18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J: S.Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Nationalization : Petitions ; Political Crisis in Victoria.
– I present a petition from certain electors of the division of Darling Downs in relation to the Government’s banking proposals, and move -
That the petition be received.
– I rise to a point of order. Can it be assumed that an hon orable member who presents a petition is prepared to vouch for the signatures that appear on it? If he is, the petition can be regarded as being in order. If he is not, should not the’ petition be rejected by the House?
– The position asI see it is that an honorable member is requested to present a petition, and it would, perhaps, be difficult: for him to vouch for all the signatures that appear on it. But I believe the inference can fairly be drawn that when an honorable member presents a petition he has taken at least some precautions to ensure that it is genuine.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Petition received and read.
– I believe that, at this stage, I ought to make an observation to honorable members, and leave it to the House to make its own decision. The petition presented this morning deals with a very prominent public question. The right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) represents a division ofpossibly 60,000 electors. I believe that the House pays to allhonorable members the courtesy of receiving a petition because the House considers that it is presented in good faith. But I do put it very seriously to the House that an honorable member is rather stretching the intention of the Standing Orders when he presents a petition containing the names of sixteen electors out of a total of 60,000 electors.
Mr.Fadden - The rest will come next week, if you want them.
– The right honorable gentleman is a responsible member of this House, and possibly is aware that quite a number of other petitions will be presented. I emphasize that the time of the House is being occupied unnecessarily, and its business is being obstructed, by the presentation of a petition containing sixteen names from an electorate of 60,000. I again ask the House to note the point that I have raised.
– I present a petition from certain electors in the divisions of Richmond and New England, including electors from the town of Glen Innes, which is on the border between the two divisions. I am receiving these petitions at the rate of hundreds a day and I present them because I consider it to be my duty as the representative of the electors. I have every reason to believe that the signatures were appended freely. The petition is in accordance with the rules and Standing Orders of the House, is respectfully worded, and concludes with a prayer. [ move -
That the petition be received.
– When an honorable member presents a petition bearing a large number of signatures he usually states the approximate number. In other instances when the petition has only, perhaps, one page of signatures, the number is not stated. I suggest that honorable members, when presenting petitions, should be required to state the approximate number of persons who signed them.
– I do not think that the Standing Orders require that an honorable member should state the approximate number of signatures to a petition. The House will observe that some honorable members have presented several petitions from the same electorates, petitions which, from their appearances, apparently do not carry a great many signatures. However, it is not necessary for an honorable member to state the number of signatures, but it is for the House to determine how long it will stand obstruction of this kind.
.- Is it not a fact that yesterday the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr.. Beale) presented a petition carrying 16,422 signatures, that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) presented one with 10,000 signatures, that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) presented one with 16,808 signatures, that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) presented one with 5,000 signatures, that the honorable member for “Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) presented one with 4,414 signatures, that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) presented one with 16,543 signatures, and that the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) presented one with 10,899 signatures? I ask that question, because it has been implied that some of the petitions which have been presented are frivolous. May I point out that the petitions to which I have just referred were presented direct to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) in order to save the time of the Parliament; and far from the number of signatures on those petitions being few, as some honorable members opposite imply, they contain hundreds of thousands of names.
– The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has made assertions about certain petitions which were presented direct to the Prime Minister instead of being presented to the House. Those petitions were not taken to the Prime Minister for the reason stated by the honorable member, but because they were addressed to the Prime Minister and not to Mr. Speaker and honorable members of the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Petition received and read.
– I have received a petition from certain people in the district of Rendelsham, in the subdivision of Millicent, division of Barker, who describe themselves as supporters of the existing private banking system and depositors and customers of the private trading hanks. The petition desires that there should be no alteration of the existing set-up of private banking throughout Australia. It is respectfully worded, it concludes with a prayer. I move -
That the petition he received.
May I point out-
– The honorable member has submitted a motion and is entitled to speak to it.
– Standing Orders 71 to 75 relating to petitions read as follows: -
This petition is couched in different language from .any I .have previously p resented. It is signed on the sheet on which it is inscribed by .one person who, in his own handwriting, has affixed his address and occupation. Very few of idle petitions I -have presented are couched in the same language, which indicates that each little district is producing its own petition and that they cannot be all grouped under the one head.
Queston resolved in ,the affirmative. 1
Petition received and read-
Other petitions in relation to banking i n Australia were presented as follows
By Mr. ADERMAN”]*!”, from certain i ‘lectors in the division of Maranoa;
By Mr. BLAIN, from certain electors of South Australia or the Northern Territory; and
By Mr. TURNBULL, from certain electors of the division of Wimmera.
Petitions received and read.
– I ask the Minister for Information whether it is true that the gentleman who has engineered the crisis in the undemocratic chamber in the Victorian Parliament is Sir Prank Clarke, the vice-chairman of the National Hank of Australia Limited ?
– It is true that the leader of the forces in the Legislative Council of Victoria which are operating on behalf of the banks to precipitate an e-lection in that State - an election which will involve the Legislative Assembly but not the Legislative Council - is Sir Prank Clarke, who is a vice-chairman of the board of directors of the National Bank of Australasia Limited. My authorities for stating that Sir Prank Clarke holds that position are Who’s Who in Australia. published by the Herald and Weekly Times Limited-, Melbourne, and something that I read yesterday on the front page of the Melbourne Sun-Pictorial, which told the story of the crisis in
Victoria ai .some length, and ‘in very great .detail. .Sir Frank Clarke has -a number of claims to a “very doubtful .sort of fame and .the v.ice,ch airmanship of the National Bank is .one of them.
Motion (by Mr. ‘Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is correct that .the Governments of Victoria and South Australia intend to meet the request of barley-growers for organized post-war marketing by passing uniform legislation for organized marketing. Is it a fact that both Governments have introduced the legislation into their respective Parliaments? Is it a fact that should an election result in Victoria from the action of the bankers’ parties led by the vice-chairman of the National Bank, Sir Frank Clarke, it will be impossible to enact legislation in time to handle the forthcoming barley harvest? Has the Minister had expressions of anxiety from barley-growers who fear that the industry will be again handed over to the open market merchants ? Will the Minister consider recommending to the Australian. -Government that it should continue barley marketing on a. Commonwealth basis for 1947-48, and thus protect the growers against a return to the open market? I ask these questions in view of the fact that about 85 per cent, of the barley grown in Australia is grown in my electorate, the division of Grey.
