15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether the visit to Canberra to-day of certain representatives of motor car interests may be taken to mean that the Government intends to give every encouragement, at an early date, for the manufacture of motor car engines in Australia?
– I may, perhaps, answer that question, since it was I who had an interview this morning with those representatives. The policy of this Government is in line with that set by the previous Ministry, namely, that of encouraging the complete manufacture of motor cars in’ this country. I had a consultation this morning of an explanatory kind with two representatives of one company, General Motors-Holdens Limited. That conference was not for the purpose of putting a specific proposal before the company, or of having a specific proposal submitted by it, but was arranged in order that we might obtain at first hand, from people competent to offer an opinion, some knowledge as to what difficulties might exist in relation to this matter. I may say that the Government will be equally prepared to have similar discussions with any other person, firm or company, which may be able to throw light on this problem.
– Were there any proposals before the 30th March last?
– Various proposals were received, in accordance with the time limit with which the honorable member is familiar, and those are now under consideration.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a statement by Mr. Mair, the New South Wales Treasurer, appearing in to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald, to the effect that, when extortionate profits were being obtained by private companies under the present fiscal policy of the country, it seemed that inquiries should be made as to whether such profits were to continue in the future? If so, does the Government propose to make any inquiry as suggested?
– I would refer the honorable gentleman to the comprehensive reply given on that matter yesterday by the Minister for Trade and Customs. If he has not already read the reply, I shall see that he receives a copy of it.
– Reports have appeared in the press regarding the re-organization of the military forces in respect of military districts. As the position is obscure, there having been no statement in Parliament on the matter, I ask the Minister for Defence whether it is a fact that no citizen force officer can command a division, but that these positions will now be reserved for permanent officers ?
– The answer is “ No”.
– Has the Prime Minister any statement to make to the House concerning the company that proposes to operate in South Australia in the manufacture of tin plate and steel plate?
– I regret that I am not able to make any statement on that matter at the present time.
– A statement appeared in this morning’s press that the Government proposes to take such action as will facilitate the establishment of the tin plate industry in South Australia. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the Government will not take any tariff action in regard to this matter without first ordering an open inquiry by the Tariff Board so that the effect of any proposed tariff action upon the canned fruit and other primary industries may be ascertained?
– The report to which the honorable member has referred is, in fact, a completely unauthorized guess on the part of the newspaper concerned. The considerations to which he has alluded are in the mind of the Government, and will not be overlooked.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr.Riordan be appointed to fill the vacancy now existing on the House Committee.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Holt and Mr. John Lawson be discharged from attendance on the Library Committee, and that, in their places, Mr. Jolly and Mr. Scholfield be appointed members of the committee.
– Is it a fact that all Avro-Anson bombing planes are supposed to be equipped for blind flying, in accordance with the ministerial direction given last year? Is it a fact that the machine which crashed in Port Phillip last Tuesday was not so equipped? If not, why not?
– There are 80 odd Avro-Anson bombers on charge to the Royal Australian Air Force. Fifty of them have been fitted with Sperry instruments for blind flying, but the fitting is a fairly complicated procedure, and the work on each machine occupies about a fortnight. Each instrument panel has to be tailor fitted on to the machine, and that is the reason why the work has not yet been completed. The necessary instruments arrived in Australia only about the beginning of February. I am not quite sure whether the machine which fell into Port Phillip Bay two or three days ago was or was not fitted with Sperry instruments, but I understand that it was not so equipped. Orders have been given that no AvroAnson machines are to be flown until they are so fitted. The instruments required for this work are now in Australia, and it is anticipated that the work will be completed by the end of the present month.
– In view of the huge profits made by the Postal Department last year, and particularly the telephone branch, will the Postmaster-General take into consideration next financial year the reduction of telephone charges?
– I shall certainly give consideration to the request of the honorable member.
– In view of the Lyons Government’s decision to re-erect at departmental cost all privately-owned party telephone lines that were destroyed during the recent bush fires, will the Postmaster-General do everything possible to expedite the calling of tenders for the carrying out of this work?
– Already steps have been taken by the department to repair some of the deficiencies complained of. At the same time it is necessary to carry out certain investigations, particularly in regard to the establishment of the bona fides of some of the applicants. I can assure honorable members that the work will be expedited as soon as the department is satisfied that the claims are justified.
– Will the Minister for Health state whether it is proposed to prosecute the recently inaugurated national fitness campaign, and, if so, what arrangements have been made with the States?
– The Commonwealth Government has evinced a keen interest in movements for raising the standard of national fitness, and to that end has already made offers to each of the States to endow lectureships on the subject in the various universities. A further conference of the National Coordinating Council for Physical Fitness was held in Canberra this week, and from that conference certain representations have been presented to me, which will be placed before the Government in due course.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that Queensland is almost completely undefended? Is he aware that there are no defence works north of Brisbane, and that, in consequence, 1,500 miles of the most vulnerable part of our coastline is without defence? Does the Government propose to take any steps to provide Queensland with an adequate defence system, and, if so, what is the nature of the defence works which it will undertake ?
– The answer to the first part of the honorable member’s question is “ No “ ; to the second and third parts of: his question, I shall give a detailed reply later.
– It has been reported in the press that the Minister for Health recently made these remarks: “ I am not without hope that it will not be necessary to include insurance among the promises contained in the next policy speech made by the new Prime Minister “. Does he mean that national insurance will be abandoned before that date, or that it will be implemented before then?
– The Prime Minister has already indicated that, at an early date, the intentions of the Government in that connexion will be announced. I certainly still retain the hopes expressed in the speech from which the honorable member has quoted.
– Will the Treasurer ask his department to make inquiries with a view to discovering the names of the men who daily fix the price of gold throughout the world? Where does such a committee or body of men meet?
– I shall ask my department to make those inquiries.
– Will the Prime Minister state when the Patents Bill will be brought before the House for discussion? Will he remain in charge of it, or will it be handed over to the Attorney-General?
– The bill stands on the notice-paper in the name of the Attorney-General, who, unfortunately, cannot be here at present because of illness. It is intended to proceed with the measure as soon as he returns.
– Has the Minister for Social Services seen the report of the New South Wales Housing Board, which says that in Sydney one in every twelve families is living under slum conditions: that there are over 30,000 houses in the metropolitan area unfit for human habitation ; and that there is an acute shortage of houses in the metropolitan area? If he has seen the report will he direct to it the attention of members of the Cabinet with a view to impressing upon them the need for improving housing conditions ?
– I have seen the report. As chairman of the New South Wales Housing Council since its inauguration, I should have been recreant if I had not. I hope that, before I lay down the reins of this office in September of next year, the Government will have an opportunity to consider the matters raised by the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for Defence state whether his department recommended the manufacture of motor car chassis in Australia as a vital defence need? Did the approach to General Motors-Holdens Limited come about at the instance of his department or of the company?
– I ask the honorable member to place the first part of his question on the notice-paper. Regarding the second part, the approach was not made at my instigation.
– Is the Prime Minister able to reveal the names of the experts referred to in his recently broadcast address who will advise the Minister for Supply regarding contracts for defence equipment ?
– It is not possible to state the names of experts who have not yet been selected, but as the Department of Supply is organized, I have no doubt that the Minister will provide such information from time to time.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that several members of this Parliament have received invitations to inspect a plant at Annandale, in New South Wales, for the extraction of oil from coal? Is he aware that one of his own Ministers is convinced of the practicability of this process, and the need for developing it in view of defence requirements? Does he propose to send experts to the inspection so that they may report to the Government?
– I was not aware that such an inspection was to take place, but I shall take the honorable member’s suggestion into consideration.
Issue of Railway and Team Passes
– In view of the congestion and inconvenience which is brought about by the issue of train and tram fares to militia men, will the Minister for Defence have the problem investigated with a view to ascertain if it is practicable to supply militia men with passes and thereby obviate the present trouble ?
– - Yes.
– Has the Prime Minister yet come to a decision on the proposal made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday that a High Court Judge be appointed to preside over the inquiry into the two Avro-Anson aircraft smashes, and will he give an undertaking that the proposed inquiry will be open to the public?
– I have not yet arrived at a conclusion in regard to that matter. It is still under consideration.
– Is it a fact that the reports of the Air Accidents Investigation Committee on the Arthur’s Seat and Richmond crashes of Avro-Anson machines last year have not been made public? If so, why?
– I shall obtain the information and let the honorable member know.
Proposed Visit to Honolulu
– In view of the impending visit of a representative team of Australian surf life savers to Honolulu, to which the Government has given its patronage, and the great advertising value of the visit to Australia, will the Minister for Health communicate with the Com monwealth representatives in the United States of America with a view to giving proper publicity to the visit and its objectives ?
– I undertake to comply with the request submitted by the honorable member.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral review the present policy of the Postal Department in refusing applications for new mail services in country districts? Although the Postal Department recognizes that these applications are justified it is deferring them to some future time. I ask the Minister to review that decision.
– I should like to assure the honorable member that I shall give full consideration to the question anc supply him with a detailed answer later.
– Is it true, as reported in the press, that the Government intends to have constructed a special plane for the convenience of Ministers travelling to and from various capital cities? If the statement that five or six Ministers will travel at one time is also correct, is it deemed wise that so many Ministers should travel together in the same plane ?
– I greatly appreciate the solicitude for the safety of Ministers implied in the question. Actually it is not true that any aircraft is to be constructed or purchased for the transport of Ministers. Some considerable time ago an aircraft was ordered by the Civil Aviation Board for the purposes of the department. I think at the time it was suggested that, possibly, on occasions, it would be made available for the use of Ministers. The aircraft ordered is for the use of the Civil Aviation Department, and I understand it will be shipped in a few days.
Tariff Board’s Report
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs yet received, if not, when does he expect to receive, a report from the Tariff Board covering an inquiry held during 1938 into the bounty on sulphur for use in connexion with Australian ores?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to peruse the report. If the honorable member so desires a statement in regard to it will be forwarded to him.
Installation of Telephones
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that persons living in close proximity to the business centres of Sydney who have ordered telephones at least a month ago have been informed that they cannot expect to have the instruments placed in their homes for another two months? Will the honorable gentleman ascertain the reason for the lack of the equipment, and why, in a busy metropolis such as Sydney and suburbs, such delays should occur?
– I am aware that certain lags have occurred in regard to the installation of telephones. This is mainly due to the fact that the department has not the necessary cable to carry out the connexion of new subscribers. I shall have inquiries made with regard to any specific case brought forward by the honorable member, and shall furnish him with a detailed reply in regard to it.
Revision of Schedules and Subsidies
– When will the Minister for Civil Aviation be in a position to make a statement regarding revised schedules and subsidies for air services, and when will he be able to make a statement regarding requests received from many quarters for facilities for cheaper flying, and for the establishment of a civil air guard?
– I cannot undertake to make a statement in the very near future with regard to the rationalization of airways and the matter of subsidies. I know that my predecessor has done a tremendous amount of work in regard to these matters, and that there is a very large file in regard to them in the department. I cannot undertake to examine such a large file carefully within a short space of time. I realize, however, that it is essential that some decision should be made in the near future because of the uncertainty under which the companies are operating. In reply to the second part of the question inquiries are being made at present into the possibility of using aero clubs and flying schools for the training of reserve pilots.
– Some time ago I was a member of a deputation of members of this Parliament which waited on the then Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) to ascertain if it would be possible for members to take advantage of air travel. The honorable gentleman promised to go into the matter, that he would submit it to Cabinet, and that the deputation would be advised as to the position. I now ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior if the matter has been considered and if so, what decision has been arrived at?
– I understand that the former Minister for the Interior submitted the proposal to Cabinet. I can not say whether it has yet been finalized but I shall make inquiries in regard to it and inform the honorable member in due course.
Regulation of Contracts
– What method does the Government propose to adopt to control the profits of those supplying our requirements for defence purposes? What is regarded as a reasonable profit?
– The general policy of the Government in relation to this matter will be indicated when the bill to constitute the Department of Supply is introduced. I hope that that may be next week.
– Can the Postmaster-
General say whether arrangements have been completed whereby telephone and wireless facilities would be quickly and effectively used to give warning to people living in that locality in the event of any break in the structure of the Burrinjuck Dam?
– TheCommonwealth authorities have been in consultation with the State authorities, with the result that a full and complete scheme has been drawn up to cover both telephonic and broadcasting communications. The department is in a position to take immediate action should the occasion arise.
Meters - Country Facilities - Disconnections - Communications with Tasmania.
– I asked the previous Postmaster-General if he would give consideration to the installation of meters to record telephone calls similar to those now used by the department in the automatic exchanges, such equipment to be placed in the homes of subscribers who elect to have them installed there. Will the present Postmaster-General continue those investigations to see whether or not such installations are practicable?
– I give an assurance that I shall explore the possibilities of the device mentioned by the honorable member.
– Is it the intention of the Telephone Department to provide facilities for wireless telephonic communication with people in far-distant areas ?
– I do not know exactly what arrangements have been made along the lines suggested by the honorable member, but I shall have inquiries made and supply him with an answer.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral inform the House what procedure is adopted by the officers of his department before they cut off the telephones connected to the premises of subscribers who are suspected of conducting starting-price betting? There are numerous complaints that telephones have been cut off without any intimation whatever being given by the department of its intention to do so. . Does the Minister think that it is fair for departmental officers to listen-in to private conversations? If it is the policy of the department to continue that practice, how does the Postmaster-General expect to obtain new subscribers for telephone services?
– I shall have the inf ormation obtained and let the honorable member know.
– In view of the increased telephonic business and wireless communications between Tasmania and the mainland during the last ten years, will the Postmaster-General take immediate steps to increase the lineage between Tasmania and the mainland which has not been improved for twenty years?
– I shall have inquiries made, and, if the occasion warrants it, I shall see that the necessary action is taken.
– Will the report of the Air Board on the selection of a site for a training school for air pilots be made available to the House, and, if so, can the Minister for Defence say when it is likely to be tabled?
– I shall make inquiries to see if it is possible to do as the honorable member asks. I think that I can say that the report will be tabled at an early date.
– As the Tariff Board Act provides that no new or increased duties of customs shall be imposed before an inquiry has been held by the Tariff Board, will the Prime Minister issue instructions that that act be carried out until it is amended ?
– I am prepared to discuss with my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, the matter referred to by the honorable member.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether the proposed survey flight over the Indian Ocean has been abandoned, and, if not, what arrangements have been entered into with the private individuals concerned?
– Arrangements for a survey flight over the Indian Ocean under the direction of Captain P. G. Taylor are still being negotiated, but as the details have not yet been arranged it is impossible for me to supply the information at this stage.
– Has the Minister for Social Services seen the flamboyant and misleading advertisements which are constantly being issued by the National Health and Insurance Commission ?Will he give instructions that this wasteful expenditure of public money shall cease while the act remains a dead letter?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member may not express opinions when asking questions.
– Without knowing more than I know at present about the documents to which the honorable member has referred, I am not prepared to give any such instructions. If he will pass the documents to me, I shall give consideration to his request.
– In view of the delay that has occurred in the execution of defence and other works in the Northern Territory, will the Prime Minister give instructions that the New South Wales practice of arranging for consulting engineers to design and supervise works shall be adopted in the Northern Territory?
– I shall refer the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Defence. I suggest to honorable members generally that any questions dealing with a particular department be addressed to the Minister in charge of that department.
– In view of the fact that many men in centres such as Angaston in South Australia desire to enlist in the militia forces, but are unable to obtain training because of lack of either officers or equipment, is the Minister for Defence of the opinion that, in the long run, equipment, rather than men, is needed?
– No. A certain organization is laid down for the Australian militia forces and it is not considered desirable to depart from it, for the reason that it is in conformity with the views of the Military Board and the InspectorGeneral of the Military Forces.
– Will the report of the Inspector-General be made available to honorable members, and if so, when?
– The notice-paper contains a question dealing with this subject.
– Will the Minister for Defence intimate whether it is intended to call tenders for certain defence works proposed to be undertaken at Townsville?
– Without knowing exactly the nature of the work to which the honorable member refers, I cannot give a definite reply, but the normal practice will be followed.
– Can the Minister for Defence state if refugees have offered to enlist in the Australian Militia Forces for training purposes, and does he consider it necessary to insist on naturalization before they can undertake military training?
– The answer to both questions is “Yes.”
– I direct the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that the latest report issued by the Commonwealth Statistician on the 4th April, of this year, states that the price of meat in Western Australia and Tasmania has increased, and that there has been practically no change of price in the other States of the Commonwealth. As I have a newspaper cutting stating that meat prices in Sydney have increased, will the Treasurer ascertain how the Commonwealth Statistician arrives at his conclusions, particularly in view of the fact that meat prices are rapidly increasing?
– I shall be glad to have inquiries made from the Commonwealth Statistician.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon.G. J. Bell).I have received from the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The urgent problems of the wheat industry and the necessity of the Government formulating proposals to enable wheatgrowers being assured of maintenance for their families and economic security for their industry.”
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– At this stage, I desire to inform any honorable member who proposes to move the formal adjournment of the House, that before proceeding with his speech he must carry out what, he has notified his intention to do. That is to say, he must first move his motion.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I have submitted this motion to enable the House to discuss -
The urgent problems of the wheat industry and the necessity of the Government formulating proposals to enable wheat-growers being assured of maintenance for their families, and economic security for their industry.
I feel sure that honorable members will realize that the wheat industry is of paramount importance to Australia, and in matters of national importance comes second only to defence. There is ho industry in Australia that I know of, which, directly and indirectly, provides more employment than it does. During recent years, a great deal has been said concerning it and there is a lot more can still be said’; but what is needed is immediate action. Definite declarations of policy were made in 1931, 1934 and in 1937 as to what would be done to stabilize the wheat industry if the governments then in power were returned to office. In 1931, the Prime Minister, in his policy speech, said -
The first duty of the next Federal Government in Australia, after it has put its financial house in order, is to investigate every avenue which promises encouragement to production from the land. Not only should all those who are now on the land be kept there, but their work should be more profitable, and all sound steps- should be taken to increase their numbers.
Prior to 1934, the members of the United Australia party and of the Country party emphasized the importance of primary industries. What did the Government at that time actually do? It spoke of assisting the industry and of the sufferings of those engaged in it, but nothing was done. The main promise of 1934 was of financial assistance amounting to £20,000,000 by means of a farmer’s debt adjustment scheme, but until then nothing was done. Debt adjustment was merely a spectacular effort. It was said that £20,000,000 was to be expended in adjusting farmers’ debts, but that amount was reduced to £12,000,000, and I understand that only £6,000,000 has been made available to various States to adjust a debt structure of roughly £140,000,000.
– The honorable member did not expect the Government to write off £140,000,000?
– No, but it should have kept its election promise to provide £20,000,000 for debt adjustment purposes.
– The farmers do not want it.
– They do. Although governments comprising United Australia party and Country party members have been in office for some years, the farmers of this country are now in a worse financial position than they have ever been in the history of the industry.
– The party to which the honorable member belongs promised the farmers 4s. a bushel.
– I shall deal with that point later. The South Australian Government, which is of the same complexion as this Government, has been making similar promises with the same results. The wheat industry is of great importance to Australia, and although the commodity it produces is used so extensively for human consumption, the cost of production is 50 per cent, higher than the price realized for the product.
The bankruptcy returns, especially as they relate to the farming community, are enlightening. Had it not been for certain legislation passed by the parliaments of some of the States to protect the primary producers, the ranks of the unemployed of this country would have been greatly increased by many insolvent farmers. In South Australia, during the depression years, the legislative action of the State Parliament saved many farmers from immediate bankruptcy, but unfortunately the position of the industry has not improved, and very many farmers are to-day in a perilous financial position. In this connexion, I direct attention to the following paragraph dated Canberra, December 1 last, which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser : -
Farmers easily outnumbered all other classes of Australian insolvents for the year 1937-38.
The annual report of the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), tabled in the House of Representatives to-day, Shows that 208 fanners became bankrupt or entered into deeds of assignment out of a total of 1,597. Most of the farming failures were in South Australia, totalling 221.
Many of those failures of South Australian farmers could have been prevented had a more sympathetic national policy been adopted. We know, of course, that no small measure of the disabilities of the South Australian farmers has been due to the fact that, for the last five years, the government of that State has been in the hands of a Liberal administration.
– A Labour administration would be worse than a Liberal administration.
– I disagree with the honorable member. If the policy of the Labour party had been implemented, the farmers would be in a much better position to-day. I believe that at the first opportunity they have, the people of this country will return a Labour administration to power. We shall then see a rapid improvement in the affairs of the primary producers. Protection should be accorded to farmers, just as it is accorded to those engaged in secondary production.
I know that the financial position of a good many of our primary industries is not so sound as it should be, but at the moment I am particularly concerned about the position of the important wheat industry. Perhaps the heaviest single burden that falls upon the farming community is the need to meet interest charges. As’ the National Parliament alone can deal effectively with this problem, I have every justification for bringing it under notice this afternoon. Farmers’ organizations in all parts of the Common wealth have held numerous meetings to discuss and analyse the position of their industry, and attention has been given to every minute detail of the complex situation which the farmers face. Definite conclusions have been announced in many instances as the result of these deliberations, and a unanimous decision has been reached that the affairs of the wheat industry should be stabilized without delay. Any action designed to achieve that end will have to take full account of interest charges.
Some time ago the Government, in its wisdom or otherwise, appointed a Wheat Commission to investigate the whole situation. I understand that this body cost the taxpayers of Australia £45,000. It travelled throughout the Commonwealth and investigated every aspect of wheat-growing. Personally, I think that that was unnecessary, for the economic difficulties of the industry were apparent. However, Sir Herbert Gepp, the chairman of the commission, was a most able man, and the commission over which he presided presented a most comprehensive report to the Government which, no doubt, all honorable members of this Parliament have read. It dealt in detail with the burden ©f interest charges upon the farming industry and pointed out that 5,000 farmers in Australia were paying interest equivalent to as much as ls. lOd. a bushel in order to continue their wheatgrowing activities. Yet to-day wheat is being sold for less than ls. lOd. a bushel. In these circumstances I challenge the Government to turn its attention to this vital problem. Does it intend to do anything for the wheat industry, or does it intend to continue to subordinate everything to defence activities? I admit ‘that defence is the most important subject to which our attention could .be directed; but the wheat industry is of almost equal importance, and its stabilization is highly essential to the welfare of Australia. To-day many thousands of wheat-farmers are living under conditions very much worse than those of men who earn the basic wage. Many young farmers have very little to defend. Yet the wheat industry should be stabilized in the interests of the financial and economic security of Australia. Throughout this country many hundreds of store-keepers and men engaged in small businesses art dependent upon the stability of ‘the wheat industry. It cannot be denied that if some thousands more farmers become insolvent they will drag with them into the bankruptcy court at least as many hundred business men. In these circumstances it is highly essential that the National Parliament should devote its attention to this important problem. The Government naturally has control of the business of the Parliament.
