speaking the other day and said that inflation was not serious, I interjected that he was talking nonsense. I do not often interject. I ask honorable members to consider what happens when a depression, or deflation, takes place. If a country’s economy is sound, there is usually over-production and employees are dismissed because there is not sufficient demand for the goods manufactured. But the currency remains sound. On the other hand, when inflation is the trouble the value of money falls and is completely destroyed. That happened in Germany after World War I. A condition like that is followed by a depression. Which is worse, uncontrolled inflation or a temporary depression? The honorable member for Wilmot said that he had been in Parliament longer than I have. Probably he has been, but that fact does not necessarily indicate that he has greater capacity. It may indicate that he has a safer seat. Our fight has been mainly against inflation, and we have succeeded. I repeat that the economy is so stable that trade unions have been asking the courts for an increase in the basic wage.
One of our problems is the calamity howlers. The Prime Minister warned that the first step towards bringing about a depression is to cause loss of confidence. That has been done, and it is to be hoped that the people will wake up to this danger in the utterances of members of the Australian Labour party. I want people to cast their minds back over the last eight years. They may remember the time when the press - the capitalist press from which members of the Labour party like to quote articles so frequently - talked about the “ horror budget “. It was alleged that everything the Government did was wrong. But if people analyse what has happened to the economy of this country since 1950 they will realize that Australia has weathered successfully all the problems that nave beset it. Anybody who says that this Government has not done a good job is not basing his criticism on facts. The most outstanding fact is that no other country in the world is attracting more foreign capital than is Australia. No one can tell me that an investor of capital does not know where it is safe to invest his money. Of course he does, and the fact that Australia is one of the most popular fields of investment in the world to-day is proof of its stability and of confidence in this Government.
The Government looked ahead and prepared to meet a possible increase in unemployment. It increased its contribution towards public works. It increased the amount of reimbursements to the States. It increased its allocations for war service homes. It increased the allocation of loan money to the States. By these means it prepared the way to combat unemployment which might come about as a result of drought, a recession or a fall in overseas prices. The Government’s policy has been justified by the action it has taken, and that fact will become more evident as time goes on.
I wish to make one particular point with regard to action the Government might take to relieve the consequences of unemployment in rural industries. One of the main causes of depression throughout the world has always been a fall in prices of primary products. How does the farmer combat that? The most effective way of doing it is to increase production and lower his costs. That can be done by installing modern machinery, using more scientific methods of farming, sowing better quality seed, the conservation of water, the building of better fences, and so on. To do that he needs financial help, and if he has not sufficient income of his own he must try to borrow money. Bank advances to rural industries were in the vicinity of £220,000,000 in 1955, £213,000,000 in 1956, and £200,000,000 in 1957. The amount has decreased progressively.
I believe that the record release of £15,000,000 credit can be properly applied to housing and other necessary purposes, but I am strongly of the opinion that there should be a new release of credit to assist rural industries. It is from unfavorable conditions in these industries that a great deal of unemployment stems. If the rural industries are not prosperous, that condition is reflected in many directions. It is time to infuse fresh capital into the rural industries, especially as prices for primary products are now depressed. If mode[ machiney and other necessary improvements could be purchased with new capital, graziers and farmers would be able to increase their production and lower their costs. The returns would build up their finances and every one would benefit.
Another point relates to trade unions. The London “ Spectator “, in its issue of 24th January last, published a commentary on a book entitled “The Crisis in Trade Unionism “ which was written by Mr Charles Curran. It was written on lines along which I have been thinking for some time - that a crisis is coming in trade unions. One has to examine very carefully all the ingredients necessary to develop a better community and a higher standard of living. These can only be provided by private capital, but the question arises of whether trade unionism will fulfil a useful function in time to come. Trade unions form a very important part of our life. I commend any one interested in this question to read that book. I believe that at the present time there is a loss of confidence in trade unions among the rank and file. For example, on the waterfront in Tasmania two Australians have been denied employment because they refuse to subscribe to a political fund of the Labour party. Standover tactics have also been engaged in by people employed by the New South Wales railways in Sydney.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I listened with interest not very long ago to the Governor-General’s Speech in another place. With the exception of those comments which refer to the visit of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, I am in complete disagreement with everything contained in the Speech. During the time that I have been a member of this Parliament, I have never seen a more innocuous document presented by any government as its programme to meet the needs of the country to-day and to give effect to policies that will halt the growing numbers of unemployed.