– The honorable member has asked a series of questions, and to give, a complete answer to each one would be rather difficult. However, I shall endeavour to give a comprehensive general reply. It is true that Victoria and South Australia have agreed that it is desirable that the Australian Government should vacate the field of control over barley marketing. This Government is ever-anxious to relinquish controls that have become no longer necessary in the Commonwealth sphere. The decision by Victoria and South Australia involves the introduction of identical legislation yu ,ae .Parliaments of those States, which are the largest barley producing States in the Commonwealth. The crisis that appears to have arisen in Victoria may result in the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, and this would prevent the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Mr. McKenzie, from introducing the legislation to which I have referred. Should a dissolution occur it is probable that there would not be a meeting of the Victorian Parliament for five, six or even seven weeks. By that time the Victorian barley crop will be in the bags, and there will be no organized marketing system.
– The Government has not done anything about the matter for eight or nine months.
– The honorable member for India - I regret my slip of the tongue in referring to the honorable gentleman as the honorable member for India instead of the honorable member for Indi, but it was probably because he would make a better representative in India than he does in Australia. The situation is therefore one of great gravity to the barley-growers in Victoria and South Australia. The honorable gentleman has asked whether the Australian Government will be prepared to continue its control, as operated during the war, because of ‘the political crisis. I would say that, pending the outcome of the crisis in Victoria, we are not in the position to give a decision. We’ have no desire to continue controls where other forms of co-operative marketing are available and the States have agreed to undertake them. I suggest that, at this stage of the critical situation for the barleygrowers in the two States, the best method of approach may be for them to bring pressure to bear on the old fogies in the Legislative Council of Victoria, who are responsible for their having been thrown to the wolves.
M.r. McEwen. - I hope it is in order for the Minister to cast reflections on mother legislature.
-Order ! It is not in order to make insinuations against the Chair. I advise the honorable member to be more careful.
– Did customs officials yesterday delay the departure of a private aircraft at Mascot for almost four hours while they searched it, the crew and the passengers before granting a clearance? If so, what was the reason for the delay? . Was any contraband found in the search? What information did the departmental officers possess thai necessitated such a prolonged and detailed examination? Is it customary to delay private aircraft for so long, and to subject women passengers to the extreme embarrassment of having to strip for examination ? Are customs officers empowered to read the private correspondence of individuals subject to examination? Can the Minister make a statement about the reported examination?
– I have only seen the press report of the search carried out in respect of some passengers of an aircraft that was, I understand, leaving Australia yesterday. The methods used in the search are no different from methods adopted in other cases where revenue officers of this country and, possibly other countries, including the United Kingdom, have sufficient reasons to suspect that a fraud is about to be perpetrated on the revenue.
– That is not so.
– It is not so long since the honorable member for Henty, himself, was most vociferous in this House about the apparent negligence of customsofficers in this country in respect of Ministers returning from abroad.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. You have stated, from time totime, that a questioner must direct his question to a Minister, and that no one else may interject. . I think the same rule must be expected to apply to the Minister, who, in his reply to the honorable member for Wentworth, singled out the honorable member for Henty in order torefer to something in which the honorablemember for Henty was not involved.
– I thought that the Minister had referred to the wrong electorate, but if he had not, he was out of order. That is the point. Earlier he referred to the honorable member for
Indi as the honorable member for India, and it would not be a long step for him to take to make another mistake. The Minister will not be in order in continuing in that way if he has not made a mistake.
– I am sorry that I transgressed the Standing Orders, but I understand that the honorable member for Balaclava was the Minister for Trade and Customs and that, under his administration of the department, officials adopted the same methods as are alleged to be adopted by officials under this Government’s administration.
– My interjection was that the same methods are not used in the United Kingdom. They are not.
Statements in “ Chicago Tribune “.
– An ‘ article published in the daily newspapers to-day states that Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune, in outlining its plans for the future of the British Empire, reminds its readers that it suggested four years ago that the British Empire should apply for permission to enter the United States of America and points out that individual parts of the Empire could establish their eligibility “by adopting constitutions of >a Republican character, modelled on that of Japan “. Has the Prime Minister seen this report? In view of this and other anti-British comments in this article, will the right honorable gentleman take appropriate action to make Australia’s position clear?
– I have not seen the article reported to have been written by Colonel McCormick. ‘In any case, I do not think that I, or this Parliament, should take any notice of such statements. All political parties represented in this House know their own minds and have no doubts about the maintenance of Australia’s independence and association with the British Commonwealth of Nations. However, as the honorable member has made a request, I shall read the article and. see whether there is some appropriate reply that I can give to the question.
Italians and Poles
– I desire to ask the Minister for Immigration a question which relates to two items of immigration policy, namely, the bringing of 150 Italians to Western Australia at the request of the McLarty Government, and 2S0 Poles to Tasmania. For two years these men will be tied to work on a wood line in Western Australia and on the hydro-electric project in Tasmania. This is a form of tied labour, and, in the even of misbehaviour, the men involved may be deported. I ask the Minister whether it is intended to give these men citizen rights after that period? Is it intended that that form of permit labour, which is really a form of indenture, will be continued for a long period ? Will any steps be taken by the Commonwealth Government to help these men to be absorbed into the Australian community, so long as they have been of good behaviour, after the period of tied labour has expired?
– I do not agree that people brought or permitted to come to Australia at no cost to themselves, and required to work in particular localities and industries for a period of two years, can be properly described as being persons employed under tied labour provisions. Tied labour is a system to which great objection has always been, and necessarily always will be, taken in Australia. These people are being given the option to come to Australia under certain conditions. They gladly accept the conditions and are most anxious to come here. They have no protest to offer against those conditions. The 2S0 Poles who will go to Tasmania have Been selected by the British War Office and Australian immigration officials from among those in the Polish camps in Great. Britain who indicated their willingness to volunteer to come to Australia. They all are men who, as I said yesterday, fought alongside Australians in the defence of Tobruk. They are not coming here under contract to particular employers. They are being taken to certain districts, and told that they must work there at full award rates of pay and under award conditions. If they desire to break the agreement with the Australian Government, wander to the cities, enter into competition with people . for houses and do not want to do the work that they were brought here to do, we reserve the right to say to them, “you can go out of this country, because obviously you will not make good Australian citizens”. Regarding the 150 Italians who are being brought to Western Australia to work on the wood line which supplies the gold mines of Kalgoorlie, the Wise Government of Western Australia - and it was a wise government - suggested that the Australian Government should recruit 150 northern Italians to work at this particular occupation. I was not enamoured of the proposition, -and did nothing about it for some months. A change of government occurred in Western Australia, and the McLarty Government renewed the request of the Wise Government. I informed the Ministers of the Western Australian Government that if they could get the support of the Australian Workers Union ensures that no opposition to the proposition would emanate from the Western Australian branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, I would favorably consider it. The Western Australian Government has made the necessary arrangements to ensure that there would be no hostility on the part of the returned servicemen’s organization or the unions to the introduction of 150 northern Italians to do work which nobody else in Western Australia wants to do. We are now making arrangements to bring out 150 Italians and 250 Yugoslavs to cut the wood which is required for the operation of the Kalgoorlie gold mines in order that we can produce gold to sell for dollars to help ourselves and the British Commonwealth of Nations. The immigrants who work here for two years will be able to count that time in the qualifying period for naturalization. At the end of two years they will be permitted to go to any part of Australia and engage in any occupation they choose. The Government is facing a difficult situation and is bringing in labour under these conditions in order to supply the needs of the Australian community. It is not imposing any form, of servitude on persons who are being favoured by being invited to share our life in the best country in the world.