– I do not know so much about the “ control “.
– Neither do I for that matter, but, theoretically, the Government is in control and we have the right to expect it to initiate an effective policy for the stabilization of the wheat industry. I am particularly interested in the subject as I represent a rural constituency which is now supporting the biggest single party in the Parliament. I realize the difficulties that have to be faced, but it is the Government’s business to face them. I am most concerned as to whither this industry is heading, and whether this Government proposes to shoulder its responsibility to stabilize it. For a long time the Labour party has had a policy for the stabilization of the wheat industry based on the contention that secondary industries in this country have been built up mainly at the expense of the primary producers who, unquestionably, supply the sinews of war, as it were, for the secondary industries. Our farmers are the real producers of the wealth of this country. “We must, therefore, provide them as well as other sections of the community with an Australian standard of living. It is not right that huge companies like the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited should be able to benefit to the extent they do by our protective policy while thousands of our farmers are being forced into bankruptcy. It is clearly recognized by the Australian people that we must effect a change in our monetary policy. This view is borne out in the report of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems. We on this side believe that finance is the root cause of many of our economic ills, whilst it accentuates many others. A problem confronting- the Australian people to-day is whether Australia should be governed by the private trading banks with their policy of dividends first irrespective of consequences, or by the Government which has placed upon it by the Constitution the sole responsibility for matters involving public credit, currency and banking. The wheat industry dovetails into our monetary policy to such an extent that in its present crisis we should do something to rehabilitate it. [Leave to continue given.] When he was Prime Minister, the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) designed a policy to alleviate this industry. Honorable members know the fate which befell Labour’s proposals in another place. Suffice it for me to say at this juncture that it was never given a chance because of an adverse majority in the Senate. We say that this industry should be assisted as much as possible. In the recommendations made by the royal commission which inquired into the industry, we find a statement to the effect that the Commonwealth Government, in the interests of national progress, could and should make available in a time of crisis, credit free of interest to an industry confronted with problems which, in the opinion of the Government, justify such action. In view of that statement, the way in which this industry should be assisted seems clear to me. We have modernized all forms of human activity. To-day a farmer can take off 300 bags of wheat in a day, whereas, our fathers, with a hand reaper and sickle, could produce only an infinitesimal quantity of wheat in the same time. The extraordinary progress achieved through modern methods of production were emphasized by various speakers in a. debate in this chamber last night. But has corresponding progress been effected on the human side of industrial activity, which is the more important? Shall we allow an obsolete monetary and banking system to hold up the wheat industry and drive our farmers to insolvency, or shall we extend to that industry the credit which is essential to its survival? Dr. Schacht, the economic adviser to the German Government, says that this amounts to pumping credit into an industry, but the fact remains that such assistance is essential to our wheat industry. During the depression years we made a number of peculiar valuations.
For instance, we valued the Australian nation and said that all our land and the equipment thereon were worth £4,000,000,000. If this young country with all its resources is worth that amount, then we should be justified in making, available a few million pounds in order to save the wheat industry. “We should follow that course rather than continue borrowing year after year, which seems to ‘be the orthodox method of finance. We cannot go on borrowing from £20,000,000 to £40,000,000 every year, piling up a load of interest which our children’s children will be obliged to shoulder. We should have sufficient intelligence and courage to face the problem now. If, unfortunately, Australia should become embroiled in war, I have no doubt that the policy which I am now enunciating as a means of assisting our distressed wheat farmers will unhesitatingly be put into operation by the government of the day, irrespective of its political complexion.
The Labour party’s policy for the stabilization of the wheat industry may be stated briefly. Realizing the necessity for putting forward a scheme which will ensure a minimum price to the farmer for his wheat, and at the same time safeguard the consumer against exploitation, the Federal Labour party, puts forward the following proposals which embody requests that have been made by all the farming organizations throughout Australia during the past eight years, and in connexion with which the United Australia party and the United Country party have refused to take any action: -
We believe that growers should receive a home-consumption price of 4s. a bushel, irrespective of world prices or whether the export price is above or below that level. This home-consumption price should be the basis for the price of bread in. Australia. We. contend that- if the export price rises above 4s. a bushel one half, of the excess should’ be paid to the growers, and one-half be contributed to a reserve fund to liquidate the advances made from time to time under the pooling system. Briefly, that is the Labour party’s proposal.
Any finance needed from time to time to. assist the industry should be made available by the Govern- ment through the Commonwealth Bank. Under cover of this motion I could discuss the relative merits of protection and freetrade, as well as the policy of economic nationalism now operating in various countries; but I think it will be sufficient to say that the essence of Labour’s policy for the stabilization of the wheat, industry lies in the effective control of the Commonwealth Bank in the interests of the people generally, and particularly in the interests of Australian wheat-growers whose future is at stake.
I hope that I have outlined clearly my own views and those of the Labour party on this important subject. I thank honorable members for the patient attention which they have given to my remarks. I have emphasized the serious situation of the wheat-growers because I realize the importance of the industry to the Commonwealth, and the urgent need for measures to save it. Many wheat-farmers to-day are living under conditions which would shock honorable mem’bers opposite. Such a state of affairs, I regret to say, exists in some parts of my electorate of Wakefield. The importance of this industry cannot be exaggerated. It is worth saving, and the time to act is now.
– It cannot be denied that the issue raised in the motion moved by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) is one of the most pressing economic problems confronting Australia to-day. I for one would be loath to deny the importance of the wheatgrowing industry, because during two harvests in recent years I had the responsibility of handling measures taken to deal with difficulties similar to those which existtoday. The gravity of the situation requires no exaggeration. To’ suggest that this Government or any other government has been apathetic and insincere in proposals brought forward to help the growers does not help. Neither is this problem confined to Australia. At this very moment an international conference is discussing world aspects of tha very serious situation that has arisen in all countries.
– It is a world problem.
– It is very definitely a world problem. Whereas the wheat importing countries require only 560,000,000 bushels of wheat, there is in wheat-growing countries a surplus of approximately twice that amount, namely, 1,100,000,000 bushels. The problem which these figures indicate is not one to be corrected by party rhetoric in this House or anywhere else. Surely no one can suggest that, by reason of apathy or insincerity, this Government, or that which immediately preceded it, is in any way responsible for the present condition of the overseas wheat market. It is true that in most’ wheat-growing countries, various methods have been adopted to assist growers. It cannot fairly be said that Australian governments of recent years have been any less active in alleviating the condition of wheat-farmers in this country.
The mover of the resolution said he would like to see something done. It is my pleasure to tell the House ‘what has been done during the last seven or eight years. And need I say .that I was rather surprised that the honorable member for Wakefield purported to survey the condition of the wheat industry since 1931 without referring to some of the things that had been done in the interests of the wheat-growers ? I was also surprised that he mentioned only some promises made in this or that policy speech and did not tell the House, as he might well have done in all fairness, of the action taken to make good those promises.
– I did refer to some of the measures taken to help the growers.
– I submit that a good deal of assistance has been given to the wheat industry during the last seven or eight years, and I was pleased to hear the honorable member say that some State governments had collaborated with the Commonwealth Government in this connexion. In 1931-32 the Commonwealth Treasurer made available £3,300,000 for distribution to wheatgrowers by way of bounty. Since I endeavour always to be quite fair I admit that the legislation for the distribution of this money was passed by the Scullin Administration ; but I should add that the responsibility for raising and distributing it fell upon the first Lyons’ Government.
In 1932-33 a similar provision was made, the amount on that occasion being £2,100,000.
-.- The £3,300,000 referred to was provided for in the budget which I presented as Treasurer.
– That is so, but the Lyons Government had the responsibility and privilege of distributing it.
– The Government of which the honorable gentleman was a member, enjoyed the surplus provided in our budget.
– In 1933-34 a further £3,000,000 was provided, and handed over to the States for distribution. In 1934-35 £4,000,000 was made available and distributed in three different ways - first, as a bounty of 3d. a bushel; then as a payment of 3s. an acre; and finally, as a grant, under which more than £500,000 was reserved and distributed to distressed wheat-farmers who had had unsatisfactory crop experience. In 1935 provision was made for £12,000,000 to be used for farmers’ debt adjustment. The honorable member for Wakefield referred to the action taken in that regard. It is true that, so far, only £6,000,000 has been expended for debt adjustment, but the remainder of the amount is in reserve waiting to be used as required. In 1935-36 a further grant of almost £2,000,000 was made to the States for the assistance of the wheat-growers. I want the House to note the fact that in not one year since 1931, except in 1936-37 and 1937-38, when there was a flush of prosperity and high prices for wheat, has there not been substantial assistance for the wheat-growers of Australia. In 1938 the homeconsumption price was fixed; that is the basis of the treatment of wheat-growers to-day. There is no need for me to elaborate the details of that plan. They are well known to all honorable members of this House, because it is not so long ago that we had the responsibility of passing the plan into law. It is estimated that the collection of an excise on flour enables the distribution of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year in bounty to Australian wheat-growers to raise the price they receive for their wheat on the open market by something like 5d. a bushel.
My narrative, I suggest, indicates that the governments of the immediate past not only have been appreciative of the difficulties of the farmers, but also have indicated their readiness to provide genuine and appropriate amelioration for those who, by reason of conditions for which neither they nor we could be held responsible, found themselves in so much difficulty.
So much for the past. I should imagine that the wheat-growers of Australia are more concerned about the future than the past. But I was impelled to tell that history because of the omission of my honorable friend to include it in his speech. Honorable members of this House and the farmers have the right to ask what is the attitude of the new Government, and what are its intentions? I should hope that there is no honorable member so unfair or unreasonable as to expect a government which has been in control of affairs for only seven or eight days to have a complete scheme of wheat relief available for release to this House. Nevertheless, honorable members have the right to know, through the official mouthpieces of the Ministry, what its intentions are. The honorable member for Wakefield was good enough to quote the remarks of a number of Prime Ministers on the subject of ‘the wheat industry; but there is one Prime Minister whom he did not quote. Perhaps he left that to me. In any case, I take the opportunity to supplement his references to the promises and undertakings of the past .by giving to the House - I take it that it is most relevant - the undertakings of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on behalf of the new Administration. Speaking within 24 hours of his acceptance of the commission from the Governor-General to form a Ministry, the right honorable gentleman declared “his adherence to existing principles of help for primary industries. He said -
I was a member qf the Ministry in which Sir Earle Page, as Minister for Commerce, prepared legislation relating to the dairying industry, the wheat industry and other primary industries. I took part in the formulation of this policy and the measures had my support.
He spoke again on this subject a few days later. I want the House not to forget that he has been in occupancy of his high office for little more than a week. He said -
Great and urgent as the specialized defence problem is, I realize that one of the best defences for Australia is to be found in prosperous industry, widespread employment, and just conditions of life. This leads to various results, one of which will be the investigation, as early as possible, of the possibility of stabilizing the wheat industry on a basis equitable to producers and consumers. This kind of thing has, on previous occasions, been considered on the eve of the harvest. I propose to have it considered in ample time for Government decision by the end of the winter.
No reasonable person in Australia, whether he be a wheat-grower or a wheat consumer, could find fault with that utterance or expect at this early stage anything more from the Government of which the right honorable member has control. Therefore, in conformity with those undertakings, the Government is prepared to consider any proposals to meet the peculiar problems of the wheatgrower or any other primary producer, and, indeed, to assist to meet the intimate problems of any section of the Australian community.
.- I’ have much pleasure in supporting the motion moved by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) whom I congratulate on his maiden speech in this chamber.
Honorable MEMBERS - Hear, hear !
– The honorable gentleman had the good fortune and good sense to deal with an industry which is of vital importance to this country, the wheat industry. In my opinion, of course, the secondary industries are of premier importance to Australia. One only needs to read the reports of the large increase of employment in Australian manufacturing industries to know that it is necessary to direct our energies towards the development of those industries. But, if the wheat industry is neglected - and it has been neglected in the past - we shall be restricted in this country to populating the coastal areas, more particularly those areas on the eastern coast. We shall not be able to develop our vast hinterland, not even the areas where there is a fair rainfall. The result will be an open and moral invitation to other countries to invest this country, to take part of it and to make good use of it.- Not less than 70,000 persons are directly employed in the wheat industry, but its importance as a field for employment cannot be gauged by that alone. No industry can be compared to it as “a giver of indirect employment. In normal times, of every £10 that the wheat-grower raises on his farm, it is safe to say £8 is expended elsewhere. In bad times, of which we had an example last year, the wheatgrower receives only about 50 per cent, of the cost of production. Whether the times be good or bad, the railways have to be used by the farmer for the carriage not only of his wheat to market, but also of the superphosphates and machinery that he uses. If the wheat industry goes by the board, the outlook from the population point of view will be dark, indeed. As the secondary industries have received protection through the tariff, the wheat farmers are entitled to all the help that can be given to them. I realize that, until a definite scheme of assistance .is evolved, it is necessary to assist the farmers from year to year by the granting of a bounty, but, to avoid the necessity for their coming to the Government cap in hand and asking for a dole, a scheme should be formulated to stabilize the industry. It is essential that a profit should be returned to the growers, and that satisfaction should be given to the consumers. To do this it will be necessary to eliminate the middlemen, and establish a compulsory pool. I should like to know how far the Government is prepared to go in that direction in the next twelve months.
– Can the honorable member suggest how that result could be obtained ?
– By the adoption of the policy of the Labour party. The majority of the growers throughout Australia are in favour of a compulsory pool. The conscience of the honorable -member who has interjected is no doubt pricking him. He has held ministerial office for a considerable period, and the failure of the government with which he was associated to deal effectively with the wheat problem was due to the fact that the Country party was sitting cheek by jowl with a party that was afraid to interfere with vested interests and the trusts controlling the shipment of wheat.
– What legislation would the honorable member suggest?
– The ex-Minister will have an opportunity to speak for himself at a later stage, and it will be necessary for him to adopt a defensive attitude, if he speaks at all.
It is desirable to deal with the wheat industry courageously, as the Government of New Zealand has done with regard to their primary industries. If the present Ministry submitted a proposal for the establishment of a compulsory pool it would receive the full support of the Labour party. Last year the farmers in many districts received such poor returns for their wheat that they did not recover more than half the cost of production, and, in view of the fact that Australia relies for its prosperity upon its export trade in wheat and wool, it is essential to place the wheat industry on a satisfactory basis. With regard to wool, Australia has nothing to fear, because, with the exception of South Africa, it has practically a monopoly of the world’s market, and can supply wool of the highest quality. Although there is a surplus of manufactured goods throughout the world, Australia’s fiscal policy is such that its secondary industries are protected against the competition of such countries as Germany and Japan. Last season, Australia exported about 108,000,000 bushels of wheat, and the loss of the farmers amounted to about £10,000,000. I have never heard of Great Britain being willing to supply Australia with manufactured goods, even machinery for the manufacture of munitions - which are essential at the present time - below the cost of their production; but we do know that the manufacturers of such machinery have been accused of making very large profits, and helping to perpetuate the horror known as modern warfare.
– The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- I almost regret that this motion has been brought forward to-day, because of the promise made .by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) of government assistance to the wheat industry. There is not the slightest doubt as to the vital importance of this great industry to Australia, and its position should be considered more from a national than from a political point of view, and it is a pity that such political animosity should be shown when we have the promise of a stabilization scheme. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) has referred to the demand for a compulsory pool, but he knows quite well that this Parliament has no power to pass the legislation that would be necessary for the establishment of such an organization. At the meeting of the Agricultural Council two years ago, Mr. Troy, the Labour Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia, expressed disapproval of a compulsory pool and said that he was not aware whether ‘the Labour party in that State was in favour of that principle. ‘So far it has not publicly stated that it favoured a compulsory pool. This problem so vitally affects many of my constituents and wheat farmers throughout Australia, that every effort should be made to place the industry on a sound basis. A strong case can be advanced in favour of assisting the wheat industry to the same extent as the secondary industries are protected under the tariff. It was stated at the Rome conference that almost every country realized that the welfare of the nation depended entirely on the prosperity of its farmers; and this equally applies to Australia.
Whilst I welcome the promise that the present Government will bring forward a measure for the stabilization of the industry, I impress upon it the necessity to do something to keep the farmers on the land. In Western Australia we cannot afford to lose them, because we are entirely dependent upon the export of primary products. If Australia is a selfcontained country, as the people of the East imagine it to be, why did the great depression of 1930 occur? If the policy adopted from 1920 onwards were good for this country, there should have been no depression. It was the great fall in export values that ‘brought about that unhappy result. In the four years ended 1929 our exports were valued at approximately £150,000,000 per annum. That is, as those exports left Australia creditswere established to the value of £150,000,000 which, in the volume of its circulation, would mean a circulation of from £500,000,000 to £600,000,000. But in the following four years, ending 1933, exports fell on an average by £52,000,000, thus seriously curtailing the spending power of the people and creating unemployment and distress. During the next four years our exports again increased in values bringing back some semblance of the prosperity of 1925-29. These facts should impress the Government with the need for placing the two great export industries, wheat and wool, upon a payable basis.
I had felt disposed to ask questions in this House concerning the Government’s intentions regarding the wheat industry, but I did not do so in view of the promise made by the Prime Minister. No State has suffered more during the last six years than has Western Australia, and no constituency has been hit harder than mine. Thousands of farmers are suffering, and many have been forced off their holdings. Some are bankrupt and others are hoping against hope. Throughout the pastoral districts in the north-western portion of Western Australia land-holders have experienced no rainfall of any consequence for over five years. It would be deplorable if areas capable of producing wealth were abandoned, and I am hopeful that further efforts will be made to assist those who have suffered severely during the drought period. These men are the best kind of settlers any country could have, because they have been prepared to take risks. I hope that legislation to stabilize the wheat industry will be brought forward at an early date, and that it will prove acceptable, not only to the Government and its supporters, but also to the wheat-growers themselves.
.- I support the remarks of the mover of this motion, and in doing so desire to impress upon Parliament the need for taking action to place the wheat industry on a proper basis. It may be that I shall repeat statements made on previous occasions, but it seems necessary, in order to achieve any reform, to repeat one’s arguments over and over again. Among other things, the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry was able to show that in Australia the wheat industry provided employment, directly and indirectly, for more than 1,000,000 persons. I have said before that the condition of the wheat industry might be regarded as the prosperity barometer of Australia as a whole. When the wheat-growers are prosperous, all other sections of the community are prosperous also.
I desire to pay tribute to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for stating that the wheat industry was one of those matters which his Government proposed to look into very carefully, with a view to putting it on a proper basis. That promise has been much appreciated by the growers, and we look forward now to the translation of those words into action. If the Prime Minister will do that, then I shall admit that he is greater than any who have gone before him.
I have noticed that with every dose of protection to secondary industries in Australia there has been a shrinking of overseas markets for our primary products, particularly for wheat. We look to this Government to do something to re-open the markets that have been closed to us in that way. If the problem is tackled in a resolute way, it should be possible of solution. I also appreciate the remarks of the Prime Minister in regard to the policy of his Government for establishing Australia as a Pacific power, and for the promotion of friendly relations with all other Pacific powers. I realize that we have almost at our doors an enormous potential market for our wheat and wool.
I hope that the Government will do what it can - and it can do a lot if it has the will - to re-open this market, which was largely closed to us by government action.
Some time ago, I submitted a proposition to the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that we might facilitate the development of markets for primary products by making credits available to potential purchasers, particularly of our wheat. The Government, after consideration, decided that it could do nothing in that respect. I do not regard the proposal as a solution of the problem, but merely as a palliative. Nevertheless, I still think that my suggestion is worthy of consideration. We observe that the same thing is being done by the United States of America and by Great. Britain in an endeavour to find markets for manu- factured goods. Loans or credits have been made available to countries, some of which were formerly enemy countries, for the purchase of armaments and manufactured articles. I believe that we have almost reached the position where it would be in our interests, and would make for the development of Australia, if arrangements were made for carrying on trade by barter.
Another method by which our overseas trade might be assisted would be by the freeing of exchange. With the exchange pegged as it is to-day, some potential purchasers of our primary products are unable to buy because they cannot obtain command of the necessary funds. I admit that I have not examined this matter fully, but, at first glance, it appears to me that the freeing of the exchange would be of great benefit to the exporting industries of Australia, and to the wheat industry in particular.
I understand that a conference is sitting in Canberra at the present time to consider matters pertaining to the wheat industry, particularly the proposed storage of wheat supplies for use during war. I have noticed that it has been the policy of governments in the past, when problems affecting the wheat industry are under consideration, to consult with those interests that prey on the farmers, such as marketing agencies, &c, rather than with the growers themselves. I should prefer the Government to consult more frequently with the representatives of growers’ organizations. The growers are now fully organized throughout Australia, and they intend to make their weight felt at the next Federal elections. Unless something definite and practical is done to assist the industry, the Government is certainly going to suffer at the next elections. However, I look to the Government, on the strength of the recent statement of the Prime Minister, to do what is right and fair by the industry.
– I desire to pay a tribute to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) for having introduced this subject, but I could pay it more heartily if he had waited for some time to give the Ministry a chance to do something. This is only the second day of the sitting, and obviously it -was impossible for this Ministry even to have enunciated any plan in connexion with the wheat industry. I was very pleased, however, to hear from the lips of the honorable member who moved the motion that the secondary industries in Australia have been built up by the very strenuous efforts of the primary producers. I am pleased that that admission has at last come from a member of the Opposition. Perhaps if we get some more members in this House like the honorable member for Wakefield we shall be able to evolve a scheme that will really assist the wheat-growers, and the primary producers generally. I quite agree that the wheat industry is one of the most important in Australia, and that we cannot allow it to be ruined by low prices that are governed by world conditions, and not by conditions in Australia.
– By glut conditions.
