18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S.Rosevear) took the chair at10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Does the Prime Minister propose to follow the precedent established by the late Mr. JohnCurtin, when, as Prime Minister, he referred the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Bill 1943 to trade union organizations, by referring the Bretton Woods Agreement to such organizations before making up his mind as to what action he will take in this House in connexion with the ratification of the agreement? Does the right honorable gentleman consider it to’ be fitting that outside organizations should be consulted upon matters affecting the whole of the Australian Commonwealth and that those matters should not he the subject of parliamentary decisions?
Mr.CHIFLEY. - The Parliamentary Labour party has decided to seek the opinion of the federal conference of the Australian Labourparty in regard to the Bretton Woods Agreement. That that decision has ‘been taken is well known; there is no misconception in regard to- it. The honorable gentleman has asked me to state my opinion.
– Is the right honorable gentleman following the precedent established by his predecessor?
Mr.CHIFLEY. - Wide differences of opinion exist, not only in Australia but also elsewhere, in regard to the Bretton Woods Agreement. A judgment has to he formed as to whether the advantages of joining the International Fund and the International Bank would be greater than the disadvantages. The question cannot be decided without consideration of both sides of the case, ‘ and I have stated both sides of it in every discussion in which I have taken part.
-Does not the right honorable gentleman consider that the Parliament should determine such a matter ?
Mr.CHIFLEY. - The Parliamentary Labour party is responsible for the submission of legislation to this Parliament. When legislation has been submitted, the Parliament may either approve or reject it.
Mr.Menzies. - That question is not usually difficult to answer.
Mr.CHIFLEY.- Of course not. The Opposition have rights, which it can enforce if it can secure the necessary support.
– As in the interests of Australia’s internal and external economy it is desirable that the Bretton Woods Agreement should he divorced entirely from party political considerations. and that the arguments for -and against it.
Should be known, I ask; the- Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact- that this: subject has’ been- under discussion by the Government, Labour party organizations, and the Parliamentary Labour party, for: about’ twelve months, he is prepared to alford members’ of the Opposition parties and their organizations the fullest possible information and data regarding the implications of Australia’s association with or- dissociation from the. agreement.?’ Will the right. honorable gentleman, therefore table all relative official documents and. data, including the arguments for and against the agreement that were. ad:vanced in. the meetings of caucus: and the Labour organizations, in the. form of. a’ White Paper?
– On a number of occasions I Have expressed the view that’ when departmental officers make a report to Cabinet they generally assume that it will be confidential to Cabinet. Public servants and other, advisers’ of the Govermnent are placed in a difficult position if “ their’ names are bandied about and their arguments’ are subject to attack. Most’ public servants ‘would prefer not to’ make reports under such conditions. I think that the right Honorable- gentleman” himself and’ also the-Leader of the Opposition; both of whom have been- charged’with the responsibility’ of leading governments-, appreciate that- aspect:
– Did that apply to the disputations . at meetings of caucus and Labour organizations?
– No paper of a confidential: nature - as, for instance, the. report by- Mr. Melville to Cabinet - was*’ submitted.- to - the- Parliamentary. Labour party or any other organization. I am. most anxious’ that all honorable, members should have a full, opportunity to judge for. themselves the arguments, for and’ against the Bretton Woods Agreement.
Mr-. Fadden. - Hence, my question.
– I am prepared1 to gooven further. I would be prepared to arrange for- the two delegates: who went to-, tha original Bretton Woods Conference, and: for Mr. Melville: who went, to ‘ S Savannah as an. observer, . to -meet .mem*? bers of the Opposition, parties at, a meet ing,-, and: discuss: the various: points: with them. I would not agree to ‘ that being done with any outside organization.
– Cannot that still be done?
– I am prepared to do that. There is a wide difference of opinion as to the Bretton Woods’ Agreement, and’ strong arguments for and against it. can be advanced. If,’ at a later stage, the leaders of the two Opposition parties- decide that they would like those officers to meet them and discuss various, aspects of the agreement - the difficulties, and advantages-
– That cannot be done- before, the. date. by. which Australia must accept the agreement if it wishes to be an original member.
– It is only a matter, of honorable members being- prepared to: stay here a little longer.
– That’ being so, we ought to stay here.
– That would not-alter the Government’s decision.
– I did not think, tie right’ honorable member- was- discussing the. decision reached by the Government, but that. Ihe.was seeking.information about this complex subject.. Apart from confidential documents- submitted to me as Treasurer, and which were. perused by Cabinet, nothing more has, been laid before me. Cabinet heard, these- gentlemen at least twice. I shall be pleased to place the information asked for before the right honorable member, or before other honorable members if they are interested, but I should not like, any, political use to be made of the view? expressed!
– Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether Australia waa one of 4.4: nations, which unanimously agreed’ to the. Bretton Woods proposals in July, 1944? How many of. those countries have since adopted the proposals; and.’ how many have failed: to do so. within the specified time? What are the names of the- countries, other than Australia,. which; have not so far adopted the. proposals ?
– The conference at Bretton Woods’: was attended by govern. ment: officials; and. although: the- final recommendations1 were submitted- to all governments, the Commonwealth Government simply accepted the reports of its officials as an accurate record of the proceedings. No government entered into any commitment at Bretton Woods. A total of 43 countries has ratified the agreement so far as the International Monetary Fund is concerned, and 42 of the 43 have- become original members of the International Bank, the formation of which was suggested, at Bretton Woods. The only countries represented at Bretton Woods, which have not come in so far, are Soviet Russia, Australia, New Zealand and one or two central American republics.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the decision of the Gevernment to defer signing the Bretton Woods Agreement foil the present, has any bearing on the position of Australia insofar as the International Trade Organization is concerned? Is it possible for Australia to join the. International Bank, or the International Monetary Fund, and not the International Trade Organization? What will be the effect of. joining one organization and not the other?
– Expert opinion was obtained as to whether decision on this matter should have been deferred some time ago having regard to the circumstances existing at the time. One contention is that ‘before we join the International Monetary Fund. or the. International Bank, we should be fully aware, of the principles upon which the International Trade. Organization is to be set up and the general safeguards to be provided’. It had been hoped for a considerable period that some clear-cut decision would be made with respect to the International Trade- Organization before decision with respect to joining the bank, or the fund, was made. However, the position with respect to the International Trade Organization has dragged on. The right honorable member asked whether it would be possible for Australia to join the International Trade Organization without becoming a member of the fund, or the bank. I understand that some nations have indicated to the ‘United Kingdom
Government tt belief that such nations aS are members of the International Trade Organization- should also be members of the- fund or the bank. I do not know how widely that view is held. That question has still to be decided. We do not know when the International- Trade Organization will complete its deliberations. We hope that the absence of decision on many points concerning the two organizations will not affect the deliberations of that body. As to what nations may press for membership of tho International Trade Organization I know that some nations hold the view that participating members of the Bretton Woods Agreement should also be members of that organization.
– In view, of the present difficulties regarding acceptance of the Bretton Woods Agreement, has tho Prime Minister considered inviting to Australia the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honorable Hugh Dalton, upon whose- responsibility acceptance of the agreement by Great Britain rests, with a view to his addressing members of all parties in this Parliament so that they may obtain a clearer view of this important issue?
– From personal conversations I ha.ve had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and. from my knowledge of the volume of work he has to perform, I should say that it would be very inconvenient for him to come to. Australia. His views- in regard to, certain aspects of the agreement,, are, I believe, set out fairly fully in the speech which he made on the subject in the House of Commons. I do not believe that anything would be gained by asking him to come to Australia, and accordingly I do not propose to do so. I am aware that he lias some doubts in regard to the agreement and also that the United Kingdom Government has given some indication that,, in certain circumstances, it would withdraw from the agreement.
– On the 6th December, 1945, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom issued a joint statement setting- forth certain proposals for consideration by an international conference on trade and employment. I ask the
Prime Minister bow far the delegates to that conference from Australia were instructed to diverge from that joint statement? Does the Commonwealth Government subscribe to the principles expressed in it, namely, that high and stable employment is a necessary condition for an enlarged volume of trade and the main condition for the attainment of satisfactory levels of living.
– Order! That is all argument.
– No sir.
– Order! The Chair thinks otherwise.
– Does the Prime Minister agree with the joint statement of the two governments mentioned that the Bretton Woods Agreement and reduced restrictions on trade will contribute substantially to the maintenance of employment, or has the Government expressed its dissatisfaction, and said that it will not accept the thesis that the Bretton Woods Agreement and the lowering of trade barriers will enable the achievement of high employment? Having abandoned the Bretton Woods Agreement, does the Government intend to abandon the policy of full employment, not only in Australia 1in.it throughout the world?
– I am not aware of any joint paper having been issued.
– Here it is.
– The paper that I have particular knowledge of is a certain formula issued by the Government of the United States for the consideration of the International Trade and Employment Conference. It is a voluminous document.
– It was issued by ‘both governments.
– When that formula was issued the Government of the United Kingdom was asked to concur on the general principles. This Government was consulted about concurring in the same way. I intimated on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to the Government of the United Kingdom that, although we were prepared to discuss in conference the matter of the freer move ment of trade, we were not prepared to accept the formula, if acceptance of it would commit us to any of the matters set out in it. On that understanding, we agreed to send delegates to the International Trade and Employment Conference. I do not wish to make a long speech in reply to all the statements made by the honorable gentleman.
– Go ahead.
– The Commonwealth Government’s delegates to international conferences have been most consistent in advancing the fundamental principle of full employment throughout the world. The lead was given by Mr. Beasley at the conference of the International Labour Organization. He pressed very strongly for the adoption of that principle. Then the AttorneyGeneral and Minister for External Affairs followed the same line at San Francisco. That has been the policy advocated by Australian delegates at every international conference since, including the International Trade and Employment Conference in London, in whose charter we have asked for the inclusion of the principle of full employment. The cablegrams that we have received from our delegates show that satisfactory progress has been made at the conference. Before they left Australia to attend it considerable discussion took place between them and a. Cabinet sub-committee during which the lines that they were to follow were laid down. The election campaign was then in progress; but before their departure I had a further talk with them in Adelaide, in which we discussed additional points that had arisen. Since their attendance at the conference they have been keeping in close touch with the Government. It is not possible yet to give a full report of what has been done, but it is hoped that the leader and deputy leader of the delegation will be back in Australia by the 14th or 15th December.
– Will Parliament be called together to consider their report?
– If the honorable gentleman would like Parliament to assemble at Christmas-
– My word I would.
Hr. CLARK - It has been represented to me that the manufacture and distribution of tobacco are most unsatisfactory. Persons have offered for service in the industry, but have been refused employment, yet the tobacco companies state that the present shortage of supplies is due to lack of labour. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs represent to his colleague the advisability of a thorough investigation of the manufacture and distribution of tobacco, with a view to ascertaining whether the maximum quantity is being produced, and whether the distribution of the production is fair and just?
– I shall be glad to place the honorable member’s suggestion before the Minister for Trade and Customs with a view to ascertaining whether the line of action suggested by him can he agreed to. In due course I shall inform, the honorable member of the result.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation inquire into the matter of war neurosis, paying particular attention to the points of view of medical men, of the sufferers themselves and of their employers? Will he inquire into the successful methods of treatment applied at the “worry” clinics in the United States of America?
– I have been very closely concerned with this matter as a result of some cases that have recently come to my notice. At an early date the whole subject will be inquired into very carefully, and a decision reached regarding it.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral what is the purport of the sections of the Crimes Act which he stated recently were obnoxious and would be repealed ?
– The honorable member refers to a statement in a speech which I made recently. I had in mind portions of Part IIa. of the Crimes Act. I do not wish to elaborate the matter at present, because it is the Government’s intention to introduce legislation next year dealing with the whole subject.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to reports, emanating from the United States of America, that Washington is mystified by his announcement that Admiral Nimitz had been invited to visit Australia, as no such invitation, so far as the authorities in Washington knew, had been extended? Will the Prime Minister say if, in fact, such an invitation was extended to Admiral Nimitz, by whom it was extended, and in what manner ?
– I have seen the report to which the honorable member refers. The honorable member knows that frequently when distinguished people are about to visit this country inquiries are made informally as to whether the visit would be suitable and convenient to the Government. It was in those circumstances that a request concerning a visit by Admiral Nimitz came to the notice of the Government. In reply, the Government intimated that it would welcome a visit by Admiral Nimitz to this country. Informal inquiries have been made; and that is the answer that has been given.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. During the debate on the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill, I asked-
– Order ! Do I understand that the honorable member desires to refer to a debate which took place in the committee of the House?
– The honorable member should then wait until the committee is again constituted before he makes his personal explanation.
– I have to report that I have received from the former Principal Parliamentary Reporter, Mr. G. H. Romans, a letter in which he expresses thanks for the various tributes paid tohim by honorable members on the eve of his retirement last week, pays a generous tribute to the cooperation of his former staff and expresses thanks for the consideration and friendship ofall members of this House, and wrich, by leave of the House, I shall incorporate in Hansard -
Permit me to express to you, and through you to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Australian Country party my profound gratitude for the generous references in the House last week to my retirement from the parliamentary service.
The tributes were,I recognize,an appreciation of the work of the reporting staff which I have had the honour to lead for the last six years. But insofar as they had a personal application to myself, I would like you to know how much pleasure these kindly references gave to me. The constant aim of the Hansard staff has been to maintain a high standard of efficiency and a tradition of strict impartiality, and for any share I had in achieving those results I am generously rewarded by the speeches of the presiding officers and the party leaders in both chambers.
I shall carry into retirement grateful remembrance of the consideration and friendship extended to me by the members of all parties throughout my 32 years in the service of the Parliament. May I addmy sincere thanks for the confidence and support which you personally have givento me as the permanent head of a departmentunder the joint control of the President and yourself.
Tools of Trade
– Recently, I directed the attention of the Minister for Repatriation to the fact that, because many tools of trade were unprocurable, some ex-servicemen would not be able to take advantage of the departmental grant of £10 for their purchase. The honorable gentlemansaidthat he would consider the possibility of extending the time limit for eligibility for the payment of the grant. I now ask the Minister whether hehas any additional information about the matter?
– On the 15th November last, the honorable member for Wim- mera (Mr.Turnbull) asked me the following question: -
In view of the fact that tools oftradeof many kinds are still unprocurable, resulting in many ex-service men. and women being prevented from taking advantage of the grant of £10 for their purchase, will theMinister for Repatriation endeavour to have the time limit for eligibility for the payment of the grant extended?
As promised, I have given the whole question appropriate examination, and I am now able to inform the honorable member that the effect of time limits on applications for tools of trade, plant and equipment, and other articles of personal equipment, exclusive of clothing, is given every consideration. To date, the Repatriation Commission has regarded applications as having been lodged within thetimelimit if they were lodged within twelve months after the 2nd September, 1945, or from the date of discharge, whichever is the later. Even then, Deputy Commissioners had power to waive the time limit where there were reasonable grounds for so doing. After a reconsideration of the whole matter, a decision has been made to the effect that applications will be regarded as being in time if they are lodged withintwelvemonths fromthe date of the applicant’s discharge from the forces, or up to the 30th June, 1948, whichever is the later.
– In view of a certain embarrassing situation which arose recently between a new member of this House and a former member over the occupancy of an office at the Federal Members’ Rooms, Launceston, and because of the general uncertainty and confusion that exists among honorable members as to the privileges of former members of the Parliament, will the Minister for the Interior investigate the whole matter of ex-members’ privileges, and enlighten both members and ex-members regarding their rights?
– I have already received some information regarding the situationat Launceston, and I have taken steps to have the whole matter investigated, including theprivileges that have previouslybeen extended to former members of the Parliament.
– Is the Treasurer aware that in the United Kingdom silver coinage is being displaced so that the British Government may ship- to the United States of America a substantial quantity of this metal in accordance with a contract entered into between the two Governments, providing for the repayment by Great Britain of a certain quantity of silver within a certain time? Is anything being done by the Commonwealth of Australia which is a leading silver producing country to assist Great Britain in this task?
– T here has been a substantial increase of the price of silver throughout the world due, it is said, to the increased quantity of this metal that is being used for industrial purposes. Speaking from recollection, the price of silver on the world market has increased by 100 per cent. or more. As the result of this, the British Government has decided to omit silver from its coinage and to substitute nickel and copper. As regards the possibility of Australia giving assistance to Great Britain, I point out to the honorable member that due to the great shortage of silver during the war, we in this country were unable to meet our own requirements for coinage. Consequently, under a lend lease arrangement, considerable quantities of both bulk silver and silver coins minted in the United States of America were imported from that country. A similar position arose in quite a number of other countries. The debt that we incurred to the United States of America in this way has been treated separately from the ordinary lend-lease agreement. “We have a limited period in which to return that silver. So f ar, we have not been able to replace any of it. One of our difficulties is that the present price of silver is much higher than it was when we obtained supplies from the United States of America. There are certain aspects of this matter upon which I should not like to make a public statement at present, but I shall be glad to let the honorable member have further details personally or by letter should he desire them.
– I ask leave to make a statement in reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Warringah in regard to prisoner-of-war camps.
Leave not granted.
Purchase of Discharges
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether it is a fact that under certain regulations Royal Australian Navypersonnel may purchase their discharge? If so will the Minister state the scale of charges applicable to officers and ratings?
– There are regulations whereby members of the permanent naval forces may purchase their discharge. I shall obtain the information sought by the honorable member in regard to the actual rates payable.
interpretation of standing ORDER.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee of this Parliament. I am not sure whether I am in order in doing so now or whether the question should be raised when the House is in committee. Last night, during consideration of the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill in committee, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) spoke for 26 minutes. Standing Order 257b provides that each member shall be allowed an initial period of fifteen minutes and later, if no other honorable member rises, a further period of fifteen minutes.
-The honorable member should raise this matter in committee. The Speaker is not concerned with what happened in committee unless the committee itself refers the matter to him. The subject cannot be discussed at this stage.
– I only want an interpretation of the standing ordermentioned, not a decision.
– I have no doubt that the honorable member will obtain an interpretation of the standing order in committee.
Agreement with Netherlands Government.
– Prior to the outbreak of war with Japan, Dutch airlines were conducting services to Australia under an agreement with the Commonwealth Government. Is that agreement still in operation ? If not, can the Minister for Air state whether negotiations have been entered into with a view to Dutch airlines resuming their services to Australia?
– I cannot state definitely whether the agreement that was made before the war is still in operation, but I shall have inquiries made and will supply the information to the honorable member. I am aware, of course, that a service is operating between Darwin and Dutch territories, but, as I am not sure of the position, I should like to have an opportunity to examine the question and supply accurate information later.
– Is it a fact that, during the war, coal-miners had to use inferior explosives in the course of their work? Now that the war is over, and particularly in view of the response made by the miners to the Government’s request to work an extra back-Saturday shift, does the Prime Minister consider that the miners should be provided with explosives of pre-war quality for the extraction of coal?
– I knew that there had been some difficulties regarding the quality of explosives used in coal mines. I do not profess to know all the technical details of the matter. I understand that the difficulties were due to shortages of materials and other factors associated with the manufacture of explosives. As the honorable member will recollect, the Government endeavoured to secure explosives from overseas and, in fact, did arrange for some imports. I am not familiar with all of the circumstances, but I shall have a statement prepared for the information of the honorable member and will see whether anything can be done to remove any difficulties that exist.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Mr. POLLARD (Ballarat- Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture) [11.14]. -I move - 1.That a tax be imposed in respect of all wheat, as defined in paragraph 10 of this resolution, which has been acquired, or is” acquired, by the Commonwealth.
The bill that will be introduced later proposes to impose a tax on wheat marketed through the Australian Wheat Board from the 1945-46 and 1946-47 wheat crops. Honorable members are aware that the object of the legislation passed by the last Parliament was to give effect to a plan which will depend upon the passage of complementary legislation by the States. That legislation has not yet been passed, consequently, ifr is necessary that the Commonwealth should, acquire the 1946-47 crop. In view of this need to acquire the 1946-47 crop, and of other factors, our legal advisers have expressed doubts as to whether the act passed by the last Parliament will in fact be effective in carrying out the policy approved by the Parliament. It is desirable to resolve those doubts, and to ex-‘ press unmistakably the intention of the plan. There is no alteration of the policy of the Government in the matter. That policy is- perfectly well understood by the wheat-growers of this country. The object is to make the legislation water-tight technically, and so to express the intention which has been made plain from the outset. From the financial aspect, the importance of this will be understood when I mention that £6,000,000 is to he paid into the stabilization fund from the: 1945-46 wheat crop. Unless the wheat stabilization plan were effectively covered by legislation, the fund would not receive that money,, and’ there would be an additional liability on, the Treasury to. meet it when the time came to make payments from the fund for the benefit of wheatgrowers.
The bill will cover wheat from only the 1945-46 and the present crops, because those two crops are being acquired under National Security Regulations, and cannot be conveniently taken with the later crops which also come under the stabilization plam The tax imposed on the wheat from those crops is specifically a tax on the grower. This is the intention of the plan, and has been the subject of some discussion during recent months. It is the real crux of the legislation, as it is a point, concerning which the- legal doubts have- arisen. A contribution by growers in high-price years is essential in any sound stabilization plan, and the principle is accepted” generally. The bill carries this principle into effect.
The next portion of the bill may not hu clear.
– Yes. I am sorry that it has not been possible to find a. formula, which would satisfy legal requirements and also he easy to understand. That is not a new difficulty with wheat legislation. Briefly, what the bill provides is this: The export return in high-price years will ,be taken: The wheat-grower will receive his guaranteed payment of 5s. 2d. a bushel’ for f.a.q. bagged wheat, and the remainder will (hen. be divided between the wheat pool and the stabilization fund. The pool will get at least 50 per cent, of the surplus, and the stabilization fund the remainder. The amount for the stabilization fund will therefore be decided by calculating- itsshare of the export surplus. That surplus will be derived only from wheat exported. The original idea was to impose a charge only on wheat exported.
At this stage, there arises the difficulty that wheat is exported, in different proportions from different States; and the proportions vary from year to year. This year, New South Wales will’ have no wheat to export, whilst last year it had the greatest surplus. A tax- on wheat exported might cause legal difficulty when applied to a pool consisting of wheat from different States. It is- considered better, therefore, to apply the tax to the wheat which is marketed in the normal way, and so apply it to the whole of the wheat in the pool. This is logical, since the idea of a pool is equality, and the poolingsystem is regarded by growers as givingthe fairest return to all wheat-farmers. Under it, they merge their interests and’ take a proportionate share in. all the fortunes - good or bad - of the pool. AH? markets available arc shared, and the crop can be sold so as to get the maximum overall return. The alternative would, be for growers to sell in competition with each other. But in war-time, as well as in the transition period, when shipping, land transport, and. overseas markets are far from normal, that alternative would, involve such uncertainty- that an intolerable gamble in selling would be added to the rest of the wheat-growers’ troubles. Pooling first enables all sales to be made for the common benefit, and to the best advantage of growers on the markets available.. This outweighs any. advantages which a few individuals might get from fortuitous- sales on favorable markets, and the security given is far greater than any disadvantage of the system. It implies that each grower should get’ the same f.o.r. return for his wheat; consequently, there is nothing unfair in a tax which applies equally. Objection could be taken, of course, if the growers’ contribution was increased by a change in the formula. It is not intended that this shall be done. The formula for .finding the tax rate precludes it. The policy of- the Government is unchanged. Growers will not be asked to- contribute more than 50 per cent, of the export price surplus from any crop* The. stabilization fund, will not be allowed to become excessive, and. the formula will provide the- method for keeping contributions to the lowest practicable figure. The amount of the growers’ contribution to the fund can be kept in line with estimates of reasonable future needs, by varying either the percentage or the price of the wheat to be taxed.
I draw attention to the provisional rate of tax which is covered by clause- 5- of the bill. The Government is acquiringthe 1946-47 crop, and wishes to avoid any possibility of a grower being hindered in, the exercise of any constitutional right. If he wishes to exercise such a right, it is undesirable that there- should be undue delay in- fixing a tax rate, when that tax rate would, be a factor in assessing compensation. So the provisional tax rate is provided, and will become effective at the earliest practicable date.
Honorable members know that the practice is- to make advances from wheat pools long before the wheat is sold, and’ before the final returns to the pool, can be ascertained. Then, as sales are made and money comes in, further payments are made in advance. These payments are- possible because the Commonwealth guarantees the board’s overdraft, and it ia not until the final small payment has been, made that a surplus is held by the board to cover payment. That has been the practice. But our legal advisers consider that legislative provision should be made so that it will, be clear that growers’ legal rights, shall be guarded. In this matter, we are following that advice.
The policy of making progress payments as soon as they are justified by the finances of the pool will be followed, and there can be no objection, to the earliest practicable fixation of the provisional tax- rate. A delay in completing a pool and fixing the final rate is always possible; but the provisional rate will be effective, and will safeguard’ any- person wishing to exercise his constitutional rights against undue delay.
The bill contains the provision that the tax may be deducted- from amounts payable- to the growers. This method of collection is convenient for all concerned.
Acquisition of the crop, and doubts as to- the effectiveness of the previous legislation in expressing the policy of the Government, make the bill necessary. There is general, agreement that the pooling, system, is fair. But for. these two crops, it is; combined with acquisition, and mass- acquisition was unknown before World War II. Wheat crops have been acquired for the protection and benefit of wheat-growers as individuals, at a time when the individual interest was interwoven with that of all other growers in Australia. The pooling system is accepted as fair by Australia’s wheat-growers everywhere, and they want it. to be continued in the future. Growers want stabilization of their industry. This Government will do everything it can to give them permanent stabilization. Growers will not be asked to contribute more than a fair amount in order to have security in the future. Our task is- to meet the growers’ needs fairly, whilst adhering to constitutional requirementsconcerning the wheat acquired.
Later, I shall present the bill to- the House in the belief that it meets constitutional requirements in giving effect, to the Government’s policy. It is fair to the people of Australia, who are guaranteeing’ wheat-growers’ prices, and to the wheatgrowers, whose future welfare is the whole object of the stabilization plan.
– I ask that’ progress be reported so that we shall not be in the position of being informed later that the Minister’s second-reading, speech was made in a Committee of Ways, and
Means, thereby depriving honorable members of an opportunity to discuss the bill.
That has happened on other occasions.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
That, in lieu of the charge imposed by the Wheat Export Charge Act1946, a charge be imposed -
That for the purposes of this resolution -
That for the purposes of this resolution -
This is the second in a series of three proposals concerning thewheat stabilization plan. The first deals with a tax on wheat acquired from the 1945-46 and 1946-47 crops; the third provides necessary amendments of the Wheat Stabilization Act; this resolution deals with wheat of the 1945-46 and 1946-47 crops which may escape the provisions of the first measure.
The bill to be introduced later provides for a charge on wheat from the two crops of 1945-46 and 1946-47, which, although not acquired, may be exported. It covers specifically a part of the two crops up to October, 1947, as it has been decided that these crops should be dealt with separately before applying the provisions of the present acts to the crops which came later and will not be acquired. The charge is imposed on wheat not acquired which may be exported, and so closes a possible gap. It also imposes a charge on wheat products exported where the exporteris not the board. The point is that because of high export prices and a fixed home consumption price it is profitable to buy wheat at the Australian price, manufacture it, and export the products at the higher price now obtainable on overseas markets. If this be done, a manufacturer secures the benefit of the high export price which should go to growers. The board supplies wheat for manufacture and export of the product, and charges export price for that wheat.
Instances have come to the notice of the department in which attempts to evade this payment to the board have been made, and one part of this proposal is to ensure that the tax on the wheat shall be payable in those cases. The tax payable on the wheat and products concerned is 50 per cent. of the surplus of the export price above the home consumption price. The bill to be introduced is necessary for the protection of the fund established for the benefit of growers, and for that reason I commend it to the committee.
– I ask that progress be reported because of the difficulty of considering these matters without a knowledge of what is contained in the bill. In order that honorable members may be better prepared to discuss the motion, 1 suggest that the Minister takes the unusual course of making copies of the bill available at this stage.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) -by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given tobring in a bill for an act to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act 1946.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Mr. POLLARD (Ballarat- Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture) : [11.31]. - by leave - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure, the third in a series of bills dealing with wheat, is needed to provide amendments consequential upon the other two bills to be considered later. The amendments do not really call for comment. The opportunity has also been taken to settle a legal doubt, which has arisen after the lapse of several years, about the validity of the 1939 wheat acquisition order. The Australian wheat crop was acquired at the beginning of the war, and the acquisition order covered all wheat harvested after the 1st October, 1939. That order has operated since then, and all the later crops were delivered under it. The order was intended to remain in effect indefinitely. At the time it was made no one thought that we would still be operating under it at the end of 1946. It was .never considered necessary to -issue fresh acquisition orders for wheat, and through the years governments and growers .have acted on the assumption that the order remained valid. Growers have delivered all the intervening crops, and are delivering the 1946-47 crop, under its provisions. The Commonwealth Government ha3 accepted liability for the crops, and every one has assumed the validity of the order and has acted accordingly. There is, however, some doubt as to the validity of the order; it is thought that, possibly, a separate acquisition order should have been made for each season’s crop. Accordingly, this opportunity is taken to settle the matter by ensuring that the continuity of the order is effective. This provision is a common-sense one, to which no one can object. Should the order be found invalid the results would be embarrassing to growers and the Commonwealth Government. It is thought best to put the matter beyond doubt.