– Will the Prime Minister comment on reports published this week in Sydney that big American film interests have forced the Government to toe the line by agreeing that there shall be no reduction of the imports of American films, and that the only condition which will be imposed as a means of saving dollars is that 30 per cent, of film royalities shall remain in Australia for an unspecified time? Can the right honorable gentleman announce what decision has been reached with respect to film royalties in Australia?
– The Government has made it perfectly clear to the representatives of the American film interests in Australia that the remittances of dollars from this country at the rate at which remittances were made last year cannot be allowed to continue, because of the dollar position. I emphasize that at all times the discussions have been most amicable. The representatives of the film interests were informed that although the Government was prepared to consider various methods of reducing dollar remittances, there must be a reduction to 30 per cent. That announcement was not made by way of a threat, but because dollars are not available to enable Australia to make purchases from Great Britain in order to meet the dollar deficit. I pointed out that, unless the film interests could offer some other solution of the problem, the Government proposed to impose a tax, not for the purpose of making money out of the film industry, but to ensure that remittances of dollars were reduced. The representatives of the film industry asked for an opportunity to consult with their principals in the United States of America with a view to submitting proposals to meet the requirements of the Government whilst at the same time permitting American films to come in. I have had several conferences with film interests, all of which have been most friendly. Recently, I sent a letter to them, and I believe that they are now in consultation with their American principals. On many points relating to dollar remittances agreement lias been reached. They include a number of conditions as to the way in which money which normally would be remitted to the United States of America shall be invested in Australia. The only reason why I cannot give details of these arrangements is that some points are still the subject of consultation with the heads of the film industry in the United States of America. The Government has made clear the way in which money should be invested here, instead of being sent abroad, and has pointed out that if the terms are Hot acceptable to the film interests a tax may have to be imposed. It is hoped that an arrangement will be arrived at which will obviate the necessity for imposing a tax. When the arrangements have been completed I shall let the honorable member know what has been done.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 1st October (vide page 421).
Proposed vote, £1,032,000.
– On the 1st October the honorable member for Fremantle (Mi1. Beazley) made a contribution to the debate which I think was of considerable value, because his speech was the first which we have heard from that side of the chamber which attempted to supply a background of reason for the policy pursued by the Government in regard to Indonesia. I do not intend to comment oh that portion of the honorable member’s speech, but in the course of other remarks which he made he expressed resentment at the criticism, which has been voiced of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) and alleged that although there had been a great deal of general criticism uttered, none of that criticism had been directed at any specific aspect of the Government’s foreign policy. ] have not previously spoken in this debate and therefore I have not joined in the criticism Which has so far been uttered of the Minister and the policy of the Government, but I point out to the honor.able member that the probable reason why no criticism has been directed at any specific aspect of that policy is that so little factual information has been given to the Parliament. Of course, we are aware Of the general drift of the Government’s foreign policy, but we seldom get sufficient information to enable us to discuss in an informed way any particular aspect of that policy.
However, there is one aspect of the Government’s policy to which I take considerable exception, and that is with regard to the future of Manns Island. It is a fact that very little is known of the negotiations which took place between the Australian and the United States Governments concerning the future of Manus Island, but I intend to quote from Report No. 104 of the Subcommittee on Pacific Bases of the Committee on Naval Affairs of the United States House Of Representatives. The report states, at page 101.2-
This report .is made on the following assumptions :-
That the charter written by the United Nations Conference on International Organization will be approved by the major powers participating in the conference;
That the United States of America will assume the task of preserving peace and preventing any aggressive action in the Pacific area.
I do not think that any one in this Parliament will question the good faith of the American Government iri connexion with ite desire to preserve peace iri the Pacific. At page 1015. this appears -
It is obvious that we cannot permit enemy forces to occupy Australia or 5few Zealand, for to do so would make our centre line vulnerable from attack from the south.
It goes on to say-
Here again is the question of responsibility without authority.
These islands are of extreme importance to the United States as bases because:
They form strategic outposts not only to provide a southern flank defence of our centre line but also to provide protection and security for Australia and New Zealand;
I put it to the committee that this great baf a, -which was of extreme value during the Pacific war, is not one which we alone are able to maintain iri the state of efficiency to which the Americans brought it. They expended roughly $71,000,000 in its development. According to this report, that does not cover the whole of the costs in connexion with it. I have been told by people who have been there, that there are two floating docks, one of which could cope with Queen Elizabeth, and the other which would be able to deal with the largest battleship afloat. The Americans developed it from a small mission station to be a base of the kind that it was ; and, as I have put it to the committee, it seems impossible that we, with our very limited resources, will be able to maintain it at the state of efficiency to which they brought it. That, to my mind, is the point. We have recently been told that Britain has withdrawn from thePacific. That means that the whole of this burden must remain with us. I am. perfectly well aware that it has been said that there may come a time when we can no longer claim the friendship of the United States of America, and that, for that reason, it behoves us to occupy these bases and to be wholly responsible for them. But I point out that if such a time ever did come, when we could no longer claim the friendship of the United States of America, we might as well “ shut up shop “. It would be perfectly absurd for us to believe that without the aid of America we could ever, in the event of hostile attack, hold Australia. I know, too, that there are many people who believe that the atomic age has altered the whole aspect of defence problems. I am not, of course, in a position to make any intelligent comment on that. Nevertheless, I believe that, with all the great changes which the times produce, we cannot, at this moment, abandon the known methods of defence which have been used hitherto. I believe, therefore, that in any period of change such as this, particularly in relation to defence matters generally, we must hold on to all those things which have been proven, and maintain them to the best of our ability. So I say that in this matter, in my view at any rate, a wrong step has been taken by the Minister in regard to Australian defence. I believe also - and I say this with some reluctance and great diffidence - that action such as this may well have the effect, in some degree, of weakening that tie of friendship with the United States of America which hitherto we have maintained. The gratitude of the Australian people towards America should be, and I believe is, great. But it is true that, as time goes on, very many small irritations are caused in international and trade relationships, which do a good deal to weaken the bond that hitherto has existed. I believe that we might well have considered the offer which we understand was made, to continue the maintenance of the base as a friendly power, by that great ally who did so much during the war to keep this country safe, and who developed the base and made it the very centre of all the operations which took place with a view to keeping us safe. The terms on which that occupation would have been permitted I do not intend to discuss just now ; but I cannot pass without comment the fact that what I regard as a favorable opportunity further to cement our friendship with America, further to reinforce the defence of Australia, has been lost. I hope that whoever replies to this debate will be able to throw some light upon the nature of negotiations which took place, as well as upon the whole future of our Pacific relations with the United States of America.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £3,445,500.