– Yes, by overproduction. Last year we put through this Parliament a measure to assist the wheat industry, and I remind honorable members of one very important vote taken in connexion with it. It dealt with the distribution of certain surplus moneys to be collected. Out of the whole House, only eight of us voted to apply that surplus towards the cost of removing wheatgrowers from marginal areas. That is one of the things that should be done, and I still maintain that the House, on that occasion, did the wrong thing when it agreed to use that money to bolster up the industry in areas that should not be producing wheat at all. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail, and that steps will be taken to remove growers from unsuitable areas so that we shall not have this recurring trouble every time the price of wheat is low. Investigation will show that it is the growers on marginal areas who are suffering because of low prices and unfavorable climatic conditions.
The mover of the motion discussed the assistance that had been given to the wheat industry by the Government during recent years, but he did so in a very disparaging way. He seemed to believe that much more should have been done. I suggest that the wheat industry itself has yet to put up a scheme definitely acceptable to all sections of the industry.
– Has not the honorable member examined the WilsonUppill scheme?
– The WilsonUppill scheme is not acceptable to certain of the wheat interests. The scheme agreed to by Parliament last year was condemned by certain other interests. Last year we had before us about six different schemes, and I went through them with a very intelligent and well-informed man who was himself engaged in the wheat industry. I was convinced that the wheat legislation passed through this Parliament by the Lyons Administration, although it had many drawbacks, offered the best means of dealing with the situation that confronted the wheat industry at that time. Its greatest drawback was that it raised the price of bread to the consumer.
– The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) assured us that that scheme would not bring about an increase of the price of bread.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– I suggest to the Government that it should give very careful consideration to all schemes that may be put forward for the rehabilitation of the wheat industry. I understand that there is some likelihood of the present scheme being abandoned in the near future. Therefore, I commend the Government for its decision to give careful consideration to all proposals for evolving a scheme which will be of lasting benefit to the wheat industry. I point out, however, that up to the present no scheme which has been submitted has been acceptable to all sections of the wheat industry. The Opposition pins its faith to the establishment of a home-consumption price; but that is not acceptable to all sections of the industry. The WilsonUppill scheme, in respect of which the Prime Minister has promised an investigation, has received a considerable amount of support from different sections of the wheat industry. If all sections of the industry cam agree as to the merits of that scheme, I hope tha.t the Government will give to it very serious consideration and will convene a conference of all interests likely to be affected by it. E believe that such a gathering should be summoned to consider any Commonwealth scheme for the assistance of the industry. The plight of the wheat farmers is not a matter which can be wholly corrected by action in Australia; their prosperity is determined by forces beyond our control. We cannot go on handing out the taxpayers’ money for the assistance of the industry while at the same time we permit the continued cultivation of uneconomic areas. Although I realize that the prosperity of the industry is largely affected by considerations outside our own control, I believe that we could take some measures to improve it. I trust that the Government will go on with the proposed amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act so that money may be made available more cheaply to those engaged in rural industries. Something could also be done with regard to the reduction of freight rates. But no good purpose will be served by these measures if we continue to allow the production of wheat on marginal lands. Until we are able to transfer those now engaged on marginal lands to areas more suitable for the production of wheat, the difficulties which now confront the industry will continue. That aspect of the problem should be given much more serious consideration. I am prepared to support a proposal for the provision of a large sum of money for the transfer of those farming marginal areas to more suitable areas, or for the conversion of such areas to more economic uses. The elimination of uneconomic production may enable the legitimate wheat-growers to get a profitable price for their product, thus obviating the continual approach to the Parliament for some form of assistance. Many of the marginal wheat areas should be utilized for grazing purposes. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) referred to the fact that Australian wheat is sold in Great Britain at less than production cost. I remind the honorable member that Ave have no alternative; while the overseas price remains so low, our exportable surplus must be sold abroad at less than the cost of production. The honorable member went on to say that Great Britain has never been known to send any of its products to Australia to be sold at prices below production costs.
I remind the honorable member that the protectionist policy of his party is strongly opposed to the sale in this country of imports at less than the costs of production ; that is what the honorable member would condemn as dumping.
– Honorable members opposite repeatedly argue that that is done when they are asking for higher customs duties on imports.
– Finally, I suggest to the Minister that before the Government brings any scheme before the House for the assistance of the wheat industry, it should call together representatives, not only of all interests likely to be affected in any way by the scheme put into operation, but also of Labour organizations, so that the interests of the consumers may be protected.
.- I support the motion, and I congratulate the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) on the excellence of his maiden speech in this House, which I regard as a fine endorsement of the foresight of those who returned him as their representative in this Parliament. During the course of this debate I have not heard from honorable members opposite one practical suggestion for the betterment of the plight of the wheatgrowers. What is urgently needed in the government of this country is a definite policy. We, in the Labour movement, have a definite policy which we submit from time to time to the electors of Australia. We stand for the compulsory pooling of wheat and the cooperation of wheat-growers throughout Australia, working in conjunction with the governments of the Commonwealth and the States, to ensure the orderly marketing of their product. One of the great curses of the wheat industry at present is its exploitation by huge vested interests that come between the producer and the consumer. If we had an orderly marketing scheme and a compulsory pool, such as the Labour party has advocated for so long, the wheat industry would be able to speak with one voice. We do not fear the activities of the legitimate purchasers of wheat in Australia, the millers, but only those of the big speculating companies, whose ramifications extend to all parts of the world. In times of low prices, we have seen them buy on a low market, and sell for almost double the price the producer received. If a compulsory pool were in operation to ensure orderly marketing, the growers would receive the true value of their product. I quite realize that some arrangements would have to be made for the handling of surplus production, and I am aware that any such scheme would require considerable financial backing. No matter what the surplus is, exporters are always prepared to purchase the whole of the output at a price, and in the past, they have always been able to fix their own price. The whole of the surplus wheat in Australia could be sold to-morrow, at a price. The buyer takes no risk because he knows the trend of the world’s markets. Under an orderly marketing scheme, wheat could be marketed to the best advantage. The establishment of a home-consumption price, which the Labour party advocates, would ensure to the grower a return of approximately 4s. a bushel. In order to maintain that price it would be necessary, we admit, to peg production. We view with alarm the position of the small wheat-growers throughout Australia. In my own electorate are large wheat-growers producing perhaps 100,000 bushels, and adjacent to them are small farmers who produce only 10,000 bushels. In the measure passed during the last sittings of this Parliament provision was made for a home-consumption price which gave to the grower a bounty of about 5d. a bushel. In my opinion a grower with a production of 100,000 bushels is not morally entitled to this bounty. Being wealthy, almost beyond the dreams of avarice, he is able to mechanize his industry. The passing of the horse and the advent of the tractor and the installation of modern machinery, have made it possible for the wealthy farmer to produce much more cheaply, grow larger quantities and work his farm with, a minimum of labour. The small wheat-grower is unable to take advantage of the advance in production methods. Is it right that the consuming public should be taxed to pay to wealthy people every year an increasing amount of money to which they are not morally entitled, while at the same time no measures are taken to protect to a greater degree the small farmers who are rearing families of sturdy Australians and contributing to the economic security of Australia ? We should do everything possible, by the introduction of appropriate legislation, to promote the breaking up of large estates owned by huge monopolies. The land occupied by the man who is producing over 100,000 bushels of wheat could probably be profitably farmed by ten men rearing ten sturdy Australian families. The Commonwealth Parliament should view with alarm the inroads which these huge land monopolies have made in the wheat industry. At all costs we should endeavour to peg production and see that government bounties are not exploited by the wealthy. I suggest that the payment of bounties to individual wheatgrowers should be restricted to the first 6,000 or 7,000 bushels. Every year millions of pounds go into the pockets of affluent wheat-growers, and the international speculators to whom I have referred. This is a curse with which Australia will have to deal ere long. The honorable member for Wakefield spoke of the trying conditions to which wheat-growers in his electorate are, subject. In the Gwydir electorate probably more wheat is grown than in any other electorate in the Commonwealth.
– I challenge that statement.
– As in other parts of Australia, there are thousands of wheatgrowers in the district of Gwydir .who grow wheat at a loss. Many of them are in the clutches of vested interests, or the private banks, and are being exploited in a way which is not in keeping with Australian ideals. The Labour party advocates the financing of the wheatgrowers through the Commonwealth Bank at minimum rates of interest. One honorable member referred to the proposed legislation to establish a mortgage bank. I shall not discuss that subject now, except to say that that proposal is merely a delusion and a snare. It contains nothing to commend it to the practical man on the land.
-The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– I.am convinced that if the mover of the motion had heard the remarks of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) on the subject of the subdivision of large estates, he would have exclaimed, “ Heaven save me from my friends!” If there is one thing that stands out more than another in connexion with the wheat industry it is that the difficulties of many farmers to-day are due to State governments having cut up good sheep stations to make bad farms. If that practice is to continue in the electorate of Gwydir, its present representative, if fortunate enough to hold the seat for a number of years, will be one of the most eloquent men in this chamber on the evils of too much subdivision of land and of farmers being expected to make a living from small areas. The other point which the honorable gentleman made was that the salvation of the wheat industry lay in the establishment of a compulsory pool. The trouble with the wheat industry to-day is not the method of marketing, but the difficulty of finding markets. Under present conditions, to dispose of all the wheat that is grown is impossible. There are two facts -which cannot be overlooked. First, there has been during recent years a considerable reduction of the amount of wheat required by importing countries; secondly, the quantity of wheat produced by the exporting countries of the world has increased tremendously. Even if the price of wheat were much lower than it is to-day, all the wheat grown could not be sold. A reduction of price does not necessarily mean that more wheat is sold. The trouble confronting the wheat industry is the inability to dispose of all the wheat that is produced. In a speech of ten minutes it is not possible to give all the reasons, hut I point out that the quantity of wheat which the people of Europe are eating is decreasing. That state of affairs is common to all countries with a white population. Improved facilities for transport, and other reasons, have caused people in European countries to consume less of the common wheat foods, and larger quantities of the more tempting succulent foods. Moreover, the importing countries of Europe have not only increased their own acreage under wheat, but they are also producing more wheat an acre. In that respect, they have learned from us. Consequently, our problem is that of adjusting our wheat production to the available market. That problem will not be solved by any adjournment motion in this House, or by the appointment of a select committee or other body to undertake an inquiry. The Minister suggested an inquiry into the various schemes suggested, including a home-consumption price, but a solution will be found only by looking the facts squarely in the face, and then coming to a decision in regard to them. I realize the difficulties confronting the wheatgrowing industry as well as does any other honorable member. The Minister referred to the amount that had been provided for farmers’ debt adjustment. The cruel incontrovertible fact is that a lot of the money provided for debt adjustment has been expended in a way which has produced no lasting benefit. Because of the fall of the price of wheat, many men who had their debts adjusted are no better off to-day than they were four or five years ago. Their condition is due, not to any mistake made in the expenditure of the money, but to the fact that adjustments were made on the basis of wheat at 3s. a bushel on the farm. To-day the price of wheat is only about half that amount.
– Is the honorable member aware that money for debt adjustment has not been provided by the Commonwealth Government?
– I know that the money was allocated by the Loan Council, a body on which the States have overwhelming representation. The fact is that the State governments of the day preferred to use the money for works. Because they were not prepared to face the unemployment issue, they starved debt adjustment in order to make their pathway easier in other directions.
– That was due to the policy of the Commonwealth Government.
– In any review of the difficulties confronting the wheat industry, the first thing that stands out is the restriction on the international trade in wheat. Moreover, new forms of trading are coming into operation. I shall not say more about the recent purchase of 200,000 tons of wheat under the so-called British security scheme than that no considerable business acumen was displayed by the British Government in that transaction. Its action disturbed the market, and reacted detrimentally on the wheat industry. Again, the British deal with Roumania is well worth investigation by wheat-minded men in this chamber. There was also the Brazilian venture of last year, which caused trouble with Argentina.
– What about imperial preference ?
– Imperial preference was not worth two hoots to the Australian wheat industry. It never was a protection to Australian wheatgrowers. British preference had two tags tied to it. If honorable members will read what they said in relation to the Ottawa Agreement, many of them will find it as refreshing as a cold shower on a summer day. Certain overseas freight manipulations affect us, but not to such an extent that their discontinuance would provide us with a payable price for wheat. Our problem is that of the available market and our capacity to supply it. Reference has been made to possible markets in the Far East. I am not insensible of the position there, but I remind honorable members that the only time when we can dispose of wheat there is when the price is so low that Australian wheat-growers would become bankrupt in growing it for sale at such a price. The Far East may prove to be a useful outlet for our surplus production, but the position is as I have stated. The United States of America is in a particularly happy position as a producer of wheat. It has a big production, but, as most of the wheat is consumed within its own territory, the amount available for disposal in the world’s market is such a small percentage of the total crop that that country can go in for measures which make the marketing of the wheat profitable to the grower. Australia, Argentina and Canada are in an entirely different position ; wheat comprises so great a proportion of their total exports that they cannot successfully compete with the United States of America under the methods adopted by that country. The present Government, having just taken office, is not in a position to decide on any definite policy; it must wait. I do not think that the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) had any worse objective than to make his maiden speech on a familiar subject. I compliment him on his speech, although there is much in it to which I could reply. I shall, however, reserve my remarks until another occasion. When that time comes I shall be able to speak on the subject of political parties with as much authority, and even more sarcasm, than the honorable gentleman did to-day. On more than one occasion we have faced each other in another arena, and by this time each of us is accustomed to dealing with the arguments of the other. The question before the House is above party; it affects the whole structure of finance, industry and commerce in this Commonwealth. We may lay down plans, and produce schemes to our hearts’ content; but the conditions which govern the international markets will decide whether or not such schemes will be successful. Unless those conditions are such as will enable the producer to get a payable price, the whole subject of wheat growing in Australia will require a drastic review. I believe that that is necessary. I shall not at this stage discuss the effect of tractors on wheat production and consumption, but such factors must be taken into consideration. For the time being the Government can afford to wait. I hope that, later, it will arrive at decisions. Should there be any attempt to defer consideration by referring the matter to a committee, or commission, I may have to say something which I do not want to say.
.- It has been proposed that the House shall adjourn because of the failure of the Government to take action to stabilize the wheat industry and provide economic security for farmers and their families. In dealing with a subject of this kind, we must first analyse the position to see whose is the responsibility. My attitude in this House has always been that the Government’s obligation is to give to all sections of industry equal protection. By means of the tariff, secondary industries are protected, whilst arbitration tribunals protect the workers in industry.
Secondary industries can reimburse themselves for extra costs incurred, but primary producers cannot do so. Consequently, it is necessary that there shall be some different method of treatment in order to compensate primary industries for the burdens which national policy places on them, but which they cannot pass on. As to the various schemes which have been mentioned, such as a homeconsumption price for wheat, compulsory pools, and stabilization of the wheat industry, we must recognize that whatever policy is adopted by the government of the day, the money required to implement it must come out of the pockets of the people. The Government has no well of gold to draw upon. If the wheat industry is to be assisted, that assistance must be provided by the people of Australia. This country has no control whatever over the prices received for wheat overseas. There have been frequent attempts to secure a compulsory pool, but those of us who have been connected with them, and have investigated the position, know that except under a War Precautions Act, now non-existent, a compulsory pool is constitutionally impossible. There is one thing which a compulsory pool can do; it can secure a home-consumption price for wheat. But we already have on our statute-book a measure to provide for a home-consumption price; that price is to be paid by the aid of a sales tax on flour. If there were a compulsory pool for wheat, the money would have to be paid by exactly the same people and to the same amount in the price which would! be charged to the millers for their wheat. Had that scheme been carried out in accordance with the act and the intention of the States and the Commonwealth Government when they came to an agreement, the wheat-growers of Australia, during the current year, would have received about £3,500,000. Although a definition was placed in the taxation portion of that act to provide that the tax should be based upon the export value of wheat on trucks at Williamstown, that has not been done. Since the act came into operation, the tax has been based upon the market price of wheat free on rail Williamstown,, which is quite 5d. a bushel above export parity. This represents £1 a ton of flour, so that the wheat-growers of Australia are losing £1 a ton because of this departure from the letter and spirit of the act. It means that the fund to provide this year’s bounty will be deprived of about £600,000. This is not the fault of the Government. The act provides that the Government shall proclaim the tax in accordance with the recommendation of the special committee appointed to make a recommendation. It is not the Government’s responsibility to indicate to that committee what it thinks the tax should be, but to accept the committee’s recommendation. So the farmers are losing approximately £1 a ton from the tax because of the method by which it has been proclaimed. To-day’s tax of £5 5s. a ton represents 2s. 2£d. a bushel and the price of wheat for export is a fraction over 2s. 6d. a bushel - say 2s. 6£d. - at any seaport in Australia, making a total of 4s. 8fd. Every honorable member knows the intention of the act, and the words used were that the tax would return to the wheat-growers 5s. 2d. a bushel at seaports. Honorable members will see that I am justified in saying that the farmers are losing approximately 5d. a bushel on the home-consumption price because of what is being done. Reference has been made to the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool which, it is said, would provide an extra price for the wheat-growers by eliminating the profits made by wheat merchants. It was suggested by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) that the wheat could be held by those controlling the pool, and sold at the top of the market. Apparently by some system of crystal gazing they would know just when to sell. No one knows what the future of the wheat market is likely to be.
– Has not compulsory pooling been successful elsewhere?
– It has not increased the returns except in respect of the homeconsumption price. Competition of pools with the merchants of the world has not put much more money into the farmers’ pockets. If the controllers of the pool take the risk of the market that risk is taken at the expense of the farmers.
– John Darling died a millionaire.
– As a result of business organization, foresight and acumen. We have seen what has been done by the controllers of wheat pools and, in the matter of exports, we can get the same results from a voluntary pool as from a compulsory pool.
– Is the honorable member in favour of a compulsory pool ?
– I have supported it on many occasions in order to get a homeconsumption price. If we could not have a home-consumption price without a compulsory pool, I would be in favour of the system. The home price is 90 per cent. of the advantage to be derived from a compulsory pool and the other 10 per cent. may be obtained only by taking the risks of the market. In the matter of interest it was suggested that we might have free loans for farmers, but I do not think that that is practicable. The Federal Government’s proposal for a long-term mortgage section of the Commonwealth Bank will assist materially to reduce the interest which has to be paid by the man on the land, and I trust that the Government will move speedily in that direction. Fully 50 per cent. of the cost of growing wheat is represented by interest, and if that could be reduced by one-fifth the farmers would save 10 per cent. in their production costs. That would materially assist wheatgrowers. Reference has been made to the amount collected from the flour tax and to the manner in which it is distributed. The honorable member for Gwydir contended that men growing wheat on a large scale should not be allowed to collect the bounty. I remember the Minister (Sir Frederick Stewart) referring to a wealthy wheat-grower in Western Australia receiving a big cheque representing bounty payments based on the quantity he produced. It was not long before that man was in the bankruptcy court, notwithstanding the large cheque, in respect of which abuse had been hurled at him in this chamber. It is well to remember that the wheatgrower producing the largest quantity of wheat when the price is 2s. a bushel loses most. He has to carry the heaviest burden because of the commitments which he has to meet through the tariff, Arbitration Court awards, workmen’s compensation, workers’ insurance and the high cost of implements. He pays much more than the farmer operating a smaller property. These things have to be recognized. It is not the Government’s responsibility to make industry prosperous. If it is the Government’s responsibility to make the wheat industry prosper it is also its responsibility to assist the wool-growers, the bootmakers, the hotelkeepers, and others. Every person in the community has an equal right to assistance. The Government is not entitled to discriminate in the assistance it gives, but the burdens imposed by the Government, which rest inequitably on certain sections, should be compensated for in some way. The Government is attempting to do that in a proper way. If it is prepared to expand its help I shall be glad to support it.
.- The discussion on this subject will prove interesting, particularly to the consumers of bread. Reference has been made to the advantage to be gained by establishing a compulsory wheat pool. Year after year bounties amounting to millions of pounds have been made available to wheatgrowers. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) endeavoured to make us believe that the man who produced the largest quantity of wheat when it was 2s. a bushel was the greatest loser, but he omitted to say the amount of benefit he derived when wheat was 4s. or 5s. a bushel.
– How often does that occur ?
– There have been many occasions when wheat has been at that price and farmers have benefited materially. Recently I met a farmer from the Moree district who informed me that there were no poor wheat-growers in that district.
– What area does he own?
– In the Moree district more wheat is produced an acre than in any other wheat-growing district, and if
South. Australian farmers who are ‘complaining transferred their activities to the Moree district, we would not hear so much wailing. I have frequently mentioned that no one would object if the wheat bounty were paid to those in needy circumstances; but we know that in many instances it is collected by rich farmers who do not need it. I have heard of a rich wheatgrower who said that he would be able to send his wife on a trip to England on the wheat bounty he received. Even if some farmers do incur a loss when wheat is below 2s. a bushel, they usually have a very substantial banking account which had been accumulated when prices were much higher. For every two years of adverse seasons, they have three years of plenty which enables them to make up their losses. I believe that it was the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) who objected to the production of margarine, because it interferes with the sale of butter.
– Is the Honorable member on the side of the wheat-growers or of the poultry-raisers?
– The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Collins) does not know on which side he is to-day. For nearly seven years I have heard the honorable member for Riverina say that the primary producers are carrying the nation’s burdens. It is only right to say that they are carrying a portion, but the secondary industries are also shouldering their” share of national responsibility.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257b.
Debate resumed from the 6th October, 1938 (vide page 495, Vol. 157), on motion by Mr. Baker (since deceased) -
That Ordinance No. 20 (Canberra Community Hospital) of 1938, made under the Seat of Government Acceptance Act and the Seat of Government (Administration) Act, be disallowed.
.- The motion to disallow this ordinance was moved some months ago by the late hon orable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker). In submitting the motion, he pointed out its objectionable features, and I expected that to-day some member of the Government would have answered the points then raised.
– I am waiting to see if any additional points are raised so that I may deal with them too.
– That is an excuse, and not a reason. On that occasion the principle embodied in this ordinance was discussed at length. That principle, which apparently remains to-day, savours of the appointment of a dictatorship within the Australian Capital Territory. A change from this situation is not only desirable but also overdue. Members of the present Government may claim that they have not had time to investigate the matter, but, after all, the changes in the Ministry have not been very great. If the Minister for Health and Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) can give any indication that the Government proposes to alter the ordinance, I shall be happy not to pursue the subject further.
– If the honorable member will explain which features he wishes altered I shall endeavour to discuss them.