– I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) will make allowance for the fact that I have only recently taken charge of the department. I shall see that the old practice is continued, and shall try to provide him immediately with copies of the statements.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from ‘the 4th December (vide page 1041).
– The bill before the committee is peculiar in that it has been agreed that honorable members rimy discuss each regulation separately. The National Security (Dairy Products Acquisition) Regulation is administered by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and I ruled that, for the purpose of that regulation, the bill was, for the time being, in charge of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Therefore, it was proper that he should be allowed an unlimited time in which to speak, just as if he were in charge of a bill.
– During the debate on this bill in committee last night, I referred to the large number of officials policing regulations. I asked the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) if he knew the actual number, and he did not. Neither, apparently-j did any one else; I said that I believed the number was 1,400. While I! was- speaking, the Minister consulted with officials in the corner, and. then said- by way of interjection that the number was 600, but when speaking later he alleged that I had made an irresponsible statement: I have searched thefiles of Hansard and have discovered that; in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Fawkner(Mr: Holt) on the 3rd. July, 1945, it was stated that the number of officials in the Prices Branch alone, excluding those serving in the forces, was. over 600, whilst the total number of officials, policing, regulations was 1,058. I leave it to the committee, therefore, to decide who made an irresponsible statement. It appears that my estimate was nearer to the truth than that given by the Minister.
– I. never said that the honorable- member for Balaclava (Mr. White) had made an irresponsible states ment. I was- told a figure by an official, and I stated it to him.
National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations.
– I move-
That, in the third column, before “ Afterregulation 22. add - “ the following words be. be. inserted “ Omit regulations 7 and 10a “.
The: relevant, part of. the schedule; reads-
The main purpose of these regulations, was to prevent speculation in the buying and selling, of shares- during the war. They provide that a person shall not sell shares without the Treasurer’s, consent, unless he has’ been the. registered owner for - five-months or more. The regulations, also authorize the fixing; of maximum and. minimum prices at which shares may be sold. They have been: in operation for four and a; half years, and it is thought that freedom of action may now bp restored.
Mr. FADDEN (Darling DownsLeader of the Australian Country party) fll.43]. - I desire to join in the protest by the- honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) against your ruling which permitted the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) to speak for 26 minutes on one of the regulations which make up the schedules to this bill.
– The leader of the Australian Country party is not entitled to debate a ruling of the Chair. The usual practice is to regard the schedule to a- bill as- one item. Had that practice been followed in the case of this bill, the Minister at the table would have replied, and could, have taken whatever time he, thought necessary. However, in order to oblige honorable members, it was decided that, in the case of this bill, every item in the schedule, would be taken separately, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, by virtue of that fact, was permitted to speak for an unlimited time on a regulation administered by his department.
..- We come now to the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations, to which we. are asked to give legislative force for. a. further period of twelve months without amendment, with the exception of. the amendments foreshadowed by the. Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). I direct attention to that part of the regulations which is concerned with the sale of land. I agree that for the time being it is necessary to have some form of control over the prices at which land shall be sold; but, Regulation 6, in particular, is utterly pernicious in its present form. I resist entirely the perpetuation of a regulation which, gives absurd powers to one man, or his delegate. In theory, the Treasurer’sapproval of these transactions must be obtained, but,, in practice, the Treasurer delegates his power1 to- an official, who, in turn, may delegate the power to- other officials. From the decisions of the delegate there is absolutely no appeal. Yet the delegate is not guided by any code in the performance of his duty. He can reject claims, or require parties to supply all sorts of irrelevant information. And his valuations are entirely grotesque because they are based on values as at February, 1942. At that time, values in this country were at their lowest. Obviously, valuations in respect of sales of land should be on the basis of current values of properties. The result is that at present - I speak with intimate knowledge of conditions in Sydney - we have an intolerable system of black marketing in the sale of land. [ say advisedly that the ugliest possible rumours are current in Sydney about the administration of these regulations. At any rate, eight out of ten transactions for the sale of land in New South Wales are made at prices above those fixed by the Treasurer. It is idle to deny that fact. To my own knowledge that practice is rife. Any reputable solicitor, or estate agent, or any other person who has anything to do with land values in Sydney, knows perfectly well that again and again clients come along with contracts for the sale of land at prices which are not approved by the Treasurer’s delegate. They go away and return later with a smile on their face, the price in the contract having been altered to conform to the Treasurer’s price; and it is obvious that the buyer and seller have adjusted the price by passing over the balance in cash. That is occurring not in one, or two, instances, but in nearly every transaction ; and it is up to Parliament, if it is concerned with honour and decency in the community, to remedy that evil. But we shall not do so merely by perpetuating the existing regulations. We must formulate regulations which are more reasonable, rational and flexible. Only in that way shall we be able to stamp out this evil. By merely continuing the existing regulations for a further period of twelve months we are doing something that is utterly wrong. The whole of these regulations should be withdrawn and redrafted; and in redrafting them the Attorney-General can count upon the assistance of honorable members on this side of the chamber who are acquainted with the way in which the present regulations operate. We shall be glad to make suggestions with a view to evolving a system that will work. The present system is not working honestly and flexibly. On the contrary, it is creating discontent and lowering the moral tone of the community. Nearly all persons now buying and selling land in Sydney are indulging in black-marketing.
Regulation 6 prohibits the sale of land except with the consent of the Treasurer, or his delegate. In each State there is a delegate who has a staff; and the Treasurer’s delegate is empowered to delegate his power to members of his staff. In practice, no sale can take place unless either the Treasurer’s delegate, or the latter’s delegate, approves the transaction. It is provided that before one can obtain such approval one must make written application for it ; and it is also provided that the delegate, or his delegate, who may be a clerk, may require information to be supplied. The High Court has had something to say about the demand of the delegate for all sorts of information. On several occasions, the Treasurer’s delegate has taken upon himself, without legislative authority, or authority under the regulations, to demand all sorts of information which is irrelevant before he approves a transaction. On one occasion, the High Court said bluntly that it was illegal for the delegate to require that information. Sometimes, parties to a transaction have had the courage to say, in effect, to the delegate, “ Go and jump in the lake. We will not supply that information “. We have also the extraordinary spectacle of the delegate withholding his consent, and the transaction going through without his consent, because in New South Wales the Registrar of Titles is empowered to register a transaction notwithstanding the absence of consent of the delegate. Although, in some instances, the delegate has known that the transaction is being registered, he has taken no action. Provision is also made under the regulations for the appointment of independent valuers, and these are selected by the department. But very often the delegate refuses to accept the valuation of the valuer selected by him.
I repeat that it is fantastic to provide that prices shall be fixed at the values in February, 1942. Valuations should be allowed at current values. Very often it is impossible to ascertain what values existed in February, 1942, and every one knows also that land values have risen. Having received the valuation the delegate may require still further information. In practice, these regulations are intended to control the values of land; but they are not achieving that objectiveAll that they are doing is to make law-breakers of law-abiding people. Complete power is exercised by the delegate or his officers, and very often they are incompetent to judge in these matters. If time permitted I could give numerous illustrations of incongruities, and absurd inconsistencies, when valuations are rejected and the contract is submitted in another form which is accepted. I have before me the papers relating to one case which may be of interest to honorable members. A farmer sold a property to his son for £9,000, the sale being approved by the delegate of the Treasurer. The farmer then sought to sell an identical adjoining property to another son, in this case, under a long-term arrangement. The price was fixed at £9,000 and it was intended that payments should extend over many years, but that the principal outstanding should be free of interest. The delegate, however, rejected the proposition, stating that he would not approve of the sale at a higher figure than £7,000. The father had a new contract drawn up providing for a sale price of £7,000, but including a provision for the payment of interest, which would have resulted in the son having to pay an additional £2,000, or £9,000 in all. The second proposition was endorsed by the delegate who apparently could not see that under the second contract the same amount would be paid for the land as had been provided for in the first contract which he had so incontinently rejected. The solicitor employed by the parties attempted to draw ‘ the attention of the delegate to the inconsistency, showing him the two contracts and pointing out the true position, but to no purpose. That is only one of many cases which could be mentioned to demonstrate how inconsistently the delegate exercises his authority.
Every honorable member in this chamber has received letters from constituents protesting against this sort of thing. Every lawyer knows that this control is administered so badly that it is ridiculous to retain it upon the statutebook in its present form. We have, too, the spectacle of valuers nominated by the department, only after careful examination of their credentials, having their valuations rejected by the delegate. The administration of this control is atrocious. No system exists by which receipts can be obtained for documents sent to the department and there is most extraordinary delay in the answering of correspondence. One frequently gets letters two or three weeks subsequent to the date appearing on them. There is no way of getting reliable information from the delegate or his staff as to the progress made in connexion with transactions under review. There is a great air of mystery and it is almost impossible to obtain interviews with responsible officials. It is the normal practice for the solicitors or agents concerned in legal or land transactions to smooth away difficulties by personal contact with government officials. But whilst that is done in nearly every other sphere of government activity, it is not done in respect of real estate transactions submitted for the approval of the delegate.. Why a veil of mystery should be drawn over these matters, I do not know. A person who is able to secure an interview with the delegate accounts himself lucky. We have the spectacle, too, of the delegate, having had a “ curly one bowled up to him “ by a solicitor or agent, writing, not to the solicitor or to the agent, but to the buyer, inviting him to come and see him. There are many suspicious circumstances connected with some of these sales. Why is this absolute discretion vested in the delegate? Why is not some code laid down whereby the members of the public may know exactly where they stand in these matters? . The Attorney-General will undoubtedly agree that certainty should be one of the essential features ofthe law and that citizens should know where they stand under it. No code of this sort has, however, been laid down. The length of the chancellor’s foot is no basis for ‘law-making in this, or any-.other subject. Here is a .suggestion: “Why not place upon the purchaser or cbe applicant the onus of satisfying the delegate that the land is being bought or sold at a price not exceeding that determined by an approved valuer, who may be the Valuer-General or some other valuer selected by the department? I. do not care how ‘stringent conditions of selection of valuers are made. The department should select valuers it believes to be trustworthy and say to the applicant, “ You must prove that your land is being sold at a price not in excess of the value determined by a selected valuer “’. If the applicant is able to produce a valuation which conforms to that test, <he delegate should not have discretionary power to question it. What happens however, is that the delegate changes his ground again and again, with the result that the ‘people do not know where they stand.
– The honorable in ember’s time has expired.
.- I desire to refer to the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations, particularly as they affect land sales. There was a lot of niggling criticism in i he remarks made by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) in relation ‘to this control. Any person could find certain irrational and irritating sideissues arising from any control. The very nature of the word “ control “ connotes irritations and ‘repressions. There is no doubt that the land control .has been miraculously efficient.
-. - The greatest portion of the delays of which honorable members have complained has frequently occurred through a solicitor being tardy in presenting the relevant documents to ‘the delegate.
– I was about to make that very comment. Time and time again, in response to representations, we Find that the. solicitor in charge of a transaction awaiting Treasury consent has fallen down on his job and that the delay is. attributable not to the delegate but to the legal representative of the applicant.
A tremendous ‘volume o’f work “has ‘to be handled by those responsible for this control. In :many instances .application? for consent constitute & :rich harvest if or “lawyers. In some cases the papers relating to land transactions axe :thrown aside temporarily because they have something richer in the -offing. When delays occur because of such .neglect, ihe ^applicant, in ignorance of the facts, frequently blames the delegate. Honorable members opposite appear to boast of their ability to cite -numerous instances of land being sold on the black market, ‘their attitude being that we can do nothing ‘about it. I reject that proposition entirely. I -am no advocate of the policy of despair. Honorable members opposite would ‘have us believe that ‘ people are forced on tho black market as the best way out of their difficulties. This control was instituted to preserve our economy, and particularly to safeguard ex-servicemen from victimization. It will have been of no real value if we scrap it in the first days of peace. I admit that there is great difficulty in fighting .blackmarketing, but to blame controls such as this for the existence of the black market is merely futile. The proper thing to do is ito impose tighter controls so -that people .will , find .it more and more difficult .to break the law. It ill befits honorable members opposite to say, almost boastfully, that this thing 13 going on and we have to catch up with it, or that the legislation of this country merely chases the .tail of the blackmarketeer. The economic organization regulations have been, of vital importance to the people, particularly to workers who attempt to purchase land.
Criticism has been levelled at the pegging of land values to the 1’9’42 levels. When that basis was adopted there were very good reasons for doing so. When that basis was established it was as reasonable as it could be. In the face of total war the Opposition demanded the utmost efficiency at the time the Labour Government assumed office. In certain circumstances criticism might be levelled against all controls. One of the principal criticisms levelled at the control of land transactions is .the long wait for decisions. 1 point out, however, that at least ‘half of the delay is caused by solicitors and land agents themselves, ‘tike remainder result ing from the tremendous’ volume of work that has to be handled by the Treasury officers. We must hang on to this control to ensure that there shall be no more corruption in ‘land transactions. Once there is jobbery of a high order in dealing with land, our primary asset, the rest of our economy will be shot to pieces in double-quick time. Nothing sensible or constructive was contributed to the debate by the honorable member for Parramatta, or the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). I am astonished that the honorable member for Richmond, the owner of extensive lands, should advocate that the Commonwealth Government should abdicate the control of land transactions merely because of the black market. As a land-owner he should be assiduously trying to help the Government clamp down on the black market instead of declaring that because, as he charges, it cannot control the operations of the manipulators it should abdicate the field. -Mr. HARRISON ( Wentworth) [12.6]. -I* am compelled to take part in- this discussion by the remarks of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). The honorable gentleman must realize the circumstances that demanded the imposition of these controls. We were at war and it was essential to impose controls and restrictions on land transactions. It was essential in order to prevent competition between private enterprise and the Government for the goods and services to impose all sorts of restrictions. But something that the honorable gentleman does not seem to realize is that the war is over, and that there is no need to continue the controls in so restrictive a sense now as then. I know it is .necessary to place certain controls on land transfers. We do not object to that, but we do object to the continuance of such severe controls as were found necessary in the war years. The Minister should bring down a separate bill to provide for the control of land transactions during the period of transition from war to peace, in order that we may have the opportunity of full debate on the matter and of eliminating the most restrictive controls to ensure that the others shall be operative. Some of the controls are not operative .to-day, but the Minister is no’t ready ‘to do that. Therefore the extraordinary circumstances revealed by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. ‘Beale) will continue. But the honorable gentleman has not told the full story. He said that “it might meet the bill if a valuer, in whom the department had confidence, were appointed, but I -shall easily explode that theory in the course of my remarks. I believe that when ‘restrictions –are imposed by this Government they will be interpreted and administered to the very letter in accordance with the determination of the Labour caucus. ‘The result will be a law bearing unnecessarily heavily on persons affected. The Government proposes to retain in operation the values of ‘parcels of land and estate? pegged- on the 10th February, 1942. Considerable increases have occurred since then of the values of a great number of commodities. The wages of ,employees of the Crown have increased by ,1.0 per -cent. The cost of .clothing has increased. by about 24 per cent. The price of shares on the stock exchange has risen by about 35 per cent. .Housing costs, a very important factor in this matter of land values, have increased by possibly more than. 50 per cent. In .the Land Valuation Court last month Mr. Justice Roper delivered a judgment of far-reaching importance as regards land values. In effect, the court supported expert opinion that land values have risen 25 per cent, above the level of those pegged in February, 1942. His Honour was called upon to determine the compensation payable by the Housing Commission of New South Wales for land resumed .at PadiStow. The Valuer-General valued the land at £500. There is no doubt that he valued it in accordance with the regulations. The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales estimated it to be worth £1,6S0. The Housing Commission, after negotiation, offered £750 as compensation. There you have the Housing Commission setting aside the Valuer-General’s valuation and prepared to offer a larger amount as compensation.
– Is the Housing Commission exempt from the regulations?
– No; that is the point. It brushed the regulations aside by offering an amount higher than the basis of land transactions in February, 1942. But Mr. Justice Roper fixed the value of the land and compensation to be paid at £1,600, more than twice the compensation offered by the Housing Commission and three times the valuefixed by the Valuer-General. It is apparent from the case that the ValuerGeneral considers himself bound to make his valuation under the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations as though he were making them on the basis of the pegged date the 10th February, 1942. His Honour pointed out, however, that the regulations do not in terms, peg the price of land at its value at the 10th February, 1942. That value is merely one of the factors to be considered by the Commonwealth Treasurer when granting his consent to a sale.
– That is a very important sentence.
– Yes. The right honorable gentleman will remember that I said that the difficulty lay in interpretation and administration of the regulations. I could cite case after case to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to prove my point; but all honorable members know that I am correct because of the continual complaints they have received from purchasers of land. The Valuer-General fixes the price, and, unfortunately, the delegate of the Treasury too often concurs with his view. The administration of these matters must receive consideration, and a direction should be given. However, a better solution would be to introduce a bill dealing with these matters, and then honorable members could express their views as to exactly what controls should be retained and what restrictions should be imposed, in order to encourage people who desire to expand their businesses or provide residentials. Therefore, I say to the honorable member for Parramatta that I do not consider that the appointment of an approved valuer would overcome the difficulty. I believe that the honorable member for Parkes is living in the past. He does not realize that the war has ended, and that we must progress in accordance with the latest trends. To the AttorneyGeneral, I say that the only sensible way in which we can make these regulations work is to incorporate them in a bill. Honorable members, with their knowledge and experience of these matters, should make the legislation workable in the best interests of the community.
.- The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) should redraft the regulations. Undoubtedly, these controls were essential in the early stages of the war, but they have now been in force for nearly five years. During that period, there has been a definite and permanent increase of the true value of land. This increase is not the result of “boom” values for primary produce. Therefore, heed should be paid to that factor, and the regulations should be redrafted.
Many anomalies have arisen under these regulations. I agree that the Treasury has had an awkward task, but some of its actions have been almost beyond belief. For instance, a widow in my district inherited her husband’s citrus orchard, and without taking any notice of two sworn valuers, the Treasury reduced the price of the orchard by £1S an acre. That made all the difference between the woman being able to live in comparative comfort, or in very poor circumstances for the rest of her life. Without asking the two sworn valuers what was the basis of their valuation, the Treasury deputed a former forestry officer, who possibly knew how many super, feet there were in a tree, but who did not know the first thing about the value of a citrus orchard, to determine the price. The Treasury accepted his valuation against the valuations of the two experts who were well known in the district, who understood all the -conditions in the area, and who were of unimpeachable reputation. In another instance, a lady paid £350 for city land. Certainly, that price was excessive. The property was sold to her by a “ go-getter “, and it was worth possibly £200. For fifteen or sixteen years, the Taxation Department saw fit to collect land tax from the owner on the price which she had paid. Subsequently, the Commonwealth decided to acquire the land and subdivide it for building blocks for exservicemen, and it had the impertinence to offer her £38. She refused to accept it, and my latest information was that the Commonwealth was threatening to’ acquire it. In all fairness, these regulations should be redrafted. I recognize the necessity for exercising some control over the value of land - everybody admits it - but the position at present is absolutely unjust. A tribunal should be appointed to which dissatisfied citizens could appeal against the Treasury’s valuations, or some method of arbitration should be devised to enable the determination of a just price. . The AttorneyGeneral must realize that.
– I have raised this matter on a number of occasions in this chamber, because of facts which have been brought to my notice regarding transactions and attempted transactions in land. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who so unctuously defended the regulations and their administration, is living in a world of dreams if he does not know what is happening. He is living in a fantasy of one of his own story books. He should come down to realities, and realize exactly what is occurring in the community. My protests are not designed to protect the black marketeer. I mention this matter for the purpose of endeavouring to assist the law-abiding citizen who desires to do business in a legitimate way, but who is prevented from obtaining a block of land or a house unless he is willing to resort to back-door methods. Many people desire to be law abiding, but if they observe the strict letter of the regulations, the home that they wanted to purchase will be bought by another person who is willing to deal outside the law. That has occurred repeatedly. One man resolutely refused to have anything to do with purchasing at other than the legal price, and he was not able to buy a block of land or a home, although property was being sold, allegedly at the fixed price, to other people. Respectable, law-abiding people should be protected. They should not be compelled to break the regulations.
Many honorable members have had experiences similar to those described by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale). Not long ago, a person wanted to purchase a home for £900.
That was a reasonable price, as the valuers appointed by the Treasury and other parties agreed. But the delegate of the Treasury would not approve of more than £650. Then, for some mysterious reason, the vendor who had already signed a contract for £900 was quite agreeable, apparently, to accept £650. What interpretation does any sensible person place upon that transaction and a thousand similar transactions? If that is the way in which the community is compelled to deal because of the Treasury’s lack of reality in respect of these regulations, the law requires amendment. The honorable member for Parramatta, who is au fait with conditions in Sydney, has raised very serious matters in relation to the administration of the department that controls the sales of land. In Sydney, it smells to high heaven.
– My word it does!
– If the Government does not immediately investigate the circumstances, there will be a “ stink “ which will shake this Administration to its foundations. A person cannot make specific charges on these matters, because all the transactions, naturally, are closely covered up by those who engage in them ; but when we hear throughout -Sydney, whether in the home of a working man or in the office of a .business man, the same rumours as those which the honorable member for Parramatta’ mentioned, the Government should investigate them. As I stated, one cannot make specific allegations but the Government, in the interests of all those respectable citizens who desire to observe the law, should order an inquiry. I agree that it is necessary to control the prices of land and buildings, but ceiling prices should be more in accordance with present-day conditions.
– Does the honorable member believe that by increasing ceiling prices black-marketing will be eliminated ?
– Yes. If ceiling prices be increased to something near present-day real values, legitimate trading will replace black-market trading. The position to-day is this: A person may wish to sell a property the true value of which is £1,000, but the delegate of the Treasury may say that the property is worth only £750 in spite of the. fact that everybody in the trade knows that the real value is £1,000. The result is that the vendor will not sell the property until these regulations are abolished, or he will sell it on the black market. There is, of course, a large percentage of citizens who will not have anything to do with illegal transactions.
If they have property to sell, perhaps a. vacant block of land, they will not do anything about it until the regulations no longer apply, even although they themselves have no intention of building, on the land. Ex-servicemen are returning to civilian life and finding that they cannot get housing blocks in suitable localities. They inquire about block after block only to be told that the land is not for sale under present conditions. So, sales are prevented and nobody benefits. “With other honorable members on this side of the chamber, I believe that we should put some semblance of reality into the administration by the Land Sales Control Department of the1 National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. Et is suggested that an appeal board should be set up, but if ceiling prices areto remain at the 1942 level, the services’ of - the- board would never be required by organizations, firms’ or individuals who did not desire, because of their personal regard for’ the law, to act illegally. “What is required is a reorientation of the Government’s -attitude to land values. As the honorable member for “Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has pointed out, the ceiling, prices of shares have been increased by 3.0 per cent, or 35 per cent., and wages, by 25 per cent. The cost of living, too, is- increasing. In view of these changes, how is it humanly possible to expect owners of properties- to be content with the valuations placed upon them in 1942? The value of money has depreciated considerably since that time. In the interests of law-abiding citizens I urge the Government - not for political propaganda purposes because there is no propaganda in this - to approach this matter from the stand-point of reality:
.- Every member of this committee, I am sure, favours the principle of prices con:trol. The Opposition’s criticism is only in respect of the manner in which that control is being exercised. I am sure that the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who, after all, is largely responsible for the morality of the people of this country, realizes that the present system of control has definite disadvantages. The first is that it has a pronounced influence upon public morality. In my own district - and I suggest everywhere else - a large percentage of land transactions is being carried out by black-marketing methods. The only effect of control to. day is to penalize to a large degree the law-abiding citizens of the Commonwealth. The second disadvantage is that the whole housing problem- is aggravated. Owners of houses may wish to leave their properties for business, health, or other reasons; but they know well that if they sell their land and homes at the valuation placed upon them by the delegate of the Treasury the proceeds will not be nearly sufficient to allow them to build a new dwelling elsewhere at present-day prices. The third .disadvantage of the present ‘ system- of control, and one that is most injurious to our economic situatien, is the long delay that usually takes place before the Treasury gives its approval to a property sale, particularly a farm1 property. As we all know, farm production is governed by the seasons. A prospective1 purchaser of a farm property may enter into negotiations with the vendor and reach an agreement in regard to the- sale price, but a . delay of as. long as., six. months, may occur before the transaction is finally authorized by the Treasury. Consequently, a whole yearns profit from the- property may be lost. This entire- question requires most careful consideration by the Government.
I shall cite to honorable members one or- two examples of extraordinary decisions that have been given by the: responsible authorities. The first concerns a property which was to be sold by agreement between the purchaser and the vendor for £2,600. Treasury approval was given for only £1,875 - a difference of £725 or approximately 35 per cent. The purchaser lodged a protest, and eventually the Treasury agreed to £2,200, representing an increase of £325 upon the orginal amount authorized. I have not been able to find out why the change was made, but I believe that if any change were to be made, it should have been on the basis of the original valuation made by responsible valuers who knew the district. The second case concerns a small land property not far from where I live. The parties agreed upon a sale price of £2,116, but the Treasury would agree to only £1,475 or approximately £700 less. The extraordinary feature of this case is that the property has been in the possession of the present owner for twenty years. It was purchased by him in 1926 for £2,125 or £9 more than the value placed upon it to-day by the owner, and approximately £700 more than the figure authorized by the Treasurer. During the years, water had been laid on, sheds had been erected, and other improvements added to the house at a cost of about £500. Nevertheless, the transaction was blocked ‘because the Treasury officials insisted on a valuation of only £1,475. The owner of the house was an old man, and he wanted to leave the district and go to live in the sunshine in the Wimmera. The authorized price would not have enabled him to buy another house where he wanted to live, and therefore he had to abandon his plans. This kind of treatment of property owners is entirely divorced from common sense. The controls are unsoundly based. Another example of the cheese-paring methods and small-minded outlook of these officials was brought to my notice only two days ago. The proprietor of a large nursery gardening firm, which specializes in growing fruit trees, wished to extend the business so as to increase the supply of fruit trees to orchardists in the surrounding districts. The firm has a large and longestablished business. A property of 80 acres adjoining the nursery was for sale, and the proprietor arranged to buy it at £12 an acre. Treasury officials ruled that the price was much too high and must be reduced to £10’ 10s. an acre, which would have made a difference of more than £100 in the total price. The intending purchaser knows the district well and is a good judge of the value of the land. He is willing to pay the higher price, but there has been a deadlock over the deal for months. The principals have now appealed to me for help in arranging the transaction. These unreasonable restrictions should not be allowed to continue. I ask the Attorney-General to endeavour to have controls of this kind administered with common sense.
– The Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has been looking into complaints of this sort every week.
– I want somebody else to investigate them now. Relaxation of the controls would not cause inflation. I do not want rural land values to he inflated, because purchasers, particularly exservicemen wishing to settle on farms, would suffer. However, valuations should be made in accordance with present conditions. In the first place, there should be a board of appeal.
– That was recommended by the Fraser committee.
– I commend the committee for having made at least one reasonable recommendation. If the Commonwealth acquires land, as it is empowered to do under the Constitution at a fair value, the original owner of the land has recourse to a court of appeal if he considers the valuation to be unfair. That principle should be applied to private land transactions. I can see no reason why the Government should refuse to allow the right of appeal. In the second place, the Treasurer should establish a different standard of valuation from that which ruled in 1942.
– Land values were more depressed in 1942 than they had been for many years previously and than they have been since. They were at the bottom of the “ trough “. ‘ That was the wrong period to select as a ‘base year for land values. As the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has said, the prices of other commodities have increased considerably and the value of the Australian £1 has decreased appreciably. Why should land-owners and persons who want to acquire property in order to establish new businesses be singled out and penalized by these controls? The Government should grant a 30 per cent, increase of basic property values.
– I thought the honorable member was going to say “ of the basic wage “.
– I would agree to that, too. An increase of the basic wage is needed, but that is another matter. If the Government administers these controls on a common-sense basis, it will do away with black marketing and ease the present difficult position regarding land transactions.