. -Earlier, on the estimates of the Department of External Affairs, I desired to say a few words about Land Sales Control. Being in a different Parliament, I did not quite understand that one Minister might be in charge of the Estimates of one, two, three, or four different departments. On this occasion the Treasurer is in complete control, because he supplies the money. Therefore, I desire now to say a few words about the report of the royal commission which inquired into Land Sales Control.
The report of the Commissioner is a remarkable document, not because of the things that he says and covers, the words that he uses, or the statements that he makes, but rather because of the things which he oughttohave said and which he has not covered. I say, after a lifetime’s experience in politics, that the inquiry from, beginning to end was a “ whitewashing affair “. The terms of reference were deliberately designed to restrict the inquiry to what has become known as “ The Lush Affair “. It was not an inquiry into Land Sales Control. Mr. Lush, by writing to the Prime Minister,” selected himself for the role of a scapegoat. So, it became an inquiry into the administration of Lush, and not into the organization - Land Sales Control. But even so, “ the lid was lifted “ sufficiently to prove that the entire system is corrupt.
The Chair is very diffident about delaying the honorable member’s remarks on this matter. I refer him to Item 27 of Division No. 208, at page 122 of the Estimates which he has before him. He will there find that it is specifically covered under the estimates for “ Miscellaneous Services, Prime Minister’s Department. “ It will, therefore, be dealt with at a later stage under that heading, and not now. It does not come within the scope of the estimates of the Department of the Treasury.
– I rise to order. It may be that some specific reference might be made under- the item on page 122, but surely the question of Land Sales Control comes under the Treasury, and therefore it is competent for any honorable member to discuss Land Sales Control on the vote for the Treasury.
– Land sales control in general comes under the Treasury, but not the Royal Commission on Land Sales Control. That item is covered, as I have explained, by the entry on page 122. I rule that the Royal Commission on Land Sales Control cannot be debated until the item on page 122 is reached. If I were to allow it to be debated now, each member would be able to speak twice on it at this stage, and twice again when we come to the item on page 122.
– May I draw your attention, Mr. Chairman, to page 213 of the estimates on which” appears the heading “ Budget and Accounting Branch “. The budget is prepared by the Treasury, which controls, not one item in the budget, but all the items.
– My ruling stands. The honorable member will have to wait until we reach the appropriate item on. page 122 if he wishes to discuss the royal commission.
– With due deference and the utmost respect, let me state that I wish to make some remarks that do not apply entirely to Land Sales Control.
– The honorable member is entitled to speak on the proposed vote for the Department of the Treasury.
– It was you, Mr. Chairman, who said that I could not make these remarks on the proposed vote for the Department of External Affairs.
– That is so.
– And I was under the misunderstanding at the time that in the State Parliament the Attorney-General had complete control.
– Order ! I do not wish to take part in any prolonged debate with the honorable member. The ruling of the Chair is final. If the honorable member wishes to make specific references to the royal commission he must do so on the appropriate item under the heading of “ Miscellaneous Services” on page 122 of the Estimates. If he wishes ito speak on any other matter affecting the Department of .the Treasury he may do so now.
– That clears it up. What I desire to say is that when Mr. Lush wrote to the Prime Minister he had selected himself as the scapegoat.
– Order ! The honorable member is continuing to speak of the royal commission, and I will not allow it.
– I rise to order. The Estimates are put before the committee department by department and item by item so that honorable members may turn their attention specifically to the matters which concern them. At the present time there is before the committee the vote for the Department of the Treasury, which is administered by the Treasurer. One of the important functions of the Treasury is land sales control, and I submit that it is not proper to segregate any phase of land sales control from the general discussion on the
Treasury vote. For instance, the Royal Commission on Land Sales Control comes under the Treasury. We are now discussing -the vote for the Treasury, and it is not practicable for honorable members to pick out one phase of Treasury activity for discussion how and another phase for discussion later. It has been the custom for honor able members, so long as they confine their remarks to the department under consideration, to roam at .large . over the whole field of that department.
– -Mr. Lush is an officer covered by the administrative vote for the Treasury. Surely, it is competent for the committee at this stage to deal with the activities of officers who are paid out of the Treasury vote. This seems to be an appropriate time to discuss such a matter.
– The Chair will decide that. I have heard the point of order, and I have already ruled that land sales control comes under the Treasury. If honorable members wish to discuss land sales control generally they may do so now, but a debate on the Estimates is the same as a debate on the clauses of a bill. Honorable members may deal with the specific matter before the committee at the time. The Royal Commission on Land Sales Control comes under the item “ Miscellaneous Services, Prime Minister’s Department “. That is a different vote. The administration of Land Sales Control generally may be debated now, but if honorable members wish to refer to the Royal Commission on Land Sales Control, its findings, or the cost of the inquiry, Lt may not be done until we reach the proper item, which -is included under “Miscellaneous Services, Prime Minister’s Department “.
– I rise to order-
– I have made my decision. What is the. point of order?
– That- is what I am trying to explain. It has been the practice for years to allow .a f ree debate on the Estimates because the various departments are so interlocked, and there are so many cross references.
– I have already ruled on that point, and I will not allow a debate. The honorable member is trying to canvass the ruling of the Chair.
I will decide whether an honorable member may discuss the administration of the department or the Royal Commission on Land Sales Control.
– The question before the committee is whether a certain sum of money should be voted. I ask you, Mr. Chairman, whether that amount of money covers the Treasury only, or the schedule as well. If it takes in the Treasury and the schedule I am entitled to speak now. If it does not take in the schedule, I am not entitled to speak on this point now or at any other time. I want the committee to understand clearly that the Estimates now before the Chair include the schedule on page 213, which more than covers the point on which I desire to speak. Does the proposed vote now before the Chair cover both the Treasury and that schedule? If so, I am entitled to speak along the lines I wish to follow.
– The Chair has no desire to prevent the honorable member from dealing with the royal commission to which he refers, but he will have his opportunity to do so when the estimates for “ Miscellaneous Services - Prime Minister’s Department” come before the committee. The schedule on page 213 to which the honorable member has referred deals with salaries, and he is entitled to deal with those particular items at this juncture; but he cannot now debate an item appearing in Estimates not shown in respect of the Treasury. He cannot now deal with an item appearing in the Estimates in respect of “ Miscellaneous Services, Prime Minister’s Department “.
– I shall persist with my point so far as I am permitted to do so.