I do not intend to spend much time in dealing with the remarks of the previous speaker, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson). It is quite apparent to every one that he knows little or nothing about the subjects that he sought to discuss. I shall take one example. He said that the cost of living has been reduced since interest rates were increased. In its report published on 30th June, 1957, and released recently, the Victorian Housing Commission said -
The one per cent, increase in interest rates has resulted in an increase in rent of lis. to 12s. approximately per week in each housing commission home.
That is in the State of Victoria. The honorable member said that wages represented the main source of costs associated with housing. What about the profits of those who provide paint, of those who sell the land, of those who provide the steel and a dozen and one other items, all of which contribute so greatly to costs that they place homes outside the reach of the average man and woman? The honorable member also spoke about providing war service homes immediately. I have in my files letters which show that the War Service Homes Division is sending people to finance companies to get temporary accommodation at rates of interest ranging from 8 per cent, to !2 per cent. Those people are paying £8, £10 or more each week in interest while they are waiting for this Government to give them money so that they cars provide their families with homes. Like all members of the Australian Country party, the honorable member for Hume does not believe in good conditions or wages for the working people. He blames high costs on those who receive wages. The honorable member showed that he was completely ignorant of the great issues on which he tried to address the House to-night. However, I have other matters with which I wish to deal.
It is significant that, in this debate, the Government has not seen fit to give any attention to the vote of censure passed on it in the Parramatta by-election. I lisented to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to-night. He spoke about housing, unemployment and other problems. He also spoke about those matters in Parramatta.
– What did you speak abour, in Parramatta?
– The honorable member should not interject; he should enjoy histime in the Parliament while he can. Parramatta has given him an indication of what the people think of the Government to-day. Let us have a look at the situation in Parramatta and see how a vote of censure was passed on the Government for mattersabout which we have criticized them. The Parramatta electorate is regarded as a blueribbon Liberal seat. It was vacated by Mr. Howard Beale, Q.C., who had been returned in 1955 with a majority of 10 223 votes over his Labour opponent. The only qualification of Mr. Beale at that time appeared to be that he was a former member of theLiberal party executive, with a rather undistinguished record at the Bar. In addition to that, he subsequently earned the title of the most costly Minister we have ever had with the cost-plus system which gave us St. Mary’s, Bell Bay and other expensive instrumentalities.
What did the Liberal party do to show that the Government’s programme wouk’ suit the people and was endorsed by the people? It selected as Liberal candidate Sir Garfield Barwick, who is now being awaited in the Parliament by those with an eye on a place in Cabinet as the plague awaited in some countries. Sir Garfield Barwick is an eminent Australian legal personality, known in New South Wales as well as the Prime Minister is - probably better and more favorably. He is a man of capacity and achievement and one who is reputed to have given up a legal practice worth between £30,000 and £50,000 a yea in order to serve the people. Prior to the by-election we were led to believe that he would go straight into the Federal Cabinet, and that he was the Prime Minister’s personal choice to succeed him in that high office. In other words, excluding the honorable member for St. George, this Liberal member elect for Parramatta was the glamour candidate of the century, and one who would be expected at least to equal the capacity of the former member and to poll a similar majority.
Some of the headlines in the newspapers have been, “ He’ll give up a fortune for politics”, “Brilliant at the Bar, will he become Prime Minister? “ and “ Canberra hurdles for Sir Garfield “. They have all spoken in the highest terms of the capacity of this great and distinguished Australian, and I take nothing from him. I think that he is the best candidate the Liberal party has had for centuries. I only marvel at the fact that a man with his wisdom should join the Liberal party, and if he comes here and is content to sit behind the present Ministry, then he has not a quarter of the brains that he is said to have. Reference has been made in the press to his tremendous legal prowess, his store-house of constitutional know-how and his scalpel-like mind, with the suggestion that those attributes should earn him Cabinet rank within a year or so. Everything is there: he is to take over the leadership of the Liberal party.