– I agree with the necessity for maintaining some forms of economic controls. Indeed, an anti-Labour government was responsible for introducing the major price controls, of which -the restriction on property values is one. However, it must be obvious to the Government that the values now being fixed for land transactions are completely out of relation to true values. There is no rationale in respect of the administration, of land values and rent controls. For instance, for the purpose of determining rent, the capital value of land is regarded as being tho value that applied in 1940. However, for the purposes of sales, the values of properties erected before 1945 are fixed at the levels prevailing at April, 1942. Properties erected in 1945-46 are valued according to present costs of construction. If a property is acquired by the Commonwealth, present costs are the basis used in fixing the value. I suggest that the Government should adopt some simple method of controlling land transactions. First, I suggest that properties be valued according to present costs of construction. After all, those costs are governed by costs of materials and labour under the existing system of controlled prices and wages. Therefore, that should be the correct method of assessing property values. Second, deductions should be allowed for depreciation of old properties. Third, the permissible values under the regulations should be increased in proportion to the increases that have occurred in the cost of living, share values, and other items over the same period. My suggestions are logical and would place the system of controls on a satisfactory basis.
Public servants should not be accused of engaging in corrupt manoeuvres. Criticism can rightly be directed at the machinery and methods of valuation employed by the Government, and at anomalies in the regulations, but from experience I am satisfied that Government officials do their jobs to the best of their ability. As a former Treasurer, I have some knowledge of the Treasury officials who administer property controls, and I dissociate myself from any suggestion that they are not doing their duty in accordance with their obligations. By adopting my suggestions, the Government could ensure the fixing of property values in a w>ay that would give satisfaction to people who wish to buy and sell properties.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– The committee is discussing the industrial property regulations made under the National Security Act. These regulations are administered by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. In the six years during which I have been a member of this Parliament, I do not think that I have ever heard a department so severely criticized as has been the department administering land sales control during this debate. The reason for that severe criticism is, mainly, that the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) has completely failed to adopt many of the recommendations of the Fraser committee, which was set up by the Government for the purpose of reviewing the regulations from time to time. It presented five reports to the Government, in which it recommended the repeal of certain regulations and the taking of certain action generally in respect of the whole of the regulations that have been issued under the National Security Act. The first report was favorably received, and many of its recommendations were adopted by the Government and applied by departmental officers; but practically none of the recommendations in the other four reports has been given effect. The committee made strong suggestions in regard to the administration of land sales control, and recommended that there should be some check on the absolute power of the different departments. It also recommended the setting up of an appeals committee. I have before me the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations, consolidated as at the 10th May, 1944. Regulation 6, relating to prohibition of the transfer of certain property, provides - (1.) Except as provided bythis part, a person shall not without the consent in writing of the Treasurer -
Sub-regulation 3 of that regulation provides - (3.) An application forthe consent of the Treasurer under this regulation shall be in writing.
Sub-regulation 4 provides - (4.) The Treasurer may require any person who is a party to a proposed transaction in respect ofwhich an application is made for the Treasurer’s consent under this regulation to furnish in writing to the Treasurer such particulars of the proposed transaction as the Treasurer requires.
Apparently, the department has interpreted these regulations in the widest possible manner. Examples of its interpretation have been cited by the Eraser committee in one of its reports. I cited last night the case of a real estate agent at Nowra, who was refused consent to the purchase of land, although his intention was to make the purchase on behalf of his son, an ex-serviceman. Presumably, the department was given carte blanche to promulgate any internal regulations additional to those made under the National Security Act, and to do anything that it liked. It could even make aninternal regulation for testing the breath of an applicant, in order to determine whether or not he was a drunkard. It might even go so far as to require an applicant to supply copies of his finger-prints, in order that it might determine whether he had a criminal record. It went a long way in the direction of demanding various particulars, and rejecting applications at its own sweet will. Its actions have left it wide open to the very serious allegations, which cannot be passed over lightly, that were made this morning by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beak) and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), both of whom alleged that the administration in Sydney “ smelt to high heaven “. The suggestion was that there is corruption in the department. If the recommendation for the constitution of an appeals committee had been adopted by the Minister and incorporated in the act, there would have been an opportunity to prevent the continuance of the suggested “ hocus-pocus “ within the department.
The Fraser committee also recommended that the regulations should embody the conditions under which consent to real estate transactions could be refused. I understand that it pressed very hard for this matter to be defined. But no addition has ever been made to the regulations, setting out the terms under which the administration of land sales control could refuse to consent to a transaction. As I have shown by reading an extract from the Economic Organization Regulations, an enormously wide power has been given to departmental officers; they are practically unrestricted by the Minister or the Government. Consequently, questions arise as to the honour and honorableness of those who are in the department, in their administration of the regulations. The department paid no attention whatever to the recommendations of the Eraser committee. The Attorney-General, we all admit, is a most distinguished lawyer. He has occupied one of the highest positions it is possible for the nation to offer to one of its citizens. Having been a member of the judiciary of the High Court, he must have a complete knowledge of what justice is, from beginning to end. Perhaps, because of his tours round the world, he has been unable to give to his department that detailed attention which was necessary. Whatever the reason may have been, this power was left with departmental officers, who refused to accept the recommendation of the Fraser committee that the regulations should state the grounds on which consent to a land transaction could be refused. According to my information, the Attorney-General highly approved of that recommendation, but the department highly disapproved of it, and departmental officers were able to enforce their will against elected representatives of the people. This is not the first occasion on which such a thing has happened. There is nothing in the National Security Regulations providing for the incorporation in the legislation of the provision with which I have been dealing.
I shall show the degree of arrogance of which the department is capable. The Attorney-General, as an ex-justice of the High Court, would take very great care when on the Bench to ensure the observance of judgments of the court. I have been told that the High Court has said that the delegate’s right to refuse consent to real estate transactions must be exercised in the most limited way. I believe that the department has taken no notice of that direction of the High Court, and reads the regulations according to the dictates of its own sweet will. I come back to the allegations of corruption against the department. If the Eraser committee’s recommendation had been adopted it might have had a good effect on the department, and there would not have been the charges made by the honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Richmond.
– I rise to order, f did not lay any charge.
– The honorable member is out of order.
– The honorable member for Parramatta may not have charged any one with corruption, but I gathered from his remarks that somewhere in the department there was a dead cat which smelt strongly. I shall give to the Attorney-General a specific case which seems to have in it all the elements of corruption. I refer to the sale of a lucerne farm adjacent to Tamworth. I nin informed that the valuation of the Valuer-General in 1942 was £50 an acre. A resident of the Tamworth district went to the sale, having first carefully ascertained the amount of the valuation, and bid £S5 an acre for the farm, probably thinking that he would get it for £50 an Acre. I do not say that there was any merit in what he did; what interested me was that after some time had elapsed the delegate of the Treasury allowed that sale to go through at £85 an acre, although he knew full well that the farm was valued at £50 an acre. When I raisedthis question with Mr. Lush, the delegate of the Treasury in Sydney, I said I was not pleading the case of the man who bid £85 an acre expecting to get the farm for £50 an acre, but I expressed the view that the administration required looking into. Mr. Lush pointed out that there was no power under the National Security Act to reduce a price once consent had been given to the sale, or to prevent a sale from going through. I want to know- where that illegal payment of £35 an acre went. Was there any “ cutting up of the turkey “ ? I ask the Attorney-General to inquire into that case. The information will be on the files at the Sydney office of the department. I have no papers here in relation to the transaction, and speak only from memory, but the figures which I have given arc correct. If there was corruption in a time of war, or in a transition period when values are pegged and opportunities for black marketing exist, I hope that the persons concerned, whatever their official standing may be, will not be given an option of a fine, but will be entertained at His Majesty’s pleasure for some months.
– The officers of the department arc honest.
– There ought to be a proper inquiry into this and other cases, and if corruption is proved the guilty people should be gaoled. If, on the other hand, they are honest men and there is no ground for a charge of corruption, they should be completely exonerated.
Another aspect of the administration of this office is that under these regulations, with their very wide powers, the department behaves towards the public in the most harsh and intolerant manner. I have in mind the case of a returned soldier at Armidale who purchased a property from a woman there. The difference between the valuation of the ValuerGeneral and the contract price, in respect of a property worth between £400 and £500, was less than £20; I think it was about £12 10s. The department would not authorize the extra £12 10s. and the sale was not permitted. The returned soldier was paying £3 3s. a week for a flat and was getting into debt. I intervened on bis behalf, and I am glad to say that the sale went through. But it is wrong that members of the public should have to approach members of Parliament to intervene on their behalf in these transactions. Another case which occurred at Tamworth concerned a property which the Municipal Council wished to resume from a widow. The valuation of the Valuer-General was about £350.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I should not have risen had not the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) made an observation which I believe ought to be corrected. The honorable member suggested that we on this side wanted to abolish these controls - that that was our remedy for curing black marketing transactions. The first point that I make is that we on this side - I speak for myself particularly - do not wish to abolish the restrictions on land sales. Wo believe that there must be some restriction on such sales ; there must be some control over land prices. But wc do say that these regulations are utterly inadequate in that they do not lay down a code which does justice to citizens: they do not say what powers should or should not, be exercised. We go further, and say that if a specific code were laid down, it would go a long way towards reducing the number of improper transactions because citizens would know where they stood. We believe also that there should be a rational basis for valuations. We do not hold with the basis being the valuation of February, 1942, or that valuations should be subject to the uncontrolled judgment of the delegate of the Treasurer. Every citizen has the right to know where he stands before the law. The present system gives rise to a great deal of suspicion in the public mind. I do not charge any person with corruption; I do not know the facts, but, speaking with a sense of my responsibility, I repeat my former statement that “some of these transactions are clouded with suspicion “. Many hundreds of reputable solicitors in New South Wales are extremely suspicious of the way in which these regulations are adminis tered. If there is no ground for suspicion, and the persons who are suspected of acting wrongly are, in fact, innocent, the answer is simple’; a set of rules should be laid down which will give no excuse for suspicion. But when solicitors see a sale of property at the fixed price one day, and on the next day witness a sale at a price far in excess of the fixed price, and their clients tell them certain things, it is inevitable that they will be suspicious. The most extraordinary incongruities exist; there is the inaccessibility of the delegate of the Treasurer; there are numerous instances of correspondence being unanswered and of behaviour by officials which would not be tolerated in an ordinary office. All these things cause resentment due to the belief that justice h not being meted out. I do not hope that what I have said will greatly influence Government supporters, but I appeal to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to weigh what I say, because I believe that I am saying something of value. The right honorable gentleman is aware that I know something about these transactions. From a great deal of experience of these regulations I say that, in their present form, they are utterly unsatisfactory, and must fail to produce the results that they were designed to produce, and they must act unjustly towards citizens. The code ought to be amended and put on a proper basis. It should, moreover, be made intelligible; it should be definite and understandable. Most important of all, it should be administered by competent persons. Some of those who administer the present regulations are not competent to do the job, and therefore they do not provide adequate protection to citizens. There ought to be a rational basis of valuation. Until the regulations are amended there will be dishonesty by people seeking to evade them, there will be black marketing and grave public discontent.
– Discussion of these important regulations has been very helpful in some respects, but I do not think that it was right for the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) to repeat rumours and insinuations against departmental officers. The remarks of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) are in a different category, because he was citing specific cases. The administration of the regulations is committed to a special delegate of the Treasurer who, for the last five years, has had a heavy task to perform. At the last Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in August, it was agreed that the control of land sales should continue, obviously for the prevention of speculation both in rural and metropolitan land. It was also agreed at the conference that consideration be given to the fixation of a new level at which land values should be pegged. This decision evidently meets with the approval of many honorable members who have taken part in this debate. Discussing the subject at the conference, the Prime Minister said -
It appears to lie generally agreed that land values have increased from Iti per cent, to 20 per cent, over the 1042 level. Some consideration will he given to the desirability of fixing a higher price related to such increases.
The difficulty is to determine the value at the datum point in 1942. The case cited by the honorable member for “Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) touches upon the value in a forced sale or in a compulsory acquisition, and then the test is what would be the price if the vendor were willing, but not anxious to sell. That is not the same as in the case of open competition. As Mr. Justice Roper pointed out in his judgment, although there may be a pegged value for contracts, that does not necessarily show that the value for resumption or acquisition should be fixed at that figure.
– His judgment was virtually to the effect that values had increased by 25 per cent.
– If a value is to be fixed as at the 30th March, 1946, the court must not only look at the existing regulations, but must also consider that the regulations cannot continue indefinitely. The honorable member for New England pointed out the importance of some of the recommendations of the committee presided over by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser).
The regulations are administered by a number of departments, and it had to be decided by them whether or not to accept the recommendations. Some very important recommendations were accepted. I have spoken to the delegate of the Treasurer during this debate, and it is now proposed - and the proposal is in draft - to include in the regulations a direction that consent shall not be refused except on specified grounds. That is an important step forward, and is in accordance with part of the report of the Appraisals Committee. Other suggestions will be considered by Mr. Balmford, who has said that he is most anxious to receive suggestions from members of the committee. He- has also listened attentively to suggestion made during the debate. I shall have inquiries made into the case cited by the honorable member for New England. In general, however, there has been too great a tendency to repeat rumours reflecting adversely upon the character of departmental officials. Apart from the cases mentioned by the honorable member for New England, not a single instance has been placed before the departmental committee. The honorable member for Parramatta .made several suggestions of value, but he has not been given to understatement in any of his remarks. I do not object to any of his suggestions, but I do not think that he should repeat insinuations - he has himself said that they are not charges - against officers who have worked faithfully for the Commonwealth in the interest of the people, and who are under the guidance of an officer whose one purpose is to improve the regulations. I thank the committee for the suggestions made, and I am sure that the debate will prove to be of value.
.- Honorable members on both sides of the committee agree in general terms that some measure of control of land transactions must be continued, but I believe that the controls themselves should be examined in order to determine whether they are the best that could be devised for peacetime purposes. I have no doubt that when the regulations were originally introduced, some starting point had to be fixed. I have no criticism to offer against the date chosen, February, 1942, but I point out that when any date of the kind is fixed anomalies must necessarily be created. In the case of country land, values depend a good deal upon seasonal conditions. For instance, in one district seasons may have been extraordinarily good, and that would affect land values in that area. Conversely, in another district, conditions may have been very bad, and this would tend to depress values. Every honorable member desires to bring into being regulations which are likely to meet with the greatest measure of success. I do not suggest that the administration of the present regulations has been entirely bad. No doubt, those who have been charged with their administration have done their best; but, when the basis upon which regulations are founded is bad, I have no doubt that human nature being what it is, officers charged with their administration are likely to wilt when the opportunity occurs. If we are to evolve an effective control under peace conditions, Ave must approach this matter in a more realistic way than is reflected by the existing regulations. I agree that it is unfortunate that the Government has singled out land and house owners for very special and very harsh treatment. A far more realistic approach is being made in respect of the control of other classes of property, such as, stocks and shares and other commodities. For instance, the values of stocks and shares are revised periodically, which enables the owners to effect sales upon a ‘basis of values more in keeping with actual presentday conditions. Unfortunately, the same approach is not made in respect of the control of land, or houses. More realistic valuations will reduce improper practices and abuses which are prevalent under the existing system. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) suggested that the proposals made by honorable members on this side mean, in effect, that we are running away from the problem of black marketing; but, it must be realized that at present the only sellers of land, or houses, are those who are getting what they consider a fair value, or who are forced to sell owing to their individual circumstances. Thus, under the present system, honest people are penalized and dishonest people reap a benefit. This hold-up of trade and competition is a very fruitful source of black marketing; because it retards the normal exchange of property. This is particularly evident in respect of estates. Usually estates are under the control of some reputable authority which, invariably, obeys the law, and will sell property whether the prices in prospect are reasonable, or unreasonable. The AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) would be well advised to accept the suggestion made by honorable members on this side of the chamber that, while we must retain controls of this kind, the basis of values should be more in harmony with presentday conditions. If that be done, I have not the slightest doubt that the present volume of black marketing will rapidly dwindle. It has also been suggested that improper practices are being indulged in by departmental officers as well. as private individuals. There is no doubt that the people generally are in favour of some kind of control being exercised in the transition period. We all had experience of what happened after World War I., and particularly during the boom period ; and nobody in his right senses would want to see such circumstances recur. Consequently, we are putting forward these suggestions in the hope that the Attorney-General will accept them and thus draft the regulations on a more realistic basis in the best interests of the people.
.- All of us agree that some measure of control over land values should be continued for some time to come ; but, such controls, in order to be effective, must make a general appeal to the community whose interests they are intended to protect. However, the feeling in. the community at present is that the existing regulations encourage black marketing. It is evident that many sales of land are being effected in breach of the law. Therefore, we should examine these regulations very carefully in order to see if we oan make them not only generally acceptable, but also universally applicable. Thus, we shall eliminate the illegal sales which are being transacted in considerable numbers at present. Because I believe that these regulations controlling land values should be continued for a further period of twelve months, I ask the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) to give consideration to the advisability of handing back these controls to the State governments to be dealt with by their respective parliaments. That method is preferable to the enactment of innumerable regulations by the Commonwealth under its defence power. Under State administration, all controls would be thoroughly examined in the respective State parliaments, whereas to-day so many regulations are thrown at us in huge volumes that it is beyond the capacity of the individual really to understand their implications, particularly when copies of the original regulations are not readily available to enable one to make a common-sense comparison in order to determine the full meaning of the amendments. I make that suggestion as one way of securing general acceptance of these regulations. I also point out that, in the last resort, the valuation of the State Valuers-General will be generally acceptable. Those officials are familiar with land values in the respective States, whilst each Stategovernment has a lands department whose officers are valuers of proved capacity, being accustomed to give evidence on oath regarding current values. In making that suggestion, I do not reflect in any way upon the courtesy, or integrity, of the officers who have been administering these controls. Those officers are very much overworked. They have an extraordinarily difficult job. Frequently, papers bearing upon transactions are mislaid, and for that and other reasons, their work is often impeded. 1 have no complaints to make as to the manner in which the senior officers have been carrying out their work, but I urge that if this control is to be continued in peace-time an adequate staff should be recruited to administer it. During the war we had to make do with what assistance we could command, but that is no longer necessary; we should be able to obtain the services of skilled officers and thus speed up the general process of administration. The bases upon which valuations are made should be altered to meet the changing conditions of the times. The present system is causing gross injustice to many people. The owner of a residence may be transferred to another city or town in the course of his employment but when he proposes to sell his home and acquire another one in his new place of residence he is forced to sell at a price which very often prevents him either from buying a modern home or building a new one. The present basis of assessing the value of real estate imposes grave hardships, not only on the people generally, but also on local governing authorities, who are prevented from increasing valuations upon which rates are assessed in areas where there has been an increase of population and in which many new houses have been constructed. There should be an immediate revision of ibo basis upon which values are determined. Instead of being held down by the dead hand of 1942, when property values probably reached their nadir, we should as soon as possible adopt presentday values. I welcome the amendment moved by the Attorney-General as a distinct step forward in this direction. I ask the right honorable gentleman to ascertain whether it is possible to transfer this control to the States at an early date. The States have the necessary staffs to carry out more expeditious valuations and the requisite legislation giving the State governments control over real estate transactions could be placed upon the statute-book without delay.
– There is a good deal in what the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has said concerning the transfer to the States of control over real estate transactions. I have had a good deal of experience in these matters. It appears to me that the Government has overlooked two important factors. Values have been fixed on the basis of values existing in February, 1942 - when we had just declared war on Japan, when labour could not be obtained and when the prices of certain products were very much below what they should have been. We have now moved forward almost five years. We are now receiving record prices for our commodities, labour is again to a limited degree filtering back on the market, and many people are desirous of engaging in activities of various kinds. With the gradual return to prosperity and with better returns from labour it is only natural that many people should desire to purchase land, either agricultural, pastoral or city properties, and .homes. The second factor is that there are many people in Australia to-day who have very grave doubts as to the future stability of money; they are endeavouring to invest a good deal of their surplus funds in the purchase of land in one form or another. Others are buying shares and, in certain circles, others prefer to invest their surplus money in the purchase of diamonds and other precious stones. Those who are desirous of buying land are prepared to pay for it what the Government chooses to regard as an exorbitant price. I do not know where we are heading in this matter of values. Recently an interesting case was brought to my notice in which, for probate purposes in a deceased estate, the Commonwealth’s valuation of a piece of land situated in one of the suburbs of Adelaide was £1,205 . 10s. When, however, it was desired to sell the property the delegate of the Treasurer refused to sanction the transfer at a price in excess of £1,100. Surely the Commonwealth Government cannot have one value for probate purposes and another for transfer purposes. It may be urged that the value for transfer purposes was based on 1942 levels and that for probate purposes on the real market value of the property to-day. The Government should not adopt two different bases upon which values are assessed. If it is not right that a seller should receive for his property more than its value in 1942, obviously, in common justice, the Commonwealth should not levy probate in excess of that value. Much may be said, therefore, in favour of the adoption of a new system of determining values. I am pleased that the AttorneyGeneral proposes to amend the regulation. I also bring to the notice of honorable members the case of a property sale in an area close to Adelaide and constituting some of the best land in the vicinity of St. Vincent’s Gulf. The Commonwealth bought land at Morphettvale for the spreading of flax for retting at £45 an acre, but ex-servicemen who wanted to huy land at Reynella, about 6 miles away, were refused a transfer at £30 an acre. If land is worth £45 an acre for Commonwealth purposes, and not very productive purposes at that, it should be worth at least two-thirds of that amount for settlement purposes. I could cite dozens of such cases. One of the sources of resentment and ill feeling among the people in rural areas is the system under which valuations of country properties are made by valuers from the metropolitan area who have no intimate knowledge of local conditions. A case of this kind which was brought to my notice a little while ago concerned the valuation of a strip of land at Murray Bridge, which, to use the words of Omar Khayyam, “ divided the desert from the sun”. This land was valued by a most competent valuer in business at Murray Bridge at £1,200, but the delegate would not give his consent to the transfer. The vendor was then put to the expense of obtaining the services of a valuer from Adelaide, who admitted that he had never before valued land at Murray Bridge. His valuation was £1,168. Those who know the circumstances of this case want to know by what process of reasoning had the city valuer, who did not know the country, arrived at a valuation £32 less than that made by the local valuer, a man who had lived at Murray Bridge all his life. I could cite case after case where in city and in country the most ridiculous valuations have been made. Recently a property was sold to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia at Glenelg for £45 a foot, yet in the next street a valuation of £17 a foot was rejected by the delegate on the ground that the property was not worth more than £12 a foot. This extraordinary decision was given nothwithstanding the fact that no sales of land had taken place in the area for about twelve years. Does the Govern-“ ment think that the world has stood still since February, 1942? If it does not, why does it seek to perpetuate the black market in real estate transactions which was virtually created as the result of this control ?
Amendment agreed to.
Regulations, as amended, agreed to.
National Security (Egg Industry) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Enemy Property) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Evidence) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (External Territories) Regulations agreed to.
Regulations 2 and 3 of Statutory Rules 1945, No. 205, agreed to.
National Security (Female Minimum Rates) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Food Control) Regulations.
.- Although salaries and wages paid to many sections of the community are being permitted to rise, the returns of primary producers in Australia, especially for goods which are manufactured or processed, are static, and the man on the land is being given a raw deal. Attention should be directed to the fact that the Labour party’s traditional policy regarding the value of primary production is ‘being continued. That policy envisages that the price of produce sold in Australia should be below world parity. That occurred during World War I., when the price of sugar was fixed by the Fisher Labour Government first at £15 a ton, and later at £18 a ton. The result was that many thousands of acres of cane were left uncut, and ultimately, Australia was obliged to pay £100 a ton for imported sugar. Butter producers had a similar experience during World War I. and II. I remind honorable members that in the period 1915-18, the price of butter was fixed by a Labour Government at ls. 3d. per lb., whilst the cost of production was 3s. per lb. At that period, a serious drought affected the dairying industry, and 30,000 dairy cows in the Clarence and Richmond areas were sent to the abattoirs because dairy-farmers could not afford to feed them. ‘Subsequently, the price was increased to 200s. per cwt., which enabled the industry to expand during the next fifteen or twenty years.
About twenty years ago, the Paterson scheme was introduced as the result of the Country party’s effort, and butter was not sold subsequently in Australia in peace-time at a price less than world parity. If honorable members will study the figures, they will see that the equalized price obtained as the result of averaging overseas prices with the home price has never been less than 20s. per cwt. or 2d. per lb. more than the price overseas, that is to say, the Australian price was 3d. to 4d. dearer. In 1934-35, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) pointed out, the price of butter reached its lowest ebb. The price in London was SOs. per cwt. and the equalization price in Australia represented an actual return to the dairyfarmer of 120s. per cwt. We must recognize the fact that had it not been for our legislative action, the price to the dairyfarmer would have been substantially lower. That condition persisted during the economic depression, as in 1935 the equalized price was 117s. per cwt. and the price in Great Britain was 80s. per cwt. In 1941-42 the difference between the equalization price and the price in the United Kingdom was about ils. per cwt. in favour of the equalization price. In those circumstances, I fail to understand why, when nearly every other industry in Australia, apart from the principal primary industries, have been allowed to obtain higher prices for their goods, the dairying industry should be prevented by the present Government from securing the extra price which was paid to them by the United Kingdom for the express purpose of stimulating dairy production in Australia.
In a statement about the 1944 contract with the United Kingdom, the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, pointed out that Great Britain was paying not merely the full amount which the Australian dairyfarmer was receiving for his butter, and that included the subsidy paid by the Commonwealth, but also an additional 16s. 8d. per cwt., for the purpose of encouraging the dairy industry. However, that money was paid into Consolidated Revenue, and not to the farmer, and has been used to offset the subsidy. The fact that it has been used in that way means that Great Britain had already paid, in the price of ls. 7-Jd. per lb., its share of the subsidy on butter exported ; therefore, the amount of 16s. 8d. a cwt. paid by Britain is being used to subsidize butter consumed in Australia. A few months’ ago honorable members were informed that the United Kingdom had offered to pay Australia 4d. per lb. more than the previous price and more than we had asked for, but we find, upon examination, that this amount Will not be paid by the Australian Government in addition to that which is already being paid to Australian dairy-farmers. According to the Estimates and budget papers, the subsidy to assist the production of butter will be £2,000,000 this year, a reduction of £4,000,000. What is happening is that the people of the United Kingdom, who are suffering a shortage of food and particularly a scarcity of butter, will pay nearly one half of the subsidy for the butter consumed in Australia. In my opinion, that is not fair.
If the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) modifies the wage-pegging regulations, one of his first acts should be to ensure that primary producers shall be able to pay the increased wages that will be due to their employees. In order to do so, they must receive the full benefit of export parity not only for the quantity that is sold in Great Britain and for which Great Britain already pays, but also an additional amount in respect of the butter consumed in Australia. For more than 25 years our attitude in Australia has been that we should endeavour to grant a home consumption price which would assist Australian producers to meet the additional costs imposed upon them by fundamental factors of the Australian economy, including our protective tariffs. Careful consideration should be given to this matter. Failure to observe this principle has had an extraordinary influence on the decline of the dairying industry during the last few years.
In a special article a few weeks ago, the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that a butter factory on the Murrumbidgee sold £95,000 worth of butter in 1936, and that last year the value of butter produced had declined to £36,000. In the Northern Rivers district, the number of dairy farms has declined by 35 per cent, in the last six years because the returns to dairy farmers have been less than the cost of production. Butter, milk, eggs and pork are foods which have a most important effect on the health of the community, and the development of children. Therefore, I hope that steps will be taken immediately to pay to dairy farmers the amount to which they are entitled, namely, the price which is being received for their produce.
My remarks regarding the production of butter apply also to wheat. Let us examine the history of our primary industries in World War II. compared with their history in World War I. In 1914-18, the value of butter produced rose from £9,000,000 to £13,000,000, but in World War II., despite the subsidy, the value declined by about £4,000,000. In 1914-15, the Australian wheat harvest was worth £7,000,000 and in 1918-19, £20,000,000. The wheat harvest in 1939-40 was worth £32,000,000 but in 1944-45 the returns were only £7,000,000. Some honorable members may contend that the price per pound or per bushel of those commodities has risen. Even in bad seasons, and at times when farmers are unable to do all the work that is necessary on their properties owing to shortage of labour, ordinary farm costs, such as interest and depreciation, have to be provided for.
– The right honorable member will agree, I am sure, that interest rates have been substantially reduced.