– The ordinance deals with the method of electing the Hospital Board. The control of the hospital has been removed from the community and placed in the hands of the Medical Superintendent. This is equivalent to substituting for democratic control dictatorship control. That was the subject of the complaint of the late honorable member for Griffith and I support it. The principle of the ordinance is definitely undemocratic. As I regard the present Minister for Health and Social Services as a man who believes in democratic principles, I hope he will remedy my complaint. I object to the Medical Superintendent of the hospital exercising powers previously vested in an elected board, and I also object to the restricted franchise for hospital board elections. I hope that the Government will agree to alter the ordinance at an early date, and place the hospital under democratic control.
Sir FREDERICK STEWART (Parramatta - Minister for Health and Social
Services) [5.20]. - Being new to my present office, I was unaware of the full implications of the ordinance under discussion, but, having perused in Hansard the remarks made by the late honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker) when he submitted this motion, and having supplemented that information somewhat by listening to the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), I have gathered that the principal objections to the ordinance fall under three headings. It is alleged that the present method of electing the Hospital Board is undemocratic; that the wives of taxpayers have no votes ; and that the hospital is controlled ‘by a dictator superintendent. As a matter of fact, this ordinance, so far from being undemocratic, is, in its very essence, more democratic than the ordinance which it superseded. Under the provisions of the original ordinance, the Hospital Board consisted of five members, three of whom were nominated, and two elected. The present ordinance provides for a completely elective board of six members. Earlier speakers to this motion referred to the fact that wives of hospital taxpayers residing in Canberra were not eligible to vote. Honorable members who have not yet been informed on the subject will be glad to learn that a subsequent Ordinance, No. 26 of 1938, has made provision for wives of persons who pay the hospital tax to vote equally with their husbands. The grounds for the allegation of dictatorship on the part of the Medical Superintendent, and also the complaint that he is under the control of the Minister, have also been removed. Under Ordinance No. 3 of 1939, the superintendent is appointed by the elected board. He controls the hospital, subject to the over-riding control of the board, which itself is electedby the vote of almost all the citizens of Canberra. These alterations indicate clearly that the Government is prepared to consider representations for the correction of any irregularities. As the Minister now administering the Departments of Health and Social Services, I shall be prepared to receive any representations regarding matters which are considered to inflict injustices on any section of the community in Canberra.
Question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 6th October, 1938 (vide page 498, Vol. 157), on motion by Mr. Baker (since deceased) -
That Ordinance No. 22 (Hospital Tax) of 1938, made under the Seat of Government Acceptance Act and the Seat of Government (Administration) Act, be disallowed.
.- Having extracted some information, and at least some satisfaction, from the Government respecting Hospital Tax Ordinance No. 20,I hope to gain additional information concerning Ordinance No. 22. I understand, although I am not sure, that Ordinance No. 22 has been altered since this motion was made some months ago. However, I strongly disapprove of one feature of the ordinance. I refer to the rate of tax imposed on certain subscribers. The ordinance provides that the tax shall be at the rate of threepence a week on persons receiving £1 or more but less than £1 10s. a week; 6d. a week on those receiving £1 10s. or more but less than £2 a week, and 9d. a week on those receiving £2 or more. I object to that scale of charges. I contend that a tax of three- pence a week is much too high on persons receiving less than 30s. a week, and 9d. a week is certainly too high on salaries of £2 a week.
– What rate would the honorable member suggest?
– It is for the Government to suggest a reasonable scale. In Launceston, one private firm has an agreement with the public hospital for the payment of subscriptions by employees. The scale of charges in that case is very much lower than the scale operating in Canberra. The Government certainly should ‘be able to introduce in a city like Canberra a scheme at least comparable with that operating in Launceston.
– Canberra is about the dearest city in the Commonwealth.
– That is no reason why heavy levies for hospital treatment should be imposed on the poor, while persons in receipt of high salaries are more or less exempt. Without doubt this ordinance gives preference to those in the community who are in comfortable circumstances. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) surely does not disagree with the statement that the position of a man who receives 41s. a week is not fairly comparable with that of a man who receives £9 or £10 a week; yet in Canberra both have to pay the same amount of hospital tax.
– I disagree with the honorable member on that point.
– Apparently the honorable member believes in taxing the poor for the benefit of the rich. The charge of 3d. a week in respect of persons earning over £1 and under 30s. a week is too high, and 9d. a week is too much to levy on those whose income is £2 a week ; it should be not more than 3d. a week. The levy is not sufficiently heavy in respect of those who receive more than £2 a week. That paid by the private firm in Launceston to which I just referred for hospital services for its employees is considerably less than 9d. From memory, I think it is only 3d. a week in respect of persons who earn £2 a week or more. If that is sufficient for a private firm in Launceston to pay it should be possible to arrange a lower scale of charges in respect of the Canberra Community Hospital. Although I realize that the Minister has not been in charge of this department for very long, I hope that he will be able to give me some indication of what the Government has done, or proposes to do, in regard to this hospital tax.
– It is true that I have not been in charge of this department long enough to become acquainted with the details of its administration, particularly details of this kind, but I am able to say that I have a certain amount of respect for the representations which the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) has just made, and I undertake to examine this tax with a view to seeing whether the inequities he alleges are real. Obviously, the honorable member is not fully acquainted with the amended schedule which was incorporated in Ordinance No. 1 of 1939, because the schedules of incomes from which, apparently, he quoted ranges from £2 to £10, whereas in the amended ordinance it ranges from £2 to £5. However, on general principles there should be no disagreement among honorable members as to the necessity for some contribution being made for hospital services. Indeed, such an arrangement is in the nature of a scheme of health insurance, and, if I do not misinterpret their policy, honorable members opposite have no serious objection to a scheme of contributory health insurance. The scheme applying to residents of Canberra falls within that category. I cannot agree for a moment, however, that under the schedule mentioned by the honorable member contributors on the higher ranges of salary are treated preferentially. By his own showing that is not the case. I repeat that I am prepared to examine the schedule again. At all times I am ready to give the fullest consideration to representations made by honorable members in any part of the House, whether they have reference to the Canberra Community Hospital or to any other institution controlled by my department.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the following matters: -
The permanent filling of higher positions in the Commonwealth Public Service;
The temporary filling of higher positions in the Commonwealth Public Service;
The administration of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department concerning the replacement of condemned telegraph poles; and
The administration by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department of the provisions of the arbitration award relating to line staffs.
These are four matters about which employees inthe various branches of the Commonwealth Public Service, and particularly those in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, feel strongly. It will be seen from the records that representations havebeen made in this House from time to time on the subjects covered by my motion. Some of them were brought under the notice of preceding Postmasters-General, and I might add here that when the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was
Postmaster-General asai the matter covered ‘by item (c) was brought under his notice, he gave immediate attention to it. He realized that something should be done to provide for the safety of men who might be engaged in replacing dangerous telegraph poles; and at a time when it was proposed, particularly in Victoria, to dismiss a large number of men, most of whom were returned soldiers, he was good enough to take action, with the result that many of them were kept on. However, many dangerous telegraph poles which have been condemmed by officers of the department are still in use, and linesmen detailed to replace them run the risk of serious personal injury, and the danger continues to exist.
The first matter embodied in my motion concerns the permanent filling of higher positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. This is covered by section 50 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. .Complaints made in this respect rest on the ground that many efficient senior officers have been passed over for promotion in favour of junior officers of no greater efficiency, who have been selected by the department without due regard being paid to the claims of their seniors. I do not know whether the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) has had an opportunity to look into this matter. I hardly think so, but on studying the records he will find that serious complaints have been made from time to time in this House concerning this matter. In fact, the time of this Parliament is frequently taken up in considering matters which could be more advantageously referred for investigation to a select committee. If this were done the atmosphere would be cleared and the employees generally would be assured of a fairer deal. At present promotion rests in the first instance on selection by the department, unsuccessful applicants having the right of appeal to the Public Service Board. This right of appeal, as it is now operated, however, is not regarded with any great favour by the employees. For instance, the number of promotions appealed against is anything from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, annually, whilst the proportion of appeals upheld is from 15 per cent, to 19 per cent. I am not suggesting that the right of appeal is not of value, but when we find so high a percentage of appeals we must conclude that there is something faulty about the method of administration. It looks as though the Appeal Board will be kept in permanent employment. The object of my motion is to remedy this state of affairs. I suggest that the select committee should be representative of all parties. After investigating the matter such a body should be able to make recommendations which would improve the present state of affairs. The matter of promotions has been the subject of representations by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, and other organizations within the Public Service, to the department, the Public Service Board and the Government on various occasions during the last few years, but these representations have proved of no avail. In these circumstances it is held that an inquiry by a select committee is desirable. It is felt that the methods at present adopted by the Postal Department and the Public Service Board are unsatisfactory. I believe that it was the intention of Parliament that the Public Service Board should consist of men who would deal with appeals without any partisanship whatever, but employees of the Postal Department, at all events, feel that this is not the case. They feel that they cannot get justice through the ordinary channels now open to them. It should be made quite clear, however, that the men are not contending that senior officers should receive promotion, regardless of efficiency. It is realized that any such contention would conflict with section 50 of the Public Service Act. The temporary filling of higher positions relates to instances in which permanent officers are required to carry out the duties of higher positions for varying periods, involving payment of higher duties allowance, and has a bearing on subsequent promotion. This matter is covered by Public Service Regulation 116, which reads -
When it is necessary to fill a position temporarily by the transfer of an officer of lower classification the chief officer is required to make a selection from the available officers on the basis of efficiency and seniority.
The organizations which desire that a select committee should be appointed as I suggest do not urge that men should be promoted only on seniority. They realize that efficiency must count, but they claim that the deputy directors of posts and telegraphs in the various States have frequently overlooked efficient senior officers- and given preference to juniors.
I know of no more prolific cause of dissatisfaction in any government service than the practice of ignoring seniority in cases of this kind. If this grievance were remedied, much of the dissatisfaction now existing among postal employees would disappear and we could hope for more enthusiastic service on their part. The Postmaster-General’s Department is very fortunate in that it is one branch of governmental activity which produces a very handsome annual profit. In fact honorable members often dispute as to the best means of utilizing those profits. It has been suggested, for instance, that they might be utilized in reducing postal charges. Other branches of the Public Service, however, cannot be regarded as commercial departments. The railways might be said to fall into this category; viewed from a commercial standpoint only they are a losing proposition. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department operates at a profit and this is an additional reason why the grievances of its employees should receive urgent consideration. Last year when my motion was first placed upon the notice-paper I asked the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) whether an opportunity would be given to the House to discuss it last session. He expressed regret that that could not be done, but added that it would be dealt with this session. I am under the impression that the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) made some investigation of these complaints, and I realize that his successor (Mr. Harrison) may not yet have had an opportunity to give hisattention to them. Therefore, he might feel that he is placed at a disadvantage at this stage by this request for the appointment of a select committee. I believe, however, that he will give careful consideration to the views put forward, and I hope that the matter will not be dealt with hastily, lt will, I believe, be in the interests of the department to have the request for the select committee dealt with favorably.
I again direct attention to Public Service Regulation 116. It specifically provides -
When it is necessary to fill a position temporarily by the transfer of an officer of a lower classification, the Chief Officer is required to make a selection from available officers on the basis of efficiency and seniority.
The Amalgamated Postal “Workers Union claims that this regulation is not being observed. Responsible officers of that organization assert that many competent officers have been passed over and higher positions have been given to officers who are junior to them.
The select committee, if appointed, will be able to make a thorough investigation of the complaints and, if necessary, it will submit recommendations which if accepted would be for the guidance of “ the department. It is claimed that a former Deputy Director of Postal Services in New South Wales, an officer who has been given a higher appointment recently, owes bis promotion to the fact that he speeded up the work of the department by pitting one man against another, a practice which “led to a great deal of dissatisfaction, particularly in Sydney.
– We have not heard of that. Senior officers who feel aggrieved may exercise their right of appeal.
– I know that they have the right of appeal to the board, and I am informed that this privilege is used to such an extent that appeals are lodged against 40 per cent, or 50 per. cent, of the appointments made. Many appeals, I understand, have been upheld. The trouble is due to the fact that, in making appointments, due regard has not been paid to seniority.
– Seniority would apply, other things being equal.
– The men say that that principle is not observed, and there is no doubt that if departmental officials adopt unreasonable speeding-up methods, dissatisfaction will occur.
– Is the honorable member claiming, that those conditions exist to-day?
– I am merely voicing the claim put forward by members of the union, who ask that these charges be investigated by an independent tribunal. I do not say that I have evidence to support the charges; but I think that the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) will admit that complaints have been made from time to time about promotions in the department.
– Does the honorable member mean that complaints are being made now?
– Not particularly now, possibly because some of the cause for dissatisfaction has been removed by the promotion of the Deputy Director to another position in which speeding-up methods may be justifiable.
– Mr. Duncan was succeeded by Mr. Newman from the Melbourne Post Office.
– Yes, but I refer to Mr. Corbett.
– Mr.Corbett is at Brisbane.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong does not know his facts.
– I do not mind being corrected by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) or the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson). I am merely telling the House that complaints have been made about Mr. Corbett’s tactics.
– He was in Sydney, but has been transferred to Brisbane recently.
– Mr. Corbett was never Deputy Director in Sydney.
– I am aware of that; he was a senior officer against whose methods there were frequent complaints. The complaints are not directed only against deputy directors; they apply to senior officers in high administrative positions.
– Have complaints been made against the present Deputy Director in Sydney?
– I have not specified that; the complaints are against the methods of the administration generally. This is why a select committee should be appointed to conduct a thorough investigation.
The Public Service Board’s view of the application of Public Service Regulation 116 is that where two officers are available for selection to act temporarily in a higher position, and the senior of those officers has proved efficient in his normal duties and no reason exists for believing that he cannot carry out with efficiency the duties of the office to be temporarily filled, he shall be given the opportunity to act in the higher position in preference to the junior officer. The Amalgamated Postal Workers Union claims to be able to cite numerous instances in which, despite equal efficiency among applicants for promotion, seniority has not been observed in making the appointments.
– Has a man named Burke communicated with the honorable member ?
– My remarks are not the outcome of communications from any particular person, though I note that the name Burke seems to irritate the honorable member for Barton. The complaints made are against senior officers in administrative positions generally, and a select committee enquiry would clear up whether or not this is justified against some of them.
The construction placed on Public Service Regulation 116 by the Public Service Board is largely ignored by the chief officers or deputy directors of the Postal Department in the various States, with the result that juniors are often promoted to the detriment of competent senior officers. This is the definite charge that is made by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and which, it is desired, should be investigated by a select committee of this House.
The temporary filling of higher positions has been the subject of representations to the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Public Service Board by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and other service unions on a number of occasions, but up to date little or nothing has been done to improve the position. How can satisfactory service be expected from employees when complaints of this kind are made and no action is taken? Employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department are, and have been, rendering very good service under difficult conditions, and they now seek the appointment of a select committee to investigate their grievances. It is because I think there is foundation for the complaints that I have submitted this motion. I believe that the Postmaster-General wants to be fair, and desires that the employees of bis department shall be treated reasonably.
It is claimed by the union that the replacement of condemned telegraph poles is frequently delayed for lengthy periods, particularly in the States of New South Wales and Victoria, with consequent danger to linemen. This has been going on for some years, despite repeated complaints from the New South Wales and Victorian branches of the union. It is stated that at a time when the department was dispensing with the services of many employees there were in Victoria alone 8,000 condemned telegraph poles awaiting replacement. Surely that was not right. These condemned poles were a menace to the men who were obliged to work on them. I think that the Postmaster-General will agree with me that such a state of affairs should not be permitted. When representations in this connexion were made last year, the then Postmaster-General, I understand, took some steps to have the men kept on for the purpose of renewing the poles, so the department must have recognized then that there was good reason for the complaints. A few months ago an employee was killed in Sydney while working on the cross-arms of a condemned telegraph pole which gave way. The failure of the department to replace this condemned pole before the accident was the subject of adverse comment by the coroner at the inquest. I have personal knowledge of several accidents in which men have been killed or injured while working on condemned poles in Victoria. No Commonwealth department should allow conditions to exist that may expose employees to danger. This applies to all departments, but more especially to the Postal Department, which last year produced a surplus of £3;500,000. A department which makes so much profit can easily afford to make the working conditions of its employees safe and cannot justify the poles being left in an unsafe condition. Whilst accidents due to condemned poles may not be a very high proportion of the total, they are usually of a serious nature, and some of them prove fatal. I know that the removal of all condemned poles will take time, but this work should be undertaken on a rapid and systematic basis. There is ample labour available to do this work because, at the present time, there are 150,000 people out of work in Australia, and 118,500 persons are existing on sustenance. With very little training, many of these people would be capable of undertaking portion of this work. The necessary money and labour being available, there is no excuse for further postponing this work.
The reference to the administration of the arbitration award relating to line staffs is chiefly confined to New South Wales, and has relation to the frequent infringements which are brought under the notice of the union from time to time in that State. It should be borne in mind that the federal service unions cannot proceed in law for breaches or infringements of arbitration awards. They certainly have the power to apply to the Arbitrator for interpretation of the provisions of awards, but a distinction is made between interpretations and infringements of awards. The law on this point, as explained by the Arbitrator, is that “ charges of breaches of awards are not grounds for an application for interpretation.” The difficulty does not arise in ordinary awards.
If a select committee were appointed by Parliament to inquire into the four matters to which I have referred, there is every reason to believe that evidence could be produced by the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and other service unions in support of the allegations that I have pu:t forward without making specific charges against any individual. If the select committee were appointed, representatives of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and other Public Service unions would be prepared to give detailed evidence concerning the representations which have been made to the responsible authorities, the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Public Service Board and the Government, in connexion with each of the subjects of inquiry. It will be recognized that organizations of the importance of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, which cover a very large number of the members of the Public Service, would not be likely to make assertions which could not be backed up by evidence. It might be that the select committee, having made its inquiry, would take the view that the alleged grievances are not so grave as the unions claim, but from information that I have, there is grave cause for dissatisfaction, and the Postmaster-General and the Ministry as a whole should take a favorable view of the request for the appointment of a select committee. I ask that serious consideration be given to this request. There are honorable gentlemen on both sides of this House who are willing to act on such a committee. Seven members would be required if the Government favoured its appointment. The committee could conduct its inquiry quickly, and make recommendations which, if adopted, would bring about a better state of affairs in the Service. The elimination of the present dissatisfaction would obviate this House having its time taken up by a discussion of grievances in the Public Service.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Spender for Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to provide for the payment of annuities to the widow and children of the late the Right Honorable Joseph Aloysius Lyons.
Bill brought up by Mr. Spender, and read a first time.
Question proposed -
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair.
– I am pleased to have this opportunity to address a few words to honorable members, particularly to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison), whom I congratulate on his appointment to his high position. I sincerely hope that the honorable gentleman will remain in office longer than his predecessor; in other words, sufficiently long to enable him to have a knowledge of the requirements of the Brisbane people.
– The Brisbane post office?
– Yes, the Brisbane post office is my subject and I make no apologies. Repeatedly since 1932 I, in all sincerity and with the backing of 90 per cent. of the citizens of Brisbane, have brought before Parliament Brisbane’s post office needs. In bringing it forward on this occasion, I enter my emphatic protest against the failure of the Government to carry out its promises to the Brisbane people in respect of the provision of a new general post office. As I have said on the floor of this chamber on many occasions the General Post Office building in Brisbane is totally inadequate to meet the postal requirements of the people, whilst the accommodation in which the employees are compelled to work is absolutely deplorable and, I am sure, would not be tolerated for a moment by private enterprise. I have made it my business to inquire into every aspect of the postal services in Brisbane, and I have seen the accommodation provided for the postal workers. I hope that at the earliest possible moment the PostmasterGeneral will pay a visit to Brisbane in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the position. If he does, I feel sure that he will be satisfied that what I have said in this chamber so often is absolutely in accordance with the facts. We are told from time to time that there has been no preparation for the rebuilding of the post office. Yet 50 years ago plans and specifications were drawn up and the plan of the then post office was published in the Brisbane daily papers. The population of Brisbane has grown considerably since 50 years ago when the then Postmaster-General of the colony of Queensland, Sir Horatio Wilson, made a recommendation to his government that plans for a new post office should be gone on with because the existing post office was not adequate to meet requirements. It is true that a number of small buildings - if they could be so described - have been added.
– Yes, they are nothing more than patchwork. Fifty years ago the building was totally inadequate, and I ask the Postmaster-General whether a building which was considered to be inadequate 50 years ago can be adequate to-day? The answer must be that it is not. I have been raising this subject ever since my entry into this Parliament. The earliest reply which offered any encouragement .1 received in 1934. The then Postmaster-General (Sir Archdale Parkhill) promised definitely that the building would be started.
– He was a good PostmasterGeneral too.
– He was. He at least gave the citizens of Brisbane some encouragement, but, unfortunately, any encouragement given then and since has disappeared as the result of the Government’s latest attitude. Again in 1935 the honorable gentleman’s predecessor made a definite promise on the floor of this chamber during the consideration of the Estimates that provision would be made on the Estimates of 1935-36 for the start of the first section of the new building before the end of that year. But nothing was done. Then again, the Cabinet met in Brisbane, I believe in August, 1936, when a definite promise was made by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the former PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan’) that there would be a new building. They said that they were satisfied, after having viewed the post office, that in the interests of the city of Brisbane the erection of a new building was essential. They added that that building would be started at the earliest possible date. Then in January, 1938, Senator A. J. McLachlan issued a statement to the press to the effect that the Government had decided to proceed with the building. He hoped that it would be started before the end of 1938. During .the consideration of the Estimates last year, I made further requests for this work to be started.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The last definite promise made to the people of Brisbane, when the 1938-39 Estimates were under consideration, was given by the Assistant Minister then representing the Postmaster-General in this chamber. It was stated that £50,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the commencement of the building of ‘ a new general post office, and that a further £10,000 had been made available for the re-housing of the employees who occupied the parcels office, and who would be drafted into a temporary building until that section had been re-built. That information was received by the citizens of Brisbane with delight.