On the other hand - and I say this quite sincerely - Labour selected an outstanding candidate, a man who has rendered great service to the constituency and who is, in his ‘own right, a notable Australian. The voting at the by-election proved that the people of Parramatta thought that he was not only an excellent Labour candidate but also a man who might worthily represent the electors in the Parliament.
What happened in Parramatta after the electors had read of this great man who had stepped down from a job with an income of -£50,000 or £60,000 a year? An intense campaign was conducted by the Liberal party. The Prime Minister spoke in the electorate. The honorable member for St. George should watch this, because the Liberal party lost 500 votes in the area in which the Prime Minister spoke. It is a pity that he did not visit more subdivisions. The Liberal candidate had an army of workers, regular propaganda on television, radio, press and public meetings and literature - enough to herald the arrival of a king. All the Liberal supporters simply shook with excitement when they met this new man who was to take his place in the Parliament and lead his party to future success. All the great issues were discussed in Parramatta. Questions of unemployment, immigration, housing, financial restrictions, socal services and the many other problems on which the Government has been criticized, were discussed. One would have, thought, even knowing the incompetence of the Government, that the background of its candidate would have placed its ineptness in oblivion and that he would have been elected overwhelmingly. The Governmenclouded the issue further by holding the byelection in the middle of Her Majesty’s visit, hoping that the newspapers would leave ii alone.
Let us look at what came out of this grand campaign and at what the people of Parramatta thought of the record of th. Government on the issues that confront us. The Liberal majority is now about 4,859 - less than 5,000 votes. After a close scrutiny of the independent candidate’s preferences, we find that the Liberal majority has slipped by more than 6,000 votes. To-night, the Prime Minister has told the people of the commendable job that the Government has. done. I can understand the interest of the honorable member for St. George in the figures. He has a right to be interested. In fact, I do not mind his interest, because St. George is a seat very like Parramatta. In the Eastwood subdivision of the Parramatta electorate - the blue-ribbon subdivision of all blue-ribbon subdivisions - the Labour vote increased by 500. In this subdivision there were no new housing settlements. In the Rydalmere subdivision, the change was almost revolutionary. There, the Liberal candidate polled 3,696 votes and the Labour candidate polled 5,214 votes. In the previous election, the Liberal candidate polled 3,383 votes and the Labour candidate polled 3,128. In addition to that, in 1945 the Liberal party secured majorities in each and every one of the sub-divisions in the electorate, but on this occasion the Labour candidate won five out of the eight sub-divisions by a clear majority. Do not forget that the Prime Minister went to the electorate and spoke for this outstanding candidate. He discussed these important issues. He even said that unemployment was psychological. That statement, if I may use the expression, is on a par with the Prime Minister’s statement last year, to the effect that only a shortage of man-power and materials prevented the people from having homes.
To summarize the position with regard to the Parramatta by-election, I point out that the Labour vote increased from 37 per cent, in 1945 to 44 per cent, on this occasion. At the same time, the Liberal vote decreased from 62 per cent, to 56 per cent. There was a reduction of 6.3 per cent, in the Liberal vote, and a corresponding increase in the Labour vote. I say to the honorable member for St. George - with due sympathy because at one time I was in similar circumstances - that a repetition of such a vote next December will cause his cheerful face and those of many other honorable members opposite to be missing from the Opposition benches of this Parliament. The point I make is that this Government, which to-days says that it enjoys the confidence of the people, that there is no unemployment or want in the community, and that the standard of living is high - a Country party member said so a few monents ago - on Saturday faced the electors on these issues and was overwhemingly defeated except in blue-ribbon sub-divisions of the electorate, and even in those sub-divisions its majority was substantially decreased. This occurred at a time when the Government had the glamour candidate of glamour candidates to offer to the electors.