– That is so, but for heaven’s sake let us try to make the conditions such as will permit farmers to “ make a do “ of their operations and pay decent wages to farm workers. One of the most alarming aspects of the primary producing industries at the moment is that the sons of farmers who have returned from active service are not prepared to settle on the land. They know very well that the returns from farming are not comparable with those from other industries. I hope that the Prime Minister will not wait for the report of the committee which is to inquire into production costs before he does something to help primary producers. It would be an act of simple justice to ensure to them immediately the full returns from the sale of their products. It is essential, in my opinion, that the rot in these industries should be stopped immediately. As things are, it is becoming harder and harder for primary producers to carry on their operations satisfactorily. This should not be so in a time when not only Empire countries but also other coun-tries are crying out for food products. The Prime Minister should take immediate steps to provide conditions in the primary producing industries which will enable those concerned to meet their commitments and have -a reasonable margin. This is an urgent matter which should not be required to wait until production costs have been determined, for that may involve an investigation lasting for many months. The primary producers should, without any further delay, be paid the extra amount that has been received by the Government for their products which have been sold overseas since 1943 without any deductions in favour of the Australian Government.
– As I understand this matter, the Government is proposing to abolish all controls on the production side of the primary producing industries. I heartily agree that that should be done, for many of the controls were put into effect on the advice of people who had no practical knowledge of the matters involved! particularly in regard to acreage, output and the like. I consider, however, that the whole of the controls over the primary producing industries should be abandoned at once, but unfortunately, it seems that the various food controllers with their deputies and other officials are to remain in office.. This will have a bad effect. There should be the utmost co-operation between- the Government and its officials and the primary producers themselves. This- is particularly desirable in a State like Queensland; where commodity boards, elected by the growers themselves, have .been operating for a long time. Unless there is such co-operation we shall fail to achieve our maximum production. I do not desire to labour the case I stated a day or two ago on behalf of the peanut industry, except to say that it was ridiculous for officials to go to a district and cut prices by one-fifth without, in my opinion, the slightest justification. This meant that £80,000 was taken from the growers in one fell swoop. My re action to that situation is that these regulations should be repealed also in one fell swoop.
– The primary producers of Australia have been gravely dissatisfied for a long while with the measure of control that has been exercised over their operations, and they will object to the controls that are still to be continued. A good illustration of the unsatisfactory nature of the controls is given in an official letter which one of my constituents received in regard to the wheat stabilization scheme. The letter reads -
In reply to your letter of the 20th October, I have to state that, provided no more than 400 acres are harvested for grain, there will not be any objection to your stripping the self-sown wheat.
That farmer applied for permission to strip an area of self-sown wheat which, under the regulations, lie was debarred from doing. How ridiculous it is that, at a time when wheat is so badly needed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere overseas, to say nothing of the parts of Australia where there is a shortage a farmer should be prevented from stripping self-sown wheat. Yet that situation has existed for two or three years. The letter continues -
With regard to your request to be allowed to harvest an extra 50 acres, I have to state that as your programme for the year wa3 to sow 400 acres for grain your request cannot be granted.
Yet millions of people throughout the world are starving for wheat. The letter proceeded -
The regulations will not permit of your harvesting excess area and retaining the proceeds for pig feed.
It is almost incredible that a primary producer should be debarred from harvesting self-sown wheat for pig feed. The letter concluded -
Your licence covers the area that may be harvested for grain for all purposes.
Yet the Government is proposing that the regulations in regard to this matter shall continue in force. Like the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), I consider that the whole of these regulations should be repealed. That letter is from the chairman of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Committee.
– When was it written?
– It was written in 1942. I am protesting against the continuance of that kind of control. In order to show that it is being continued, I shall now read a letter dated the 14th October, 1946. A man at Minyip, Victoria, asked that his basic acreage should bc increased to 170 acres on a property of 432 acres, his present basic acreage being 140 acres’. The Wheat Industry Stabilization Committee stated in reply to representations on his behalf -
The area of the farm is 412 acres. Sound farming practice in the district is on a threeyear rotation so that the basic acreage of 140 acres will permit of this practice on the farm.
That nian at Minyip is being told by a man in Melbourne how to carry on his farming operations. Primary producers who have had experience of farming lasting a lifetime, and perhaps are the sons and grandsons of primary producers, are being told how to run their farms, at a time when we need the greatest production it is possible to obtain. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) asked me whether my information was up to date. I have shown what happened some years ago, and what is happening to-day. The letter went on to say -
In these circumstances the request that a basic acreage of 170 acres be fixed for each year cannot be granted.
Every, practical farmer will agree that there is something seriously wrong if a man who has 412 acres cannot grow each year 170 acres of wheat at Minyip, where the land is extremely fertile and there is some of the best wheat country in Victoria as well as in Australia. That farmer knows that he can grow it. Residents of the district know it. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), as a practical farmer, knows it. I, having lived in the district since 1922, also know it. But the chairman of the Wheat Stabilization Committee dictates what this man’s acreage shall be year in and year out. In fairness, I must say that there has been some alteration of this method for this year.
– Order! The honorable member is discussing wheat stabilization.
The committee is considering the Food Control Regulations.
– -Surely, if the acreage to be sown is controlled, the production of food must be affected. If a man’s acreage is reduced, the consumer must go short of food. This kind of control should be swept aside. Surely the primary producers, who have developed this country and are at present maintaining it, know how to run their own business without advice from a government department. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) must realize that. If these regulations are to have the effect of reducing acreages in the future, when greater food production, will be needed, I am strongly opposed to them, and suggest to the Attorney-General that they should be discontinued.
– I propose to address my remarks to the subject of land, not only in. the city, but also in the country.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member must understand that the committee is dealing with the Food Control Regulations.
– I quite realize that. The .matter that I wish to bring before the committee definitely pertains to food control, because it relates to the price of land. I sympathize with the Government, and am pleased that some form of control has been exercised and is to be continued in the future, with a view to preventing the price of land from reaching an inordinate height. I must join issue with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who has linked city lands with country lands.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member cannot continue along those lines. The regulations before the committee deal only with food control, not with land control.
– I had intended to deal with the matter from the standpoint of food control. If I am not allowed to continue my remarks along those lines, I cannot make submissions in regard to the re-establishment of ex-servicemen, and the necessity for keeping down the price of land and thus, automatically, keeping down food prices.
Regulations agreed to.
National Security (General) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Guarantee) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Hide and Leather Industries) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Industrial Peace) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Internment Camps) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Jute) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Landlord and Tenant) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Liquid Fuel) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Medical Benefits for Seamen) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Military Forces) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Minerals) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Munitions) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Naval Charter Rates) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Naval Forces) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Patriotic Funds) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Potatoes) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Prices) Regulations.
.- Nothing which I say on this subject should he construed as criticism of the intention of the Government to maintain control of prices, but I wish to direct attention to the method in which control is being administered. At this stage, the maintenance of price control can be justified only by the necessity to keep at a proper level prices for essential commodities. I desire to draw attention to the powers conferred upon the Prices Commissioner, and the way in which they are exercised. The powers are conferred by regulation 23 of the Prices Regulations, and in 1941 there was made an amendment out of which’ most of the subsequent trouble has arisen. Prior to that, there was power to fix and declare a maximum price for goods generally, or in a specified area. By the amendment there was inserted in regulation 23 paragraph 1(a), which.gives to the Prices
Commissioner authority to fix and declare varying maximum prices chargeable by different producers. It was never intended by Parliament that the Prices Commissioner should engage in profit fixing. That is a matter which ought more properly be considered by the Parliament itself. However, it has many times’ happened to my own knowledge that different prices have been fixed for the same class of goods in the same area - say the metropolitan area of Sydney - the prices being determined in relation to the profits made by the persons concerned. Such action appears wholely unjustifiable at present under the defence powers, however it may be justified by any other approach. The Government has its problems in this regard, I know, and I arn not unsympathetic, but the purpose of the regulations is to maintain at a reasonable level the price of essential goods and services so that the public may not be exploited, .and so as to prevent the spiral of increasing prices. I cannot see how this is to be achieved by telling one manufacturer that he shall sell his goods at “A” pounds, while another manufacturer, producing the same sort of goods in the same area, is allowed to charge “ A “ plus “ Y “ pounds. Obviously, such a procedure constitutes a penalty on efficiency. I am certain that, in many instances, the Prices Branch has fixed maximum prices in relation to the profits earned by individual manufacturers. I maintain that if manufacturers are making high profits the matter is adequately cared for by the war-time profits tax.
– I should have thought that the main purpose of the regulation was to protect the consumer.
– Exactly, hut that is not achieved by fixing one maximum price to be charged by one man, and a different price which may be charged by another. The inefficient manufacturer should not be allowed to set the standard by which prices are fixed.
– The honorable member will admit that it is a complex matter.
– I agree, and I have said that I am not unsympathetic, but it is time that the whole system of price fixing was simplified, both in extent and in method, and this should be done by Cabinet action. T know that prices officials have often gone to manufacturers and said, “ Over the last twelve months you have been making larger profits than you should have made, and we want you now to refund to the Treasury a certain sum of money. “ The officials have no warrant whatever for so doing, but the money has been paid in many instances because the manufacturer knew that unless he agreed to pay up under this form of pressure the officials would “ take it out of him “ during- the next twelve months. That is not the purpose of these regulations. I’ cannot imagine this to be known to the Prime Minister and to have his concurrence. The regulations should be reframed There is not much purpose, however, in suggesting amendments at this stage; they could be reframed only after patient and careful consideration. When these regulations were dealt with, in the Henlein case in which I appeared before the High Court, the High Court expressed the view that under the powers given by regulation 23, clause 1, paragraph a, the Prices Commissioner not only has almost unlimited power to fix prices in relation to a large number of matters, but also power to fix profits on any number of items he may think fit, not generally, but in relation to any particular individual. As the result of that power no manufacturer knows where he stands from day to day, which, of course, is a factor militating against the economic recovery of this country. All I have said in no way cuts down my support of the control of prices. I do not ally myself to the critics who say that prices control may now be removed. If prices control ceased to exist the most disastrous results would follow. I say, however, that it was never intended that the wide powers given to the Commissioner should be exercised in the manner I have mentioned, and even if it were intended that they should be so exercised when the regulations were first promulgated, the time has long since passed when they should have been revised. We have now reached a stage when we should achieve some simplification of prices control under which prices of goods and services are fixed as the Executive thinks fit, but fixed systematically in respect of specific goods in specific areas. For my part I resist the intension of price-fixing officers into the business of manufacturers and their tendency to say, “ You made too much profit during the last twelve months ; you must disgorge some of it”. The result of that is to give artificial support to the inefficient manufacturer. I do not stand for people being able to make exorbitant profits. No one can say, however, that the taxes imposed on companies, the wartime tax imposed on profits over and above 5 per cent, of shareholders’ funds employed in businesses, and the taxation of profits of companies in the hands of shareholders as individuals permit exorbitant profits. I agree that it was never intended that the Prices Commissioner should be able to fix profits in respect of individual manufacturers. The purpose of price fixing was to protect consumers.
These regulations should be reviewed also in relation to the National Security Act itself. The act provides that for any offences a person shall be liable to £100 fine or twelve months’ imprisonment, and, upon indictment, to higher penalties. Those were, I understand, the penalties imposed by the Parliament for any infringment of the regulations ; but it is common knowledge that those charged with the administration of the regulations have imposed penalties over and above those prescribed by the Parliament. I have already given one very good example of that, and it is not an occasional case. Not infrequently prices officials go to a manufacturer and say “ You shall disgorge over and above the sum of money you have made beyond the price we think you should have charged for your goods”, although, during the period under review, the manufacturer had charged for the goods only the price already fixed ‘by the Commissioner. That has happened more than once; it cannot be justified. The taxation of profits is a most important matter. What is commonly called the “profit squeeze” may have most extensive results upon our economic life and upon the whole economic fabric of the country. Under these regulations authority has been vested in the Prices Commissioner to exercise powers never contemplated by the Parliament. Not long ago a company was declared as in breach of the prices regulations. As the result the company’s prices were fixed at some percentage lower than it had been charging. At that time the company was supplying certain goods under contract to the Munitions Department at a price over and above that which was subsequently fixed, though the prices were permissible at the time they were charged. A declaration wa3 made over the air by the then Minister for Trade and Customs that the company had been engaged in black marketing. Twelve months later it was discovered that the Prices Commissioner had made a mistake and that the company, in fact, had not in any way infringed any of the regulations.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who said that price control which takes the form of profit control is a bad thing. Everbody who has had any experience of what has been done by the Prices Commissioner during the past few years will agree -with the honorable member, because it has the effect of putting a premium on the inefficient and incompetent manuufacturer. If, for instance, an article costs 30s. and the Prices Commissioner permits a profit of 50 per cent, in respect of it, the resultant cost of the article is 45 s. ; but if that manufacturer, by improved progresses, is able to reduce the cost price of a similar article to £1, all he can get for his product is 30s. instead of 45s. He, therefore, has no incentive to produce .more efficiently. That, I be lieve, reduces the argument advanced by the honorable member for Warringah to its simplest possible terms. We say that that is not price control at all; it it profit control and it does not .achieve the objective sought by the framers of the regulation. The second point made by the honorable member concerns the habit which has grown up of prices officials saying to a business man, “ You have made too much money last year; we now ask you to disgorge some of it “. As the honorable member pointed out, the money so made has been made legally and properly; in other words, it has beer made according to the price fixed at the time it was made, but upon a subsequent review the Prices Commissioner has found that in his opinion the firm has made large profits. Those profits can be and are reduced by taxes in the normal way, but under the present practice, the Prices Commissioner takes the view that that is not sufficient. He becomes a law unto himself, and decides at his own discretion, that he will take what he regards as the additional profits, and demands that the extra money shall be paid to the Treasury. The manufacturer or businessman has one of two courses. He can pay up and look pleasant about it. To my personal knowledge he has done that on many occasions, because he fears the consequences. He fears that if he does not pay up, there will be difficulties next year, especially if he had dealt with a government department from which he expects to get contracts. However, some busness men have taken a stand and litigation in more than one case has been commenced. I do not think that any of it has come before the courts. Some of it may come into the High Court shortly. However, I consider that this is a wrong and illegal imposition. I do not believe that the Attorney-General will dispute that.
– I should like to see what the High Court rules about it.
– I remind the right honorable gentleman of a somewhat analogous case some years ago, namely, The Commonwealth v. Colonial Combing, Spinning and Weaving Company Limited The report appears at page 444 of the
O.L.R., volume 31, aud quotes from a House of Lords decision as follows: -
His Lordship said : - “ However the character of this payment may be clothed, by asking your Lordships to consider the necessity for its imposition in the end it must remain a payment which certain classes of people were called upon to make for the purpose of exercising certain privileges, and the result is that the money so raised can only be described as a tax, the levying of which can never be imposed upon subjects of this country by anything except plain and direct statutory means “”.
Whatever may be the upshot of this legislation if it comes before the High Court, and it may very well not come before the High Court if the Prices Commissioner has his way, it is quite clear that the legislature, in formulating these regulations, never intended that the Prices Commissioner should have a power of that kind. .For that reason, I support the remarks of the honorable member for Warringah, and assert that these regulations should be recast so as to put this matter on a fairer basis.
.- 1 should like to conclude my remarks on the case which I was putting to the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). After the lapse of twelve months, the Prices Commissioner found that he had quite wrongly declared the company. The company then sought from the Munitions Department its original contract price, but the department refused to pay. I remind honorable members that the price had been reduced by something like 25 per cent., and the company had been done harm by the declaration that it had engaged in black marketing, and the publicity which it had received over the radio and in other ways. However, it had no means of redress. I am not concerned with pointing out mere abuses of any power. I am dealing with principles. I am not greatly concerned with what the High Court may say is the power conferred by regulation 23, because I apprehended, knowing something of the court’s view of the matter, that its opinion will be that the powers are exceedingly extensive. I direct my attention to the principle involved in regulation 23. I shall not have my argument turned on a matter of construction. I am not con cerned with construction. It may be that the Prices Commissioner will have the right to select a date twelve months before, but the injustice occurs when a trader proceeds to sell at the prices permitted by the ceiling order promulgated by the Prices Commissioner, and the department approaches him twelve months later and says, “You should have charged less for your goods; the difference must be paid to the Commonwealth Treasury”. There is not the slightest warrant in principle for the Prices Commissioner to act in that way. He has succeeded in doing so because most manufacturers and businessmen are not “ game “ to fight a Commonwealth department. I believe that the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company did fight it on one occasion, and the Commonwealth surrendered. But other traders, who have not such powerful financial resources had to pay money to the Treasury without justification. I draw attention to these important subjects and generally to the breach, by way of the administration of the regulations, of the express provisions of the act. When a penalty has been prescribed by an act for a breach of the regulations, that penalty is the only one that should be imposed by either a court or administrative action. Yet it is common knowledge that in the exercise of these and other regulations, Commonwealth departments have exacted a greater penalty than that which the act allows.
The fixation of prices is essential, but I believe that the method may be simplified as time passes. The range of goods that are included in prices control, could be reduced progressively. As goods are produced in supplies sufficient to meet the demand, the controls should be automatically removed. One aspect which should be considered is that in every manufacturing concern, whether large or small, a proportion of the cost which is written into the price of the goods is due to the detailed information that must be prepared and kept in order to satisfy the requirements of prices regulations. The time and money spent, and the inconvenience suffered, are retarding factors in the rehabilitation of Australian industry.
When I ask the Attorney-General to pay attention to these matters, I do not criticize the responsibility which devolves upon the Administration to maintain prices control. I concede that to be a necessity. But I urge, first, simplification, secondly, no differential rates to be fixed as between manufacturers for the same goods or for the supply of the same services within the same areas, and thirdly, penalties, which the Parliament did not provide either in the National Security Act or in other legislation should not be imposed by administrative action.
– I shall bring the criticisms and the suggestions of honorable members to the attention of my colleague. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) heard the greater portion of the earlier remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender)..
Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Prisoners of War) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Rabbit Skins) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Rationing) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Requisitioned Cargoes) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Salvage) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Shipbuilding) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Shipping Coordination) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Staff of War-time Authorities) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Superphosphate Industry) Regulations.
.- The purpose of regulation 3, is to enable the Commonwealth to ensure that Australia shall obtain adequate supplies of superphosphate. Unfortunately, this regulation, is to he repealed. In my opinion, that would be unfortunate. During the war, Australia did not have adequate supplies of superphosphate, and primary production suffered. The Commonwealth should accept the responsi bility to obtain enough phosphatic rock to safeguard against a shortage of supplies in Australia for two years, because that commodity is absolutely essential to the future of our primary producing industries. We may again face conditions which will make it impossible to bring phosphatic rock to this country. Fortunately, during the last war, rock was obtainable from the Red Sea and North Africa, though it was much inferior to the Nauru Island rock. I impress upon the Government that it is absolutely vital to our primary producing industries that adequate supplies of phosphatic rock should be continually available in order that we may be able to provide foodstuffs for our own peoples, our sister dominions, and needy countries.
– I point out to the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) that it is only proposed to omit regulation 3, which states -
The objects of these regulations are to secure for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth and the effectual prosecution of the war that adequate provision of superphosphate is made and maintained ….
There is no intention to discontinue the general regulations. Phosphatic rock is still in short supply throughout the world and it is known that years will elapse before Australia’s normal sources of supply, namely Nauru and Ocean Islands, can be drawn upon under normal conditions. Superphosphate is essential to Australian agricultural production generally. Supplies that are available are allocated on an international basis, and these regulations provide a local basis for the distribution of Australia’s share through State departments of agriculture, on an equitable basis to farmers. The need for the regulations is two-fold. As superphosphate is an essential farm product and supplies must be allocated fairly, and as a superphosphate subsidy is provided by the Government to keep down the cost to the farmers, it is essential that adequate controls shall be continued. No suitable alternative method appears to be available for achieving what has been achieved by these regulations.
– It may again become necessary, for the defence of the Commonwealth, to maintain the regulations.
– The purposes which the honorable member desires to achieve will be effected by the regulations even if regulation 3 be omitted. I shall bring the honorable gentleman’s remarks to the notice of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard). I emphasize that it is realized that the need for the regulations is almost as great now as it was during the war. All that we are proposing to do is to omit the statement of objects which at present appears in regulation 3. The remaining regulations give the necessary power to maintain supplies. The shortage of phosphatic rock has lasted beyond the termination of hostilities. All that the draftsman has done has been to eliminate a regulation that is now considered to be unnecessary.
Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Supplementary) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Tea Control) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Tinplate Control) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (War Damage to Property) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (War Deaths) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (War Service Moratorium) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Wheat Acquisition) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Wheat Industry Stabilization) Regulations.
.- As I have stated on many occasions in this House, the wheat- farmers are not at all satisfied with the manner in which their product is being marketed. All that the wheat sold in Australia for any purpose whatsoever returns to the wheatgrower is 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports, which, at country sidings, yield? on the average approximately 4s. a bushel. That price, taking into account world parity, the present cost of cornsacks, and other charges, is not satisfactory in any way. Without doubt, the wheat-growers are receiving a most inadequate return for their product. I pointed out to the
Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) a day or two ago that as there was a devastating drought in Queensland, that as only one third of the normal crop of wheat would be harvested in New South Wales this year, and that as the wheat-growers of Victoria would also have a very poor harvest, it was manifest that wheat-growers in general would .receive a very poor return for their labour from the current harvest. The price of 4s. a bushel at country sidings is most unjust. I might not object to wheat for human consumption in Australia being sold at that price, but I object strongly to the payment of that very low price for wheat which is used in this country for other purposes. Why should the wheat-grower be expected to provide the means for maintaining other industries, particularly the poultry and livestock industries? I cannot understand why the Government is persisting in its present policy in this connexion. The poultry farmer, who obtains wheat for poultry feed at the concessional rate, is able to sell his eggs at world parity. The Australian Wheat Board determined last week that the world parity price of wheat was 13s. 5M. a bushel f.o.b. Seeing that the farmers are receiving only about 4s. a bushel at country sidings for wheat, which is required in Australia, they are losing, in effect, about 8s. on every bushel used in this country. That is far too great a tax upon them. Something has been said this afternoon about dairy-farmers losing a few pence per lb. on butter, but what is that compared with 8s. a bushel on wheat?
– Is there anything more scandalous in the wheat-growers being pegged to a price than in the workers having the price of their labour pegged’?
– I believe that the wage-pegging regulations should be eased to some degree, hut the honorable member should bear in mind that the wheatfarmers of Australia supply wheat for foodstuffs for the workers at 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports, when the world parity price is 13s. 5-Jd. a . bushel. Surely the honorable member does not want the wheat-grower to get 8s. a bushel less than world parity in order that the Australian working roan might be fed ! We propose chat the price of wheat sold in Australia for human consumption shall not rise above 5s. 2d. a bushel at ports, and that the cost of production, plus a margin of profit, shall be paid to the grower, the difference between 5s. 2d. a bushel and the cost of production plus a margin of profit being provided out of Consolidated Revenue, to which all Australia will contribute. In such circumstances, the honorable mem’ber can rest assured’ that the price of the loaf of bread would not rise. If the basic wage earner has some difficulty in making ends meet, that is not caused by the wheat-grower, who has helped an every possible way. What we object to is the maintenance of other industries by the .primary producer. Take wool-growing in industry in which E am interested. If the wool-grower in a given area suffers from drought, the wheat-grower is called upon to feed his stock at concessional rates; yet, when the wool from his sheep is marketed, he receives world parity for it. Unless the regulations in connexion with the wheat stabilization scheme are put on a better basis, the wheat-grower will go to the wall. Oan the Attorney-General tell me why the wheat-grower is called upon to keep other industries in operation? The poultry-raiser, the woolgrower, and many others are kept going by being enabled to purchase wheat at a concessional price which represents a loss to the wheatgrower of approximately 8s. a bushel.
– I do not feel able to deal in detail with the matter of price mentioned by the honorable member.
– That is the only part that I want the right honorable gentleman to explain.
– The honorable member should know that the second group of regulations has been included so as to make provision for the emergency that might arise if the wheat stabilization scheme were not confirmed by legislation of the States, the object being to avoid a catastrophic break in the system of control. I am sure the honorable member will forgive me if I do not give a disquisition on a subject upon which I make no pretence to have any special knowledge.
– I have the feeling that, as the result of certain motions that were placed before another committee to-day, these wheat regulations are quite unnecessary. If those .motions are agreed to by the Committee of Ways and Means, and upon the resolutions bills are founded which ultimately will become law, I should like to know from the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) of what value will be the National Security (Wheat Acquisition) Regulations, the National Security (Wheat Industry Stabilization) Regulations, or any other regulations in connexion with wheat? If he will be able to do as one of his colleagues wants to do - and what this Government wants to do, it usually does - it would appear that every wheatgrower in Australia will become personally liable to the Commonwealth Government for every penny which the Government cares to deduct from him by way of tax; and incidentally a tax, the full amount of which ho will not know in advance. In the circumstances, 1 should be very much interested to hear the Attorney-General explain why, in the name of common sense, he wants any wheat regulations. It is quite unnecessary to’ perpetuate certain absolutely unnecessary regulations, if it be the intention of the Commonwealth Government to carry on with the wheat industry in the manner forecast by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) this morning.
Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Wine Industry) Regulations agreed to.
National Security (Women’s Services) Regulations agreed to.
Second schedule. (Ordered that the schedule be considered item by item.)
Agricultural Machinery Order No. 1.
.- The first order in the second schedule is Agricultural Machinery Order No. 1. The prices of all raw material for agricultural machinery are fixed by the Prices Commissioner, and a. very stiff-necked attitude is adopted in connexion with certain materials. I have in mind a timber agent in Melbourne who, because timber from Western Australia was unavailable, went on the market to buy special timber which would have to be seasoned for two years, for the manufacture of agricultural implements. It was cut timber of certain sizes. Because he offered a certain price for that timber, I understand that the Sawmillers Association, through the Prices Branch, declared that he was operating practically as a black marketeer. A reputable foreman of the largest agricultural implementmaking company in Australia wanted the timber. This agent decided that, if he had made a mistake, he would be frank and would ask the Prices Branch to declare a price for the timber. Although he obtained special specifications from the timber section of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Prices Branch would not declare a special price, its contention being that this timber is in the same category as other timber, and therefore he would really be side-tracking it from the timber that is used for building construction. That is not the position. This action of the Prices Branch militates against the outturn of machinery which is urgently needed by the agricultural community today. With foundry strikes and the like, the difficulties against which the agricultural industry is struggling to-day are sufficiently great without having them increased. I put it to the AttorneyGeneral that there should be the greatest flexibility, and, if not generosity in, at least a common sense approach to, the fixing of prices in a matter of this kind. Ordinarily, inordinate delays occur in price-fixing. If a merchant wishes to import a commodity which he has not imported for some years, and his last purchase was not made in his base year, he has to apply for the price to be fixed. If a manufacturer brings out a new design, he sometimes has to wait for months for it to be approved. Meanwhile, all sorts of funny things may happen. Mysterious customers may arrive, tell hard-luck stories, and ask him to make small sales. If he does business before the departmental decision is given, he commits an offence. There is correspondence on the the subject I have .mentioned, from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), myself and other sources. The subject is ,a big one. I ask the Attorney-General to inquire as to whether a specification can be approved in respect of timber for the manufacture of agricultural implements, which the agent and the big agricultural implement company I have mentioned wish to obtain.
– I take it that the honorable member’s remarks are not directed to the purpose of this particular order, which is to ensure the equitable distribution of wheel and crawler tractors for agricultural purposes. The outstanding demands for agricultural tractors approximate 14,000, and are increasing each month. That number represents normal requirements for three years. Difficulty is being experienced in securing the desired number of machines, and it appears that only about 6,500 tractors will be available during 1947 to meet the outstanding demands. This order deals only with that aspect of the problem.
Order agreed to.
Control of Essential Materials Order.
.- I should like the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) to explain the position irisavis the ‘Commonwealth and the States in regard to works and housing. I direct attention especially to the priorities in certain States. In New South Wales, apparently, there are certain priorities in the County of Cumberland, which do not operate in other parts of the State. That makes it extremely difficult to obtain supplies for the country, because all of them have been absorbed. The great bulk of manufacturing in New South Wales is concentrated in the city of Sydney. Therefore, it is of considerable importance that we should know exactly what can be done in regard to building construction in the country.
– The power of the Commonwealth to control materials for housing and other essential purposes is contained in the Control of Essential Materials Order, issued in pursuance of regulation 59 of the National Security (General) Regulations. At the time of the transfer of housing activities to the State governments, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), at the request of the Premiers of the States, agreed that the Commonwealth should continue to control numerous items of building and fencing materials, the production of which within each of the States was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the State. The Commonwealth control involves action with a view to increasing plant capacity, where necessary, and the working of existing plant to full capacity, by assistance to manufacturers in respect of materials, man -power, &c. It also covers the distribution of the materials, first with a view to maintaining essential industry at maximum capacity, and to allocating the maximum quantity which can be made available to the States in equitable proportions for building and fencing purposes. In addition, the Commonwealth has responsibility for the control of exports of these materials, and assists in connexion with the import of items which cannot be obtained by commercial concerns without government assistance. At the recent conference of the Premiers with the Prime Minister, the Premiers made a unanimous request that the Commonwealth should provide legal powers to continue the control after the termination of the National Security Regulations on the 31st December next. The order gives power to the Controller of Materials Supply to bring under active control any item included in the first schedule; but, in accordance with the arrangement with the Premiers and the State control authorities, an item is not brought under control unless there isa shortage of supplies. The supply position, particularly of those items that are imported from overseas, fluctuates considerably, and, whilst it is necessary to exercise control over a particular item at one period, an improvement of the supply which appeared to be of more than a temporary nature would result immediately in the suspension of control. The continuation of control in that sense is regarded by the State building authorities as essential to enable a balanced distribution of materials to be made.