When the succeeding Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Barker (Mr.. Archie Cameron) arrived in Brisbane early this year, and was asked when the Government intended to commence the new building, he indicated, by a wave of his hand, that he knew nothing about the matter. He said that there was no money on the Estimates for the work, and that he could not see any plans lying about. The implication that important plans of that nature might be found lying about the post office was absurd. The people in Brisbane have taken great exception to the remarks of the honorable gentleman. He seemed to imagine that he was discussing the matter with a group of nit-wits, otherwise he would not have made such a childish statement. The press of Brisbane, and the citizens generally, were very upset on reading such remarks by a responsible Minister. He was challenged through the press, and I personally challenged the statement. Later he admitted that he had not understood the position, as £50,000 had been placed on the Estimates for the work, but he added that the expenditure had not been incurred, owing to the heavy commitments for defence. He further said that, if he were a citizen of Brisbane, he would prefer the placing of guns at Caloundra for the defence of Brisbane to the building of a new general post office.
I would inform the ex-Minister, and the members of this House generally, that the people of Brisbane take second place to no others in their advocacy of the proper defence of Queensland. The representatives of that State in this chamber have always asked for adequate defence of that portion of Australia. The point which the citizens of Brisbane desire me to make is that, in their opinion, the Government had no justification whatever for withdrawing the £50,000 voted on the Estimates for the re-building of the Brisbane General Post Office on the score that the money is necessary for defence purposes. Side by side with * last year’s Estimates of the- Postmaster-General’s Department were those of the Defence Department, and, in budgeting for defence, the Government knew exactly what was required. It was admitted that £50,000 could be made available for the commencement of at least a portion of the new general post office required in Brisbane. Another reason why the Government had no good excuse for the action - and this is admitted by the exPostmasterGeneral - is the fact that a large sum of money was voted, and is being expended, for .the extension of the Sydney General Post Office. Whilst I do not begrudge the people of Sydney improved postal facilities, I contend that Brisbane has been most unfairly treated. Th rebuilding of the Brisbane post office was promised in this Parliament, and outside it, by responsible Ministers long before the negotiations had been completed between the department and the property owners whose buildings had to be purchased to enable the Sydney extension scheme to be carried out. It was then decided that Sydney had prior rights, but nobody who has visited both cities will say that the claims in respect of the two General Post Offices are at all comparable. I contend that the present post office in Brisbane is a disgrace to the Commonwealth Government. It is the most disreputable general post office of any city in Australia, yet the people of Brisbane have no guarantee as to when it will be rebuilt. Some time ago, I communicated with the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) with regard to this matter, and, in the course of his reply to my letter, he stated -
I desire to inform you that, while the condition of the building is fully appreciated, my colleague, the Postmaster-General has informed me that it is possible, for the time being, to conduct departmental business in the available accommodation without serious inconvenience. I sincerely regret that it has been found necessary to postpone the building of the post office, but yon will appreciate that at the present time priority should be given to works of a defence value. You may rest assured that it is the intention of the Government to carry on with the rebuilding as soon as it is practicable to do so.
The statement was made that the ex-Postmaster-General had informed the then Prime Minister that the business could be carried on without serious inconvenience, but about a week after he left Brisbane, and prior to my communication with Mr. Lyons, the wet season set in.
It was impossible for work to be done properly in the post office, because rain waS penetrating the roof in practically every portion of the building. I am given to understand that at times the employees were compelled to hold umbrellas while carrying out their duties, yet the exPostmasterGeneral had the temerity to say that the accommodation was convenient and suitable for the work of the department ! The situation is ridiculous.
I trust that the present PostmasterGeneral will visit Bisbane without delay, and ascertain for himself the true position. The people of Brisbane are so incensed over the apathy of the Government and its failure to carry out its promise that a protest meeting of citizens is being convened by the Lord Mayor. This gathering will be held next week, or not later than the following week. I understand that other honorable members who represent Queensland electorates will follow me in this debate, and support my remarks. I have no doubt that the attendance at the meeting of protest will be large, ‘and that the gathering will indicate to the Government how the people of Brisbane view this burning question. I hope that the department will do something definite im the matter during the present financial year. I now make a final appeal to the present PostmasterGeneral to see if something can be done to ensure the commencement of the new building during the next financial year. It may be said that the subject of the Brisbane post office is a hardy annual of mine, but I have no apology to make on that. While I am a member of this chamber I shall continue to take up the time of the House in voicing my own opinion, and that of the people whom I represent, in regard to this matter. 1 thank my fellow members from Queensland for their loyal and wholehearted co-operation. Although the Brisbane post office is in my own electorate, I have always been supported in this request by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), the honorable member for Lilley (Mt. Jolly), the late honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker), and the former member for Lilley (Sir Donald Cameron). We have never made this a party matter. This does not concern my electorate only, but concerns also the business interests of the city, and Brisbane as a whole.
.-1 take this opportunity to voice my emphatic protest against the delay that has taken place in the erection of a new general post office at Brisbane. The agitation for a new post office has to my knowledge been going on for over twenty years, and for a considerable part of that time I have taken part in it. After many years of agitation the then PostmasterGeneral (Senator A. J. McLachlan) arranged for the placing of £50,000 on the Estimates for the preparation of preliminary plans and specifications. Apparently, however, with the change from Senator A. J. MacLachlan to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) as Postmaster-General the whole programme was changed. Let me remind the new Postmaster-General that, when the Cabinet met in Brisbane a few years ago, this matter came up for discussion, and a decision was reached, and communicated to the press, that the work of building a new post office was to be gone on with without delay. Even if the statement as published in the press might have been regarded as indefinite, the replies given to questions addressee! subsequently to the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General left no doubt as to the Government’s apparent intention at that time to go on with the work. Several deputations waited upon Senator A. J. McLachlan in Canberra, and he assured them beyond all doubt that £50,000 had been provided for preliminary work, and that it was hoped that the work itself would ‘be gone on with during the succeeding financial year. When Senator A. J. MacLachlan’s successor in the office of Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Barker, visited Brisbane quite recently he conveyed the impression that he was unaware that any provision had been made for a new post office. He said that he knew nothing of any plan and specifications having been prepared. Consequently, the position to-day is very uncertain, and the people of Queensland and of Brisbane in particular are very anxious about it. I ask the Postmaster-General in his reply tonight to clear up these doubts. When the Estimates for 1934-35 were being dis cussed, the then Postmaster-General (Sir Archdale Parkhill) stated that an immediate start was to be made with the erection of a parcels office in Elizabeth-street behind the post office. The present post office was erected 65 years ago when the population of Brisbane was only 22,000. To-day, the population is 335,000. The general post office is the only one of any consequence in the whole of the greater Brisbane area, which extends over 382 square ‘miles. I am at a loss to understand why this work has been for so long delayed. The conditions existing at the general post office to-day are deplorable. I do not propose to traverse in detail the observations of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), but I am confident that if the conditions existing in the general post office in Brisbane obtained in any industrial establishment in that city the proprietors would be prosecuted, and rightly so. I have visited the office between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m., when the public was clamouring for service at the various counters. The spectacle was more like a football scrummage than anything else I have seen. The employees are required to work in small cubicles, sometimes as many as five or six of them in a very confined space. Recently, when there was very heavy rain in Brisbane, the roof was unable to keep the water off the staff and members of the public. It may be suggested that the exigencies of the international situation, are responsible for the delay in going on with the work, but I remind the Postmaster-General that £1,000,000 is being expended upon acquiring a new site in Sydney and for the extension of the general post office there. This I regard as a grave injustice in view of the fact that the provision of better accommodation in Brisbane is so long overdue. I have here the 28th annual report issued by the Postmaster-General’s Department. On page 43 it is stated, in the general profit and loss account, that for the last financial year the net surplus for the department was £3,533,476, while for the previous year it was £3,340,930 Ss. Id., or “nearly £7,000,000 for the two years. A department which can produce such surpluses, and yet fail to provide adequate facilities in a city the size of Brisbane, is not doing its job. The Minister should make it his personal responsibility to see that this injustice is remedied. Although Queensland has a delightful climate in general, the weather for a few months in the summer is intensely hot, and it is unfair to expect people to work during that very hot weather huddled together in small, ill-ventilated cubicles. As I have said, Sir Archdale Parkhill, when he was Postmaster-General, declared that money had been set aside for the work, and this statement was reiterated by Senator A. J. McLachlan. Then the honorable member for Barker, when he was PostmasterGeneral, said that no money had been made available, and that he knew nothing of any steps having been taken for the preparation of plans and specifications. One or other of those statements must have been wrong. For my part, T am disposed to accept the statements of Sir Archdale Parkhill and Senator A. J. McLachlan. I have confidence in the new Postmaster-General, and believe that he will see that the work is done. I hope that that confidence will not be misplaced.
.- 1 regret that I also have a grievance against the Postmaster-General’s Department. I say that I regret it, because I have a great admiration for that department, and for the manner of its administration. I believe that it is an institution of which the Australian people have a right to be proud. My grievance is not so much against the department or its method of administration as against the political head of the department. I trust that the grievance mentioned by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) will be redressed, and that my grievance, which relates to postal facilities at Ballarat and at Daylesford, will also receive attention. When the Estimates were under consideration last year, I was informed by the PostmasterGeneral that a sum of money had been provided for carrying out improvements, and making extensions, to the post offices at Ballarat and Daylesford. Subsequently, I received a letter similar to that received by the honorable member for Brisbane, saying that, owing to the need for concentrating upon defence expenditure, it was regretted that this wo:”k could not, for the time being, be proceeded with. May I point out to the Postmaster-General that certain public works must be carried out, notwithstanding the needs of the Defence Department? Surely we cannot concentrate all our expenditure on defence. The Postal Department renders very useful service to the public. It is also a very profitable department. In some post offices there is serious congestion, and the facilities provided are wholly inadequate to meet the demands of the public. This is the state of affairs at Ballarat and Daylesford. There is a fine building at Ballarat, but it was erected many years ago when the city was much smaller than it is to-day. The business of the post office is increasing very rapidly, and new duties are constantly being thrust upon it. In recent years there has been an enormous increase in the number of old-age and invalid pension payments, and all of them are payable in person to the pensioners. “We have just instituted a system under which income tax may be payable per medium of stamps purchased at post offices. The State Government of Victoria collects its dues under the Cattle Compensation Act also per medium of that system. Again, there has been a tremendous increase of the number of wireless licences issued. All these facilities, superimposed on increased telephonic and telegraphic business, have added considerably to the work of postal officials, bringing about deplorable congestion in post offices in cities and townships. May I say that it is a tribute indeed to the efficiency of the staff that they handle this diversified business as ably as they do. The central post office at Ballarat handles a tremendous volume of business. In that city, postal officials pay no less than 2,600 invalid and old-age pensioners every fortnight. In addition, they pay war pensions and handle general postal business. A vast concourse of people is continually pouring in and out of the post office, which was built in the early days of Victorian settlement, when, no doubt, it was considered sufficiently large to cope with the business transacted. The excuse of defence needs offered by the Government for its refusal to improve the accommodation at the general post office, Ballarat, while being excellent perhaps from the Government’s viewpoint, is not necessarily a good one. I admit that defence preparations are of prime importance, hut it is essential that a great instrumentality such as the Postal Department, which would he called upon to render vital service in a time of crisis, should not be neglected. It is a short-sighted policy not to make preparations for the expansion of postal buildings to meet increased demands in order that business may be transacted efficiently and effectively during a time of national emergency. The Victorian Government recently acquired certain land at Ballarat adjoining the general post office on which to erect public offices. I understand that there remains a small portion of land between the post office and that purchased by the State Government which could be acquired for use in the future to give the necessary increased accommodation for the Postal Department. I hope that when the PostmasterGeneral is investigating grievances raised in regard to his department he will not be unmindful of the opportunity that exists for the acquisition of desirable land for extensions to the general post office, Ballarat.
I have a similar case to put with respect to the Daylesford post office, which is old and antiquated. Unfortunately, it is in a very bad state of repair indeed. “When the Estimates for this year were under consideration, I was informed by the former PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron) that money was being provided for the provision of increased accommodation at that office. I appeal to the new PostmasterGeneral to see that money is provided for that purpose.
In conclusion, I believe that this great department is run in a highly efficient manner. I have not noticed any extravagances on the part of the postal administration. I ask the Postmaster-General, as political head of an important department, which is rendering great service to the Australian people, to see that the promised improvements are provided at once.
– I support the appeal made by the honorable members for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) and Moreton (Mr. Francis) in connexion with the new post office at Bris bane. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison) will consider this matter seriously. Here is an opportunity for the new Minister to make a name for himself, particularly in Queensland. Unfortunately, there has been too much backing and filling in regard to this matter, which has not redounded to the credit of the Commonwealth Government. As a matter of fact, neglect of this sort has made many people dissatisfied with federation. I know that some twelve years ago the then honorable member for Brisbane (Sir Donald Cameron) had a definite promise from the Government that it intended to proceed with the erection of the new building, but, unfortunately, there came to Brisbane at that time a new Director of Posts and Telegraphs who, with the object of making his name good at head-quarters, suggested that, if patched up, the old building could be made to last a few years longer. For some years past, the honorable member for Brisbane has, from time to time, urged that the erection of a new post office be proceeded with and, as a matter of fact, had a definite promise that it was intended to make an early start with the work. Have any plans actually been prepared for the new post office ? We all know from experience that after such a work has been approved some considerable time elapses before plans and specifications can be prepared. I ask the Postmaster-General to investigate the position and to ascertain whether any actual working plans have yet been prepared. It is imperative that a start should be made with them, otherwise the commencement of the work will be still further delayed. I support the remarks of the honorable members for Brisbane and Moreton in -connexion with the conditions, not only in which the public have to do their business, but also in which the staff have to work. I made a personal inspection of the whole of this building and examined at first hand the conditions under which the staff works. I am emphatically of the opinion that if the Brisbane . post office were a private’ ‘* concern the Inspector of Factories and Shops would not tolerate the conditions that exist there to-day. To secure the maximum efficiency from the staff is impossible under the circumstances obtaining to-day. For that reason I believe that in its own interest the department should provide better facilities to enable the staff to carry out their work more effectively. I do not propose to speak at any length in regard to this matter, because the case has been adequately put by the honorable members for Brisbane and Moreton; but I point out to the Government that the post office building at Brisbane is now overshadowed by imposing buildings all round. The city of Brisbane has made wonderful progress during the last ten or twelve years, yet its people have to put up with a post office which was erected some 50 years ago. If the plans are being prepared I suggest that some consideration should be given to the architectural beauty and effect of this building, and also to the desirability of making provision for footpaths approaching it. Like the city hall, the post office in a big city like Brisbane is an important centre. I again urge the PostmasterGeneral to give very serious consideration to this important question and to end the backing and filling that, unfortunately, has gone on for so long in regard to it.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– The honorable member for Denison.
. - Mr. Speaker-
– The PostmasterGeneral.
– The Chair gave me the call.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The Minister has the right to the first call.
– Rafferty’s rules!
– The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it.
– I feel sure that the honorable member on calm reflection would wish that I should be given an opportunity to answer some of the remarks made by his colleagues with regard to the Brisbane post office. I feel sure that he will have an opportunity later during the debate to refer to any matters he may wish to bring forward. No honorable member in this House could help but be impressed by the case made out by honorable members from
Queensland generally for the erection of a new post office at Brisbane. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has drawn attention to this matter on many occasions, as have also the honorable members for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and Lilley (Mr. Jolly) and others in this chamber. I should like, however, to draw the attention of those honorable gentlemen to certain facts which have been elicited during the general complaint to-night. For instance, the honorable member for Brisbane pointed out that 50 years ago the Brisbane post office was declared inadequate to cater for the wants of the Brisbane people. I remind the honorable member that governments of his political colour have been in office over that period and have taken no steps to remedy what he regards as a great wrong. Let me say, however, that, although defence was not of paramount importance then as it is now, economic conditions operated which possibly prevented Labour governments from doing anything in the matter. The honorable member for Moreton was generally critical in his attitude towards this matter. I remind him that he was a member of the Cabinet when the desirability of providing a new post office building at Brisbane was brought prominently under its notice. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) urged that certain steps should be taken when the plans were prepared. He will realize that the provision of a post office for Brisbane is a fairly extensive undertaking and that the work will have to be proceeded with in sections. He will understand that it will be necessary for temporary arrangements to be made during construction. Notwithstanding any previous decision in this matter, honorable members can rest assured that I shall give every consideration to the representations that have been made. The matter will again bebrought before Cabinet.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) indulged in a general condemnation of postal administration.
– I rise to a point of order. I did not indulge in a general condemnation of postal matters; on the contrary, I complimented the department.
– I was about to say that a speech of general condemnation ended with a tribute to the department’s efficiency.
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– When the PostmasterGeneral has completed his speech the honorable member may do so.
– The honorable member for Ballarat fears that in a time of crisis the organization may break down because of lack of facilities. I have every confidence that the organization will cope with any pressure which may be brought to bear upon it, and that the department will continue to render efficient service. While I hold my present position I shall give careful consideration to representations of honorable members, and, so far as is possible, I shall make myself personally acquainted with the facts.
– When I was a member of the Government, in 1934, approval was given for this post office, and subsequently, when the Estimates were under consideration, the then PostmasterGeneral (Sir Archdale Parkhill) made a statement to that effect. Unfortunately, since I left the Government not too much has come Queensland’s way.
– That is possible. The honorable member will have a clear recollection of what took place at that time. I .shall take an early opportunity to inform my mind on this subject, and shall bring the representations of honorable members before- Cabinet.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I am convinced that the Postmaster-General did not say that I made a speech of general condemnation of the post office without believing what he said. Early in my speech, and again in my concluding remarks, I was loud in my praise of the Postal Department; I complimented the Minister on its efficiency. It is true that in the body of my speech I directed attention to certain disabilities, and it may be that the Minister believes that my whole speech was condemnatory, because during the earlier portion of it he was deep in conversation with one of his colleagues.
.- The time is ripe for the re-organization of the Australian Broadcasting Commis sion. I am most dissatisfied with the failure of that body to carry out its promise to provide an up-to-date broadcasting studio at Hobart. Some years ago the commission bought a block of land in Macquarie-street for- the purpose, at a cost of about £2,000. At the time there was a house on the block occupied by a medical man who paid £4 a week as rental. In its enthusiasm, the commission had the building . demolished, but it failed to proceed with the erection of a studio. The result was that the revenue from the residence was lost. The fence on the block is now in a shocking state of disrepair. A portion of the land is used by private enterprise, possibly without any payment being made for it. The commission has wasted thousands of pounds of the taxpayers’ money; it has failed to reveal sufficient business capacity to administer an important public utility in the interests of the people who have paid many thousands of pounds in fees, and are entitled to the best service that can be provided. After it had bought the land in Macquarie-street, and had had the building on it demolished the commission bought another block of land in Davey-street which it thought would be more suitable for a broadcasting studio. The second block of land cost about £2,300. There is no evidence of any intention on the part of the commission to fulfil the promise of its chairman, Mr. Cleary, when he visited Tasmania about two years ago. Tasmania is entitled to more consideration by the Commonwealth Government than it has received in the past. The Minister would do well to inquire into the administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and learn for himself how the money obtained as listeners’ fees is being expended. The members of the commission hold their positions because they are friends of the party from which the Government is formed. The people of Tasmania do not get the programmes which are available to people in other parts of the Commonwealth.
– They are lucky.
– Although Tasmania has not a representative in the new Ministry, it has good representatives on the floor of this House. You, Mr. Speaker, although not able freely to voice your protest against the treatment meted out to Tasmania, are aware of the way in which that State is treated. Legislation should be introduced to re-organize the control of broadcasting throughout the Commonwealth. That control should be retained by the Parliament. When the chairman of the commission visited Hobart he promised that a studio would be provided in that city. He said that men were being sent overseas to get the latest information as to the design and equipment of studios, and that when they returned the work would be proceeded with. The men who were sent abroad have returned to Australia, but nothing has been done to give effect to the promise of the chairman. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide have been provided with studios, but Hobart has been neglected. Unfortunately, that has been the fate of Tasmania under federation. 1 do not blame the present PostmasterGeneral for the delay, because he has been in charge of the department for only a short time. I hope that during his term of office he will look after the interests of all the States and not give attention only to the larger ones. Tasmania’s geographical position has led to that State being neglected. The works which I have mentioned should be proceeded with immediately. Moreover, the people of Tasmania have to be content with whatever wireless programmes are pushed on to them by the other States. When I made representations to the Australian Broadcasting Commission in this connexion, it said that insufficient lines were available to transmit to Hobart the programmes required, and that the use of additional lines had been refused by the Postmaster-General’s Department. All the wireless programmes received in Tasmania come over telephone lines, and if the lines are being used for other purposes it is impossible for listeners to hear any items of importance. In order to overcome the difficulty and give the listeners in that State the programmes to which they are entitled, an up-to-date regional station should be erected in Tasmania through which all the best programmes could be received. It is a disgrace to the Government that the conditions of which I complain should exist in any State of the Commonwealth. Various Ministers have spoken in this House concerning the millions of pounds that are being expended in various parts of Australia, but the Tasmanian people have to be satisfied with “ the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.” Tasmania, which is an important part of the Commonwealth, is entitled to greater consideration than it is receiving to-day. As Tasmania is not now represented in the Cabinet, its interests will probably be neglected. Apparently, all the other States will receive what they require, and Tasmania will be ignored. The time is fast approaching when Tasmania will receive its due because a Labour government will be in power and only Labour men will represent that State in this Parliament. The revenue collected by the Australian Broadcasting Commission should be distributed on an equita’ble basis, and the service provided should be such as to keep the people of Tasmania in close touch with what is happening on the mainland and overseas. The PostmasterGeneral should make it his business to see that sufficient money for this purpose is made available from the huge profits received by the commission; those profits, according to his annual report, amounted to over £1,000,000 last year. Sufficient money should be made available to erect a modern broadcasting studio in Hobart, and I earnestly trust that the necessary provision will be made on this year’s Estimates. I understand that the commission is not altogether to blame because it has failed to get sufficient money to carry out the work required; but the Government must fulfil its obligations to the Tasmanian people. They are not content with only recorded programmes when listeners on the mainland receive news and important items direct. Events on the mainland are sometimes recorded and Tasmanian listeners do not hear them for two or three days. The Tasmanian people should receive information concerning important events at the same time as other listeners. In the opinion of some, anything is good enough for “ Tassy.” We do not benefit to the extent that we should from the expenditure of money for defence purposes, and it seems that the women and children of Tasmania do not require protection. Representatives of other States are continually urging the expenditure of large sums of money, but when the representatives of Tasmania ask for necessary works to be undertaken they are informed that sufficient funds are not available. I know that the Postmaster-General will heed the requests which he receives from New South Wales and other States, and I earnestly appeal to him to pay close attention to the needs of Tasmania. In the past, Ministers have disregarded the claims we have made, but we shall always fight for our rights. If there are any people in Australia entitled to greater consideration, they are those in Tasmania, who have suffered in silence.