– I do not want to get at cross purposes with the honorable member, and I do not want to continue debating this point with him. I am trying, fairly, to clear up the matter without misunderstanding. If the honorable member wishes to make an uninterrupted speech, I advise him to wait until the estimates in respect of “ Miscellaneous Services, Prime Minister’s Department “ come before the committee, when he will have an opportunity to deal with the royal commission appointed to inquire into that subject.
– I am certain - and this is the reason why I -am fighting now - that the estimates of the Prime Minister’s Department will not come before the committee again.
– All of the estimates must be passed by the committee.
– You, Mr. Chairman, are above suspicion in this matter; but I believe that I shall never have an opportunity to express what I want to express under the Estimates if I have to wait until a particular item is before the committee. With respect, I know that if I am compelled to wait until that item comes before the committee I shall never be able to say what I want to say, and to that degree the electors of Reid will be without representation.
– I cannot allow the honorable member to speak on that subject now. He must confine his remarks to the estimates of the department now before the Chair. If the honorable member wishes to deal with matters covered by the estimates in respect of the Treasury he may proceed to do so.
– I do, because the Treasury provides the money, and if no money be provided nothing can proceed. I want to speak about this matter because I believe that it is of first-class importance. The inquiry could not have been instituted unless the Treasury provided the necessary money. Mr. Lush was himself largely responsible for bringing about the inquiry, because in writing his letter to the Treasurer he “put himself in” as a scapegoat; and then those in charge of Land Sales Control administration made themselves a sort of gold fish bowl where everybody could see these goldfish swimming about ; and the public could judge for itself, and, indeed, will not have to wait for the report. Enough came out of that inquiry to satisfy any impartial observer that the sooner the present system of land sales control is abolished the better it will be for the reputation of the Commonwealth Public Service. The system is bad both in principle and in administration. Every land transaction, no matter how trifling or petty it may be, has to go through a bureaucracy centralized in Canberra. It is humanly impossible to administer such a system, may I say, honestly, much less fairly. The evidence showed that the bureaucrats
– Order ! The honorable member is in order in speaking about the administration of Land Sales Control, but he is not in order in dealing with the royal commission.
– If the Chair rules - and I shall always submit to the Chair - that I may not make my speech if I deal with the royal commission-
– That is my ruling.
– Well, I am afraid that I am in a little difficulty; and the Chair will be in a little difficulty, too, because there cannot :be royal commissions appointed if money is not provided to enable them to function. The money comes from the Treasury, and I believe that I have the right to discuss what the Treasury-
– I have ruled that the honorable .member may, at the appropriate time, deal fully with the royal commission appointed to inquire into Land Sales Control administration. If he wishes to deal with matters coming under the Estimates in respect of the Treasury he may proceed to do so.
– I am not prepared to submit to that.
– The honorable member will have to submit to the ruling of the Chair.
– I shall obey your ruling, Mr. Chairman, but I am determined that I am not going to allow to be put into the hands of a. person who occupies the Chair for the moment the power to tell me when I shall, or shall not, speak; and I .shall test that to the bitter end.
– The honorable member is endeavouring to argue with the Chair. I have given my ruling. If he is not prepared to accept it, he must resume his seat. I call the honorable member for Richmond.
– Mr. Chairman-
– The honorable member for Richmond has the call. - Mr. ANTHONY (Richmond) [11.50]. I do not propose, in view of your ruling, Mr. Chairman, to deal with the royal commission which conducted an inquiry into certain aspects of the Land Sales Control in Sydney. In order to present my case, however, it may be necessary for me to make passing reference to it.
The CHAIRMAN” (Mr. Clark).The honorable member is well aware of my ruling on the matter.
– No opportunity has been presented to the committee prior to this to discuss ‘ the land sales control in its relation to the Treasury and to the public. The royal commission dealt with only certain specific cases which were referred to it, principally the Parry, Burke and Lush affairs. Although an opportunity will be presented to us to discuss them at a later stage, .1 record my objection to the ruling that they may not be discussed during the consideration of the proposed vote for the Department of the Treasury.
– Order !
– I propose to discuss the whole system of land sales control in Australia and to bring to light the inconceivable corruption that is being practised in its administration. An investigation of this corruption far beyond the inquiry already made is of paramount importance.
Government members interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite seek to cloak the corruption which is rife in the administration of public departments, fearing that any further light thrown upon the unsavoury features of land sales control generally will bring further revelations of malpractice to the surface. An attempt is being made to prevent criticism and to still the public voice on this matter; but I propose to take advantage of this opportunity to bring to the attention of the people instances of unparalleled corruption in the administration of this country which is being connived at by members of the Government. Mr. Mulcahy. - I rise to order. Is the honorable member for Richmond entitled to refer to the royal commission in face of your ruling that another honorable member should not do so?
– The attention of the Chair was diverted for the moment. I trust that the honorable member for Richmond did not take advantage of it.
– You, sir, would be the first to check me had I done so. I was referring, not to the royal commission but to corruption in the administration of government departments. A dozen royal commissions, should, if necessary, be appointed to sift this rotten thing to the bottom.
– The honorable member should make specific charges.
– Order ! The honorable member for Watson must cease interjecting.
– These attempts to prevent me from proceeding by frequent interruptions will not succeed.
– The honorable member must proceed with his speech.
– I am anxious to do so if I am permitted.
– The honorable member is replying to a cross-fire of disorderly interjections. I am doing my best to protect him. He must address the Chair.
– I have addressed the Chair throughout my remarks. If anybody wants to sell a property, whether it be a house or a farm, as soon as the contract is signed he must lodge an application with the Treasury for consent to the sale. Treasury consent is given provided that the sale price is somewhat in accord with values obtaining in February, 1942. Certain variations from pegged values are allowed and certain minor discretionary power is vested in the land sales control officers. In general, an attempt is being made by the Government to peg property sale’s at the values existing five or six years ago. Anybody who knows what is happening to-day - and I am not depending on hearsay for my information - realizes the tremendous number of real estate sales that are being made on the black market. The president of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, Mr. Lyall Moore, recently stated that the overwhelming majority of property sales to-day are ‘made at prices in excess of Treasury valuations. His statement is borne out by men of high standing in the community, such as Sir John Butters, the president of one of the large real estate organizations, who said that, as a consequence of the unreal conditions imposed by this control, approximately 80 per cent, of property transactions are now made on the black market.
Mr. Mulcahy interjecting,
– The honorable member for Lang must cease interjecting.