Order agreed to.
Control ofFootwear (Styles and Quality) Order agreed to.
Control of Tinplate Order.
– I should like the Minister to give some information on this subject.
.- The Control of Tinplate Order is being retained in order to maintain control over the end use of tinned plate. Control over the end use of tinned plate, after being in abeyance for some months, was restored on the 1st July, 1946. The main phases of the control now operated relate to - (1) The allocation of tinned plate to users, such allocation being in acocrdance with established priorities and the needs of tinned plate users based on the national interest; and (2) end-use control under which tinned plate may be used only for certain purposes as specified in the Control of Tinplate Order, its use for any other purpose being subject to the issue of a special permit. The issue of a permit depends upon such considerations as whether the product can, be packed in a substitute container, and the degree of essentiality of the product.
Order agreed to.
Jute Goods Order.
.- Great difficulty has been experienced in getting jute goods, and the price is increasing. I should like the Minister, if he will, to explain the present position.
– The order provides for control over the manufacture, importation, purchase, sale and distribution of jute goods. Under the Jute Control Order, it is necessary from time to time to direct the uses to which jute or jute goods are to be put. This has applied particularly to the use of hessian, but it is also used in relation to any jute goods which are in short supply from time to time. The Indian Government, in determining quotas for various importing countries, insists that those countries shall exercise control over the end uses of the goods which are exported to those countries. The Jute Control Order enables effect to be given to this requirement by the Indian Government. A general control is exercised over the use which is made of woolpacks, cornsacks, raw jute and chaff bags. In the case of woolpacks, quotas are allotted to importers and distributors, based on the average purchases by importers or sales by distributors during the three years prior to the war. Users are required to make statutory declarations as to the uses to which the woolpacks are put. The controlling factor in the allocation of woolpacks is the quota allotted to Australia by the Indian Government. Allocations of cornsacks are made by the Australian Wheat Board to distributors on a similar quota basis. Raw jute is allotted to spinners in relation to their plant capacity. Hessian is imported direct, not through the jute buyer. Its end uses have been controlled by requiring all wholesalers to obtain approval for sale to users.
Order agreed to.
Control of New Commercial Motor Vehicles Order.
.- I should like the Minister to explain what is intended, by this alteration. I take it that the order, in its original form, meant that a. “prescribed transport authority” was a State authority, but, according to the proposed amendment, it is now to mean “ a person or body of persons authorized in writing by the Minister to act under this order “. Does that mean that any private person, or body of persons, in industry can be authorized to take over the job, or will the matter continue to be handled by government organizations? Is the present system to be maintained in regard to the allotment of priorities for the purchase of commercial motor vehicles and private cars? Only medical men are now able to buy new cars.
– I am sorry that I cannot give the right honorable member full details regarding this matter. Consideration was given to the possible removal of controls affecting the sale of commercial motor vehicles and motor cars, and it was decided to retain the present system of priorities. There is no control over manufacture.
– But who will be the new authority dealing with the matter 1
– I think it will be the State authority.
– But the general policy will be prescribed by the Commonwealth Government.
– That is so.
– Will it be possible under the amended order for any selling agency to be nominated as an authority?
– The idea is to give priorities to such persons as doctors and others who have a proper claim to be permitted to buy new vehicles. If necessary, the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) can give additional information.
– The amendment could be interpreted in such a way as to make the present confusion even worse confounded.
– Government policy should not vary as between one State and another. There must be uniformity, and that is the only sense in which central control will remain.
Order agreed to.
Control of New Motor Oars Order agreed to.
Orders under regulation 61 of the National Security (Supplementary) Regulations agreed to.
Third schedule. (Ordered that the schedule be considered item by item.)
Black Marketing Act 1942 amendments.
.- Although we all agree that regulations regarding black marketing should be enforced, I am concerned with what happened in Victoria last winter, when the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. .Scully) issued an order acquiring stock on the hoof as part of the Government’s campaign against alleged black marketing. He stated that prices on the hoof were so high that it was impossible for butchers to sell the meat at a profit, except on the black market. Legislation has been passed to deal with black marketeers, but the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture chose to deal with the problem by acquiring all the meat offered for auction at the metropolitan market, and by introducing what was described as the “ one bid “ auction. By so doing, he disorganized the livestock market all over Victoria, and over parts of New South “Wales and South Australia. If a recurrence of this situation continues to be a possibility as the result of extending the duration of the Black Marketing Act, it is time something was done about the matter. Under the order issued by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the Government acquired meat in Victoria for a period of three weeks or a month. At the end of that time, when the market was allowed to revert to normal, the price of meat was just a shade higher than before the acquisition order was issued. It is clear, therefore, that the Government’s action did not have the effect of wiping out the black market, .because the retail ceiling price remained the same.
– The only purpose of the proposed modification of the Black Marketing Act is to substitute for references to the National Security Act references to the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946. The law will remain the same, and the penalties provided for black marketing will remain the same. The Black Marketing Act enables prosecutions to be instituted for breaches of prices regulations, National Security Regulations, and the like, in cases which are regarded as very serious, and authority is given to decide whether the prosecution should be laid under the prices regulations or under the Black Marketing Act. A committee recommends whether a prosecution should be instituted under the prices regulations or under the Black Marketing Act. If the prosecution is launched under the Black Marketing Act no penalty can be imposed except a gaol penalty, the act providing for a minimum term of imprisonment of three months in respect of cases dealt with under summary jurisdiction.
– Under the present regulations is it possible to have a recur rence of the interference that took place in the stock market in Victoria recently?
– Anything is possible in the sense that the law may be ‘broken, and when that occurs black market prosecutions will be instituted if the committee so recommends. The honorable member is dealing with a particular problem rather than a consequential amendment of the law rendered necessary by the fact that the Black Marketing Act may terminate at the end of this month. Some provision must be made to take its place.
.- When the Black Marketing Act was introduced by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) it was expected very largely to arrest black-marketing operations which it was known at that time already existed. I ask the right honorable gentleman how many prosecutions have been instituted under the act and with what success; and what penalties were imposed? We must have another look at the act to see if it is adequate to curb the operations of black marketeers. There is no doubt that ‘a great deal of “hot” money is circulating among the community to-day, most of it coming from dishonest sources, principally from black marketing. One has only to consider the amount of money spent on the race-courses every week to realize that a lot of it must come from dishonest sources. I desire to know whether the act is efficient. Under the act as now framed before a black-market prosecution may be launched there must be advice to the Attorney-General and he must recommend that a prosecution should be proceeded with. I am inclined to believe that that is not wise. Would it not be better to leave the question of a prosecution for black marketing to be determined by the court after it has heard all the evidence? When a case is brought before the court more information is revealed than would be likely to be revealed to an executive officer of a government department. When people are prosecuted they are anxious to know whether the prosecution is to be launched under the prices regulations or under the Black Marketing Act. Many people are not afraid of the consequence of the breaches of the prices regulations; they are cheerful about the fine involved and they are prepared to run the risk of possible imprisonment as one of the concomitants of high profits; hut if they were also faced with a charge under the Black Marketing Act their attitude would be very different. I do not believe the act has achieved the degree of success hoped for it. It is significant that in comparable legislation in India, in a case which came before the Privy Council, KingEmperor v Benoari Lal Sarma, Simon L.G. had this to say -
It may be that as a matter of wise and well-framed legislation it is better, if circumstances permit, to frame a statute in such a way that the offender may know in advance before what court he will be brought if he is charged with a given crime; but that is a question of policy, not of law. i urge the Attorney-General to consider whether, as a matter of policy, it would not be wise to give jurisdiction to the court to charge a man with a. black marketing offence if the evidence appeared to warrant such a charge. After all the experience of magistrates in dealing with these matters is of prime importance in arresting black marketing. No one in this chamber can assert with confidence that black marketing has been arrested. Any one with his ear to the ground, knows that there is to-day a vast amount of black marketing which no legislation has so far arrested. Instead of leaving this matter to a committee for advice and upon its advice recommending whether a person suspected of black marketing should be prosecuted, the Attorney-General should leave the matter to the magistrate with such safeguards to the accused as are considered advisable, such as a right to secure the adjournment of the case or to bring it before another magistrate. I am conscious of the fact that many men have escaped their just deserts because they have been lucky enough to be prosecuted under the prices regulations and not under the Black Marketing Act.
– As the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has pointed out, before a .prosecution may he launched under the Black Marketing Act, a recommendation must be made by the departmental officers. When the case goes before the court and a conviction is recorded, the court is deprived of jurisdiction to impose a pecuniary penalty. The Black Marketing Act provides that the penalty for offences against its provisions shall be imprisonment. That places a heavy responsibility upon the officers and the Attorney-General. The honorable member suggested that it might be better to allow the court itself to determine, in respect of prices or rationing offences, whether the defendant should be charged under the Black Marketing Act. The difficulty about that proposal is that we introduced the Black Marketing Act because we found that in serious cases of flagrant disobedience of prices orders, a trifling penalty would he imposed by some magistrates. Even when the magistrate imposed drastic penalties, there was a great tendency on the part of courts of quarter sessions and general sessions to reduce the severity of the punishment. In that emergency, the Parliament introduced the Black Marketing Bill, which provided for a minimum gaol penalty for those convicted of offences against its provisions. We shall have another opportunity, at a later date, to reconsider the effectiveness of the Black Marketing Act. Some courts have criticized the act on the ground that it should not rest with the Executive to determine what shall be the minimum penalty. The courts claimed that they should be given discretionary power in the. matter. But, as I have said, it was because discrimination was exercised in a way which we thought was too favorable to defendants, that we had to resort to this drastic remedy.
– Would the right honorable gentleman consider maintaining the present powers, whilst adding to them ?
– There is some merit in that suggestion. Even in a prices case, the magistrate would then be able to sanction a fresh charge under the Black Marketing Act. That is au important suggestion, and I am. inclined to agree with it. Of course, we must remember that a magistrate may, if he thinks a prices offence is a serious one, impose a gaol sentence ; but that authority is seldom exercised. I remind the committee of the enormous task of law enforcement imposed by these regulations. They have thrown a tremendous burden upon all departments, particularly my own department, which acts for others. Prom 1939 to 1946, there have been no fewer than 29,618 prosecutions under the National Security Act.
– Not under the Black Marketing Act ?
– No, under the National Security Act. Black Marketing involves conspiracy between two parties, and it is very difficult to get evidence. We have to rely upon informers, and they are generallyparticepscriminis. Of 29,618 prosecutions, there were no fewer than 5,452 prices prosecutions, involving 8,837 charges. I am unable to give the precise figures in relation to black marketing cases. I have asked for this information, but that means reference to the departments in the various States. However, I shall obtain it for the information of the honorable member. In respect of rationing offences, there have been 1,751 prosecutions. Any suggestion for tightening up the law in that regard is valuable, and will receive consideration.
– I draw the attention of the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) to the grave danger of giving magistrates power to alter a charge. If every magistrate were given that authority, one would probably view these offences very seriously, whilst another one, who himself may have indulged in black marketing, may take a different view of an offence.
– That aspect will be given consideration.
– I concur with the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). As a matter of experience, I direct the attention of the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) to the fact that there is difficulty, as he knows, as to the powers of magistrates to alter charges, having regard to the provisions relating to consent. The question arises as to whether or not it is a new charge, and there are cases before the Appeal Courts now on that very matter. Whilst I agree with the proposal of the honorable member for Warringah, I suggest that the AttorneyGeneral should consider the need for amending the relevant section of the
Crimes Act in order to provide that, when a magistrate does alter a charge of this nature, it shall not be necessary to obtain a new consent.
Amendments agreed to.
Crimes Act 1914-1941 amendments agreed to.
Papua-New Guinea Provisional Administration Act 1945 amendment agreed to.
Patents, Trade Marks, Designs and Copyright (War Powers) Act 1939-1940 amendment agreed to.
Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1934 amendment agreed to.
Women’s Employment Act 1942 amendment agreed to.
Wool Realization Act 1945 amendment agreed to.
Fourth schedule agreed to.
Preamble and Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1946.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Consideration resumed from the 14th November (vide page 256), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
.- I direct attention to the omission to exempt from sales tax galvanized-iron tanks, which are necessary in all country towns and on farms which have not a regular water supply. Nearly all building materials are exempt from sales tax. People who live in country districts, are already at a great disadvantage if they do not have a regular water supply, and have to depend upon the rain water that they catch in their tanks. In recent years, the quality of the galvanized iron used in tanks has deteriorated. Instead of a tank lasting 30 years, the owner is fortunate if it is serviceable after six years. In addition, people who live in country districts have difficulty, because of the heavy demands upon rail transport, in obtaining tanks. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley)whether he will accept an amendment to exempt from sales tax galvanized iron tanks. Acceptance of my proposal will not involve a heavy loss of revenue, but will benefit people who live in country districts.
– I promise the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) that I shall examine his representations.
.- I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) whether the sales tax concessions on articles of clothing and footwear extend to non-essential and luxury garments. In the principal cities of Australia, a large amount of money is being spent by some people on luxury lines of wearing apparel. I do not know how people who honestly meet their income tax obligations are able to indulge in this extravagance. In my opinion, these articles should be subject to sales tax. If the Treasurer is able to forgo that revenue, I fail to see why he can not reduce the income tax, as that would benefit the deserving sections of the community.
– I confess that I shared the concern expressed by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender). Certain expensive articles of wearing apparel will be included in this sales tax concession. The only exception is fur garments. However, the honorable member will recognize the difficulty of distinguishing between luxury and essential wearing apparel.
– I shouldendeavour to make the distinction.
-Such a distinction was applied to footwear. Boots and shoes, the price of which exceeded a certain amount, were excluded from sales tax concessions. I felt a great reluctance to remove the sales tax from non-essential and luxury lines, but the problem of making the distinction between them appalled me. In the circumstances, I considered that the exemption shouldbe extended to all articles of clothing, with the exception of fur garments.
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolutions adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in bills to curry out the foregoing resolutions.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent questions in regard to the first and second readings, committee’s report stage and the third readings, being put in one motion covering several or all of the Sales Tax Bills Nos. 1 to 9 and the consideration of several or all of such bills together in a committee of the whole.
Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) presented by Mr. Chifley, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 14th November (vide page 258), on motion by Mr. Chifley) -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill and the nine sales tax bills which have just been passed give effect to the policy announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) in the budget which he presented to the Parliament on the 14th November, in so far as it related to sales tax. As a preliminary observation I remind the House, once again, that the policy of the Opposition in regard to tax reductions differs from that of the Government, in that we believe that reductions should be made in the rates of tax on personal incomes whereas the Government has determined to provide reductions of indirect taxes. The Opposition believes that a greater incentive would be given to the whole community to make a better productive effort, and that the reestablishment of our industries would be achieved more effectively, if reductions of direct taxes were made. However, the Government has chosen to reduce indirect taxes.
Since the Treasurer in his budget speech made a rather specious claim in relation to taxation reduction I propose to examine that claim. The right honorable gentleman said -
The animal value of tax reductions made by the Government since the war ended will he about £ 61,000,000. This total of £ 01,000,000 is made up as follows: -
Those figures make a good round sum of 1:61,000,000, and probably most people would feel that the Treasurer had been somewhat more liberal than he is accustomed to be in making these so-called concessions, but when we- turn to the estimates of revenue collections given in the budget we find that whereas during the last year of the war £351,000,000 was collected and the right honorable gentleman says that concessions amounting to £61,000,000 are to be made this year, he is, somewhat surprisingly expecting to collect £348,000,000 in taxes in 1946-47. Where then does the £61,000,000 of reduction find a place? I point out that estimates of revenue collections are conservative. Figures released a few days ago in relation to customs and excise collections already made in this financial year indicate a likelihood that the estimates of returns from these sources will greatly exceed the Treasurer’s figures.
The right honorable gentleman has estimated that sales tax concessions will benefit the people by £16,000,000 in a full year, but on an examination of his budget figures we find that whereas he estimated that £28,000,000 would be collected from this source last year, he actually collected £33,600,000 or £5,600,000 above his estimate; and, surprisingly again, he has modestly told us that although he is making concessions in sales tax this year amounting to- £16.000,000 he still expects to collect £31,000,000 from this source during this financial year. That is a remarkable situation. The magician who is able to pull a white rabbit out of a black hat has nothing whatever on the remarkable gentleman who is at present Treasurer of Australia ! ITe tells us that he is giving us £16,000,000,_ but at the back-door he is taking a considerable amount of it back from us.
– At least he gave us a sight of it.
– That is poor consolation. The estimated collection from sales tax this year has regard, necessarily, to thereductions of the rates of tax. Many men and women who have been discharged from the services recently will be reentering civil life. The purchases of these- 500,000 men and women will, withoutdoubt, increase the revenue from sales tax in this financial year, because their buying will be at an abnormally high rate. They will have to replace their wornout civilian clothing, and many of them will have to purchase new household commodities, tools of trade and the like. The purchasing power of people, which was pent up during the war years, is being: released, and it will be a factor in the situation. A great quantity of domesticgoods will be purchased during this year,, to say nothing of essential clothing,, although I concede that sales tax has been almost altogether removed! from clothing. Heavy purchases of the items that I have mentioned will be made, not only in this, financial year, .but also in succeeding ones. We should therefore take with a pinch of salt the statementsof the Treasurer in regard to concessions in sales tax. As honorable members on this side of the chamber stated during the budget debate, the general community does not feel reductions of sales tax in the same beneficial way as they would feel reductions of taxes on personal incomes. The per capita payments of the people in sales tax this year are very likely to be quite higher than in any recent year.
Having made these perhaps ungenerous remarks from the point of view of the Treasurer, I must say we are not ungrateful for the reductions of the rates of tax which are being effected. In the future only two rates of sales tax will operate, namely, 10 per cent, over the general field of items, and 25 per cent, over the field which includes items regarded by the Government as luxuries. This will lead to some simplification, for hitherto three rates have applied - 1 per cent, on clothing, 12-J per cent, on general itemsand 25 per cent, on luxury items. I recall, however, that the pre-war rate was 6i per cent, so we still have a long distance to go before we return to the prewar basis.
The fields from which sales tax revenue was estimated to have been derived in l945-46j according to information furnished to me from official sources, were as follows: -
I shall make some observations on these several items. The Government has removed sales tax entirely from staple food products, but from a class which included cakes, pastry and biscuits, to which a rate of 10 per cent, is now to apply only £2,000,000 was received. I suggest that that tax should be entirely removed from this class of foodstuffs.
– There may be only £2,000,000 represented in those items, but does that not matter at all?
– The Treasurer has developed in us the frame of mind which tends to cause us to look lightly on millions of pounds. Those of us who, in pre-war years, regarded with feelings of awe a Commonwealth budget of £100,000,000 have since become accustomed to a budget of £500,000,000. It may be that Hitler did something to create this state of mind in us, but the Treasurer has not been without some responsibility, nor, for that matter, have some of his departmental officers. What T. am pointing out is that the item of £2,000,000 in relation to sales tax collections on food, including cakes, pastry and biscuits,, is not proportionately very great. If it could be eliminated very many small shopkeepers dealing in foodstuffs would not need to worry about sales tax at all. The reduction of sales tax on small items such as meat pies, for example, can have no really beneficial effect upon consumers, for a reduction of one-fortieth would be necessary in order to give consumers the benefit of a reduced price of even one half-penny under the new rate of tax on foodstuffs. The reduction in respect of the meat pie is 12$ per cent., or oneeighth.
– I discussed that matter with the Prices Commissioner. It was difficult to reduce the price of the meat-pie from 3jd. to 3d. on that basis.
– The point that I want to emphasize on this aspect is the inconvenience to many .thousands of small shopkeepers throughout the Commonwealth, each of whom will contribute not more than a few shillings a week in sales tax. but will have to do the necessary bookkeeping and go to the necessary administrative trouble in order that that may be done. If £2,000,000 be spread over the many thousands of small shopkeepers in the Commonwealth who are handling these lines, I believe it will he found that the per capita collection will amount to a few shillings each a week. In order that the Treasury may make that collection, it will have to maintain a staff of officers. I seriously question whether the return to the Treasury will justify the administrative expense and the inconvenience to the citizens concerned.
There are not many items that I desire to bring to the attention of the Treasurer on this occasion. Several items were mentioned when we last discussed the sales tax, and I am happy to know that the representations that were made not merely from this side, but also by private members generally who have had difficulties brought to their notice, have now largely been met.
On behalf of the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons), who unfortunately is prevented through ill health from being present today, I submit representations that she has received from the Burnie Chamber of
Commerce. She says that, according to the information supplied to her, many retailers in some country districts are operating partly on a wholesale basis. She claims that they are at a disadvantage compared with wholesalers generally, in that they are required to pay sales tax on all wholesale stocks at the time of purchase, whereas the normal wholesaler is charged at the time of disposal. This means that the small man is penalized in competition with the big firms, and in consequence is not benefited to the same degree when there is a reduction of tax. On her behalf, I request the Treasurer to examine the item in question.
– If the honorable member will let me have all the particulars, I shall examine them.
– There is nothing that I desire to add. The Opposition, whilst putting forward the view which I summarized earlier in regard to taxation generally, does not desire to defer the benefit which this legislation will provide. It therefore supports the bill.
– In the first place, I point out that the concessions proposed by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) are more apparent than real. Secondly, the Opposition, whilst associating itself with a lowering of taxes, is emphatically of the opinion that the greatest benefit would be conferred upon the people at the present time by a. reduction of direct taxes.
– I hope that the honorable gentleman will not go too deeply into that aspect, because this bill has a specific purpose.
– I shall avoid doing so because I realize how futile it would be.
-It would be quite out of order, too. ~
– I emphasize that even the proposed reductions of indirect taxes are more apparent than real. I direct attention to last year’s estimates of revenue, and the actual receipts. As the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has pointed out, despite the reductions of tax that were made - and they did not embrace reductions of indirect taxes to any extent - the amount actually received during the financial year which ended on the 30th June, 1946, was £351,000,000, compared with an estimate of £348,000,000. The Treasurer has stated that the reductions here proposed would affect the budget by an amount of £9,000,000 in a full year. He estimates that he will receive from sales tax this year, after making allowance for the proposed reductions, a total of £31,000,000, which is an average of £2,600,000 a month. For the month of October, which is the last month available to me, the receipts from sales tax amounted to £4,192,000. If we deduct the maximum reduction of 10 per cent, provided by this measure, and assume that it applies to the whole field. we reduce the receipts to an average of £3,800,000 a month, which is £1,200,000 in excess of the Treasurer’s estimate.
I also direct attention to the observation of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), that as a flat reduction is to be made on the sales tax on clothing, the maximum advantage will accrue to those who have the wherewithal to purchase the high grade and, consequently, dearer clothing. It is necessary to emphasize that, because a good deal of criticism was levelled at the Opposition’s tax reduction proposals, on the ground that the men on the higher ranges of income, the wealthy men, would be relieved to a much greater degree than would the basic wage-earner. I also emphasize that the dearer and scarcer clothes are, the longer will they last; consequently, the man on the higher ranges of income will have a much greater maximum advantage under these proposals than will the man who is reluctantly compelled by his wage or income to buy the cheaper clothing. It is beyond doubt that, if there is one necessary commodity which is in short supply, it is clothing; and the scarcer it becomes, the dearer it is. The Treasurer cannot have it both ways. As clothing has been scarce for some considerable time, and as the revenue derived from sales tax increased between September and October by more than £500,000, it is obvious that that scarce clothing has become dearer. If the supply of clothing becomes greater, the return from sales tax on that account will assuredly increase, and no mean advantage will accrue to the revenue in that direction. Compared with the means that should he adopted to afford relief from oppressive taxation, the proposed reductions are not in the best interests of the community, and will not give any incentive to increase production. Obviously, the more sensible course would have been to reduce direct taxes. The reduction of indirect taxes by a total of £9,000,000 will afford ridiculously slight relief. These proposals emphasize the super-conservative financial policy that is being pursued by the Government. If the Government believes that the reduction of indirect taxes is the best method for giving relief, then in all the circumstances reductions aggregating only £9,000,000 are totally inadequate. The amount should have been much greater. As I stated in my policy speech, and I now repeat, the existing and potential resources of this country are so great that both direct and indirect taxes could be reduced to a far greater degree than they will be under the proposals we are now considering.
– in reply - I have listened to debate, in the hope that I would hear a few words of praise for having responded to requests that have been made to me from time to time. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) spoke of increasing returns from sales tax. The fact is that production has increased much more rapidly than was expected. Sales in .Sydney shops have increased by about 60 per cent.
– In money value.
– Yes, but due allowance was made for that. The figures indicate that there is a great flow of goods from the manufacturers to the retailers, and ‘as a consequence there is an unexpectedly large return from sales tax. If the sales tax on clothing is reduced, the buying public must obtain the benefit. Industrial clothing used to carry a tax of 12$ per cent., and no one can say that the users of such clothing will not benefit by a reduction of tax. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) has been strongly advocating a reduction of the sales tax on paint. Any reduction on that commodity must be reflected in reduced costs of building and renovations.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment ordebate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th November (vide page 263), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill, by its nature, is one which the Opposition cannot oppose because its purpose is to remove the special war duty which was imposed on the 2nd May, 1940, amounting to 10 per cent, increase of primage and duties. The validation bill will have the effect of removing this 10 per cent, increase as from the 15th November, 1946. 1 note that the Prime Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that there would be a saving under the new customs schedule of £4,000,000. In this connexion, some figures which were released in Canberra on Monday last are interesting. They show that, during the five months ended on the 31st November, customs and excise revenue amounted to £41,000,000, approximately £11,000,000 greater than for the corresponding period last year. Therefore, the Treasurer’s estimate of £4,000,000 seems to be astray. Up to the 15th November, customs and excise collections totalled £S,514,135, which corresponds to an increase of £1,785,109 on the amount collected in 1945. Therefore, the remissions are not overgenerous, and something more might be done. I know that when an increase of 10 per cent, has been made, it is not possible to do more than remove the 10 per cent., but I point out that the Government has, in fact, pointed the way by making a small reduction of the duty on petrol.
It is a long time since the Parliament had an opportunity to debate a tariff schedule. I believe that there should be an adjustment of duties, having regard to Australia’s greatly increased manufacturing capacity. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that, at an early date, an opportunity will be given to debate the tariff schedule.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– During the second-reading debate I asked for an assurance that an early opportunity would be given to discuss the tariff schedule. There is present in the committee now the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), the Minister in charge of the bill (Mr. Pollard), and a whole galaxy of talent on the front bench. Surely, we may expect an answer from one of them.
– What does the honorable member mean by an early opportunity? Does he mean early next year?
– The earlier the better. The sooner the scheduleis revised the better it will be for Australian industry.
– The honorable member knows that when he makes any suggestion it is always examined in order to see whether it can be acceded to. I give an assurance that something will be done in the direction he has suggested.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 9.50 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 14th November (vide page 263) on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Since the sitting was suspended, I have checked the contents of this bill and find that it does not allow me sufficient latitude to discuss many matters upon which I had proposed to speak. I have, therefore, no comments to make on the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th Novem ber (vide page 265), on motion by Mr.
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I have studied this bill and find from its contents that this is one of the rare occasions on which this Government is faithfully carrying out legislation passed by the Lyons Government in1938. That being so, I have no opposition to offer to the passage of the bill. If the ideas of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) prove to be correct - and since he is new to ministerial office in this Government there is always a chance that they may not be - this will be the last instalment of legislation necessary to complete the marginal area programme which was initially tackled by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) as Minister for Commerce in an earlier government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 15 th November (vide page 333), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr.TURNBULL (Wimmera) [9.54). - I move -
That all the words after the word “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to allow of certain deserving cases, as instanced by the Premier of Victoria, to be included, and to allow the amount of the subsidyto be increased to not less than£ 1 per acre for wheat and not less than 1 5s. per acre for barley andoats.