I urge the present Postmaster-General to visit Hobart and authorize the erection there of a new store for the post office, which was promised by his predecessor. The present building is damp and in many respects obsolete and when it was inspected by the former Postmaster-General he said that he considered that it should be condemned and a new one erected. Those who advised remodelling the present obsolete structure did not know their job, because such renovation would be uneconomic, and in any case would not provide sufficient facilities for such an important city. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) have been informed that their requests will be favorably considered, and I urge the Minister to give immediate attention to the representations which I have made on behalf of the people of Tasmania.
.- I take this opportunity to direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Harrison) to what I consider a serious anomaly in the Repatriation Act. The fact is that some returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis are paid only a service pension, even though they may have served in a theatre of war, whilst others who may not have done so receive a war pension.
– Why did not the honorable member bring the matter before the notice of the Cabinet of which he was a member ?
– The discussions in Cabinet are not mentioned in this chamber. I made many recommendations to Cabinet for a better deal for returned soldiers, some of which have been adopted. As the matter stands, the widows of some returned soldiers, who may have had excellent records, receive a very small service pension of only 17s. a week instead of £2 2s., to which they would have been entitled had the husbands been in receipt of a war pension and died .from war causes. I know that the Repatriation Act is a good act and that it is well administered; but there should be some section under which, instead of relying on probabilities, it could be presumed that a person’s condition was due to war service. I know of a man, with a good Gallipoli record, who died on the eve of Anzac Day, and who, in 1934, found that he was suffering from tuberculosis.- He was refused a pension because it was said that his condition was not due to war service. Medical authorities will say that 70 per cent, of the population suffer at some time from tuberculosis, but that some are able to throw it off and in other cases the disease is arrested. It is quite likely that in the cases of many men who have suffered great hardship or wounds the disease has been aggravated by war service. How can it be definitely stated whether a man’s condition is or is not due to war service? Doctors give an honest opinion on the facts before them. But men employed in a pay office or at divisional head-quarters - I do not say this in a derogatory sense - would be in touch with hospitals, and if they had pleurisy or a heavy cold it would be entered on their medical records. On the other hand, a man in a distant unit or a prisoner of war would not have any opportunity to have minor ailments recorded and there would be nothing to show that an illness from which he was suffering on his return to Australia was linked to his war’ service. It is unnecessary to go into details. Honorable members can imagine the position of a sufferer from tuberculosis spending his last days in hospital and being told that his illness was not due to war service. In most cases the wives and children would be faced with poverty. Another man in the same ward with a similar complaint and who had not served in a theatre of war would know that his widow would receive a pension because his condition was said to be due to war service. I trust that the new Minister for Repatriation will investigate the matter. I believe that he will. Unless this anomaly be removed I propose to introduce a private bill for the purpose of ensuring that justice will be done in such cases. Perhaps it would be practicable to appoint a select committee, representative of both sides of the chamber, to consider the whole of the Repatriation Act.
– We have been complaining for years.
– Yes; there are many matters which need adjusting. Such complaints as that to which I have referred could probably be adjusted after inquiry by a select committee of the House. This is a matter which should be given early and close attention by the new Minister.
– It is, of course, unnecessary for me to say that I endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) regarding the necessity for a new post office at Brisbane. So far the Government has declined to provide money for this urgent work on the ground that all the funds available are required for defence purposes. In these circumstances, I wish to direct attention to what I regard as most unjustifiable expenditure that is proposed in connexion with the demolition of what is known as the Hoffnung building in Pitt-street, Sydney, in order to build on the site a new section of the General Post Office. The building which it is intended to demolish was purchased for £330,000.
– And it was a good investment.
– It might be a good investment if the Government allowed the building to remain, but it is to be demolished. The building stands on a very fine block of land, and runsback almost to the George-street alignment. I asked a question of the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) on this subject, and was informed that the cost of demolishing the building and replacing it with a new one was estimated to be £800,000. It is easy to envisage, therefore, that not less than £1,000,000 may be expended on this enterprise. As Brisbane is being denied a new post office, and as, inmy opinion, the existing Hoffnung building could be adapted for post office uses with very little additional expenditure, I consider the proposed expenditure is entirely unwarranted. I am reinforced in this view by reason of the fact that the Government has, on many occasions, declined to provide additional necessary postal facilities in many small country centres.For a post office in one part of my electorate it refused to find an amount of £10 for the purchase of a safe. Seeing that so much money is required for defence purposes, the Government should not contemplate an expenditure of approximately £1,000,000 on this Sydney work. The floors of the huge Hoffnung building may not correspond exactly with the floors of the Sydney General Post Office, but, in my opinion, formed after a most careful examination of the building, they are sufficiently near to the same levels as to make the building fit for use for postal purposes in conjunction with the present General Post Office. It is appalling to think that the Government should even contemplate such a huge unnecessary expenditure on this building project at a time like this. The existing structure should not be demolished, for it is in excellent condition throughout. It is hard to understand why so many of the great floors in this building have been allowed to remain vacant for months, and why the tenants who at present occupy the valuable shop fronts in Pitt-street, at a rental of from £25 to £30 a week, should be obliged to carry on their businesses on a weekly tenancy. I am definitely of the opinion that it will be entirely wrong for the Government to demolish this building under existing circumstances. The ruthless destruction of a fine edifice is hard to justify at any time, but in this instance it would be particularly wanton.
– It is an out-of-date building.
– It may be out of date in certain respects, but I have formed the opinion, after a careful inspection of it, that it would be quite adequate for the postal purposes for which it is proposed to construct a new building. I have no personal feeling in the matter, except that I believe it would be iniquitous for the Government to demolish this perfectly sound structure, simply in order to satisfy the desires of some people who wish to see a new building erected in this part of Sydney. Before such action is taken, the whole matter should be inquired into, but, beyond that, any available money should be used to provide urgently needed postal facilities in many other parts of the Commonwealth.
.-I do not intend to enter the list as a protagonist for either Brisbane or Sydney. My purpose in rising to speak, is to urge the Government to have the Sydney project investigated carefully before any further action is taken in connexion with it. At this stage I do not definitely oppose the expenditure of the money on rebuilding; I simply ask that the whole project be reexamined. This, in my opinion, would be a suitable subject to refer to the Public Works Committee.
– What about the Darwin hospital project?
– I hope that a new hospital will be erected at Darwin without undue delay. Another aspect of the proposed expenditure in Sydney requires attention. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) will not be doing his duty to the electors of this country unless he insists on the fullest inquiry into the expenditure of money on works in connexion with the Postal Department. I have noticed, from recent press reports, that this department showed a surplus of about £3,500,000 in its accounts for the last financial year. I, therefore, make another appeal to the Government to reduce the fee for wireless listeners’ licences. These should be available for 15s.
– The fee should be 10s.
– It is a good practice to make reductions of this kind gradually. In the existing circumstances I believe I have every justification for appealing to the Government for a reduction of this licence-fee to 15s. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to give careful consideration to the suggestions I have made.
– I direct the attention of the
Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. John Lawson) to a very important matter affecting his department which should be given immediate consideration. I informed the Minister that I intended to raise this subject.For some considerable time local firms which assemble and distribute for motor car manufacturers have complained that they are being subjected to unfair treatment by large firms in Australia which have a monopolistic control of certain enterprises associated with motor-body building. It is alleged that relatively small firms, which, as agents, import specified quotas of certain makes of motor chassis from overseas, are being placed in a most unfair position in connexion with the purchase of panels for bodies. One definite case is that of the firm which acts as agents for the Nash Motor Manufacturing Company. This firm has stated that, whereas for a number of years it has been able to purchase Australian-made panels at reasonable prices for the chassis it imports, it has lately been called upon to pay an additional 35 per cent. for them. This has put the firm in a most embarrassing position. I am sure that honorable members who represent constituencies in other capital cities have had similar instances brought under their notice, and have been informed that it is becoming increasingly difficult for relatively small firms engaged in this business to maintain their operations. I do not know whether the allegations made to me can be borne out by the facts, but I ask the Government to investigate the whole position. If the situation is as I have stated, I shall find my loyalty to the principle of protection severely strained. I have always been a strong advocate of protection and have voted in favour of every project designed to develop secondary industries in Australia, but it was never my intention that great monopolies should be allowed to establish themselves here and squeeze out of business, by unfair means, smaller industrial enterprises which are of value to Australia and should have their place in our business economy. I am prepared to admit that after a reasonable period it may prove to be desirable and economical for the number of companies engaged in certain enterprises to be limited; the motor industry may be one such instance, but I do not believe that monopolies should be allowed to develop in a sudden and ruthless way. For this reason, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to order a close investigation of these ‘ allegations. If the business of comparatively small undertakings is being disorganized, and the welfare of their employees jeopardized, the Government should take prompt remedial action. Wo should not endanger the welfare of the several hundreds of people whom these small firms employ in the different States. If these workers lost their employment with the firms which now employ them, it is unlikely that more than a few of them would be absorbed in the bigger organizations. If General MotorsHoldens Limited and T. J. Richards and Sons Limited are refusing to supply panels to the smaller motor-body-building firms, except at unduly high prices, appropriate action should be taken through the Trade and Customs Department to correct the position. I would go so far as to say that the firms adversely affected should be permitted to import under by-law a limited number of panels from America. If it can be shown that firms which have been allowed to import a certain quota of chassis each year have suddenly been denied supplies of panels by Australian motor-body builders, the Minister should seriously consider allowing such firms to import at a reduced rate of duty the number of panels they require. This would be determined by the quota of chassis they are allowed to import. These statements have been made to mc and I have been asked to raise the matter in this House. Similar statements have been made to other members, and if they he true, it is the duty of the Minister, as, I am sure, he will agree, to give some relief to this small group in their fight against any efforts being made to squeeze them out of business. It is alleged that this small distributor, who has a quota of chassis for Nash motor cars, has for years been supplied with panels by local manufacturers to the value of £40,000, who suddenly have increased the price of those panels. At the same time, they have reduced the price of their own cars, which suggests that the price they are charging for panels is not legitimate. In this way the local manufacturers are making it impossible for the Nash group to continue to trade unless the department comes to their assistance. The Minister should consider giving this small group of agents some relief, as he is empowered to do under Customs By-law 404, by allowing them to import at reduced rates of duty the number of panels they require. The Minister should immediately investigate these allegations, and if they are found to be true, he has no alternative but to agree to the request, or to admit that all of us who stand for protection and have helped to build up the motor-body-building industry in this country are prepared to give to a powerful group monopolistic powers. I do not stand for that although I do not take second place to any member of this Parliament as a protectionist. We are all pleased to see the progress which has been made by the motor-body-building industry. We hope that in the near future it will unite with other interests in an endeavour to build the complete car in Australia. However, I do not think that any of us, when we agreed to protect this industry, wished to see that protection used as a means of squeezing out legitimate competition. If the request of this small group be not granted, several hundreds of employees will be displaced and a good deal of capital will be lost. The number of panels needed by the Nash group is comparatively small, and the local motor-body builders should be sufficiently fairminded to supply them at the old price. There can be no need to increase the price when the motor-body builders have simultaneously decreased the price of their own cars. If they are not prepared to supply smaller groups with the panels they require at a reasonable price I suggest, although I do not believe in allowing the importation of motor bodies, or wish to see any inroads made upon the local industry, that the Minister should take every step to prevent such groups from being squeezed out of business. I am not claiming that the allegations have been proved ; I am merely repeating statements which have been made to me and to other honorable members, and asking the Minister to investigate them.
– I have listened with a great deal of interest to the complaint that has been voiced by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), and I assure him and honorable members generally that I shall take upon myself the responsibility of makin? the very fullest investigation of the allegations which have been levelled against a certain manufacturing firm operating in this country and enjoying a very considerable measure of tariff protection. I take the view that any firm enjoying such protection has a very real obligation to this country and to the people whom it serves to respect not only the letter, but also the spirit of the law which gives it tariff protection. I assure the honorable member that I shall take such steps as are necessary and within my power to sec that firms enjoying a generous measure of tariff protection shall utilize such protection not only for their own profit but also in the general interests of the industrial development of this country.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Wentwortb (Mr. Harrison) upon his appointment as Minister for Repatriation. I am sure that he will understand much better than his predecessor many of the grievances which arise in connexion with the administration of his department. At present advocates who appear before the Assessment Tribunal are notallowed to be present when the medical advisers are examining applicants. I have been informed that it is a rule of the British Medical Association that no patient shall be examined in the presence of a layman. On several occasions I have appeared as an advocate before the tribunal on behalf of applicants whose claims have been rejected after they have been handled by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. I have asked such applicants to secure a certificate from outside doctors, and with the aid of such evidence I have frequently had the cases re-opened, and conducted their appeals for them. In some instances, these men, on being examined at Randwick, have been informed that they are not. able to work. However, when such cases go before the specialists employed by the Assessment Tribunal advocates seem to come up against a solid wall. The doctors refuse to give any information at all. On several occasions, when the patient has had to be examined, I have requested to be allowed to accompany him, only to be asked why I should want to do so. That is as far as I get. The certificate of outside doctors that the men cannot work is completely ignored by the specialists advising the tribunals. The rejection of such claims very often means dire poverty for the applicants, many of whom have reached the age of 50 years. They are burnt-out soldiers who had undergone the stress of service in the front line for three or four years. It is claimed that the specialists are acting in the interests of the soldiers ; that may be, but the point I stress is that they are paid by the Government. I do not like to say so, but 1 believe that it would be a very good thing if the Assessment Tribunal did not place so much reliance upon the advice of the legal and medical men it now employs. It should rather seek assistance from men who have something of the milk of human kindness. I know of a man who is in receipt of an invalid pension but cannot get a repatriation pension. The Assessment Tribunal admits that he has had tuberculosis, but its experts say that the lesions have dried up, and that a medical test for tuberculosis shows no positive results. I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) state that in certain cases men suffering from tuberculosis cannot get a war pension. A difference of opinion arose over this matter in the party room, the point being taken that whilst a burntout soldier receives only 30s. a week the tubercular man can get £2 2s. I submit that the Repatriation Department should be completely overhauled. Some of the medical men employed by the department have been engaged for so long that they have become case-hardened. As soon as an applicant walks into the room they decide that he cannot get a pension.
– And that can also bo said of some of the legal men employed by the Appeal Board.
– Yes. I repeat that the specialists employed by the tribunal invariably reject the certificates of outside medical men. I urge the Minister to overhaul the appeal machinery entirely. The tribunals should not rely so much on the advice of professional men who are immersed in technicalities, and very often are blind to the sufferings of many applicants. It is criminal to allow ex-soldiers suffering from war complaints to walk the streets when they are unable to obtain work. I know of a returned soldier who is given a 70 per cent, pension although he cannot work. He enters a hospital monthly, where he is told invariably to return home, and to take things easily as he is’ unable to work. Despite frequent appeals only a 70 per cent, pension is paid. I hope some other honorable member has been able to discover just how these percentage pensions arc determined; I certainly have not. A very grave injustice is being done to returned soldiers by the adoption of this system. Some of the men have been given a service pension. I think it would be a good thing if this form of pension could be increased to £2 2s. a week. In my view there is no difference between a “burnt-out” ex-soldier who has been declared physically unfit, and one suffering from tuberculosis. Both ave unemployable, but the “burnt-out” man gets a pension of only 17s. a week for himself and wife.
– The amount is £1 a week now.
– I know of hundreds of similar cases in my electorate.
– There must be many thousands of returned soldiers who, because of this differentiation, are now receiving State aid. Many war widows, who are unable to get a pension from the Repatriation Department, are obliged to turn to State governments for a widow’s pension, and often they receive better treatment than they got from the Repatriation Department.
I have also been approached by a number of veterans of the South African “War for whom no provision has ever been made. I understand that during and after the Boer War, a large sum of money was subscribed by the public for their benefit, but it has been used by the ‘ New South “Wales Government for other purposes. Many of these men are now in grave difficulties. I hope that the Minister for Repatriation will give these matters his earnest consideration.
.- The chairman of the Assessment Tribunal mentioned by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) is known personally to me. He is a returned soldier, and is full of the milk of human kindness. If the honorable member were himself as well provided in this respect, he would be a better man.
However, I rose to direct the attention of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) to another important matter, in connexion with which I addressed a communication to him some time ago. I refer to a request for increased financial provision to be made in order to have wireless transmitting and receiving sets installed at Dunk Island for the purpose of advising aeroplane pilots of flying conditions. At present all air lines operating from Cairns to Townsville are exposed to serious danger. The climatic conditions in that part of Queensland make flying extremely hazardous. Part of the route is over water, but there are high mountains on the mainland and also high islands off the coast. Furthermore, the rainfall is extremely heavy. For instance, one particular area, in the first three months of this year, registered 5 yards, 2 feet and 4 inches of rain! I have been advised by the Defence Department that the facilities at Townsville and Cooktown are ample. I do not know who advised the Minister, but from my knowledge of the conditions in that part of Queensland, I do not hesitate to say that the Minister’s informant lacked know.ledge of the facts. The distance from Dunk Island north to Cooktown is about 150 miles, and south to Townsville about 120 miles. Both these towns are in a dry belt. Neither place can warn pilots about to take off at Townsville for Cairns or vice versa of the weather conditions over the Hinchinbrook Channel and on to Innisfail. Not long ago while I was standing on the verandah of a friend’s house at Cardwell, we heard the sound of an aeroplane coming over from Townsville and my friend ventured the opinion that it would not continue, as weather conditions were not favorable over the channel. As my friend had predicted, the aeroplane did not come as far as Cardwell. In a few minutes the noise of the engine became gradually fainter until we lost it. Under existing conditions it is necessary for pilots of machines travelling to Cairns to come as far as Cardwell before they can ascertain whether it is possible to get through. If a station were established at Dunk Island to advise of flying conditions in the Hinchinbrook Channel, aeroplanes would not leave Townsville when weather conditions were unfavorable, and the lives of passengers would not be endangered as at present. Dunk Island, being midway between Townsville and Cairns, is a suitable location for a wireless station. All aerial services in that part of Queensland pass over Dunk Island, which, if properly equipped, would be able to advise pilots of flying conditions from Innisfail and north of that town, down to Tully and Cardwell. This district is one of the wettest in the world. Certainly it is the wettest in the Commonwealth. The average rainfall between Cardwell and Cairns is measured by yards instead of inches, and rain falls throughout the year. The installation of wireless transmitting and receiving sets at Dunk Island should not be very costly, and it might be instrumental in saving the lives of a large number of people. Not long ago I flew from Tully to Mission Beach in one of the machines belonging to Airlines of Australia, in order to make personal contacts with those who were making an investigation of the request to have a wireless set installed at Dunk Island. We went from Mission Beach across to Dunk Islandby boat, and when we came back, the aeroplane, instead of returning to Tully, was forced to proceed to Cairns because of bad visibility. I hope that the Minister will have inquiries made with a view to establishing a wireless station at Dunk Island for the purpose of advising all air pilots of the weather conditions. On many occasions the Carpentar New Guinea Air Service machines go outside that belt, in order to minimize flying risks. The request for the installation of a wireless station at Dunk Island is a reasonable one, and should not prove very costly. I have only to add that I should like to have the name of the officer who advised the Government that existing facilities were adequate, because from what I know of the country and from the information supplied to me, I am convinced that he had very poor knowledge of the subject.
– I rise to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) certain disabilities and anomalies under which the people of the Northern Territory are suffering, and I think that after I have read a letter which I received recently, honorable members will agree that the amenities of life certainly do not, in that part of Australia, precede settlement. The letter, which was sent to me by the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs at Adelaide, Mr. G. L. Dix, is as follows : -
Rumbalara-HermannsbergMailService- Request for Alteration.
With reference to my communication of 17th March, 1939, relative to a petition from residents of the south-western district of the Northern Territory for the Hermannsberg Mail Service to deviate via Erldunda, Lynda Vale, Angas Downs, Andaloo, Tempe Downs and Middleton Downs, &c, I have to advise that the matter has been carefully investigated, but in view of the loss already sustained in maintaining the existing service and the additional expenditure which would be involved by the desired extension, the request cannot be complied with.
It is the old story. I say deliberately and without hesitation that hitherto holders of the office of PostmasterGeneral have allowed themselves to he cyphers in regard to these requests for reasonable facilities for pioneering settlers, and I urge honorable members to declare that no longer will they allow the amenities of life to lag behind settlement. We must be more positive in our outlook and whenever possible provide these much-needed facilities for the people who deserve every consideration at our hands. The Postmaster-General has visited the area referred to in the letter, and I hope that he will take steps to give this much-needed service to the people living there. In the past the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has allowed pioneers of remote areas to struggle along without even paltry mail services or telegraph lines. Its policy should be to look ahead and do what it can to encourage settlement. It appears that a change is about to take place in the department controlling the Northern Territory. I hope that the spirit of co-operation, which is one of the basic principles of statecraft, will be more in evidence in the future, and that the Northern Territory will soon enter upon a new era of development, clue to a wise co-ordination of the activities of the Postal Department and the Department of the Interior.
The area of my electorate is one-sixth that of the entire Commonwealth. The distance from north to south is 1,200 miles and from east to west 500 or 600 miles. Having mentioned a matter which affects the southern part of the territory, I direct attention to another grievance. The people of Alice Springs complain of the counter service at the post office. Briefly, their claim is that another clerk should be appointed to handle the increased business following the inauguration of a direct air service to Adelaide for overseas mail. I hope that an extra clerk will soon be appointed to the local post office so that customers may be attended to quickly instead of having to wait half an hour.
At Barrow Creek, about ISO miles north of Alice ‘Springs, there is a small post office on the overland telegraph line that serves the Hatches Creek wolfram field. The police station is in charge of a young married man, and his wife attends to postal matters. She is required to issue money orders and deal with old-age pensioners. I ask that a postmaster be appointed to do this work. An hotel is located 200 yards from the post office, and a. postmaster could be accommodated there. Apparently the police officer’s wife has been selected for postal duties because she has a home there, but that is a paltry expedient to save expense. The department should not utilize the services of a policeman’s wife in such a large area. It is unfair to give her duties which cornpletely tie her down to one locality. Similarly, at Newcastle “Waters, 500 miles south of Darwin, and at Marranboy, 50 miles south of Darwin, the wives of police officers are called upon to attend to postal work, merely in order to save expense to the department. The department should not adopt such paltry methods.