– The honorable member has been interjecting consistently throughout my speech. We are all aware that the land sales control, as exercised by the Treasury is fostering the black market. Recently, in Sydney, a cottage was offered for sale. I took the trouble to ascertain that its value had been estimated at approximately £4,000. The cottage was submitted for auction when bidders bid up to £12,000 for it, knowing that a sale at that figure would not be approved by the Treasury and hoping to be able to purchase it at the Treasury valuation which . was estimated to be approximately £1,000 less than the buyer would have received had he placed it on the market for private sale. It is for that reason that so many people bid high prices at the auction sales of properties of that kind. Sellers who wish to keep within the law are placed in a very disadvantageous position as a result of the administration of these regulations and it is inevitable that because of its unreality, the system of control foisted upon the community by the Treasurer must break down. He is the one who should be put in the witness box. I am not speaking now of the royal commission that has been held, but of the need for an inquiry into the whole system now in operation. The terms of reference of the royal commission that inquired into the administration of Land Sales Control in Sydney were very limited. There should be an inquiry covering the whole field, and aimed at ascertaining the value of the whole system that has been foisted on the people of this country. Prom time to time, the Prime Minister has advocated the retention of this system. He has said in effect, “If we lift controls, prices will soar”. A defence to which the right honorable gentleman has resorted in the face of criticism is that although certain individuals may be buying properties on the black market, they are permitted by law to charge only a rental based upon the Treasury valuation. I draw attention to the practice in other countries. There is no adherence to fictitious valuations in Canada, the United States of America or Great Britain. Our valuations are fictitious because wages and prices applying in 1942 are not those applying in 1947. In Great Britain, there is no direct control of land sales. Any property may be transferred at whatever price may be arranged between purchaser and vendor. Only in certain specified areas that have been reserved for housing schemes by the. Government are land sales prohibited. In New Zealand, there is a degree of land sales control, but the Minister who is charged with the administration of the relevant legislation has stated that the act will not be enforced so far as rural lands are concerned. In considering the application of land sales controls to farming properties, one must pay due regard to the economic situation and the labour situation. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) will be the first to admit that a most difficult labour situation exists in most rural districts in this country. It is virtually impossible to obtain labour to work any kind of farming property. That factor alone must have some influence in preventing the inflation of land values, because no one will wish to buy a property unless he has some assurance that labour will be available to work it. I come now to Canada, a country that, played an important part in the war and found it necessary to impose restrictions of all kinds for war purposes. Canada, too, has a housing problem, and it has an inflation problem far more difficult than that existing in this country, due mainly to Canada’s proximity to the United States of America where, we are told, the removal of certain controls has aggravated inflationary trends. There is a land sales control in Canada. The usual defence offered by our Prime Minister for the retention of pegged land values in this coutry is that these values affect rents. In Canada, however, although there is no control on the sale of land, rents are controlled. As in this country, they are pegged at the levels ruling in 1942, and tenants are protected against eviction except in rather extreme circumstances. During the seven years of war rents in Canada rose by only 7 per cent., although in the same period the cost of living rose by 60 per cent. Adequate policing of the land sales control operating in this country is impossible and its administration involves inconvenience to many people whether they be humble individuals who are seeking building allotments for their own homes, primary producers who want to buy farms, or business men who wish to establish, new undertakings. These people should be provided with reasonable facilities for the completion of their transactions. No matter how effective administration may be, any system of control that involves a delegate of the Treasurer handling all land transactions in the city of Sydney and throughout the entire State of New South Wales must give rise to a position such as that in which this unfortunate public servant found himself. That is inescapable under a system of rigid controls which ignores real values. The only real test of the value of a property is what a purchaser is prepared to pay for it and what a vendor is prepared to take for it under reasonable conditions and in the absence of undue pressure. No matter what safeguards may be imposed, there are individuals who will find a way of getting round harsh regulations. In the interests of the moral tone of the community, which is a very important consideration because respect for the law is something that should be engendered by this Parliament, the present system should be altered. A law that requires substantial sacrifices on the part of so many people cannot be respected. I say with some knowledge of community affairs that only two sets of individuals observe the land sales control regulations now operating. First, there are those who are selling the estates of deceased persons and are bound to submit the properties to auction and to accept the price permitted by the Treasury. Secondly, there is a very small number of people who refuse to perform any act that is not within the law. Other members of the community, as every honorable member knows, or should know, deal outside of the regulations, on the black market.
It is a black market created by the Government itself because of its senseless determination to keep to artificial conditions.
– How would the honorable member overcome that?
– I am glad that the honorable gentleman asked that. No doubt, he well knows from his ventures abroad - I am not saying that in any detrimental sense - that in Great Britain control over land transactions has been lifted, as it has in Canada and in the United States of America.
– And what happened?
– I pointed out, if the honorable member had only listened, that in Canada rents had not increased.
– They have risen by 200 per cent, and 300 per cent, in some cases.
– I have the figures here.
– So have I.
– I have figures that show that rents have risen by only 7 or 8 per cent. To establish the truth, a committee of inquiry with wide terras of reference should be set up by the Government to discover exactly the repercussions in other countries to the” lifting of the controls. Australia is the only country, as far as I can ascertain - and I have made fairly thorough inquiries - that is keeping to such a rigid system, a system that cannot be enforced and brings about the corruption that called for the inquiry that we have had. I venture to say that had the royal commission been given terms of reference to inquire into very many more contracts in New South Wales - at was limited to half a dozen or so-
– Does the honorable member believe in lifting all controls?
– I have said what I have said. The honorable member will have an opportunity to reply later. I believe in lifting controls on the sale of land. I have given my reasons. I believe in lifting the atmosphere of corruption that is pervading the whole community, especially those who desire to do reasonable business, because of the nonrecognition of the facts. If any one should go into the witness box to give “evidence and to be held responsible for “what is happening about these transactions in Australia, it is the Prime Minister, because he is the spearhead of it all. He is responsible for the whole system, and is, therefore, the only one who can alter it. The position is indeed serious from a moral standpoint, apart altogether from business difficulties that confront the people. Thousands of decent people find that the only way they can get a transaction through is to agree on the Treasury price and then do a private deal. Well, we lose morally and financially, too, because stamp duty and other charges are paid only on the prices prescribed by the Treasury. I am not speaking as one voice in this matter. The Real Estate Institute and responsible men all over Australia claim that 80 per cent., or thereabouts, of land transactions are conducted on the black market. ,
– That is pretty excessive, 80 per cent!
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council is a man whose head is not unduly in the clouds, and he knows that that is substantially true. No one can say exactly what the percentage is. Some of my informants assure .me that the figure is as high as 95 per cent., and I think I am speaking conservatively when I say it is 80 per cent. For how long is this to be allowed to continue? The main point is, what benefit does the maintenance of the control give to the Government and the country? Is it preventing inflation of land values? I have shown that if the controls were completely lifted land values would not rise excessively. The Vice-President of the Executive Council knows that it is hard to obtain labour on the land in his electorate. How then could people be induced to pay excessive prices for land that they would be unable to work? That limitation in itself dictates to a substantial degree, at least, what people will pay for land. There can be a retention of rent control. The honorable member for Hume asked me whether I was prepared to lift all controls. I am not. There are certain controls that will have to be graduated down, but we should lift controls that are ob solete, are serving no good purpose and are being evaded by people. We should lift such controls as circumstances and time show to be unnecessary. This is one the retention of which is a black mark against the Government.