The subject of drought relief has been raised by me in this House on about five occasions. The bill now before us is designed to appropriate certain moneys in order to enable payments of drought relief to be made to cerealgrowers in the States of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture Mr. Pollard stated that last year a measure similar to the one now before us was found to be necessary and met with the approval of the House. This bill, however, prescribes that no wheat-grower who had a’ complete failure in his 1945-46 crop can participate in the drought subsidy unless he had sown wheat in 1944. The Premier of Victoria has indicated that the decision to limit the applicationof this bill in that way was made at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers at the instance of the Commonwealth Government. Upon the acceptance of that stipulation by the States, the Commonwealth ‘Government agreed to provide one-half of the money required for drought relief in the States concerned. By excluding from the benefits of the bill those who did not sow wheat in 1944, grave injustice will be done to many deserving people. Many ex-servicemen were overseas in that year and could not possibly qualify for assistance. Many wheat-growers who served in the armed forces overseas during the war, and on their return to Australia did not wait for the Government to rehabilitate them but utilized their savings and their deferred pay to recommence farming operations, will be excluded from the benefits of this legislation. That is unjust. If the measure similar to this one which was approved last year provided that relief should be granted in respect of losses sustained in one season’s drought surely there is justification for approving a similar measure this year seeing that drought conditions still continue. Under last year’s act the payments could be made to growers who suffered only one year of drought. Why then should a provision be inserted in this bill to the effect that payments must be restricted to growers who suffered two consecutive years of drought. I appeal to the Government to consider not only the ex-servicemen to whom I have referred, but also wheat-growers who have been engaged in the industry for 25 or 30 years and who, in 1944, through lack of feed for their horses, or lack of manpower because so many farm workers were overseas, or through lack of farm machinery, were not able to sow their accustomed acreage of wheat. Why should such individuals be prevented from receiving the subsidy? The provisions of this bill are unjust. All deserving cases have to be considered. The Premier of Victoria has asked that the Common- . wealth Government should bear 50 per cent. of the cost of the payments, and I consider that that is reasonable. I ask also that the amount of the subsidy should be increased from 12s. 6d. to £1 an acre for wheat and to 15s. an acre for oats and barley. Taking a crop at five bags or fifteen bushels to the acre and the export price at 13s. 5½d. a bushel f.o.b., the loss of the farmers in respect of each acre would be £10. The loss must be computed at the export price, for because of the drought more wheat than in normal seasons will be used in Australia. Had the growers who are to receive this drought relief been able to produce a normal crop the extra wheat over and above that which has been produced this year would have been available for sale at world parity. That puts the position fairly and squarely. I also direct attention to the unsatisfactory situation in regard to seed wheat, which at present is bringing fairly high prices. The amount of 12s. 6d. would buy only enough seed to sow about an acre and a half.
– Does the honorable gentleman favour the open market?
– I do not, as the Minister very well knows. I have always been an advocate of stabilization, but Unfortunately the Government has adopted an unsatisfactory stabilization plan. It is necessary to increase the payment to £1 an acre for wheat, otherwise the farmers who will receive the amount in order to rehabilitate themselves will have nothing left after they have bought their seed wheat.
– I do not object to the provision of a drought relief subsidy for wheatgrowers, in fact I support it. I draw attention, however, to the fact that an amount additional to the £520,000 mentioned in this bill has been provided in the Estimates for distribution to wheat-growers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Nothing is being provided for wheat-growers in Queensland in this bill and nothing was provided in the Estimates. Yet the people of that State are suffering from the most severe drought in their history. Men, women and children are involved in the unhappy state of affairs that exists in the agricultural and grazing areas of Queensland. I consider that the Government should provide a drought relief subsidy for primary producers in all States where drought conditions exist. It should take a broader view of the needs of the situation.
– The purpose of this bill is not to deal with drought conditions in respect of this season, but to give effect to an agreement already reached by the Premiers of Victoria, New .South Wales and South Australia and approved by the Commonwealth in respect of drought relief for last season. As a matter of fact the money referred to in this measure has already been paid and this is merely a validating measure. I am aware that the wheat harvest in Queensland this year was a complete failure, but last year Queensland had a good wheat yield. I remind the honorable mem ber for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) in particular that this bill has been introduced only in order to give effect to the agreement to which I have referred and that agreement was reached after very careful consideration and a most thorough investigation. The details were determined by the respective State governments, and endorsed by the Commonwealth authorities.
– May I remind the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) that Mr. Cain, the Premier of Victoria, made this statement in connexion with the matter -
It was made clear at the officers conference that if the Commonwealth Government decided to meet half tho costs of the scheme it would only be’ on condition that the proposed relief payments would be restricted to those farmers who had suffered losses from the drought of 1944 and who were again seriously affected by the drought conditions prevailing in certain districts.
So it is clear that the Commonwealth dictated the terms. This allocation was definitely determined on the lines recommended by an investigating committee composed of representatives of the States and the Commonwealth.
– The remarks of the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) were most interesting, because this matter relates to a part of the administration for which he was responsible before the last general elections. It is not an undertaking into which the Commonwealth entered willingly or lightly, but something .into which it was absolutely forced, chiefly because a Liberal Government in South Australia last February, at a special session, put through the Parliament of that State legislation making provision for one-half of what it considered to be the cost of damage that had been caused by drought in the State, and placed the onus on the Commonwealth Government to provide the other half. Like very good people, the Commonwealth Government, particularly in view of the fact that most of us were “ going out to grass “, found the money. The case put by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) is an interesting one. The argument of the Government would be perfectly effective were it not for one fact. What the honorable member for Wimmera complains about is that in his State of Victoria - and it applies in my State of South Australia as well as in other States - the maximum compensation payable is 12s. 6d. an acre. The men concerned sowed a crop, fertilized it with super-phosphate, and wore out their tractors and other machinery, as well as their horses, in the process ; and under the administration of the VicePresident of the Executive Council, when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the farmers of Western Australia were paid 12s. 6d. an acre not to sow a crop. That is the test from which the Government cannot escape. It cannot explain or defend the action which it then took, except in its own caucus, where anything may happen. The other observation that I have to make is that the Parliament, which is supposed to he the financial authority in Australia, is now being asked to approve the expenditure of money which has already been expended. That is freely and willingly admitted by the Vice-President of the Executive Council.- This Parliament was in session last February and March, and again in July and August, yet the Commonwealth Government did not see fit to adopt the ordinary procedure of asking a committee of this House to grant money for this purpose. Wow, however, having expended the money without any lawful warrant whatsoever, it virtually says “ It is too bad, boys. The money is spent. Please sign on the dotted line “. I have a strong suspicion that the House of Representatives, being constituted as I know it to be constituted to-day, will meekly sign on the dotted line.
– I was interested in the remarks of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), and noted that they included the statement that the Premier of Queensland would not consent to become a party to this arrangement.
– I do not think that the matter of consent arose. The Premier of Queensland did not make any representations on the subject. I understand that the Queensland Government does’ not generally adopt the principle of granting relief on the basis of fi for £1, but believes rather in making loans at a low rate of interest.
– Although this is a validating bill, the wording of it is such that, should the money be appropriated by this Parliament, it can be used for the purpose of paying drought relief to cereal growers, and any surplus can be used for the purpose specified. On a previous occasion, I moved an amendment which was ruled out of order, to include
Queensland in drought relief. I understand that the wording on this occasion is slightly different, and that other States can be included in the drought relief should the need to include them arise. What the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), have said concerning Queensland, is correct. Unfortunately for the drought-stricken primary producers of that State, the Queensland Government is not sympathetic towards giving, drought relief in the form of a gift. It will make loans, on the understanding that the amount advanced is repaid in the future. That is why it would not come into this scheme. The statement of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, that last season Queensland had a good crop, is substantially correct. But I remind him that a portion of the district from Chinchilla west lost its entire crop, and that the whole of the wheat areas of Queensland have experienced drought conditions this year, insufficient rain having fallen to enable a crop to be planted in them.
– I have consulted the order of leave, and find that it does not include the State of Queensland, nor does the bill. The honorable gentleman may not give a dissertation on droughts in Queensland when the bill is not concerned with them.
– The wording of the bill is “ for the purpose of financial assistance to the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, or such of those States as the GovernorGeneral, having regard to the effects of drought “, and so on.
– That is so- “such of those States “. That does not include Queensland.
– I have no objection to giving drought relief where it is necessary, but I express displeasure at the fact that neither the Queensland Government nor the Commonwealth Government has seen fit to give assistance to drought-stricken primary producers in Queensland.
– in reply - For many years, I have been associated with State and Commonwealth governments, and their various activities in- respect of the trials and tribulations of the primary producers of this country. It was not until I became associated with a Labour government in this Parliament that I had the gratification of seeing that, when relief was given to the primary producers, it was a free gift instead of, as it was formerly under Tory governments, a loan which pursued a man to the end of his days. This bill is an endorsement of the principle that relief, having been given, is forgotten forever so far as repayment is concerned. It is in lino with the activities of the previous Labour Government under the late John Curtin. When foul weather affected the primary producers of the Commonwealth - either droughts or floods - the relief granted was free from any repayment or interest. In the disastrous bush fires of 1944, it was my good fortune to serve as the member representing the Commonwealth Government on the bush fire relief committee in Victoria. Spontaneously, without any pressure whatsoever, the late John Curtin, the then Labour Prime Minister of this country, said “£200,000 will be available to assist the distressed farmers of the fire-stricken areas of Victoria “.
Air. SPEAKER,- The Minister will now get back to drought relief in the States of New South Wales, Victoria- and South Australia.
– Within very recent times, the primary producers of a portion of Victoria were stricken by a drought, which could bc ascribed to flood problems, and spontaneously the present Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) announced that £10,000 would be available for their relief.
– Will the Minister now spontaneously return to the bill, which refers to drought, not to floods or bush fires.
– During the regime of Labour governments in this country, and for the first time in its history, the drought relief found to be necessary has been given as a free gift, not as a loan.
– The Minister has already told us that, and we agree with him.
– Despite the protests of my friends in the corner opposite, I regard that as wise, fair and just. The incidence of- this relief should be emphasized, because my friends have not failed to emphasize that, in their opinion, the relief is complete in its inadequacy. To return to the problem before the House: The fact seems to have been completely evaded by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) that the bill does not provide relief in respect of the current season’s drought, but in fact is an endorsement of the provision of relief for the season that has passed. I am not. without feeling for the farmer who suffers from drought and other adversities, because I have been through them myself. All that I have to say is that the conditions in relation to this relief were laid down at a meeting of Premiers in association with Commonwealth Ministers^
– Which stipulated a certain thing.
– Which stipulated that the drought relief should have a certain basis. It is true that, in any relief measure, some anomalies- must eventually be discovered.
– Why not overcome them now?
– There is no human activity in which some anomaly will not finally be revealed. In measures for the assistance of the human being, particularly the primary producer, eventually some anomaly will be disclosed. In regard to this measure, it was inevitable that some, anomalies would be revealed, but the broad general principles were laid down, and were adhered to by the Premiers of the various States. It is not too much to ask that anomalies might have been dealt with by the Premiers themselves if the individual cases were sufficiently deserving.
– That is what is called passing the buck.
– It is nothing of the kind. During the referendum campaign, the honorable member had an opportunity to support proposals which, if carried, would have made it impossible for the Commonwealth Government to pass tha buck to any one. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) said that the Government had forced the farmers of Western Australia to go out of the production of wheat, and offered them by way of compensation 12s. 6d. an acre on their wheat-growing land. The most articulate supporter of the proposal to pay them 12s. 6d. an acre was the honorable member’s colleague, Mr. Teasdale, who suggested that, in view of the crisis facing the country because of the shortage of shipping, it would be a sound proposition to pay the farmers of Western Australia 12s. 6d. an acre not to grow wheat, rather than let them grow wheal: which could not be transported to the world’s markets. To the extent that the Commonwealth Government accepted his advice, the responsibility must rest on the shoulders of the honorable member for Barker, and his close political associate, Mr. Teasdale.
Mr.Turnbull. - This amendment is above personalities.
– The honorable member forWimmera has made an attack on t he Government for its treatment of the growers, who are better off under this Government than they ever were before. Since the honorable member has himself chosen to descend to personalities, he cannot blame me if I should do the same.
Question put -
That the words proposed tobe left out (Mr. Turnbull’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without, amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 21st November (vide page 419), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
That thebill be now read a second time.
.- The bill now before the House contains one major provision, namely, that the number of Ministers of State shall not exceed nineteen. The number originally provided for by statute was eleven, but by 1941, when the last increase was made, the number had increased, in fact, to sixteen. But the sixteen were made up with eleven Ministers of State and five assistant Ministers. I myself introduced a bill in 1941 to increase the number of Ministers during the war. The number was increased from sixteen to nineteen for two reasons.
– Who did that?
– I did with the connivance of the Parliament.
– I was never consulted.
– Not only was the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) consulted, but also he voted for the bill with great enthusiasm, but subsequently displayed some disappointment. The reasons for converting the number from sixteen to nineteen fell into two groups. I have always considered that very great doubt existed about the validity of the appointment of assistant Ministers, because I remind honorable members that under section 44 of the Constitution, any person who is disqualified in certain ways, shall be incapable of being chosen for or sitting as a senator or as a member of the House of Representatives. One of those ways in which he may be disqualified is that he holds an office of profit under the Crown. For myself, I always had great difficulty in understanding that an assistant Minister who was paid a certain sum of money out of the cabinet fund-
– The same as honorary Ministers are in the States.
– Quite so. I had great difficulty in understanding that an assistant Minister was not, in fact, holding an office of profit under the Crown. For many years, that practice continued, the view being that assistant Ministers were remunerated, not by the Crown for services rendered to the Crown, but by Ministers of State for services rendered to Ministers of State. That put the assistant Ministers in a very queer and anomalous position. The result was that by 1941, when it was my own responsibility to submit legislation on the matter, I would, irrespective of the numbers, have invited the Parliament to say that the number of Ministers of State should be increased from eleven to sixteen so that every member of the Cabinet should be a Minister of State, and this ambiguity about the position of each one of them might be resolved. But, in addition to that, in 1941, it became necessary to increase the number of Ministers, because of the very special circumstances of war. It is desirable, perhaps, that I remind the House of what happened.
Before the war, we had a Minister foi Defence, but we did not have a Minister for the Army, a Minister for the Navy, a Minister for Supply, and a Minister for Munitions. It is one of the interesting historic features of the Australian war effort that after the outbreak of the war, there sprang from the old Department of Defence a series of departments, and as the result, we had a Minister for the Army, a Minister for the Navy, a Minister for Air, who formerly had been Minister for Civil Aviation, a Minister for Supply, and a Minister for Munitions. Each of those departments conducted functions which, before the war, had been conducted by the Department of Defence. As the war progressed, other ministries were brought into existence. I have never disclaimed .responsibility for having created the Department of Post-war Reconstruction and other departments of that kind which the war rendered necessary.
– Surely the Leader of the Opposition means he created the Department of War Organization of Industry.
– I am sorry. The honorable gentleman is right. I was so absorbed in looking at him that I forgot his proper designation.
– That department justified itself.
– I have not quarrelled with that. I would be the last to defame my own child. All I was saying was that it was a child of mine.
– Not all of them are good ones.
– No; but I suppose that that is true also in the family of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard). However, the war ended more than fifteen months ago, and I have some little doubt as to whether we need to continue for very much longer, if at all, these separate service portfolios. Perhaps my criticism of the bill, which is not a criticism of the number of Ministers, but more particularly a criticism of the distribution of work, may be best expressed if I refer to a recent copy of Hansard for the second Chifley Government. And this is a very impartial description, because it falls from the mouth of Hansard. The Prime Minister and Treasurer is the Right Honorable J. B. Chifley.
– A good man.
– I shall not buy into an argument with the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Riordan) on that subject. Except at election time, I get on very well with the Prime Minister. But there can be no doubt that any man who has to assume the responsibilities of Prime Minister at a time like this, with a mass of problems awaiting his attention, and also the responsibilities of Treasurer, has a double-banked responsibility. I would unhesitatingly regard the Prime Minister, with those two responsibilities, as being overworked. Similarly, I would regard the Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs as two descriptions which reside rather uneasily in one human frame. The Attorney-
General has devoted a great deal of his time and his talents to the post of Minister for External Affairs, hut I should think that, with the responsibilities of the law office and of acting as the principal law officer of the Crown, and also the responsibility of acting as Minister for External Affairs, he may very readily be described as being grossly overworked in the same way as is the Prime Minister.
I pass over a number of portfolios which seem, to me to represent normal activity for a normal human being. I assume, for this purpose, that Ministers arc normal human beings. One is the Vice-President of the Executive Council. That is an appointment of which I hope the holder will permit me to approve. The honorable gentleman has had a great deal of work to do, and he has not enjoyed the best of health recently. Therefore, I was very happy to learn of his appointment as Vice-President of the Executive Council. But I have yet to learn that, to be Postmaster-General, and nothing else, is a heavy job, because, on the whole, I would think that the Postal Department was best run by a PostmasterGeneral who was deaf and dumb. The Postal Department in this country is a business concern which, fortunately for us, has been most admirably managed by most able men for a long time. The PostmasterGeneralship can be regarded at the moment as a sinecure. Then we have the Department of Information and Department of Immigration. Well, I do not want to buy into an unnecessary argument on this matter, particularly with the Minister, who does not, I think, on the whole, approve of me; but we get very little information and very little immigration, and I am very doubtful, indeed, whether this portfolio, however surrounded it may be north, south, east and west by paper and by files, some of which I have recently had to peruse, would overwork the Minister. I pass now to the Minister for the Interior.
– Who would take on’ the job of administering the Departments of Information and Immigration?
– I am sure that the honorable member for Hunter would at the drop of a handkerchief. There is no doubt about that. If the honorable member were Minister, we would get some information.
– I asked the Leader of the Opposition who could assume responsibility for the Department of Information and the Department of Immigration?
– Any honorable member on this side of the House would administer them with the greatest pleasure. The Department of the Interior is a very “ full “ department now. The Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the Department of Works and Housing are very appropriate departments, and represent a very full task for the Ministers concerned. Then we have the Minister for Munitions.
– If any.
– That is so. I suggest to the Prime Minister that it is a very queer anomaly that he himself, with all his willingness, should be doing the work of two men, and the AttorneyGeneral should be doing the task of two men, whilst another gentleman is accommodated with the entirely honorific title of Minister for Munitions, although, as we all know, the main, job at present is to stop making munitions. If, before the war, munitions production could be fitted neatly into the Department of Defence, what justification is there at this moment for having a man whose sole responsibility, apart from the grave responsibility of being a senator, is to be Minister for Munitions? Then we have the Minister for the Army.
– The Army is being rapidly demobilized, and only administrative work is being done.
– I do not want to provoke the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), but I mention also the Department for War Service Homes. Of course, these remarks are entirely “ off the record “. I get on very well with the Minister for the Army, but I am bound to say that if I desired the perfect definition of a “cushy” job. I should like to be Minister for the Army - a disappearing army and a disappearing job. Then there is the Minister for Trade and Customs. That is all right. Then, perhaps, the greatest triumph of all, immemorably associated with the name of Sir Joseph Porter, is the Minister for the Navy.
Mr.Riordan. - The senior service.
– Now, take my advice and never go to sea, and you will be the ruler of the Queen’s Navee.”
– A paraphrase of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Leader of the Opposition’s speech is Gilbertian.
– Of course; it was designed to be.For once, the Minister is really up with me. I agree that only Gilbert could have done justice to the situation. Caucus elects nineteen Ministers. The Prime Minister receives what the gods give him, and he has to distribute the portfolios among the successful. He says to himself, “ Well, I am Prime Minister and I suppose I had better take over the job of Treasurer. Then there is the Attorney-General. Yes, Evatt, you had better do that. I’m sorry, old boy, but you’ll have to be Minister for External Affairs, too “. And so he distributes portfolios until there is really nothing left.
– If lawyers ever went on strike, what a fight there would be to beat them !
– I am talking not as a lawyer but as a juryman sitting in judgment and about to return a verdict. As I pointed out, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General are overworked in grappling with enormous responsibilities. After the Prime Minister had distributed the principal portfolios he said to himself, “The war has ended, but I had better have some jobs for those Ministers who are left on the list. I know, there is the Royal Australian Navy “, and so the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) became Minister for the Navy.
– A good man, too.
– Of course, the honorable gentleman is an excellent man, but all I can say is that as Minister for the Navy he will not die of overwork. He will probably die of inanition, whilst two or three other Ministers will run a reasonable risk of departing this life through overwork. Ifwe were to take all the various tasks that have to be performed and distribute them in a fair fashion, it might very well be, on examination, that we would need, if notnineteenMinisters, then eighteen Ministers. Honorable members have only to look at the list of Ministers to see that, from the manner in which the work is now distributed, there are two or three posts which are merely put there to make up the total ofnineteen.. I am not at all sure thatthePrime Ministerwas conscious of that when he made his second-reading speech. Unlike one or two of his Ministers he always gives me a copy of his speech before he delivers it. After explaining the enormous calls on the time of Ministers, he said this -
Our association with international problems will need from time to time the presence of Commonwealth Ministers at international conferences. Experience since the cessation of hostilities has stressed the desirability of representation at ministerial level at the more important conferences, if the Australian point of view is to be adequately expressed.
The provision of relief for Ministers who are absent overseas, and at other periods when short breaks are desirable and necessary, must come from within the cabinet ranks.
That is a very illuminating remark and I take it to mean that, while on the face of it some of the nineteen Ministers will have nothing to do in normal circumstances, they must be regarded as reliev ing leaders, andwhen some Minister goes abroad they step into his shoes. If that is the position, one can only admire its novelty; but if that is not the position one can only marvel that Parliament is asked to provide for nineteen Ministers when in conformity with the principal act only sixteenwill have any rational human occupation.
-in reply - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) being in great form to-night, has, in his customary fashion, made a great play of words. We enjoyed bis speech, except, of course, that it did not deal with realities to any great degree. If we read the history of the growth of the Parliaments of the States and the Commonwealth we will find that the practice of appointing Ministers with no fixed portfolio has grown over the years, the object being to enable Ministers with full Cabinet rank to be relieved in cases of sickness or when they can be spared to take a holiday and, generally, to relieve them of some of the heavy burden of work which falls upon their shoulders, In the early days of federation, when Parliament sat infrequently but for very long periods and when the public departments had not yet expanded to the size and. importance they assume to-day, the need for assistant Ministers was not so great as it is at present. To-day, the great rush of parliamentary work involves a tremendous strain upon Cabinet Ministers. I have found that many appointments have been made for me which it has been impossible for me to keep because of the pressure of other duties. [ have been fortunate in having the very able assistance of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and for a period at a later stage, of Senator McKenna, the present Minister for Health and Social Services. Without their help I could not possibly have carried, on. There is an increasing tendency, too, for all sorts of problems to be brought to Commonwealth Ministers for solution or advice. Deputations arrive in this city almost daily, often with no more preliminary announcement than a brief paragraph in a newspaper.
– I was under the impression that the right honorable gentleman did not read the newspapers. He certainly does not read them before question time.
– Not having as much leisure as perhaps some other honorable members have to read the newspapers, when asked whether I have seen a certain statement in a newspaper I am frequently able to say truthfully that I have not. Usually my reading of newspapers is confined to the end of the day, by which time news is stale. Despite what the Leader of the Opposition has said, the practice of appointing Ministers without portfolio is adopted by the State Governments and the” Government has merely carried into the Commonwealth sphere a practice originally inaugurated by the States. As to the legal and constitutional position I concede that the Constitution may not have contemplated the appointment of assistant Ministers. The exigencies of the present day, however, are such as to justify their appointment. It is of great advantage to include in the Cabinet ‘ some Ministers whose time is not fully occupied in departmental work and who may take their place in this chamber when the presence of other Ministers is required elsewhere. It would be inhuman to expect Ministers responsible for the administration of a department to stay in the House during the whole of a debate, and, accordingly, arrangements are made for their relief. It is mere common courtesy to members of the Opposition that such an arrangement should be made so that their pleadings and laments may be heard and directed to the proper channels. Occasions arise, also, when it becomes necessary for Ministers to go abroad to attend international conferences and the meetings of international organizations. When Ministers are abroad their places are usually taken by assistant Ministers. Ministers without portfolio are not infrequently just as busy as Ministers with full Cabinet rank. The responsibility and work of the Commonwealth Parliament is continually increasing. When disputes arise in industry, or when the primary producers are in difficulties, it is invariably the practice for deputations to be sent to Canberra to interview Commonwealth Ministers irrespective of whether the matters come within the Commonwealth sphere.
– The right honorable gentleman is a believer in unification; he must expect these things.
– I have always been a great believer in unification, but unification carries its penalties. There is some merit in close contact between members of the Ministry and the people, and as far as possible everything is done to foster such contact. As the years go by the number of Ministers may have to be still further increased. The work of all departments has increased tremendously as the result of the wider powers given to the Commonwealth Parliament at the recent referendum and it is certain that the work of some departments, such as the Departments of Health and Social Services, will expand tremendously. I must accept some share of responsibility for bringing about uniform taxation, an addition to the financial functions of the Commonwealth which has brought added responsibilities on the Treasurer and his assistants. The Premiers of the States now advise people seeking assistance to go to Canberra. They say “ The Commonwealth Parliament has taken away from us power to tax the people. We have nothing for you. You should go to the man who is able to get the money you want by taxing the people “. Consequently people arrive in this city in great numbers with all sorts of requests. Only yesterday, judging by the number of people waiting to see me, one would have thought that a public meeting was being conducted in the corridors of this building. Having regard to all the circumstances the Government believes that there is ample justification for retaining sufficient Ministers to carry out its administrative work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Ministers of State Act 1935-1941.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section three of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead : - “ 3. The number of Ministers of State shall not exceed nineteen.”.
.-I move -
That the word “ nineteen “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ fourteen “.
In the early period of federation the Commonwealth Cabinet consisted of eight or nine Ministers, although those were the days when the great fundamental legislation of this country had to be placed on the statute-book, when the Constitution had to be implemented, and when departmental work had to be organized and established. Even in the days of the Lyons Government, the Cabinet consisted of only thirteen members. I am opposed to increasing the number of Cabinet Ministers to nineteen, because I believe that a totally unwarranted expenditure of public moneys would be involved thereby. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has indicated to us quite clearly that several Ministers are holding portfolios which do not involve really full-time work. The four service Ministers cannot possibly be fullyoccupied with their departmental duties under existing conditions. The affairs of the Royal Australian Navy could be administered easily by the Minister for Air, and the Minister for the Army holds a portfolio of diminishing significance. In fact, it may be said that the four service Ministers to-day constitute little more than a salvage squad. It is true that the Minister for Civil Aviation, who is also Minister for Air, is in charge of a department which is larger than it was in pre-war days, but the honorable gentleman who holds these two portfolios could easily deal with all matters affecting the Royal Australian Navy. The portfolios of External Territories and Repatriation could be combined and the portfolio of Transport could be abolished. Transport matters could be returned to the States. Every new Minister tends to gather round him a large number of departmental officers, and the taxpayers, of course, have to pay the piper. It is ridiculous to suggest that nineteen Ministers are necessary. Thinking of the Department of Trade and Customs, I point out that a tariff schedule has not been discussed in this Parliament for more than five years. The sooner we return to the pre-war practice of dealing in detail with tariff schedules, the better it will be for the country. I am opposed to this measure. If my amendment were agreed to the result would be more effective administration.
.- I am rather sorry that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) did not succeed in infusing a more active spirit of Christian charity into honorable members. The happy function which we attended earlier this evening gave promise of yielding good results in that respect, but the promise has not been fulfilled. It may be that if similar fixtures were arranged each week, more cheerfulness would be displayed in the passing of legislation. I am not in favour of the amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). The people of Australia showed clearly, by their vote at the recent general elections, that they trust the Executive of this country and are intensely interested in its activities. We have heard a good deal in the last few days about bureaucrats who have been described, as ‘a rule, as our departmental heads. I suggest that if the number of Ministers be increased, the position will be improved, because Ministers have to face the electors every three years, whereas departmental heads are not called upon to do so. It would be far better, less costly, and more democratic for us to increase the number of Ministers than to increase the number of departmental heads. Ministers, I repeat, are required to give an account of their stewardship from time to time. .Whilst such a procedure might result in the slaughter of a few more Ministers at election time, it might prove to be more satisfactory to honorable gentlemen who sit in such remote parts of the chamber as I do. The work of Commonwealth Ministers is continually increasing. It is not very long since the annual vote for the Department of Social Services was only about £17,000,000. It has now increased to about £80,000,000. I believe that the work of the department will continue to expand. In the future, there should be ample work for a Minister for Health and a Minister for Social Services acting separately. It has been pointed out that the work of the Commonwealth Treasurer has increased very greatly in recent years, for the Commonwealth Treasurer has become the taxing master for all the States. The Minister for the Interior is, I believe, known as the Lord Mayor of Canberra. If he has to assume the role of the great Poohbah in this connexion, he should be relieved of some of his other duties. I believe that the number of Ministers should be nineteen. Before very long we may need 25 Ministers. If this Parliament is to pass an increasing volume of progressive legislation, more Ministers will -be required. Perhaps we are about to emerge from a period of legislative ineffectiveness into a period of progressive activity. If that be so, additional Ministers will certainly be required.