The Parramatta by-election constituted a striking vote of censure on the Government, ft is of no use for the Prime Minister to say that 6,000 is a good majority. Of course it is a good majority, but let us be quite honest about the matter. If the former honorable member for Parramatta, Mr. Beale, could gain a majority of 10,000, then surely Sir Garfield Barwick should be able to double that majority. That is a fair proposition, and I make it in all sincerity. Any man who could not double Mr. Beale’s majority must be carrying a pretty big load. I point out these facts to-night to show that the people are fed up to the neck with honorable members opposite who will not understand the realities of the present situation and will not realize that not only are there many unemployed persons in the community, but also living standards are lower than they have -been at any time since World War II.
What will happen to this wizard, Sir Garfield Barwick, when he arrives here? I am not attacking him personally; I am dealing with the practical politics of the situation. Who is going to make way for him? Will it be the Prime Minister? Will it be the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt)? After all, the Minister has travelled the world, and has learned all there is to know about unemployment, from Capri to Miami. He has returned and told us that we have 74,000 unemployed, when everybody knows that the correct figure is about 174,000. The only practical contribution that the Minister has ever made to the unemployment situation, or, at any rate, the way in which he has at least got into the limelight, was by returning from his last world jaunt and entering a competition, wearing a synthetic suit, and winning a prize for the bestdressed man in a “ Wear More Woollens “ campaign.
I ask again, “ Who will make way for Sir Garfield Barwick”? Will it be the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer)? Will the Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) stand aside, or will it be the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon)? Will the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) give way? As we all know, Sir Garfield Barwick is an eminent legal man, so he will probably end up as Postmaster-General. Let us consider the back-benchers. Will the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) make way for him, or will it be the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), that financial wizard who discourses so cheerfully in this Parliament? Will the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) stand aside, or will it be the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer), that up-and-coming young South Australian member? Whoever it is who decides to stand aside, let me advise him to do so quickly, because Sir Garfield is a backbencher now, and after the next election he will be a member of the Opposition. He has, therefore, only about nine months to spend on the Government benches.
I make these statements to show that the problems facing this Government are real ones. What happened to Sir Garfield Barwick, the eminent Liberal party candidate, in Parramatta, is an indication of what the people think of this Government. The Government should take a lesson from the Parramatta by-election. It should realize, for instance, that it is about time the members of the ministry stayed at home. It has been said that travel broadens the mind. If this is the case, the Ministers of this Government must have cinemascope minds. They have all been around the world. An amount of almost £100,000 was provided in the last Budget to allow them to continue their travels. Only once since the last election have all the members of the Cabinet been in Australia at the one time. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and a number of others come here only for holidays.
The reason why I point out these facts is to suggest that the people of Parramatta want a ministry that stays in the country and faces the problems that the people know exist. I do not attack any person who has to make a trip abroad on business, but I suggest that this Government has set an all-time record, and the vote in Parramatta should be an indication that the people want Ministers who will carry out their jobs. As some one has said, it is a pity that some Ministers ever return here at all, and that if they did not they probably would not be missed. However, you cannot effectively administer a country if you have absentee Ministers. The people of Parramatta have made it clear that this is their view.
What other matter should be considered as a result of the Parramatta by-election? The Minister for Labour and National Service has said that there is no unemployment. Every one knows that to-day thousands and thousands of persons are unemployed. They know that although the Minister has given the figure as 74,000, it is probably in the vicinity of 174,000. Throughout the country there are men and women who want work. The Government is sponsoring an immigration scheme under which persons are now being brought to this country and being given the unemployment benefit immediately on arriving here. I can cite instances of this from my own constituency. It is as unfair to the immigrants as it is to our own people. Yet the Government says that there is no unemployment. It is of no use for the Prime Minister to tell us that there is no unemployment, and to cite a lot of figures. He knows that the 1949 coal strike was a national crisis, and that it caused widespread unemployment. We have a government that boasts of its capacity to employ people, but which refuses to make money available so that employment may be provided. Honorable members opposite know as well as I do that there is no money available for developmental work because the private banking institutions are lending their money at exorbitant rates of interest through hire-purchase companies. They will not make money available for homes or for developmental works at lower rates of interest because they can make greater profits through their hire-purchase activities. Honorable members opposite say that because a man has a motor car and a refrigerator he is enjoying a higher standard of living. The only reason why many people have these things is that they can borrow a few pounds to buy them, but they cannot borrow money for homes at lower rates of interest.