.- I have listened with interest to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), and I appreciate his sincerity, but, at the same time, with all their faults, and there are possibly many, I do not think the Land Sales Control Regulations should be lifted at present. One thing my trip abroad taught me was that stabilization of land and other values in Australia is far in advance of that of any other country. Some countries have lifted controls over land and house values, with the result that values have risen three, four and five times above the pre-war levels. For instance, in some countries overseas I saw houses bringing £8,000, £9,000 and £10,000 each that before the war would not have sold for more than £2,000 or £3,000, merely because of the absence of price fixing. In. the United States of
Aim erica there is a certain degree of control over rents, but in New York there was a more or less strong demand for a firmer control in order that people might have a “ fair go “. The honorable member claims that the lifting of control over land sales would be beneficial, but I take the contrary view, because while there is a shortage of houses and land, which are so necessary, and a surplus of money in the community, people will pay any price and sections of the public will be exploited. The people determined not to pay more than is reasonable will be deprived and those ready to pay whatever is asked will be given an unfair advantage. The honorable member said that 80 per cent, of land transactions took place on the black market, but is it not reasonable to expect that people who desire to live in conformity with the law generally shall obey the law in respect of land transactions? It takes two parties to make a black market transaction.
– The Government will not enforce the law against people who break it quite openly.
– It is difficult to catch the culprits^ The fact that 80 per cent, of the people are, as claimed by the honorable member, prepared to break the law, does not prove that the law is not just and proper. Repeal of the regulations would lead to absolute chaos. The pegging of land values and rents is something the Government has reason to be proud of. It prevents people who want houses at a reasonable price being exploited. I do not support the honorable member’s contention, sincere as it was, because my experience has proved that the lifting of pegging of values has led to exploitation of the peoples of other countries.
– This proposed vote enables me to reply to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), who criticized certain of my observations in my budget speech about reserves that are available to’ the Treasury, especially the arrears of tax, uncollected and unassessed. The figures I quoted were supplied to me by the Commissioner of Taxation. The aggregate of arrears of unassessed and uncollected tax is £107,300,000. It will be remembered that I said that there was a total amount of £250,000,000, including £100,000,000 of uncollected and unassessed tax, which obviously constitutes cash reserves thatare available for government purposes. The total amount is made up of an amount of £.47,300,000 arrears of taxes that had been assessed but not collected at the 30th June last, and an amount of £60,000,000 which is estimated to be the value of tax not yet assessed in respect of income earned prior to the 1st July, 1947. The latter amount is involved in 700,000 assessments which, the Commissioner of Taxation has informed me, had not been issued at the 1st July. He stated in response to my inquiries that there were approximately 700,000 prior years’ assessments unissued at the 1st July, 1947. The amount of tax represented was very difficult to estimate precisely, but the amount “ could possibly be in the vicinity of £60,000,000”. In the light of my experience of such estimates, I feel safe in asserting that £60,000,000 is a very conservative estimate and repre sents the absolute minimum. The Commissioner also informed me that there was a total of £47,300,000 of assessed income tax, including war-time company tax, outstanding at the 30th June, 1947. We must remember that taxes are a community burden and that, if Peter does not pay, Paul must pay for him. In view of the large total of outstanding taxes, it is obvious that people who have met their commitments have been overtaxed.
The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction made the ridiculous statement that I had suggested that the Government should borrow against thesecurity of this amount of £100,000,000’ of uncollected taxes. In fact, I suggested! that these outstanding payments should be collected as the most effective possible safeguard that the Government could apply against inflation. Obviously, that amount is now in the hands of the public and thus it constitutes extra purchasing power which should be available to the Government for the purposes of its general activities and, in particular, for the purpose of enabling it to reduce tax rates. Let us relate that outstanding debt of £100,000,000 to the estimates of taxes for the current year. The Treasury has assumed that in 1947-48 amounts of £89,000,000 and £53,000,000 will be received in income tax and company tax respectively. This makes an estimated revenue from those sources of £14)2,000,000. Relate that total of £142,000,000 to the amount of £100,000,000 that is outstanding. I am aware, of course, that the whole of the outstanding amount will not be collected. A certain proportion of it will remain uncollected on account of business failures, bankruptcies and so forth. I make an allowance of £8,000,000 for such contingencies. The fact that this money is owing to the Treasury provides the Government with the best possible opportunity to reduce tax rates and, at the same time, to guard against inflation as a measure of protection for the future. I remind the Government that the bestpractical means of protecting the nation against inflation is to increase production. The way to increase production, as we have repeatedly, perhaps even tediously, asserted, is to reduce taxes a:s an incentive to producers.
The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction challenged the accuracy of the figures that I. cited. I repeat that my information was supplied to me by the Commissioner of Taxation. If the Minister can provide alternative figures - and he has all the facilities of every government department at hand - I shall have a good look at them and decide whether they can be accepted as accurate, keeping in mind the fact that they emanate from him. I repeat emphatically that I regard the information supplied to me as being accurate because it came to me over the signature of the Commissioner of Taxation and, from experience, I am sure that he knows no party politics and shows no bias whatever in connexion with the efficient administration of this very important department. A debt of £100,000,000 is definitely due to the. Commonwealth and is now at large in the hands of the public. That figure represents the minimum amount of outstanding taxes. The Commissioner of Taxation stated in his letter to me -
It is anticipated that by the 30th September, the assessing of prior years’ returns will have been completed.
Therefore, we may assume that a large proportion of the £60,000,000 of income tax due by taxpayers will be in the possession of the Treasury before the 30th June, 1948. Time alone will reveal the amount by which the department’s estimates have been understated, thus causing the Government to maintain tax rates, at their present nonsensically high level.
The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction made some remarkable statements yesterday. I listened to the broadcast of his speech, and when I heard some of his assertions I almost trampled on the radio set. He described my reference to a sum of £100,000,000 as being ridiculous because, he said, the Government owed certain money to taxpayers under the “ pay as you earn “ system. In order to support his argument he instanced his own case, and said that he had paid £800 in tax instalments but had been taxed only £700. He is approaching this matter entirely from the wrong standpoint. He is trying to prove that the Taxation Department owes large sums of money to the taxpayers. I did not deal with that aspect of the matter at all in my speech.