.- I support the amendment. The Commonwealth Parliament is still a federal body, and the present number of Ministers is not warranted. I entered this Parliament as a devolutionist. I mean by that that I favoured the division of the Commonwealth into a large number of regional areas each with a local body exercising plenary powers in relation to local affairs. I understood that the honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) was also in favour of this policy, but he seems to have fallen from grace. The tendency to seek an ever greater measure of uniformity in governmental affairs must necessarily lead to centralization. In fact this Government now nurses the baby of centralization on its knees, and it must accept the responsibilities involved. If regional authorities were established to deal with local matters Commonwealth Ministers could be relieved of a great deal of routine work. I represent the Northern Territory in which there is no subsidiary legislative or advisory body. In fact I do not think that there is even a town council in the Northern Territory. In other words, we are living under a bureaucracy, which means despotism. Therefore, my case is different. My correspondents are compelled to write tome on the slightest details of local problems. On my right and my left I have two new members, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) and. the honorable member for Swan (Mr.
Hamilton) respectively - two very energetic members. I am confident that, were I to ask them the nature of the correspondence they have received since their election, they would tell me that it relates to matters that are essentially domestic and regional. Why is there this tendency? The reason is, that the present Commonwealth Government is inclining the people of Australia towards the great policy of unification; in other words, one great central authority. Only recently, it sought to induce the people, at a referendum, to grant further power to the Commonwealth. Thank goodness the people, ill their sanity, rejected two of the proposals. They were suspicious, and rightly so, that if they granted the wider powers sought, this centralized government would dominate them by means of a bureaucracy greater than they have at the present time. They have ignored the election baits that have been dangled before them, and the vote-catching stunts with which the Government has sought to hypnotize them. They have to write to their federal members in order to get anything done. The latest intrusion of the Commonwealth into the sphere of the States is in connexion with the Commonwealth health service.
-It is a good service;
– Nonsense ! Local people should be in control of health matters. I do not object to a nucleus of Commonwealth health officers, but it should consist of superior technical officers, whose function it would be to deal with problems of health which cannot be solved by local medical officers. In the next two or three years, a greater bait will be thrown out.
– I rise to order. The honorable member has gone “ walkabout”. Can you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, bring him back to the bill, with profit to the committee?
– I am not surprised at being referred to as a “walk-about” by the neurotic member of this House. This will soon be a neurotic House.
– I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the subject-matter of the bill.
– I ask you, sir, not to permit a neurotic member to interrupt my sane speech. These vote-catching stunts postulate that every little detail of domestic policy must be referred to Canberra, with the result that we must have a surfeit of Ministers. The Government should agree to theamendmentThere should be one Minister in control of all the defence services. There are far too many Ministers. The Commonwealth has gone beyond its rightful functions, and is not insisting that local affairs shall be attended to on the spot. Until regional and domestic affairs are controlled locally, this will not be a Commonwealth Parliament, but a body of federalists. Honorable members are not even representatives, but are purely delegates, who are submitting to the will of blackmailers. This Parliament should become a Commonwealth Parliament instead of a parliament of delegates.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 21st Novem ber (vide page 420), on motion by Mr. Lemmon -
That the bill be now read a secondtime.
.- The States Grants Bill introduced recently by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) authorizes the payment of special grants, aggregating £3,670,000, to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. It is based upon the report and recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, a body of high authority whose recommendations are always treated with very great respect in this House. During the. last Parliament, on a similar measure, I reviewed the general problem of the relations between the Commonwealth and the States on finance, and made certain suggestions. I still believe that they are good suggestions, but do not desire to take up the time of the House by repeating them at this stage.
– A preliminary examination of some of the problems raised has been made by officers.
– I appreciate that the matter has moved a little since that time. I hope that ultimately it will move the full length of adopting something of the kind that was then suggested. No good purpose would be served by repeating the arguments that were used on that occasion. As, in relation to the specific grants that are to be made, we have the very high authority of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, I offer no objection to the passing of the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 22nd November (vide page 515), on motion by Mr. Lemmon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
secured the adjournment of the debate. He subsequently made way for the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), who desired, at that stage, to put a special argument before the House on the subject of the use of these loan moneys for housing. That argument the right honorable gentleman took the opportunity of putting, and he has since elaborated it somewhat in the course of the budget debate. My only purpose in taking the adjournment of the debate personally thereafter was to make it possible for any other honorable member who desired to speak to have an opportunity of doing so. I have nothing to add to the powerful analytical statement that was made at that time by the Leader of the Australian Country party. Therefore, I do not propose to take up any further time of the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 11. 44 P-m. ‘o 12.15. a.m. (Friday).
Friday, 6 December 191,6.
Debate resumed from the 4th December (vide page 972), on motion by Mr. Drakeford -
That .the bill be now read a second time.
. -The purpose of this bill is to approve an agreement for the purchase by the Commonwealth of shares held by British Overseas Airways Corporation in Qantas Empire Airways Limited, and also to acquire 23 per cent, of the shares in Tasman Airways. The Opposition has no objection to this proposal. In fact, it believes that the best results should he achieved by the co-operation of the Government with private enterprise, as opposed to an organization like TransAustralia Airways, which is a purely government concern, and which will, in spite of , being conducted by good personnel, ultimately become inefficient, and a burden on public funds. That is why it is often referred to “ Tax All Australia Airways “. Qantas Empire Airways is a firm well and favorably known. The initiative and the ability associated with the management of the company will now have the backing of the nation’s resources. Therefore, it should function satisfactorily.
I am disappointed to learn that the Government proposes to purchase four American Constellation aircraft with which to inaugurate the new service. I know that it is a matter of controversy as to which is the better - American or British aircraft. During the Avar, the British made the best service aircraft, although the Americans made some good craft, also. Naturally, British civil aircraft production has lagged, because all the resources of the industry were diverted to producing service aircraft. The fact that dollars will have to be used from Australia’s limited dollar pool for the purchase of the American aircraft is another reason why we should have tried to obtain British aeroplanes. I hope that the use of American aircraft will be a temporary expedient only, and that subsequent purchases will be of British craft.
One condition of the agreement is that, by virtue of its holding of 50 per cent, of the shares, the Commonwealth will appoint three directors to the board of management. This was originally an Australian company, started in Queensland, and ultimately transferring its offices to Sydney. The directors are all Australians. The Government should not appoint to the board men who are merely its friends, “guinea pigs”- of some industrial organization or trade union, or some man discarded from, or defeated in politics. The Government should appoint three directors who understand aviation. A colossal blunder was made in the appointment of the two senior men controlling Trans-Australia Airways. I know that it is possible for them to learn the business - one can learn anything in time - but there were plenty of magnificent young men, with experience in civil aviation or in the Royal Australian Air Force, who possessed, the necessary qualifications for the appointment: It would be unfair to the Qantas company if the Government appointed directors not associated with civil or military air transport. Among the many comparatively young men with experience of civil or military flying, there are some who possess the necessary administrative ability for this post. Too often it has been said that flying men can only fly, and that they have no capacity for business. That is not true. The Qantas company was started by an airman of the first world war, Captain Hudson Fysh. He founded an aviation company which is still functioning and which, in many ways, has been one of the most successful to operate in Australia. The company started from small beginnings in Queensland, extended its service as far as Darwin, and then, by linking with Imperial Airways, took over that section of the route from Sydney to Singapore. It would be unfair to the company if incapable men were appointed as directors, when capable men, with practical flying experience, are available to fill the positions. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister not to make the appointments hurriedly, but to take time to find the best men.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Qantas Company, which is one of the leading air companies in Australia, and has provided one of the best air services in the world. Australia has every right to be proud of it. When it operated a purely land service, and afterwards when it worked in conjunction with British Imperial Airways, its service was always run to schedule. I hope that this standard of efficiency will be maintained, and I wish the Qantas Company, and the new management within the new organization, every success.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (“Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Drakeford) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to authorize the execution of an agreement for the purchase by’ the Commonwealth, of certain shares in Qantas Empire Airways Limited, and to appropriate the moneys necessary for the purchase of those shares.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
Tn committee: Consideration resumed.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Remainder of the bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 4th December (vide page 973), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– As a considerable sum is involved in the taking of a census, I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) whether the Government proposes to arrange for the compilation of a national register similar to that which existed before the war. I remind the right honorable gentleman that General Blarney has said that a national register is essential because of the demobilization of the fighting forces. In order to obtain the information required for a national register only one or two additional questions would be necessary. That information would serve a national purpose as it would enable the Government to frame its defence policy on a sound basis.
– Consideration was given to the preparation of a national register, but the idea was abandoned. I shall, however, give consideration to the honorable member’s representations. I remind him that every additional question means extra work and added cost.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– I have to inform the House that, consequent on the retirement of Mr. G. H. Romans, Mr. A. P. Adams has been appointed Principal Parliamentary Reporter and Mr. H. M. Johnson Second Reporter.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without amendment -
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1946-47.
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill (No. 2) 1946.
Without requests -
Sales Tax Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) 1946.
Customs Tariff (Special War Duty) Validation Bill1946.
Excise Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) 1946.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) - by leave - proposed -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942-1946, the following members be appointed members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting: - Mr. Burke, Mr. Falkinder, Mr. Hadley, Mr. Hutchinson, Mr. Spender and Mr. Watkins.
– If ever there was a waste of the taxpayers money it is the expenditure incurred in connexion with the Broadcasting Committee. There is already an Australian Broadcasting Commission which body is charged with the responsibility of determining the policy in connexion with national broadcasting in Australia.
– Much depends on the matters which are referred to the committee.
– Exactly. The Australian Broadcasting Act provides that the committee shall investigate matters referred to it by the Minister, or by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, but the committee has constituted itself and over-riding body in connexion with all matters relating to broadcasting. Prom conversations which I have had with the previous general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Mr. W. J. Cleary, I know that the committee has exceeded the functions which the Parliament authorizeditto perform. It has intruded into every field of broadcasting, including administrative and management matters. I know of my own knowledge that its activities are bitterly resented by those who are responsible for the control of national broadcasting in Australia. If the committee were to concentrate its activities on those matters which are from time to time referred to it by the Minister or by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1 should raise no objection, because the committee was constituted to perform those functions, but during the last three years it has become a meddlesome and interfering body, and has taken upon itself to inquire into matters which are entirely within the province of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In voicing this protest I remind the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that the Australian Country party is not represented on the committee for the reasons which I have already outlined. The party believes that the Broadcasting Committee is usurping the proper functions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and that something should be done about it. The committee travels all over Australia and expects men who are engaged on important work to leave their duties in order to give evidence on matters which are of no concern to it. It would appear that the main aim of the committee is to provide some extra parliamentary duties for its members. I suggest that the activities of this body be closely scrutinized. The only way in which the Australian Country party could register its detestation of the course followed by the committee was to refrain from appointing any of its members to serve on it. Although the Australian Country party was invited to nominate members for appointment to this statutory committee, not one member of this party would allow his name to bo submitted. The facts which I have enunciated are sufficient to warrant a close scrutiny of the activities of this committee with a view to ascertaining whether it has interfered unduly with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the general manager.
– The contentions of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) contain a good deal of merit. I have watched the progress of the Broadcasting Committee, if progress it can be called, since its inception, and I have had grave misgivings regarding its usefulness. In my opinion, it has developed into an entirely mischievous, pin-pricking and unnecessary body. Its original function was to make recommendations on certain matters of policy which the Postmaster-General, who controls broadcasting, submitted to it. However, the committee has considerably widened the scope of its activities and lately ithas poked its nose into the business of tho Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial broadcasting stations, in an unjustifiable manner. The PostmasterGeneral has certain responsibilities under the Australian Broadcasting Act. The committee was an experiment. In my view, the experiment is a dismal failure, and the sooner the committee is abolished the better it will be for broadcasting.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed (vide page 1099) on motions by Mr. Pollard -
That a tax be imposed in respect of ali wheat (vide page 1094).
That in lieu of the charge imposed by the Wheat Export Charge Act 1940, a charge be imposed (vide page 1098).
– If honorable members are to consider intelligently this legislation affecting the wheat industry, the bill and the two separate resolutions should be debated concurrently, because all of them form part of one pattern of legislation to deal with wheat-growing. I have not ascertained the views of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) towards this proposal, but I believe that such important legislation as this should not be introduced in these circumstances. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition did not know what was forthcoming, and that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) was no better informed; I do not know how much the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) knows about this resolution, but I believe that this is one of the most far-reaching measures ever placed before the Parliament. Only a few months ago, the Parliament passed bills dealing with the wheat industry which, to say the leasts were novel and far-reaching. That legislation was passed after very bitter and vigorous debate, lasting for many days, and it excited great interest in the wheatgrowing areas. In order that the legislation might operate, the States had to pass complementary bills. I am informed that the Labour Government of Western Australia has followed the lead of the Opposition in this Parliament, and has inserted in the State bill, as South Australia has done, a provision that the bill shall have the approval of a majority of the growers before it may operate. That is most important. When the Opposition proposed that these proposals should be submitted to the growers of Australia for their approval, honorable members opposite protested strongly. I have always understood that the Labour party’s particular brand of democracy required, that the democrats, at any rate, should be consulted; but the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of South Australia, Mr. R. S. Richards, who will shortly lead the Labour party to defeat once more, has declared that unless the growers of South Australia accept this legislation, they need not look to him for anything in the event of his becoming Premier. His attitude of “ take it or leave it “ is one which, I am sure, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) will not understand or tolerate.
According to the resolution now before us, the “Wheat Export Charge Bill, which the Parliament passed a few months ago and which later became law, will be abandoned* Indeed, it has never operated. It will take its place with the Scullin Government’s legislation which guaranteed, in 1930, 4s. a bushel for wheat. That act is still on the statutebook, and one of my historic mementoes is a circular letter which I received from the Scullin Government asking me to grow more wheat. This letter is most interesting, and I read it from time to time, in order to refresh my memory of events in those days. One day, I shall show it to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The Wheat Export Charge Act, to which the Opposition took the strongest possible exception, will go into limbo.
A few days ago the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) said in regard to certain interesting legal cases in Queensland and New South Wales that members of the Opposition should not refer to them because the matters involved were sub judice. The High Court of Australia is now considering a case initiated by Nelungaloo Proprietary Limited in respect of a crop covered by the retrospective provisions of the Government’s wheat legislation. I ask the Attorney-General this question: If members of the Opposition should refrain from, referring to certain matters which are of deep political interest, how does it become legally moral for the Attorney-General to remain a member of an administration that introduces legislation which, if passed, will clrcumvent the verdict of the High Court in regard to the proceedings initiated by Nelungaloo Proprietary Limited? I say that this legislation is retrospective, and that, if it be passed the taxes authorized by this resolution will be imposed regardless of the decision of the High Court in the other matter. The next point to which I draw the attention of the committee is that at the last elections the people were asked to agree to an amendment of the Constitution. The Government did not get the agreement that it hoped for from the people - I do not know whether it was so foolish to expect it - but should this resolution become law, and should the High Court hold that it is constitutional, the safeguard which exists in the Constitution to-day with regard to the acquisition of property by the Commonwealth would vanish completely. The purpose of this resolution is so to tax the property taken from a citizen that that citizen’s equity in that property is reduced to the extent that the Commonwealth Government may determine; and that will be taken in the form of a tax. This legislation, should it become law, and be held to be constitutional in respect of the wheat industry may be applied to any other industry. The Commonwealth may say that it will acquire also all the wool, potatoes, apples, or butter produced in Australia; that it will sell those products at any price it thinks fit, and that it will impose a tax on those products which will be paid into Consolidated Revenue for certain purposes Paragraph 4 of the first resolution sets out the method by which this tax is to be arrived at in a case of that kind. It is a very interesting little bit of English, and it took me a little time to interpret it; but what it means in cold blood is that no more than 50 per cent, of the price realized on the average by the pool for the export of wheat of any one year may be charged as a tax on not only wheat exported but also all wheat grown in Australia. Therein lies the first great distinction between the Wheat Export Charge Act and the resolution now before the committee. Under that act we imposed only a tax of 50 per cent, of the difference between 5s. 2d. and 9s. 6d. a bushel on all wheat exported, the tax in that case amounting to 2s. 2d. That was a specified, known and definite amount for which every wheat-grower i3 liable. But this is a very different proposition; this tax is levied on not only export wheat but also all wheat grown in Australia. That is an important provision. The next important provision is contained in sub-paragraph b of paragraph 4 of the resolution. Under subparagraph a of that paragraph the percentage of tax prescribed is 50 per cent, but under paragraph b, “such lower percentage as is prescribed by the regulation “ is provided. As I understand the Commonwealth’s taxing power, tax must be levied uniformly throughout the Commonwealth ; and it must be of a specified and known amount. I have never heard it previously proposed in the Parliament, that tax could be levied by regulation, or at the whim, or caprice, of any Minister. In this instance a recommendation is to be made to the Minister by the board. The Australian Wheat Board is to make a recommendation to the Minister. The Minister may vary the recommendation. Usually he accepts such a recommendation; but under the resolution he is empowered to vary it should he so desire. The responsibility in that respect will rest on .the Minister. It will be useless for him to tell the Parliament in the future, as he did to-day, that somebody in Western Australia gave him certain advice.
– I did not say that the advice was wrong.
– The Minister certainly gave that impression. I have certainly never heard any man speak about good advice in the way he spoke to-day. Under this resolution, the tax which is to be paid by the grower on the wheat which he delivers can never be known until every bushel of wheat delivered to the pool is known; because the tax is to be 50 per cent., or such lower percentage as is prescribed, of the total realization of the crop. The realization of the crop may sometimes take twelve months. Even that period is unusual. In certain circumstances, _ it may take three or four years to realize on a particular crop. Consequently, the grower will not know what his total liability for tax is until that pool is wound up. I qualify that statement. He may not know even then ; because paragraph 10 provides that if the tax which the Minister finally decides upon proves to be too much, the Minister is then to return to the grower any excess of the tax he collects. But, on the other hand, if the Minister happens to make a mistake, and the amount of tax collected proves to be too small, then the difference between what is collected and what ought to be collected is to ‘be due by the grower to the Commonwealth. The difference between what should have been collected and what was actually collected, is to become a charge due by the grower to the Commonwealth. That is in language identical with the provisions in respect of income tax, land tax, &c. That difference becomes a debt due by the grower to the Commonwealth. One of the most ama ring propositions I have ever heard is made in paragraph 12 of the resolution, which reads: -
That the Commonwealth or the board be authorized to deduct any amount of the tax payable by any grower from any moneys payable by the Commonwealth or the board to that grower on any account whatsoever, and that any amount so deducted be applied in payment, or part payment, “of the tax so payable.
This means in practice that if the Commonwealth fails to collect the appropriate amount of tax on this year’s crop being delivered to it, and the pool is not wound up for three years, the Commonwealth may, three years’ hence, deduct from every grower delivering wheat to the pool the tax it should have received from him in respect of this year’s wheat. As the result of this resolution the farmer will never know for certain whether his just taxes have been paid to the Commonwealth. This position will be worse than it is under the Income Tax Act because the Taxation Department does render accounts to the taxpayer in April or May each year. If the taxpayer owes the taxation department “ a few bob “ the department is not slow to collect it; but if on the other hand, the department owes the poor taxpayer “ a few bob “, he invariably has to wait a long, long time for it to be refunded. Under this proposal, however, it may be years before a farmer knows what his position is in relation to moneys due to him. There is another important principle at stake here. Our wheat legislation has been largely founded on agreements entered into between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States, and the Commonwealth and the State Governments, in pursuance of these agreements, have put legislation through their respective legislatures. Before the elections we passed the Wheat Stabilization Bill through this Parliament and it was arranged that the States would pass complementary legislation to give effect to that enactment. The State legislation has either been passed or is in the process of being passed through the State parliaments. But if this resolution becomes law, as far as I can see, there will be no necessity for State legislation at all, because the Commonwealth Government will take from the growers the money it requires to carry out any scheme of wheat stabilization it may have in mind. [ am aware that the facile brain of some good legal authority has been at work here. I tried to find out what was the breeding of this resolution, but, unlike Bernborough, it has no pedigree, or at least its pedigree has not been disclosed. If it becomes law, and it is ultimately justified by the High Court as a proper constitutional exercise of the legislative powers of the Commonwealth, then the necessity for further conferences between the States and the Commonwealth in respect of the stabilization of the wheat industry will go by the board. The Commonwealth will then by the imposition of a tax, do what it has asked the people time and again, .by referendum, to empower it to do. In other words, successive Attorneys-General - and I include among them our most worthy and estimable Attorney-General who, no doubt, is a firstclass man in these matters - have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of the taxpayers money appealing for a power to be vested in the Commonwealth Parliament which the Government is already able to use but which it knew nothing about. To-day it is not a matter of what the people think, or what the Opposition thinks; ultimately the test is, what do certain judges think? Before this legislation is tested we may see certain changes in the constitution of the High Court Bench. I understand that such changes have been under consideration for some time past. One new judge was added to the High Court Bench not long ago, and the Government which placed him there still controls both Houses of this Parliament, and if it is so desired could appoint as many judges tothe High Court as it liked. I am not ignorant of the history of the Supreme Court of the United States of America in matters like this.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that Sir William Webb does the will of this Government in the High Court?
– I do not know the learned gentleman. I say at once that I believe that most lawyers who have been appointed to the High Court Bench would give what, in their judgment, they believed to be true and fair interpretations of the Constitution. I do not think the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) will challenge my statement, however, that, in interpreting the Constitution, a judge’s political outlook plays an important part in his decisions.
– Hear, hear!
– My legal friend from Watson (Mr. Falstein) says, “ Hear, hear ! “ God only knows, we may yet see him as Mr. Justice Falstein of the High Court. Opinions of judges are influenced largely by their political outlook and their upbringing. I have heard honorable members opposite say time after time that they did not approve the selection of certain gentlemen for elevation to the High Court. Honorable members will recall that when the present Chief Justice was appointed to the High Court many honorable members opposite, including the present Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), expressed the opinion that he should not be appointed to such a position because of his conservative outlook. If that argument was good then, is it not only fair that I should do a little speculating on my own account this morning? Maybe honorable members opposite would not dream of making a political appointment to the High Court Bench, yet the Lord only knows that in recess they might be tempted by the evil one to depart from the straight and narrow path of political rectitude. Though this legislation is of first-class importance, I do not believe its implications are appreciated by many honorable members. Indeed, they have not had time to study it. Perhaps if I had another 24 hours to consider it I might discover faults in it that have so far escaped my notice. I do not believe it is fair to the Parliament, the electorate or the growers concerned that legislation of such far-reaching importance as this should be introduced into the Parliament in the circumstances which prevail this morning when it first saw the light.
– I join with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) in protesting against the shortness of time we have had to look into this important matter. Such a far-reaching proposal as this should not have been rushed before us. The copy of the Minister’s secondreading speech was made available to me only this afternoon, and I have not had sufficient time to consider its implications. In introducing the resolution, the honorable gentleman said quite definitely that as the State legislation had not yet been passed it was necessary for the Commonwealth to acquire the 1946-47 crop and also to impose a tax in respect of the 1945-46 crop. It is apparent that the Government views with alarm the fact that the State parliaments will not pass the complementary legislation upon which the fate of its wheat stabilization plan rests. That is clear from the first few sentences of the Minister’s secondreading speech. The Government has, in effect, said, “We are in a quandary; we want the Wheat Stabilization Bill to go through, but the State parliaments will not pass the complementary legislation, so we have to bring in a resolution to safeguard ourselves and to empower us to acquire certain money and withhold it from the wheat-growers “. The Government believes that if the State parliaments do not pass the complementary legislation it will be called upon to pay to the wheat-growers the full realization value of the 1945-46 crop. The Government does not want to do that. As the honorable member for Barker said, we fought for some days when’ the wheat stabilization legislation was before us in the last Parliament to have the 1945-46 crop excluded. I then said that 95 per cent, of the Wimmera growers were opposed to the legislation before us. When I was asked why, I said, “ Because you could not find a man in that area happy about the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop. During thte election campaign, I travelled extensively through the Wimmera, and I am prepared to say as a result of my inquiries I learned that 98 per cent, are opposed to its inclusion. I go so far as to say that one could not find a wheat-grower, not only in the Wimmera, but throughout Australia, who is happy about its inclusion. They object most strongly to the legislation passed in the last Parliament, and they object most forcibly to this proposal, which has been introduced at a late hour in such a jumbled manner that we have had no chance of perusing it and speak- ing so effectively on it as we should have been able to do had it been introduced in more reasonable circumstances. On behalf of their constituents the honorable members for Barker and Swan (Mr. Hamilton) ought to have been given an opportunity of thoroughly studying the speech of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) in order to discover what is to happen to the income of their constituents under this scheme, but, as that opportunity is denied by the Government, which is determined to force this resolution through, we have to make the best of the information at our disposal. It is not very nice to know that that is the position. I now propose to make a survey of the speech of the Minister in introducing this proposal. He said, “ There is no alteration in the policy of the Government in the matter “. That is so. But the State parliaments were going to make an alteration. They intended that there should be a poll of the growers, but this Government did not want any alteration of the scheme as passed by the last Parliament. This is designed to give effect to what will be rejected by the State parliaments. Of course there is no alteration of policy. That policy is well understood by the wheat-growers and it is disapproved. If the scheme were voted on by the growers, their disapproval would be shown effectively. Everywhere in my constituency I met fanners against the wheat stabilization scheme in its present form. The Minister said -
The object is to make the legislation watertight technically and so to express the intention which .has been made plain from .the outset.
Let us analyse that. “ The object is to make the legislation water-tight.” Watertight! No such legislation would be water-tight if the State parliaments did not pass the necessary complementary legislation to implement the plan. This resolution .is introduced, not to make the legislation water-tight, but in order to -avert the disaster that would have occurred when the State parliaments rejected .the plan embodied in the Commonwealth legislation. The Minister proceeded -
From the financial .aspect the importance of this will be understood when I .mention that :EG,;000,000 is to go into’ the stabilization fund from the 1045-46 wheat crop.
Certainly, the financial aspect is vital ‘to the Government. It wants to include the 1945-46 crop in the scheme, but what we want to know, as representatives of the wheat-growers, is when the £6,000,000 is to come out of the fund. It is easy enough to put it in, but it is difficult to withdraw it. In the last Parliament, during the debate on the wheat stabilization legislation, we asked, “ What is to become of the money? “. What is to happen to the money paid into the fund by the holder of a temporary licence to grow wheat whose licence, through no fault of his own, is withdrawn? What is to become of the money paid into the fund by the man who is forced to withdraw from the industry because of illness and who may have £1,000 or £2,000 sunk in the fund? The wheat-farmers do not want the 1945-46 crop included in the scheme and the State parliaments will reject the provision that it shall be. This bill, when it is passed into law, may give validity to the inclusion of that crop in the plan. It is easy for the Minister to express concern about the money paid into the fund, but I am concerned about what will happen to the money when it is paid in year by year, for this bill ‘covers the 1945-46 and 1946-47 crops. At the end of five years, with reasonable crops, there may be £50,000,000 or £70,000,000 in ti itfund if further like legislation be passed. What .is to become of that? That point is not covered by the resolution. The Government ought to mak<transparently clear what is to happen to the money paid into the fund. Th<Minister has said, “ Probably the money paid into the fund will be distributed to the growers “, but he may he dead next week. I am not trying to pass the dea th sentence on him, but, a t any rate, he may not be a member of Parliament for long. He may declare, “ I have had enough of politics “, and resign. He may even b<lucky enough to win a Tattersall’-s sweep and - retire from politics. He said, “It will be distributed”, but it is of no use to !tell the farmers that the Minister has made that promise. Provision for the distribution of >the money ought to bc made in the resolution. The Minister went on to say -
Unless the wheat stabilization plan if effectively ‘covered by the legislation the fund would .not receive that money.
Just look at that ! The whole thing can be cut to ribbons. If the fund will noi receive “the money, who will ?
– That is a fair question.
– And the fair answer is that the wheat-grower will it the fund does not. That is what the fight is about. We are opposed to the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop. We think that the wheat-grower is entitled to the benefit of the high ruling prices for wheat.
– The honorable member is the champion of the middle-man.
– I have always stood for stabilization of our primary products, and I stand even more strongly for it to-day, for never before has this country’s primary industries required stabilization to the same degree as now. If the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke) thinks that I favour the middleman he must have made a poor survey of what I have said and done in the last 25 years. It is easy for the money to be paid into the fund, but it is hard to withdraw it. I say that the growers should get the money now. The Minister went on -
There would be an additional liability on the Treasury to meet it when the time comes to pay out from the fund for the benefit of wheat-growers.