Turning east to the Barkly tablelands, I now direct the attention of the House to a communication forwarded to the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission by Mr. J. W. Spratt, the manager of Avon Downs Station, who entertained the parliamentary party which visited that part of Australia in 1935. This station is situated 50 miles west of Camooweal, and the complaint is that the reception of the Saturday racing broadcasts through the short-wave station VLR is frequently interrupted. The letter begins as follows : -
Once again we must complain of the service rendered by VLR. Here is a typical and not uncommon performance. This happened on Saturday last, 25th instant.
On Saturday last there were men here anxious to hear the description of the Victorian and New South Wales racing. The broadcast was almost obliterated by the powerful dot and dash station, which has interfered for months with I he reception from VLR when the latter station is on the 25 metre band. They consoled themselves by expecting they would get the recordings at the sporting session in the evening.
Saturday evening came along and the National News had been given, and Kurt Offenberg had told his doleful tale. The announcer was on his way with Australian news, and suddenly, without any warning he was chopped off, and wo had the Federal Treasurer well on his way with a discourse on national insurance.
This morning the overseas news at 6.45 a.m. was again washed out by the above-mentioned dot and dash station.
According to what I’ve read and heard, the Australian Broadcast ing Commission pat themselves on the back for being so considerate as to provide a service for the people outback, to whom the ordinary broadcast is useless, for at least, four months of the year. For this 1 suppose, we should be grateful, and are. But the stuff they put over makes one almost weep. . . .
I hope that the Postmaster-General will ascertain whether the difficulties could be overcome by technical adjustments in the studio or by an alteration of the wavelength used by station VLR
The post office at Darwin is not built on lines suitable for a tropical climate. I hope that an early opportunity will be taken by the department to inspect the premises with a view to their improvement. On the front verandah, where telegrams are written, the iron roof has been brought within a few feet of one’s head. In view of the increasing population of
Darwin, I urge that the post office be redesigned so that it will be suitable for tropical conditions.
I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior in this chamber to an anomaly in regard to the recreation leave of members of the works and administration staffs at Alice Springs. It is requested that there should be uniformity with regard to the leave that accrues to these staffs every three years. Under an ordinance of the Northern Territory, the sum to be contributed by a single officer towards his railway fare when taking his holidays is £6, but under the Public ‘ Service regulations a member of the Works Department must contribute £10 towards the railway fare to Adelaide and back, which amounts to about £16 5s. Under the Northern Territory Ordinance, an officer on leave may go as far as either Perth or Albury, but an officer of the Works Department may go only to Adelaide. The period of leave is one calendar month under the Northern Territory Ordinance, and 24 days under the Public Service regulations which apply to officers of the Works Department. Alice Springs is 1,000 miles north of Adelaide, and under the Northern Territory Ordinance the travelling time is calculated to the officer’s destination, but under the regulations applying to the Works staff, no travelling time is provided for. Further overtime is worked by the works staff in the yards and the office, but no overtime whatever is allowed. I feel sure that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins), who is an exMinister for the Interior, will give serious consideration to these matters, and endeavour to see that the anomalies arc removed.
– Are they workmen or officers ?
– They are officers. I am coming to the workers now. I remind honorable members that the first question I ever asked in this House related to the workers. The railway workers in Darwin have asked me to endeavour to have them brought into line, as far as working conditions are concerned, with the workers on that section of the railway from Alice Springs to Kalgoorlie. Everybody knows that I worked in conjunction with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) to have the Public Service Arbitrator hear the claims of the pick and shovel men on that section of the line, so that they might be given a fair deal. This right, however, was denied to the railway men on the Darwin section. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has always fought bitterly any proposal that their claims should be heard by the Public Service Arbitrator. He has used all the means at his disposal to prevent the Arbitrator from going to Darwin, despite the fact that the Attorney-General has stated that there is no reason why the Arbitrator should not deal with the railway workers in Darwin. The Arbitrator told me in Sydney that he was only waiting to be asked before going to Darwin. I asked the previous Minister for the Interior to allow the chairman of the Industrial Board in Canberra, Mr. Hill, to go to Darwin in order to hear the railway men, but nothing came of the proposal. I maintain that what is good for the workers of Canberra and Jervis Bay, or for the railway workers on the Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs section of the line, should be good also for the railway workers of Darwin, and for all other workers in the Territory as well. I believe it would be a good thing for the chairman of the Industrial Board to go to Darwin for this purpose, so that he may deal with the claims, not only of the railway workers, but also of all other classes. of workers. I expect the new Minister for the Interior to accede to this request, so that justice may be done to the underdog, as well as to those who are better off.
.- I regret that, because of frequent changes in the Ministry, one is unable to pin down the Postmaster-General who is to blame for the things of which I am about to complain. I do not blame the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison). He has not been in his job very long, and probably will not be there much longer. He has inherited the sins of his predecessor. I have in mind one glaring instance of what I can only regard as the operation of political influence in the administration of the department. For some considerable time I have been making representations to the
Postmaster-General’s Department for three public telephones in my electorate, but always I have been refused. Finally, I persuaded the department to send two inspectors, one connected with the telephone branch, and the other with the postal branch, to make an inspection of the area. I accompanied them in my own car, together with some of the aldermen of the district, and we spent a whole morning making the inspection. While we were there, one of the representatives of Canley Vale asked the inspector to go across the border into an electorate represented by the United Australia party in order to see if a public telephone were needed at a certain place there. There had been no previous agitation for such a telephone, and I defy the Minister to say, after visiting the area, that a telephone is needed there more than at the places in my electorate in respect of which I have been making representations. The electorate, which touches mine at this point, is represented by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner), but I do not blame him for what happened. As far as I know, he knew nothing about it. Sometime afterwards I was informed that my three applications had been turned down, whereas the application in respect of the telephone in the electorate of the United Australia party had been granted. I told the Deputy-Director of Posts and Telegraphs that if he was responsible for what had happened he was running his department by political patronage. It is a crying scandal.
The health inspector of the municipality of Liverpool has condemned the Liverpool post office as unfit for human habitation, but nothing has been done by the Postal Department to provide a better building. If members of the Government were forced to work in the stuffy rooms in which the girls in the Liverpool post office are employed, something would very soon be done. The place is like a prison, dank and cold in winter, and like a furnace in the summer. It has about it an air of poverty and desolation, despite the fact that it is run by a department which makes a profit of over £3,000,000 a year. I come now to another part of my electorate in respect of which I have been agitating for improved postal facilities for 20 years. The PostmasterGeneral may say, if he wishes, that a Labour Government has been in office during that period. That ‘ is admitted but because of the administration of governments that preceded it, the Labour Government was left with such a load to carry that its efforts to ameliorate what it recognized to be bad conditions were considerably hampered. I refer to the Lilyfield and Austinmer district, which, has urgently needed an improved postal delivery for many years. On one occasion, a resident of that district was sent a telegram to say that his mother was dying. ‘ She was dead and buried and a. tombstone was almost in course of erection on her grave before the telegram reached him. The delay occurred simply because there was no means of delivering the telegram. In that area, there are three little settlements, the residents of which could be served by one postman delivering morning, mid-day, and afternoon. The round would not be any larger than the usual round of a postman in the metropolitan area; yet these people have to put up with the antiquated postal service that operated, perhaps, 30 or 40 years ago. There has been a continuous growth of settlement along the south coast, and there is every justification for the claims of these people for improved postal facilities. I now come to the unsatisfactory postal service in the Sutherland shire. I receive letters of complaint not only from individuals and organizations in that area, but also from the body elected by the people, the shire council. The Minister has many of these letters in the files of his department, and I shall not waste the time of the House in dealing with them in detail. They ask for an improved telephonic service in one place, an improved postal delivery in another, a better post office building in the township of Sutherland, and so on. I shall not accept the “ guff “ pit .over by tho PostmasterGeneral, that everything must be subordinated to defence. If we are to “have adequate defence of this country, the lines of communication must be kept open and an efficient telephonic, telegraphic, and postal service must be maintained. This complete subordination of everything to defence can only stifle real progress in this country, and result in economic dryrot to such a degree that nothing will be left in it worth defending. The only sensible approach to any defence proposal is first to encourage the progress of the nation, to develop the country in everyway, and to provide facilities for the people which will result in the building up of population. This nauseous repetition of the need to subordinate everything to defence is only so much hocus pocus. I want the new Postmaster-General to understand that my remarks do not reflect upon his administration. I realize that he has only lately taken charge of his important department. I make, however, one definite accusation which I am prepared to prove to any sensible member of this House, or anybody whom the PostmasterGeneral cares to appoint. I make the deliberate charge against somebody connected with the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department that in one particular instance, at any rate, politics, and not the necessities of the cased, decided the question.
.- Many grievances in connexion with repatriation matters have been referred to in detail by other honorable members during this debate. I have grievances to ventilate, but it is not my intention now to refer to them, because I feel that they would be difficult of solution other than under the system of tribunals and boards set up under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act. I support, therefore, the very constructive suggestion by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that a select committee of this House be appointed to inquire into the grievances raised by honorable members. . I believe that such an inquiry would result in the clearing up of many misconceptions that exist to-day in regard to these questions. I was very interested to hear the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) refer to the position of the South African war veterans. This matter has been referred to on other occasions by the honorable members for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), Lang (Mr. Mulcahy), and Balaclava (Mr. White) as well as by myself. If ever a class of ex-service men has been badly treated, in Australia during the last generation, it has been the South African War veterans. A very large amount of money was raised by the various States during the South African war for the repatriation of war veterans, but by some inexplicable means a large amount of those funds has been transferred into general revenue. That condition of affairs is reprehensible. Those funds were raised by the people in Australia for one specific purpose - the repatriation of veterans of the South African war. I certainly hope that if the select committee advocated by the honorable member for Balaclava be appointed, this matter, amongst others, will be inquired into. I support this proposal because I think that a thorough investigation should be made regarding the position of veterans of the South African war, and also because of the grievances expressed in connexion with repatriation benefits to ex-servicemen generally.
.- A great many anomalies exist in connexion with the payment of service pensions. We all know that this pension can be described as an old-age pension given to a soldier five years before he would be entitled to it had he had no military service. The qualification for its receipt is that the applicant must have served in a theatre of” war. Many ex-soldiers suffered from sickness or met with accidents before they were able to reach a theatre of war and are in receipt of war pensions because of their disabilities; but some of them are no better off than they would be if they received an invalid or old-age pension. Definitely, they are not any better off than tubercular pensioners, although their incapacity is as bad and in some cases is even greater. As they have not served in a theatre of war they are denied the benefit of a service pension. I am in accord with the suggestion made by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that a select committee of this House should be appointed to inquire into matters of this sort. I agree with the honorable members for Barton (Mr. Lane) and Watson (Mr. Jennings), that such a committee might well be asked to consider the claims of the veterans of the South African Avar. I emphasize, however, that for a section of ex-service men, very large in comparison with the South African veterans, no provision has been made in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. I “refer to the imperial ex-service men, many of whom suffer great hardships in this country. “When they left the Old Country, on the advice of medical men that they should come to this warmer climate in the hope that they would escape the ravages of tuberculosis, many of them accepted a lump sum in commutation of their pensions; but unfortunately, their condition, instead of becoming better, got worse, with the result that they have had to accept invalid pensions in Australia. The responsibility for their maintenance really rests on the Imperial Government, but as these men contributed to the general revenue of the Commonwealth while they were in good health, they should be granted the benefits of Australian legislation. They fought side by side with Australian soldiers in the Great War, yet we discriminate against them merely ‘because they did not enlist in Australia. I favour the appointment of a committee, provided that this important subject shall come within the scope of its inquiry. If an imperial reservist conies to Australia, his pension is paid to him; but a worker who comes here from Great Britain is not similarly treated. To become entitled to an oldage pension, he must have been a resident of Australia for twenty years. Why should not the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments arrange for reciprocity in these matters? Why should not a man who was born in the Old Country and desires to return to the land of his birth to end his days, take with him the Australian old-age pension for which he has qualified? Many persons born in Britain have expressed to me their willingness to accept a lump sum pension in order that they might return to the land of their birth to spend the remainder of their lives. Under the act they are not entitled to be paid a lump sum. What i3 good enough for an imperial reservist should be good enough in the case of an old-age pensioner. In the Old Country there are two kinds of pensions - the contributory pension, and the old-age pension. The old-age pension of Great Britain is not payable in Australia however long the term of residence in Australia.
Ministerial changes are so frequent, that it sometimes happens that before a newly appointed Minister has time to become acquainted with his duties he is given a different portfolio and another man takes his place. Some time ago, 1 urged the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) to visit Maitland, and he promised to do so. I hope that his decision is on record in the departmental file, and that his successor will act upon it.
The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) spoke of certain post office buildings being unhealthy for women telephonists. The Maitland post office was erected in pre-federation days and is most unsatisfactory; some of tha equipment is housed in an old stable. I understand that plans have been drawn up for a new post office there, but so far the work has not been proceeded with. I urge the Postmaster-General to provide a satisfactory building for this important centre.
Trouble is brewing in the Northern Territory chiefly because the defence works which are being undertaken there have been allotted to contractors. In the past there has been considerable trouble with some contractors who have “ welshed “ their employees. I have received from the man who was my campaign director a telegram in which he states -
General strike throughout territory likely Saturday. Confer with Curtin who has details, also Frost, Senator Brown. Insist on matter being taken up in House as no tribunal hero to deal with any dispute.
Another telegram read -
Government contractors here posted notices reducing wages 16s. 3d. week from Friday. Unless Government intervenes all works Territory will stop Saturday. No court here to deal with dispute. Am advising Hughes, Menzies, James, Frost, Senator Brown.
As nearly all the work referred to is in connexion with defence, the Government is virtually the employer, notwithstanding the letting of contracts. The Government should immediately adopt the Payne-Fletcher report which recommended that local tribunals be created for the Northern Territory. Men there who have grievances have to take them to Melbourne, or else a judge of the Arbitration Court has to be sent to Darwin to deal with disputes. If a tribunal were provided in the Northern Territory a good deal of the industrial trouble that arises there from time to time would be avoided. Some time ago when the then Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) and other members of this Parliament were in Darwin a strike was threatened. Why should not the workers in that part of Australia have a local tribunal to which they can submit their grievances?
– Simply because the secretary of the Public Service organization did not ask that an arbitrator should be appointed.
– It is not likely that such an official would be interested in labour disputes. He would be concerned only with the claims of public servants who are well looked after by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain). He has no interest whatever in the pick-and-shovel men. The trouble which has arisen concerns men employed by contractors. Why should all work in the Northern Territory be done by contract, when in other parts of Australia similar work is done by day labour? Defence works are being carried out in my electorate by day labour and the Government’s representative, Mr. West, recently complimented the men on the manner in which they had done their work, and the short time in which it had been completed. If the day labour system is satisfactory in some parts of Australia, why should it not be adopted in the Northern Territory ? Contractors employ men, withhold their wages, and then disappear, leaving the men penniless. The time has arrived when a permanent industrial tribunal should be appointed in Darwin to ensure that the men who work under very trying climatic conditions receive a fair deal.
– The telegrams received by the honorable member do not mention the honorable member for the Northern Territory.
– No, because the honorable member for the Northern Territory is more interested in the “ big fellows “ than the workers. [Quorum form.ed.~
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) concerning the necessity to appoint an industrial tribunal in Darwin to hear the claims of the workers employed in the Northern Territory, and I trust that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing ‘the Minister for the Interior will see that immediate steps are taken to ensure that justice is done to the men concerned. I know from personal experience that the men in Darwin work under most trying conditions and for unreasonably low wages, and they have no tribunal before which they can present their case. In these circumstances, they are reluctantly compelled to take direct action. The wages are fixed by a tribunal which sits in Melbourne, the members of which cannot be conversant with the conditions under which men are employed in the territory. It is the responsibility of the Government to see that the working conditions in the Northern Territory are improved. A few years ago, only a few men were employed in that part of Australia and, consequently, there was little need for an industrial tribunal, but in consequence of the construction of a new water scheme and an extensive defence works programme, many hundreds of men are now working there. Although the climate is severe, living expensive, and accommodation difficult to obtain, contractors have recently notified their employees that their wages are to be reduced by 16s. 3d. a week. It is the Minister’s duty to see that they receive justice. I would rather be working for the basic wage paid in any of the States than £6 a week in Darwin. The basic wage paid in the Northern Territory is fixed by men who know nothing whatever of the conditions there. In view of all the circumstances, I trust that the Minister will make a determined effort to improve the conditions of these men.
I now wish to refer to the position of the Australian potato-growers. During January and February last, the southern part of Australia experienced the worst drought known for many years. Heat records were broken in all States. Vegetables soared to a very high price and in many places were unprocurable. Green peas and beans were1s. per lb. and cabbages were1s. 6d. each. Potatoes were also realizing high prices. But in spite of these facts, many growers in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales got practically nothing for their work because of the bad season. In some instances, the retailers took advantage of the conditions that prevailed. On one occasion when a light shipment of potatoes from Tasmania was placed on the Sydney market, it was not expected that a high price would he obtained; but, because of the action of certain merchants, supported, I am sorry to say, by some honorable members opposite who desired a little notoriety, the potatoes sold for from £25 to £26 a ton. The purpose of those who took this action was to make a case for the lifting of the embargo on the importation of potatoes from New Zealand. Those who desired this embargo to be lifted should remember what happened in 1936-37 when potatoes were being sold for ruinous prices. At that time, many growers in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania were receiving far less than the cost of production. They had expended their money in buying seed potatoes and fertilizers, and had done all the work of putting in and harvesting the crop, but they received nothing for their labour. This state of affairs prevailed in 1936 and again in 1.937. In 1938, prices were a little better, but the crop was small, so the growers were not much better off. Many hundreds of acres of potatoes planted last year were not dug for the reason that they were not worth digging. The drought ruined the crop. If it had not been for the late rains the position would have been much worse than it was. The people who worked for the lifting of the embargo were actuated only by a desire to make profits for themselves. They had no thought of lifting the embargo in 1936 and 1937 when potatoes were being practically given away. The Minister for Health and Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) did not at that time say : “ These people are not getting a fair price for their potatoes. The Govern ment should pay them abounty.” Not at all ! But I direct attention to the following newspaper report which sets out the attitude that he adopted a few months ago : -
The full story of the Tasmanian potato racket was exposed to the Daily News last night by two United Australia party parliamentarians. Mr. R. B. Walker and Sir Frederick Stewart. They attacked the Federal Government for its part in the scandal.
Tasmanian growers have been hiding millions of potatoes in underground pits to keep Sydney prices famine high,” declared State member for potato-growing Hawkesbury, Mr. Walker. “Now they have flooded the market to choke the New Zealand growers out. The Prime Minister and Mr. Bell, M.H.R., are both concerned in a shocking scandal,” he charged. “ They both represent big potato-growing electorates in Tasmania.”
I am disgusted to think that a gentleman who would lend his support to such utterances is now representing the Minis ter for Commerce in this chamber.
– The statements were published in the press and the Minister has never denied his association with them. He was challenged to do so not only by the Tasmanian newspapers, but also by newspapers on the mainland.
– Did the Tasmanian growers withhold potatoes from the market?
– They did not. They would not be so foolish. The charge that I have read is a serious one to make against an honest class of people. The Tasmanian potato-growers, and also those in New South Wales and Victoria, are honest people. Current prices for potatoes are only just about payable. The climatic conditions that prevailed until just recently were very detrimental to potato crops, as well as other vegetable crops.
– What is the present price of potatoes?
– It varies according to conditions. The wholesale price at present varies from £7 to £10 a ton for choice lots.
– Yet the retail price is 3d. per lb.
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and I visited the markets in Sydney last week-end and we saw potatoes for sale retail at 10 lb. for ls. Potatoes were cheaper than most vegetables on the market, yet in spite of this fact the Minister for Health and Social Services desired the embargo on the importation of potatoes from New Zealand to be lifted. Representations to this end were made to the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and some New Zealand potatoes were admitted, more as an experiment than otherwise. It was found that their quality was not equal to that of Australian potatoes and very few were put on the market. As far as I can understand the Minister for Health and Social Services desires the embargo to be lifted permanently. This would be a very unfair action to take. If that policy were adopted we should find a few traders in Sydney bartering oranges for potatoes, and the whole potato-growing industry, not only in Tasmania, but also in Victoria and New South Wales, might be ruined. The high prices of which we have heard so much were maintained for only a little while. They were caused by drought conditions and were of no value to the potatogrowers. We all are aware that in consequence of drought conditions, meat wa3 sold for a period at ls. per lb., but this did not benefit the graziers, many of whom suffered the loss of the best of their stock. If the late rains had not fallen, feed would still have been short, and meat prices would have remained high. Now feed is plentiful and growing conditions generally have been good. Consequently, meat and vegetable prices have fallen. The Minister representing the Minister for Commerce should explain why he identified himself with the numerous protests made at meetings held in Sydney at which the late Prime Minister and the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) were accused of working a ramp in connexion with the potato market. At those meetings, it was also insinuated that the potato-growers were nil too ready to rob the people at the first opportunity presented to them. The Minister is reported, to have said at one of these meetings -
The Commonwealth Government should immediately and permanently lift the embargo on Kew Zealand potatoes.
I have here clippings of newspaper reports of a number of meetings which the honorable gentleman attended, and on reading them one gathers the impression that he was looked upon as a sort of a hero because he was in favour of allowing the importation of New Zealand potatoes. I point out that New Zealand has also suffered a drought this year and that the price of potatoes in the dominion is not much cheaper than in Australia. I have no hesitation in saying that on the average the Australian potato is superior to the New Zealand potato. On examining a trial shipment a few weeks ago, an inspector declared that half of one shipment of New Zealand potatoes could not be allowed to go on the Australian market. Only last Monday, when I was in Sydney, I read a newspaper report that 80 per cent, of a shipment of Tasmanian potatoes was not fit for human consumption. When I went to the wharf and asked the inspector to allow me to examine that particular portion of the shipment, he said, “ We have nothing to do with that statement; it is the press.” I found that one consignment was held up, not because any of the potatoes were unfit for human consumption, but because they did not comply with the regulations. Owing to the approach of wet weather, some of the potatoes had developed what is known as second growth. Those potatoes, however, were equal in quality to the potatoes passed by the inspector. I also found that another shipment of 14,000 bags of Tasmanian potatoes had been landed that morning. The report to which I have referred appeared in all of the Sydney newspapers. In view of its lack of foundation, I am convinced that it was purely an effort to disparage Tasmanian potato-growers in order to secure the removal of the embargo on New Zealand potatoes. I remind the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce that in 1936-37 he made no effort to enable potato-growers to secure a payable price on the Australian market. Owing to low prices at that time growers in Tasmania and other States, were obliged to leave their crops to rot in the ground. I mention these facts in defence of the growers generally, and I trust that the Minister will not use his influence in the Cabinet to injure this industry which, undoubtedly, is capable of supplying all of the requirements of the Australian market. [Quorum formed.’]