Another lesson that the Government should learn from the Parramatta byelection is that it must carefully consider its defence policy. We know that the Government spent £23,000,000 on the St. Mary’s factory, and that it has spent £1,250,000,000 on defence since 1949. In another place the other day Senator Kendall said that the members of the army should be employed in shooting kangaroos and rabbits because guns will be of no use in the next great conflict.
Is it any wonder that at the by-election the people of Parramatta showed their displeasure with the Government? The treatment meted out to pensioners is scandalous in the extreme. The miserable pittance that they receive from this Government is something of which the Government should be ashamed, when one considers the decline in the purchasing power of the £1. Interest rates at present being charged result in the exploitation of men and women in all walks of life, ex-servicemen and others. The Government stands idly by while financial racketeers and exploiters take full advantage of the sufferings of the people and extract from them every penny that they possibly can. There is a grave shortage of schools and hospitals. Many developmental works are required throughout Australia. Yet the Government refuses to make money available, and tells the people that there is no money for the carrying out of works that would help to ease the unemployment position. Honorable members opposite know as well as I know that if war broke out to-morrow there would be money unlimited for the defence of this country - and rightly so. It is time that the government of the day made some more money available in order that men and women may be employed and this country developed.
These are some of the lessons that the Government ought to learn from the result of the Parramatta by-election, which was a striking indictment of the Government and its incompetence. It was a vote by electors on the question of growing unemployment, of which they may shortly be the victims, and it was a vote against the Government’s restrictive finance policy.
Any honorable member on the Government side who is inclined to wave away the threat of unemployment in this country ought to remember that in the United States about 5,000,000, people are unemployed, and that in other countries the same story is told. He ought to remember that unemployment is growing rapidly in this country under the financial policy of this Government.
I summarize the position by saying that at the Parramatta by-election the Government had a chance to win support on the issues that confront the people of this nation. It had the opportunity to have its record endorsed. The Government parties put everything they had into the campaign. They told the people of that electorate things that we believed to be untrue and knew to be untrue, and they hoped that the people would swallow them. But the result was a damning indictment of the Government and its policy, which was shown by the very reduced vote for the Government’s spectacular candidate in the by-election. Let the vote in Parramatta be a lesson to the Government. Undoubtedly that vote heralds the demise of the Government in the not far distant future.
I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition which is, in effect, a motion of censure. I hope that before the year is out this1 country will have a Labour administration which will give effect to policies in the interests of the Australian people.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Graham) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The Minister for Supply has referred this matter to me. I accordingly provide the honorable member with the following answers: -
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
Will he furnish the following information in respect of the Government’s decision to allow Asians resident in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to become naturalized Australian citizens: -
what are the conditions which a native of Asia must satisfy in order to obtain a Certificate of Naturalization;
will Asians resident in the Territory who obtain Australian citizenship be allowed to (i) travel without restriction, between the Territory and Australia, (ii) move freely within this country, and (iii) remain here permanently if they so desire;
what is the estimated number of Asians who will qualify for Australian citizenship under the changed conditions:
what are the conditions which an Asian taking up residence in the Territory in the future must satisfy before becoming eligible for Australian citizenship;
(i) will Asians resident on Christmas Island (Indian Ocean) when sovereignty over the Island is transferred to this country, become eligible for Australian citizenship under the same conditions as those applying to residents of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea; (ii) if so, how many persons is it estimated will become entitled to apply for Australian citizenship?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Asians resident in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea are eligible for naturalization as Australian citizens provided that -
The wives of Australian citizens and minors are granted certain concessions in regard to the residence requirement and applicants with twenty years continuous residence in Australia or New Guinea are not required to have an adequate knowledge of English.
Victoria Barracks, Sydney.
d asked the Minister for the
Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 March 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1958/19580311_reps_22_hor18/>.