Let us analyse that. The 1945-46 crop lias been disposed of and we are on the threshold of gathering the 1946-47 harvest. The crop being harvested in my electorate is selling at world parity f.o.b. for about 13s. 5-^d. a bushel. The wheat position, and the food position generally, in the United Kingdom, will not reach normality for at least four or five years. According to the latest information to hand, Britain, under an agreement it has made with the United States of America, will have to make greater sacrifices in order to supply more food to European countries. If the price of wheat drops to 9s., 8s., 4s. or even 2s. a bushel, the Treasury will not be called upon to pay one penny. No matter how much the wheat market toboggans, the price will still average more than 5s. 2d. a bushel. The Minister’s speech continued -
The bill covers wheat for the 1945-1946 crop and for the present crop only.
Another bill could be brought in to cover other crops. The honorable gentleman continued -
It does so because these two crops are acquired under National Security Regulations, and cannot be conveniently taken with the later crops, which also come under the stabilization plan.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I am only too happy to support the remarks of the two previous speakers. As they have dealt with the legal aspect, I shall address my remarks to the point of view of the farmers. The Government “ has the wind up “. It has witnessed the response of the wheat-growers throughout Australia to the inclusion of the 1945-46J crop in the wheat stabilization scheme. That response has been so great, that the Government is afraid. It “ has its tail between its legs “, and is running away. It has introduced this legislation in an endeavour to defeat opposition to the stabilization scheme. It will pass the bill, because it is using the old tactics of power politics to force it through this chamber at a late hour. This morning, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) endeavoured to “ pull a trick “ in the committee.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make a reflection of that character upon the Minister. I ask him to withdraw it.
– I withdraw . it. The Government is determined to do all that it can to “ get away “ with its wheat stabilization act. It well knows that the wheat-growers of Australia dislike very much the scheme that it has advanced, after the promises that have been made over a number of years. Any government which endeavours to put through such an obnoxious and iniquitous piece of legislation will find that the determination of the wheat-growers has stiffened. That was very evident during the last general elections. To my knowledge, the wheat-growers throughout Australia have been asking the governments of this country for the last fifteen years to introduce legislation which would stabilize their industry. They have asked that it shall be based on two factors - cost .of production, plus a margin of profit. That was promised to them at one stage. The Government knows that that is the only way in which any stabilization scheme can be given real effect, and has admitted it by the constitution of a board recently to inquire into costs of production in the wheat industry. It introduced legislation based on a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports, bagged basis. It has endeavoured to make it appear that the farmer is receiving 5s. 2d. a bushel. I have heard mention in this chamber of “ purveyors of untruths “. The Government is a purveyor of untruths when it circulates that story throughout the Commonwealth, because it knows very well that the farmer will receive, on the average, only 4s. a bushel a.t sidings. It is supposed to be very sympathetic towards the wheat-growers and primary producers generally, but is stultifying itself when it permits wheat to go to other industries at concessional prices, and asks the wheat-growers to “ stand the racket “. “We know that New South Wales and Queensland need considerable quantities of wheat, owing to drought conditions in -those States. Repeatedly, honorable members on this side of the chamber have asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to state the price which the farmers of Victoria and South Australia will receive for the wheat that is going to New South “Wales and Queensland, and he has been adamant in his determination not to provide that information. In his speech to-day, he said, “ There is no alteration of the policy of the Government in this matter “. He will find the wheat-grower adamant in his determination not to acccept the present proposal, and to use every obstacle to defeat such horrible and unfair legislation. Concessions have been mentioned quite frequently. During the election campaign, I heard about concessions to New Zealand. I challenge the Minister to deny that wheat has been sold to New Zealand at 9s. 3d. a bushel for this year, and 5s. 9d. a- bushel for the next four or five years, that dominion retaining the right of negotiation should the price fall below the ceiling of 5s. 9d. a bushel. Mr. Sullivan, the New Zealand Minister for Commerce, by telegram to the Government on the 26th January last, consented to that agreement. The Minister’s predecessor Mr. Scully then stated that there was no contract. I am not at all surprised at that, because I understand that there has never been any contract. “When I say “ contract “, I mean a signed document which has gone to the Australian Wheat Board or the Government. The negotiations have been conducted more or less verbally.
A week before polling day at the last elections, a Western Australian newspaper, The Wheat Grower, published a fourteen-page issue which contained a great deal of propaganda to the effect that the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop in the stabilization scheme would save the growers a considerable amount in taxes. The newspaper did not state that the money would be used for the purpose stated by the Minister in his Speech. Had the Government been honest, it would have given publicity to that fact. The enactment of the Wheat Tax Bill will provide a contribution of approximately £6,000,000 to the wheat industry stabilization fund. I have not the slightest doubt that the Government will use its majority to pass the legislation, but, nevertheless, I register my objection and that of the wheat-farmers. The Government has determined to foist upon the industry a scheme which involves nothing more or less than robbery of the growers. The Government will persist in selling wheat at low concessional prices. This policy will cost the individual grower £6 10s. a week for the next four years. The Government talks about providing full employmen,t higher wages and better conditions of work. Does it not realize that, by taking this money from the wheat-growers, it will prevent 60,000 of them from employing an additional man each at” a wage of £6 10s. a week, which is considerably above the present basic wage?
– The fundamental basis of this legislation was determined by officers of the Wheat Growers Federation. If what the honorable member says be true, then those officers must have let the growers down.
– I treat that interjection with the contempt that it richly deserves.
– The Wheat Growers Federation of Australia accepted this scheme.
– The Minister’s friend, Mr. Walker, probably had something to do with the job.
– That is a filthy insinuation.
– Order !
– I shall not speak at great length because other honorable members have dealt very forcefully with this matter. The Wheat Tax Bill is nothing but a scheme to defeat the wheatgrowers. The Government will encounter a great deal of antagonism from the growers. We do not intend to relax our opposition to the scheme until the Government does what it promised to do, namely, to introduce a stabilization scheme based on cost of production plus a margin of profit. When the Government fulfils its promise, instead of basing the scheme on a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports in bags, the wheat-growers will give 100 per cent, support to the scheme.
– I am astounded that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) should introduce this important legislation at such a late hour. We know that the Government has deliberately robbed the wheat-growers of Australia whenever it has been able to do so. We also know definitely that it has made an agreement for the sale of wheat to New Zealand. Tt cannot truthfully say that it has not done so. An agreement was made with Mr. Sullivan, a member of the New Zealand Government, to supply wheat to that dominion.
– The honorable member will be sorry for being a liar.
– I have no doubt that the Minister will not be sorry, because he has had a great deal of experience of being a liar. The Government has made a definite agreement with the New Zealand Government, and it will announce the fact at a time when the news is not likely to harm it politically. Mr. Sullivan made the announcement in the New Zealand Parliament; it is recorded in the New Zealand Hansard reports. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Fraser, said that, had he been in Mr. Sullivan’s position, he would not have made the announcement until after the Australian elections. He believed that the premature announcement would do the Australian Labour party’s reputation a great deal of harm in the wheat-growing districts. The Government made the agreement for the purpose of bolstering up the decadent Labour Government of New Zealand, in the hope that that Government would boost the Australian Labour party.
– The plan seems to have worked effectively.
– It is astounding how many people can be bribed. I have no doubt that the Minister has had a fair amount of experience of that.
– That is an insulting statement.
– It is a true one.
– Mr. Chairman, the honorable member said that the Minister had been bribed. I demand an unreserved withdrawal of that statement.
– Has the Minister objected to the statement?
– I believe that I should object to the statement, not because I care about the irresponsible statements of the honorable member for Bendigo-
– Order !
– I object to the statement, particularly in view of the fact that I have never been in the police courts of this country.
– I ask the honorable member for Bendigo to withdraw the statement to which the Minister objects.
– What statement do you want me to withdraw?
– -The statement that the Minister was bribed.
– I never said that he was bribed.
– Will the Minister state the words to which he objects?
– I am not concerned with the honorable member’s statement, as I regard him as completely irresponsible.
– It is time the people of Australia woke up to the fact that this Government is not prepared to give the wheat-growers a fair deal. The export value of wheat to-day is 13s. 5$d. a bushel. The Government proposes to send 30,000,000 bushels of wheat to northern New South Wales and Queensland at a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports, which is on the basis of 4s. for bulk wheat and 4s. 3d. for bagged wheat. In northern Victoria, we received quite a large quantity of wheat from Western Australia last year.
– On which the Government paid freight.
– Yes, but on which the Government robbed the wheat-growers of a very large amount of money. The wheat-growers, during the last three years have been required to subsidize dairymen who are receiving fairly high prices for their products, despite the fact that the Government is robbing them of £4,000,000 a year. If the Government had had the courage to say to the British authorities that it believed ls. 7d. per lb. to be a fair price for butter-fat, I believe that the dairymen would have accepted it. Instead of that, however, the Government demanded ls. Hid. from Britain, while the producers here received only ls. 7½d per lb. The money represented by the other 4d. per lb. was put into revenue, to be handed out to the Government’s satellites.
– The honorable member has been on the shady side of the tree all his life.
– I never had £1,850 written off the cost of my block.
– Neither did. I.
– This cross-fire must cease. Honorable members must cease. Honorable members must refrain from being provocative.
– I am not being provocative. The Minister got £1,850 of government money. I did not need any assistance to sit on the shady side of the tree; The Government defends its policy in regard to wheat by saying that when the price was below 5s. 2d. a. bushel f.o.r. the growers received some assistance from public funds. If so, they have paid well for it since. Last year, the wheat-growers subsidized the consumers of bread to an amount: of £5,000,000. This year, the amount will be £8,000,000 and next year, with an export price of 13s. 5£d. a bushel, it will be £9,500,000. There will need to be many years of low prices to make up for that. Why should the the wheat-growers have to bear the. cost of providing cheap food? The workers are getting, their loaf at ls. at the expense of the wheat-growers, and they are getting cheap butter at the expense of the dairymen. Tie export price of barley is 13s..7d. a. bushel, and, in spite of restrictions, wheat-farmers could receive 13s. 5-Jd. a bushel for some of their wheat. If the restrictions were removed, they would receive an even higher price. The Government has subsidized dairymen, pig- breeders, poultrymen and bread consumers, and it is beyond belief that the yeomen, of Australia have descended to such a level that they will submit to receiving only 4s. a bushel at country sidings for their wheat, plus some problematical amount, estimated at. about 2s. a bushel.
’. - I have strong objections to the proposal before the Chair. I object to it because it proposes to legalize the action taken by the Government in the last Parliament when it introduced legislation to provide for a wheat stabilization scheme; because its introduction is the outcome of the Government’s fear that the complementary legislation required to be passed by the State parliaments will not be passed; because it proposes to tax a crop already sown, harvested, and delivered; and because I believe that no. stabilization plan should operate until the growers receive the cost of production, plus a reasonable profit. The Government is commencing at the wrong end. It fixes a price for wheat which represents only about from 4s. to 4s. 3d. a bushel to growers at sidings. That is below the cost of production. The Government, has no legal right to acquire any property without paying a fair price for it. In view of the present price of wheat in the world’s markets, a payment of only 4s. a bushel to growers cannot be justified. I believe in stabilization, and do not condemn any government for wishing to implement a sound stabilization policy; but the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) has admitted that £6,000,000 is to be taken from the wheat-growers in respect of the 1945-46 crop. Obviously, the Government is prepared to disregard losses to wheat-growers; caused by droughts, and is prepared to grab every penny from them when seasons are good.
– What amount does the honorable member think is a fair price for wheat to-day?
– The cost of production should be decided by a board of practical and competent men. The Government should set up a statutory body, consisting of practical men, to determine, a fair price. I do not think that even the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) would disagree with that.
– The honorable member has- not yet said what he regards as a fair price.
– Without being dogmatic, I should say that, under present conditions, the price should not be less than 5s. 7d. a bushel. Growers would need to receive that amount to cover the cost of production and, in addition, they are entitled to some profit on their capital outlay. In secondary industries a margin of profit above the actual cost of production is allowed by the prices control authorities. Moreover, persons engaged in other industries can transfer to other activities if their enterprise does not return them a reasonable profit, but a farmer has all his capital invested in wheat-growing and cannot readily do that. He must stay on his holding. The present Government is not prepared to allow him any profit. I am as definitely opposed to the proposal before us as I was to the wheat stabilization scheme brought before the last Parliament. I agree with those who say that the Government’s proposal amounts to robbery of the wheat-growers.
– I emphatically protest against the introduction of a proposal of such importance as the one now before the committee in the early hours of the morning. I also protest at the way in which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) attempted yesterday afternoon to get this measure passed without giving any indication of its importance. The proposal before the committee, although ostensibly designed to give effect to the intention of the Parliament when it passed the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill, goes much farther than that. I believe that the people of this country will be shocked when they realize how the Government is trying to circumvent the Constitution. Under the Constitution, the Commonwealth has certain definite powers. Section 51 (xxxi) entitles the Commonwealth to acquire property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws. The National Security Act gave to the Commonwealth in war-time much wider powers to acquire property. Under those war-time powers, wheat was one of the commodities that was acquired. But the Government recognized that, with the termination of the National Security Act, the powers which enabled it to do certain things in war-time would not be valid in peace-time. Therefore, in order to continue the legislation stabilizing the wheat industry, the Government conferred with the State Premiers and’ reached a certain agreement with them. Realizing, however, that the plan which it desired to put into operation depended upon the States passing complementary legislation, the Commonwealth has sought in a very clever but blatant way to anticipate the rejection of the legislation by the States. The important feature is not that this legislation, if passed, will give to the Commonwealth power to acquire wheat, but that power so acquired could be used in respect of any other property. In other words, the government of the day could acquire from the States or from individuals in the Statesany kind of property, and whilst nominally complying with the requirements of the Constitution that the acquisition should be on just terms, the Commonwealth could immediately, by a taxing measure, recover from the original owners a portion or the whole of the money that it has paid to them. I do not suggest that that power would he exorcised to that degree, but if this is a valid use of the taxing power, it could be utilized in any way that the Parliament approves. The Parliament would then possess a power which those who drafted the Constitution did not contemplate.
I am entirely in favour of stabilization of the wheat industry, and, indeed, of all primary industries. In general terms, I am in agreement with the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act which the Parliament passed a few months ago. However, I am strongly opposed to certain provisions of that act. In addition, many people in Australia are opposed to them. We recognize that stabilization must be a two-way process. There must be some, “give” as well as some “ take “. Under any stabilization plan, the wheat-growers are entitled to a fair deal. Based on their experience of this Administration, they are not satisfied with the deal that they are receiving. The Commonwealth Government has established the Australian Wheat Board, and has nominally conferred upon it certain powers. But the wheat-growers know that the board is mere camouflage. Although all members of the board may make a unanimous recommendation to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), he has complete authority to override it. A very peculiar practice is developing - I have never known, it before in my political experience - to refuse to supply to honorable members information, the publication of which could not possibly be detrimental to the public interest. Recently, the Commonwealth Government adopted the practice of supplying wheat for stock feed and other purposes at concessional rates, and, so far as I know, the wheat-growers have never been told what those concessional rates are.
– That is not true.
– I hope that the 1 Minister will supply the information to me. When he does so, he might at the same time answer a number of questions on the notice-paper that are addressed to him. An agreement was made for the sale of Australian wheat to New Zealand. There is not the slightest doubt that some arrangement was made between the governments of the two countries. The Commonwealth is committed to sell wheat to New Zealand at a certain price. Why does the honorable gentleman decline to make a statement to the House .regarding that agreement? It might well be that this sale will prove advantageous to Australia. On the other hand, the agreement might not be in the best interests of this country. In any case, I fail to understand why the Minister and the Government are so silent on that transaction. Our suspicions are aroused when we find a ‘Government, with the reputation I have mentioned, introducing legislation of this kind which is completely novel, and bringing it forward in the manner I have indicated. Whilst to a large degree, I support the stabilization legislation already on the statute-book, I oppose the proposal to give to the Government the power which it now seeks. I realize that its proposals will be adopted; but I also realize that the legislation in which the proposals will be expressed, will be tested in the High Court, because the matter is of such vital importance to the growers. I am not a prophet; and neither have I legal training. Therefore, I shall not hazard a guess as to what the decision of the court will be. But it well that the people of this country should realize that we now have in office a government which will use every means possible to circumvent the Constitution in order to give effect to its policy. No doubt the Government will claim that it has a mandate to implement its policy ; but the people who endorsed that policy at the last elections have no idea of what the Government is now doing. They have much to learn about the Government and the party which they have placed in power. They must realize that this Government is so obsessed with its success, and is so desirous of rigidly controlling the lives and way of life of the people, that the powers which are normally exercised under the Constitution do not meet its requirements. That is the explanation of this legislation. I believe that the people will take note of what is happening, and that whatever may be the fate of this legislation, they will change their minds when they are again called upon to judge the Government at the polls. I strongly oppose these proposals and I shall do ail in my power to defeat them.
.- I do not propose to go over the ground which has been covered so fully by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride). 3 strongly support the provision of a just and fair stabilization scheme. My own feeling about the scheme which the Government introduced last session is that it did not go far enough. It could have been improved in many respects. I propose to direct my attention to two aspects of these proposals. The proposed tax if to be levied at the source. Under present drought conditions, of which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) is well aware, such action will involve oppression of the growers. I appeal to the Minister to give further aid to the growers in drought-stricken areas by refusing to levy this tax at the source, because if that be done, growers will be hit very severely, particularly those growers who have had an unusually bad year and, therefore, have not cropped much wheat. Extensive areas in New South Wales are experiencing drought. Instead of levying an additional tax upon growers who have been hit by drought conditions, the Government should be granting them additional assistance.
– This1 tax is1 exactly the same’ as- that already’ imposed, lt will be im,Dosed in another form, but it will produce exactly the same’ amount as the existing tax.
– The present tax is levied on export wheat only.
– !But) ultimately, the result will be exactly the same under these proposals.
– By levying the tax at the source the grower of a small crop will be hit severely.
– The second point 1 . make is that growers throughout Australia have protested against the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop in the stabilization scheme. Litigation in respect of that matter has already been initiated. The growers have taken the matter to court because they believe that the Government is unjust in including that crop in the scheme. It has been well established that a large number of growers object to the inclusion of that crop, and their objections are soundly based. The 1945-46 crop was particularly good, having regard to the very lean crops in preceding years. The introduction of these proposals will prejudice the decision of the High Court with respect to the validity of the inclusion of that crop in the scheme. I repeat that it is essential to establish a fair and just stabilization scheme. These proposals will injure the great majority of growers, because, under them, they ure not offered the fair deal to which they are entitled, particularly in view of existing drought conditions.
>- - I again protest against the failure of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) to supply adequate information to honorable members to enable them to give to this legislation the consideration it demands. At this early hour of the morning, we have not been given an opportunity to delve into the fine points behind the Government’s proposals. However, the Minister in his second-reading speech raised many points which the committee will do well to examine care fully. The Minister’s speech reminds one of the saying that tru’th is stranger than fiction. He stated that this was specifically a’ tax’ on the grower. Let us examine the Minister’s words closely. He says that the wheat-grower is to get the guaranteed payment of 5s. 2d. a bushel for f.a.q. bagged wheat. No mention is made about the price being 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports. We know very well that the wheat-grower will not get 5s. 2d. His net return will be approximately 4s., because from the 5s. 2d., there must be deducted Hd. for various charges, and 3d. for bags, thus reducing the return to 4s. a bus-hel. The Minister’s speech is, therefore, most misleading.
The Minister said also that the remainder of the money will be divided between the wheat pool and the stabilization fund. He added that a part of the bill may not be clear. I agree that it is not clear. Ho then said -
I am sorry that it has not been possible to find a formula which would satisfy legal requirements.
If a formula could not be found to satisfy legal requirements, of what use is it ? The Minister continued -
The stabilization fund will not be allowed to become excessive, and the formula gives a method for keeping contributions to the lowest figure practicable.
Yet this is the very formula which, the honorable gentleman says, will not satisfy legal requirements. What kind of business is that?
– That is not what he said.
– I have no desire to misinterpret what the Minister said or to misquote him.
– The honorable member does not misquote other honorable members, but he very often misinterprets what they say.
– The Minister also
The bill contains a provision that the tax may be deducted from amounts payable to the grower and this is a method of collection which is convenient for all concerned. Acquisition of the crop, and doubts as to the effectiveness Of the previous legislation in expressing the policy of the Government, make this bill necessary.
That demonstrates again that the Government is not sure where it stands in this matter. Finally, the Minister said -
It is fair to the people of Australia who are guaranteeing wheat-growers prices and to the wheat-growers whose future welfare is the whole object of the stabilization plan.
Why, the wheat industry is the only industry in Australia which is maintaining other industries. Only recently I stressed the point that something should be done to lift from the wheat-growers the burden of maintaining other industries. In reply to an assertion by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), the Minister said that a smaller crop will not make any difference to the wheat-grower. Every Minister knows or should know that the smaller the crop the lower the price paid to the grower under this scheme. With a drought raging in Queensland, with only one-third of the crop likely to be harvested in New South Wales, with a light crop in Victoria, and with a greater quantity of wheat being used in Australia for home consumption and a smaller amount to draw from, it may be possible - it. has happened before - that there will be no export wheat. If there is no export wheat the grower will receive approximately 4s. a bushel. It has been said that in the past wheat-growers got only 2s. a bushel for their wheat, and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon) asked, who would not have accepted this scheme during the last sixteen years. The answer is simple, because within the last few years the wheatgrowers would have accepted this or any other scheme just as they would have accepted tractors, bought motor cars and perhaps cigarettes had they been available. A price of 4s. to-day is equal to approximately1s. 6d. a bushel ten or fifteen years ago. Prices of all commodities have increased greatly since then and production costs of primary producers have risen so steeply that a payable price to-day is in the neighbourhood of 10s. a bushel. No one knows that better than the wheatgrower. I strongly object to the action of the Government in bringing down this legislation. The speech: made by the Minister in. moving this resolution makes it very clear that by a close scrutiny of the whole position an absolutely water-tight case could be established against the resolution. I agree with the Minister that the policy now is the same as before, but, as before, the wheat-growersare still opposed to it. What they are most strongly opposed to is the inclusion in the wheat stabilization scheme of the 1945-46 crop. That is what they are all against. But that is the principal objective of this legislation. That is why we are fighting it so effectively. The inclusion of the 1945-46 crop is vulnerable because the wheat was acquired under war-time regulations, and a fair and just price should be paid for it.I believe that the idea behind this proposal is that if it becomes law, the Government may be able to develop an answer to the writs that have been served upon it in respect of the payment by it to the farmers of a fair and just price for the 1945-46 crop.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question put -
That the motions (vide pages 1094 and 1098) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. T. N. Sheehy.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That so much of the Standing Orders he suspended as would prevent the remaining stages from being passed without delay.
– I want to know just where we are heading. There was one bill that went to the second-reading stage yesterday. The Minister yesterday moved the second reading of one bill, the debate on which was adjourned until the next day of sitting.
– No, until a later hour.
– No, until the next day of sitting.
– I understand that there was a Ways and Means resolution.
– I am referring not to that but to the bill introduced by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) yesterday morning. The motion by the Leader of the Opposition was “ That the debate be adjourned “. You, Mr. Speaker, put the question, “ That the debate stand adjourned to the next day of sitting “.
– To which bill does the honorable gentleman refer?
– The Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill. The debate was adjourned to the next day of sitting.
– I put it to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that I personally object to the bill embodying the resolution just agreed to passing through its remaining stages without delay at this hour of the morning.
– We are dealing, not with the bill, but with the resolution.
– The honorable gentleman is asking for the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable certain bills, which he will now introduce, to be passed through their remaining stages without delay.
– No, the resolutions.
– The resolutions will be of no effect unless bills are founded on them. The Prime Minister, I assume, is in charge of the House. I should like an undertaking from him that, if these bills are now introduced, the debate on the secondreading will be adjourned until we meet in daylight on this, the first Friday in the month of December, 1946.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
That Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That the bill he now read a second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Archie Cameron) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Archie Cameron) adjourned.
Message received from the Senate, intimating that the following senators had been appointed members of the Public Works Committee : - Senator Brand, Senator Lamp and Senator Nash.
House adjourned at 2.42 a.m. (Friday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
r asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows : -
Neither the Commonwealth Statistician nor my department keeps records from which it would be possible to distinguish unionists from other workers involved in industrial disputes. During 1943-46 figures from the Commonwealth Statistician indicate that a total of 327,288 workers, unionists and others, were involved in industrial disputes. In regard to the cun-ent position it. is impossible to obtain strictly accurate figures. In particular, no reliable information is obtainable in respect of coal-mining which is, therefore, excluded from the following table. This table shows, as at 30th November, the number of workers out of work as a result of strikes and lockouts, so far as the numbers cun be ascertained by my department.
n. - On the 27th November, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) asked a question concerning the shortage of upholsterers’ tacks in South Australia.
The Minister for Supply and Shipping has supplied the following information : -
There has been a temporary cessation of production in the factories of the two Australian makers of tacks. One manufacturer, British United Shoe Machinery Co. of Australia Pty. Ltd., Victoria, which normally supplies the boot trade and, to a lesser extent, the motor vehicle body manufacturers, has sufficient stocks of tack plate on hand to permit normal production when same resumes. The other manufacturer, Sidney Cooke Pty. Ltd., is without stocks of plate, but has a substantial shipment in transit, which should be available when production operations resume. To alleviate the present shortage, the Government has arranged for the release of 4i tons through the trade. Care will be taken for an equitable proportion of this surplus stock to be available to South Australian furniture manufacturers.
Building Materials: Shortage in Queensland.
– On the 27th November, the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) asked a question in relation to supplies of galvanized-iron in Queensland and asked if no other proposals to meet the position existed, would endeavours be made to arrange a road transport system, subsidized or otherwise to enable building materials to be delivered in Queensland.
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Approximately 3,400 tons of galvanized-iron will leave Newcastle by ship for Queensland this week. These shipments will clear up everything offering for Queensland at the present time.
The supply position of galvanized-iron is unsatisfactory, primarily because of the inability of the producing company to obtain sufficient man-power to work existing plant to full capacity. There has also been a considerable increase in the usage of steel sheets which are produced on the same mill for industries which grew up in Australia during the war period, and which it is necessary to maintain in production as the goode being produced are no longer procurable from overseas.
The full quantity of galvanized-iron produced is distributed to the States on an equitable basis having regard to the pre-war distribution and any special developments which may have taken place since. Once the quantity is available to the States the distribution within the States is entirely a responsibility of the State Government concerned.
The ‘Department of Transport and the Director of Shipping are constantly in touch with the New South Wales Department of Railways in an endeavour to expedite the despatch of building materials to Queensland. 1 assure the honorable member that everything possible is being done to achieve this end.
n asked the Minister representing the Ministerfor Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
n asked the Minister representing theMinister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
s asked the Minister repre senting the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following information : -
r asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorablemember’s questions are as follows : - l and 2. I am giving these questions my personalconsideration, and willadvise the honorable member of my decisionas soon as possible.
s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - ‘
s .asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows : -
Japanese Wak Chimin ais: Hearings at .Rabaul.
s. - On the 4th December, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) asked how many Japanese war criminals’ have been tried by the Australian War -Crimes Commission at Rabaul, and how many have been executed. He also asked why so little publicity had been given to these trials.
The number tried at Rabaul by Australian military courts under the Australian War Crimes Act ,is 357. Of these, 243 have been sentenced to death or imprisonment, and 114 acquitted. Of those sentenced to death, 93 have already been executed - 83 by hanging and ten by shooting. Other death sentences are pending. The military courts are open to the. press, who decide the news value of the proceedings in the same way as for civilian courts. In recent months, the courts at Rabaul have -been dealing mainly with oases concerning Japanese accused of offences against Chinese, Indian, and New Guinea natives, and this may account fox the fact that more publicity has not been given to the proceedings.
Italian Prisoner ok War.
– Yesterday, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) asked me -whether a report -by Mr. Justice Simpson into the shooting of an Italian prisoner of war at an internment camp at Rowville, Victoria, -would be laid on the table of the House, and whether I would indicate what action had been taken following the report.
Mr. Justice Simpson’s report has been received and given consideration.’ As a result of the recommendations contained in this report, certain officers of the Australian Military Forces were relieved from duty, and, in the case of one of the officers concerned, court-martial proceedings are pending. In view of the pending court-martial proceedings, it is not proposed to lay the report on the table of the House. No member of the Australian Military Forces was provided with legal support or had legal representation at public expense at the coroner’s request. Provision was made, however, for their representation at the inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Simpson.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 December 1946, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1946/19461205_reps_18_189/>.