– I draw the attention of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison) to the dilapidated state of the post office building at Charlton, a town of about 3,000 inhabitants in my electorate. This building was constructed in the late ‘70’s. Although there are 400 subscribers on the Charlton exchange, persons wishing to 1 se the public telephone at this post office are obliged to approach a window to put in their calls and to wait outside on the street until the calls come through. The building is absolutely out of date. Eight employees, including two females, are obliged to work in one large room. No sanitary conveniences are provided in the building for the staff, who are obliged to use either those at the postmaster’s private residence or those at an hotel across the street. Furthermore, because there is only one means of egress and exit for the use of the public, considerable congestion is caused at the . post office when mail arrives in the afternoon. The scene at the building on some occasions reminds one of a football scrum. In view of the huge profits of the Postal Department and the fact that this office has a big revenue, including about £1,000 a year from the local broadcasting station 3CV, it is a disgrace that no improvements have been made to this building, which stands to-day just as it was constructed in 1879. It is now in danger of collapsing. One can put one’s hands in cracks in the wall, whilst recently the building was further damaged by flooddings. It is now unsafe. The former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) promised to inspect the building. I hope that his successor will honour that promise at an early date, because it is absolutely essential that something shall be done.
I agree with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and with the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) that some change should be made in the administration of repatriation matters. It would seem that some of the boards set up in the interests of returned soldiers now consider their job to be to prevent applicants from receiving pensions. The Appeal Tribunal is composed largely of legal men who apparently seek legal reasons for withholding pensions. One man in my electorate was sent away from France three times during the war because of asthma. Upon his return to Australia, being a decent citizen, he decided that so long as he could work and keep his family, he would make no claim upon the Government. To-day, unfortunately, he cannot work, but he has been refused a pension on the ground that his disability could not be attributed to war service, although, in fact, he is suffering from the disease that caused his evacuation from the front line. It is” high time that action was taken to remedy all such injustices.
.- The following letter sent to Senator Fraser by Mr. T. H. Powell, president of the Wheat and Woolgrowers’ Union of Western Australia is self-explanatory and will interest honorable members :
I am enclosing herewith a copy of a telegram I have forwarded to the Prime Minister protesting against the non-inclusion of wheatgrowers’ organizations at a conference to be held at Canberra next week to discuss vital interests of wheat-farmers.
I may state that the conference referred to concluded its sittings to-day. The letter continues -
I desire to point out to you that at a recent conference held at Canberra the following members were appointed to represent the wheat industry on the Provisional Council of the newly formed Australian Producers’ Federation: Messrs. E. E. Fields (New South Wales), F. M. Cullen (Victoria), and T. H. Powell (Western Australia). These members were deputed to make representations to the Federal Government in connexion with wheat problems…..
I would be very grateful indeed if you will ask a question in the House why these recognized wheat organizations were not invited to confer with the Government and why political and business interests only were represented. I bring this matter before you in the full confidence that you will do your best to ventilate the position.
This is a matter which, I consider, should have the attention of the Minister for
Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) who represents the Minister for Commerce in this chamber. Some explanation should be forthcoming from the responsible Minister. I have no objection to Mr. Teasdale being asked to attend the conference. I do not know what method was adopted in selecting the two representatives from “Western Australia. Mr. Teasdale may have been chosen, but at least some courtesy should have been paid to the president of the other association. As honorable members are probably aware, in Western Australia there is a Wheat and Wool Growers Union and also a Primary Producers Association. The latter organization is housed in an extensive warehouse, and is engaged, not only in buying, but also in storing and selling primary products; so it is not entirely a wheat-grower’s concern. I have nothing whatever to say against Mr. Teasdale’s ability as an expert on wheat, but I think that instead of there being two representatives of the one association at the conference, thus giving a political colour to the appointment, the president of the Wheat and Wool Growers Union should have been selected also. Then there would have been no argument about the matter. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is a prominent member of the Primary Producers Association, but there are in other legislative chambers representatives of the Wheat and Wool Growers Union. I feel that in this matter the Government has not done the right thing. It happens torepresent the big business interests of this country, and it has shown its hand plainly in connexion with this conference. I hope that an explanation will be forthcoming after the Minister for Social -Services has consulted with the Minister for Commerce.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) the position of boys between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years, who are employed in the Postal Department. It i3 the practice to dismiss these lads when they attain the age of sixteen years, after they have given two of the mostimportant years of their lives in the service of the department. Such dead-end jobs should not be allowed to exist in government institutions, and I hope that the present practice will cease.
I agree with the submissions by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) on behalf of war pensioners. I have been making similar representations in this chamber for three or four years, and I am pleased to know that when I have spoken on behalf of returned soldiers, there has been at least one member of the Cabinet in sympathy with me. The suggestion that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into repatriation matters generally is an admirable one. It should receive the support of every honorable member.
I have no complaint to make with regard to the very excellent work which members of the commission have carried out in the last twenty years. Their positions have been very responsible, and I think they have done well indeed. I have under review two or three cases which I have asked the Repatriation Commission to re-open. They concern dependants of returned soldiers who have died of tuberculosis. It is very difficult to prove that the disabilities suffered by returned soldiers are clue to their war service. Very often the appeal board will -accept only medical evidence, and, even if it does accept other testimony, it refuses to give much credence to it. In one case which I now have before the commission, nearly 50 letters have been supplied by men able to say that a deceased soldier, during his period of war service, constantly suffered from severe colds; but, up to the present time, it ha3 been impossible to prove that his death resulted from his service at the front. I hope that the House will soon have an opportunity to review the administration with regard to these cases and repatriation matters generally.
.- On more than one occasion I have referred to the necessity for the establishment of an A class broadcasting station for western Queensland. I have been a member of this Parliament for about two and a half years, and I am now addressing the third Postmaster-Genera; on this subject.
When Senator A. J. McLachlan held this portfolio the people of western Queensland sent hundreds of letters in support of their request. Many deputations waited on the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and Senator Poll last year, when they visited the western portions of Queensland, and sound reasons were given why this station should be erected. The settlers «nd workers in the outlying parts of Queensland have made heavy sacrifices and have rendered great service to the nation by carrying on the pastoral and mining industries. The agitation for the establishment of the desired broadcasting station is so keen that these people have informed me that apparently the department is controlled, not by the Postmaster-General, but by the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs. Last year the late Prime Minister and Senator Foll had scarcely left the Rockampton district when an announcement appeared in the press that the people of western Queensland had no hope of having their request granted for years. That statement appeared over the name of the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs. The pastoral workers, the wool-growers and the small business people in western Queensland are called upon to contribute their share of the taxes raised in this country; therefore, they are entitled to be provided with the facilities necessary to enable them to receive the news from all parts of the world now supposed to be relayed to them through a short-wave station situated in Victoria. The reception from that station is reasonably good during four months of the year, but, unfortunately, the -local news broadcast by it concerns principally the Darling Downs and Burnett districts. Therefore, the people of western Queensland do not receive the service to which they are entitled. They were promised by a former Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) that- arrangements would be made for the broadcasting of the news appearing in the Brisbane press. The reception is good for only about four months of the year. During the remaining eight months static interference is so troublesome that the people are unable to get service from the ordinary broadcasting stations on the coast’. They ask that an
A class broadcasting station with an output of from 7,000 to 10,000 watts be erected in any part of the west.
The Longreach people would not object if the station were erected at Charleville or Cloncurry, but I think that the most central place would be Longreach, where there is now a low-powered B class station. An A class broadcasting station at Longreach would serve the whole of western Queensland. When on the Atherton tableland, hundreds of miles from this station, I have noticed that the reception from it is comparatively good. The station “being built at Dalby will slightly improve the reception enjoyed by the people of western Queensland, but it will not benefit Charleville, Burketown and Cunnamulla to the extent that a station at Longreach would. I hope that the new PostmasterGeneral will give more serious consideration to this urgent matter than it has received in the past. The argument has been advanced against the proposal that the population is too small to warrant the erection of such a station, but Senator Foll informed a deputation at Hughenden that this did no enter into the question. The people ,do not ask for 100 per cent, reception; they merely desire a great improvement on the present service. Comparatively few of them can avail themselves of the short-wave service, because the great majority do not possess dualwave receiving sets. The result is that many of them -must put up with atmospheric interference, or listen to 4LG. The proprietor of that station has offered on numerous occasions to relay national programmes if the department will provide a land line from Rockhampton free of charge. He came south to interview the authorities, and was pushed from Canberra to Melbourne and back to Sydney, but could obtain no satisfaction. When I made inquiries I was informed that if this concession were given to one station, all the B class stations would want it. I remind the Minister, however, that conditions at Longreach are entirely different from those in most other places, in that it is one of the. very few areas in Australia that are not served by a national station. The Postal Department has made huge profits in the past, and it is not to be wondered at that the people in the outback areas should be smarting under a sense of injustice because of the treatment they are receiving. They have gone out into the back-blocks in order to carry on an industry which is essential to the whole of Australia, but their claims are overlooked, and they get nothing but the kicks and the bumps. They are continuing their agitation for better treatment, an agitation which was begun long before I entered this Parliament. I appeal to the Minister to go through the files in order to see if it is not possible to give to the people of western Queensland the service to which their licence fee entitles them, namely, an A class station.
– Some honorable members have made statements which are contrary to fact. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) made some sweeping charges regarding broadcasting in Tasmania. My short experience in the ‘department ‘has convinced me that Tasmania receives by way of broadcasting services from £40,000 to £50,000 more than is collected in fees. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) spoke about the Brisbane post office, and criticized the proposed additions to the General Post Office in Sydney. I remind the honorable member, and also the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) who made the same suggestion, that if we were to use for postal purposes the old building standing upon the newly-acquired site in Sydney, before long, at the present rate of expansion, it, too, would be inadequate, and then we should be faced with the cost of removing the equipment we had installed, pulling down the building, and erecting a new one. It is generally agreed that the service at present being provided in Sydney is entirely inadequate, and that the building is overcrowded. Working conditions are bad, and the staff is scattered throughout several buildings in various parts of Sydney. That does not make for efficiency. The suggestion of the honorable member is entirely uneconomic. The department believes in providing the best possible facilities, and in giving the maximum service.
Several honorable members made requests regarding improved postal facilities in their electorates. Frankly, I was amazed at some of the charges made against the department. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) , the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), among others, directed attention to what they described as inadequate facilities in their various electorates. I assure them that the complaints will be investigated, and, if sustained, remedial action will be taken. I shall take an early opportunity to visit some of the districts mentioned in order to see for myself whether the complaints are justified.
The honorable member for Werriwa, referring to the provision of telephone services, said that political preference had been given to the representative of an adjoining electorate. I assure the honor able member that if I found that such a thing had been done I should frown upon it very severely, but I require more than the statement of the honorable member to convince me that it was done.
The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) spoke of the employment of youths of fourteen to sixteen years of age in dead-end jobs. I shall investigate his complaint.
I shall certainly give consideration to the complaint of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) regarding broadcasting facilities in north-western Queensland. I shall find out what service is being provided by the nearest A class station, and shall advise him further.
Being Minister for Repatriation, as well as Postmaster-General, I feel that it is necessary for me to answer some of the complaints that have been made regarding the Repatriation Department. I yield to no honorable member in this House in my sympathy for the returned men. I have fought their fight continuously, and I know something of the anomalies that have crept in. This is a large department, but, on the whole, it is we’ll administered, but anomalies do occur and the job of the Minister is to remove them when they are brought to his notice. I suggest to the honorable member forBalaclava (Mr. White) that this is not a matter for a select committee. A new Minister must be given an opportunity to deal with such anomalies asexist.
– You could not rectify them without legislation.
Mr.H ARRIS ON. - It may be necessary to introduce legislation, and if I find anomalies that can be rectified only in that way, I shall take the necessary steps to alter the act. Surely the honorable member, with his experience as a member of the Cabinet, will concede me the right of opportunity to investigate these complaints.
The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) spoke of the necessity for veterans of the South African war receiving some consideration, and suggested that their position might be inquired into by a select committee of this House. After all these years it would need something more than the evidence obtained when the Repatriation Act was drafted to justify the inclusion of such veterans. If the honorable member can establish a case for these men I shall be prepared to consider it.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) spoke of the need for the extension of repatriation benefits to exImperial service men. May I draw his attention to the fact that no reciprocal act is in force in Great Britain under which Australian soldiers can obtain pensions. There are many factors that tend to make it impossible to secure reciprocal legislation in both countries which would provide what the honorable member desires. The Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act is a very wide and generous one, especially that section which deals with service pensions. As a matter of fact, the amount originally determined as the maximum requirement for the payment of service pensions will be far exceeded because of the generous interpretation placed upon its provisions.
– Does the Minister think it fair that Imperial soldiers whose incapacity is definitely due to war service should be a charge on our invalid pensions scheme ?
– I am pointing out tothe honorable member that, short of some reciprocal act between the two countries, we could take no action under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act to include Imperial ex-service men.
– These men pay taxes; why should they not receive a pension?
– Difficulties arise which have made it impracticable for successive governments in both countries to arrive at some mutual arrangement in that regard.
To those honorable members who have criticized the Postmaster-General’s Department and have asked for improved postal facilities, I give a general assurance that I shall pay attention to the complaints they have made and, if it is humanly possible to rectify them, I shall do so.
– The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) has drawn attention to the differential treatment meted out to officers of the Administrator’s Department and officers of the general public service residing at Alice Springs. As there appears to be some discrimination I shall refer the matter to the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll). The honorable members for Hunter (Mr. James) and Franklin (Mr. Frost) spoke of the threatened strike of men engaged in building contracts in the Northern Territory, because of an impending reduction of their wages by 16s. 3d. a week. I have made inquiries and have ascertained that the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department received a telegram to-day stating that the reduction of wages will become effective from Friday next. The reason for this reduction may be that themen havebeen receiving more than the award rate. One condition of contracts let by tender is that the contractor shall pay award rates. Therefore, we may assume that if the wages are to be reduced by 16s. 3d. a week they will still be within the award. The Government has not yet had time to ascertain the facts of the case. The Administrator has been asked for a full explanation of the position and I hope to be in a position to give further information to honorable members to-morrow.
The question of the setting up of an industrial tribunal in the Northern Territory, mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter, will also be referred to the Minister for the Interior.
– I was greatly surprised to-night at the white heat of indignation to which the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) worked himself when dealing with some references made to a certain political matter by myself. I wonder to what temperature he would have worked himself if he had had real cause for complaint. After all, what was the nature of the complaint made against me? It was none other than that I held an opinion that a certain embargo existing between another country and Australia might well be modified. It was suggested by the honorable member that in holding that opinion I was doing something detrimental to the interests of the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when, as a matter of fact, all the evidence is to the contrary. The fact of the matter is that the late Prime Minister and his Government were apparently in accord with my view, because that embargo has since been modified. As an indication that I am not alone in holding that view, I suggest to the honorable member that he should have a conference with his colleague the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), because only to-day I, as the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Commerce, was asked by him to urge upon the Government the desirability of taking action to remove this embargo against New Zealand potatoes, “with a view to rendering some protection to Australian consumers against exploitation.” Obviously, I am not alone in holding the opinion of which the honorable member for Franklin complains. At this late hour, or indeed at any hour, I would not be justified in taking up the time of the House to reply to some of the misquotations of the honorable member for Franklin. They are on all fours with a statement, which appeared in a Tasmanian newspaper recently in connexion with the same incident, that I had been responsible for initiating the embargo when, as the honorable member knows, that embargo was in force five years before I came into this Parliament.
Question resolved in the negative.
Transport Workers Act - Policing or Awards in Northern Queensland.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
. - Some months prior to the change of government the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then AttorneyGeneral, and his colleague, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Lawson), were making extensive investigations into the working of the Transport Workers Act. Their inquiry had reached a stage at which we hoped some final decision could be arrived at. I now ask the Prime Minister if he will request his colleague, the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) to continue the investigations he set in motion ?
.- I support that request. A deputation representing the Port Adelaide branch of the Waterside Workers Federation was anxious to meet the Attorney-General in Canberra this week, but owing to his indisposition it has been impossible to make that arrangement. I hope that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and his colleague the Minister for Customs (Mr. John Lawson), who are so well acquainted with all the circumstances, will seek to bring about at an early date, much more satisfactory conditions of work on the water front at Port Adelaide than obtain at present.
.- I associate myself with that request. In my electorate many workers are affected, and from them J! get a good deal of correspondence on the subject.
I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) if he will take into consideration the policing of awards in Northern Queensland, particularly those dealing with the meat industry. Blatant breaches of awards are being committed by employers in the butchering industry. Although the hours prescribed are from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., many men in the industry are required to work from 3 a.m. till 11 p.m.
– in reply - Investigations in connexion with the Transport Workers Act were carried up to a certain point by my present colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. John Lawson). Those investigations are now being completed, and I intend that they shall be carried on without any delay. Upon their completion, we shall be in a position to have further discussions on the matter along the lines which I indicated when I was Attorney-General. That matter will proceed on its normal course.
The policing of awards was a matter which I had under active consideration and discussion at the time when I ceased to be a member of the former Government. I shall see that those discussions are continued, and shall draw the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) to the particular matters that have been mentioned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 33.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Fifteenth Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by Board of Commissioners, dated 7th December, 1938.
Medical Research Endowment Act - Report by National Health and Medical Research Council on work done under the act during 1938.
Norfolk Island - Report for year 1937-38.
House adjourned at 11.53 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Manufacture of Munitions : Contracts.
Mr.Curtin asked the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
What contracts have been let to private firms for the manufacture of arms and munitions, during the present programme?
To whom have they been let?
What is the value of each contract?
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will he consider affording to the residents of Western Queensland and the Northern Territory a benefit similar to that received by Tasmanian residents by having mail to Western Queensland and the Northern Territory carried by air without surcharge?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
i asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the total amount paid by the Postal Department for supplies from the metal manufacturers of Port Kembla?
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained, and will be supplied as soon as possible.
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained, and will be supplied as soon as possible.
New Guinea: Loan for Salamaua-Wau Road Construction - Royalty on Gold.
y asked the Minister in charge of External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister in charge of External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister in charge of External Territories, upon notice -
Will the present Minister fulfil, at an early date, the promise of the previous Minister, given in reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) on the 23rd September last, that an investigation would be made into the matter of the abolition of the 5 per cent. gold tax on prospectors in New Guinea who arc earning less than a fair reward for their labour?
– The representations made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that prospectors and small miners be exempted from the payment of the royalty of 5 per cent. that is payable to the Administration of New Guinea on gold won from all mining tenements held under the Mining Ordinance 1928-1936 have been examined by the Administrator and the matter has been considered by the Executive Council for the territory. Finality has not yet been reached, but the matter will be kept under notice, and a decision will be taken as soon as practicable.
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce. upon notice -
– The position of the wheat industry is receiving the careful consideration of the Government at the present time.
d asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– This question is at present receiving the consideration of the Government, and as soon as the Government is in a position to do so a statement of its intentions will be made in Parliament.
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
With reference to invitations to manufacturers to put forward proposals for complete or partial manufacture of motor cars, as announced by the then Minister for Customs, and which had to be submitted by the 31st March last, will he state: -
What local or overseas proposals have been received, and
Whether the Government will definitely indicate that it desires that this essential industry be fully established, and that it offers encouragement and co-operation to that end?
– Proposals have been received and are at present being considered by the Government. As soon as the Government is in a position to do so a statement of its intentions will be made to Parliament.
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– Mr. Charles C. Deland has submitted a proposal which will receive the consideration of the Government in conjunction with other proposals received.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. On the 9th March, 1939, the Government gave permission for the importation of New Zealand potatoes at the rate of 250 tons a week for four weeks, commencing the 20th March, 1939.
Owing to the difficulty of securing supplies suitable for shipment, the New Zealand Internal Marketing Department made only one experimental shipment of one and a half tons under this approval.
Subsequently, on the 17th April, 1939, the mutter was again considered by the Government when it was decided to extend themodification of the embargo to permit of the original amount of 1,000 tons to be imported and marketed in limited quantities weekly up to the 31st May, 1939.
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries- are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Naval Base at Post Stephens.
t. - On the 3rd May, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked if consideration had been given to the development of Port Stephens as a naval base?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that consideration has been given to the development of Port Stephens as a naval base, and the advantages of the port are well known to the naval authorities. Funds available, are, however, required for naval projects, of a more urgent nature, and the present Naval Development Programme does not provide for any work to be undertaken at Port Stephens.
n. - On the 3rd May, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following answers to his inquiries : -
– On the 3rd May, the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr) asked me a question, without notice, regarding the report of the Air Accidents Investigation Committee on the fatal accident to the airliner Kyeema.
I have ascertained that when the report was tabled on the 8th December last, a number of stencilled copies was made available to the Clerk of the Papers in order that they would be available for honorable members on application. Some copies are still available. No motion for printing was submitted when’ the report was tabled. The question of printing was, therefore, held in abeyance pending consideration by the Printing Committee at its first meeting on the resumption of the parliamentary sittings. I may add that the Government will give consideration to the question of providing an opportunity for a discussion of the report in this House, on the lines of the assurance given by the former Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, on the 8th December last.
Munitions Supply Board.
y. - On the 3rd May, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) asked if an explanation could be given as to why the report of the Munitions Supply Board, which was signed on the 11th November last, was not tabled in the House prior to its rising on the 8th December.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the report of the Munitions Supply Board, dated the 11th November, 1938, was in print for tabling in this House prior to its rising on the 8th December last. At the last moment, however, questions arose as to whether certain information should be included in the report and the matter was not determined until after the rising of the House. The contentious questions having been disposed of, a similar position should not again arise.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 May 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1939/19390504_reps_15_159/>.