I referred only to the fact that the taxpayers owe amounts to the Taxation Department equal to the figures stated by the Commissioner of Taxation in correspondence with me. The amount of £47,300,000 is the sum remaining after allowance has been made for known refunds which are due to taxpayers. This includes a large number of taxpayers on the pay-as-you-earn basis, who have income other than the income in respect of which instalments of tax have been regularly deducted. The collection of the £100,000,000 will be the greatest safeguard against inflation, because it will, to that degree, reduce the purchasing power of the people and the necessity to raise loans from the public from time to time. I do not blame the Taxation Department for the large amount of uncollected arrears represented by the £107,300,000. The department has had a most difficult task for a number of years, but its difficulties are gradually being overcome. The shortage of staff is being rectified; this is evident from the information that the department expected that arrears of assessments would be overtaken shortly. Obviously, there is a reserve of £107,300,000 which will be available in the near future, and this amount should be applied to reduce taxes to a sensible level in order to provide a practical safeguard against inflation. This safeguard is represented by the increased production of goods which have been in short supply for an inconveniently long period. I submit consistently as a policy that the greatest incentive to production is a reduction of taxes. The means for doing this are available to the Treasurer.
.- On two previous occasions when this chamber has been discussing the Estimates, I have raised a matter which has been received favorably by the three political parties represented here, and I was led to hope that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) who, we know, is-
– So generous.
– In many matters, the right honor able gentleman is far from being generous. However, the objects and work of the organizations on whose behalf I make these representations are so laudible that I hope the Treasurer will receive them favorably. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia and the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, submitted to the right honorable gentleman a joint appeal for financial assistance. Their work is so well known that I need not describe it to honorable members. I point out, however, that there is a precedent for granting financial assistance to these organizations, because a Commonwealth grant is already paid for national fitness and the flying doctor service. Unfortunately, the Royal Life Saving Society and the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, which perform similarly good work, have not been granted any assistance. The functions of these two organizations may be classed with those of the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance Society. The members of the organizations include thousands of young Australians who annually save many lives on our beaches. Now, the organizations are asking the Treasurer for a grant of £5,000 a year.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to the Department of the Treasury.
– I have here a copy of a letter which the honorary secretary of the Australian Federal .Council of the Royal Life Saving Society wrote to the Treasurer. It reads -
On .behalf of the Australian Federal Council, Royal Life Saving Society and the Federal Council, Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, I desire to make an appeal to you, as Treasurer of our Federal Parliament, to assist our two organizations by making a grant of £5,000 to assist us in the maintenance and upkeep of life saving gear and equipment and to further our work of protecting members of the public throughout Australia from death by drowning.
As you are, no doubt, aware, Sir, the work of our two organizations is performed by members on an entirely voluntary basis, but our administration expenses have, during the past twelve months particularly, risen to such an extent that both organizations will, in the very near future unless financial assistance is received, have to seriously consider curtailing some of our present activities let alone put into operation many schemes which would further prevent the present appalling loss of life.
– Order ! The remarks of the honorable member are not relevant here, but he may raise this matter under “ Miscellaneous Services “. Provision is made for the Boy Scout movement.
– If the Temporary Chairman considers that this is a matter which can be lightly put aside, I am sorry.
– Order ! The Chair has ruled where the honorable member may raise this matter.
– I can conclude my representations to the Treasurer in half a dozen words.
– I shall take the rest for granted, or the honorable member may speak to me privately about the matter.
– I thank the Treasurer.
.- This may be a convenient opportunity for me to raise a few matters about which honorable members will welcome some information. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has given us to understand that legislation will be introduced during this session to enable the Commonwealth Bank to take over the private banking system of Australia. I do not desire to anticipate the debate on that legislation, but honorable members should be made aware of certain facts relating to the Commonwealth Bank which, in the event of this act being taken, will become a monopoly bank, politically controlled. Various people have stated in recent days that when they have sought to withdraw sums of money from the Commonwealth Bank, the tellers have asked them the purposes for which the money was being withdrawn. That is so, I understand, when any substantial amount is being taken from the bank.
– It has always been the case with all the banks, to some extent.
– The Treasurer says that “ it has always been the case with all the banks, to some extent “. It is certainly novel in my experience, and I should like other honorable members in the chamber to tell me whether they have ever had the experience of a teller asking them why they wanted to make withdrawals when they presented their cheques for even substantial amounts. I know from my own professional and commercial experience that withdrawals are made of substantial sums from time to time in the course of the conduct of my own legal office or business, but I have never known-
– The honorable member would not be asked any question when, as a legal practitioner, he was handling money, but I know that long ago managers of private banks would ask an ordinary customer, who was proceeding to withdraw £1,000, what he proposed to do with the money.
– The Treasurer puts the matter on a delightfully offhand plane, but it would appear that something is being done at the present time in the Commonwealth Bank which has created an impression - not a favorable impression, either - with depositors and which, apparently, is not their experience with other banks with which they have “business. The Treasurer should state quite clearly whether instructions have been issued to the managers of branches <o£ the Commonwealth Bank, who, in turn, would pass them on to the tellers, that they are to inquire from clients their reasons for wishing to withdraw substantial sums.
– An honorable member asked a question about this matter, or raised it in some other form, and I spoke to the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank about it. No request for the issue of these instructions has been made by the Government, and I understand that none has been issued by the Governor of the bank.
– The Treasurer indicates that there has been no abnormal action taken. He might go further and inform us-
– The honorable member referred to “ abnormal action There is no substance in his remarks. “Why pursue the subject?
– Quite clearly, action has been taken by the tellers concerned. If that is not abnormal action, and if the Treasurer and the Governor of the bank have not given any special direction-
– This is only propaganda.
– I am only seeking information, and I hope that the Treasurer will supply it. He has already given some. The second point is whether there has been any abnormal volume of withdrawals from the Commonwealth Bank or the Commonwealth Savings Bank in recent weeks following the announcement by the Government of its intention to introduce legislation to nationalize banking. I direct a similar question in respect of recent loan conversions. I do not think that the Treasurer would claim that the percentage of conversions is comparable with the rate under previous operations. There are reasons which one could advance for this action, if it is being taken, but this is not the time to advance them. We can do so when the legislation comes before us. At the moment, I am seeking information which will be of assistance to honorable members when that legislation is under discussion. My understanding is that there ‘have been abnormally heavy withdrawals from the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank since the proposal to introduce legislation to nationalize banking was announced, and also that the rate of conversion in connexion with recent loans was by no means so satisfactory as the percentage of conversions of previous loans.
– I understand that the deposits in savings banks have risen for some time, and are continuing to rise.
– That is one of the things we desire to know.
Another point is whether it is a fact that approximately £400,000,000 of deposits with the trading banks is being “ frozen “ and lent to the Commonwealth Bank at the rate of one-half of 1 per cent. If that money is lent to the Commonwealth Bank at that low rate of interest and if the Commonwealth Bank, in turn, is able to make advances on the backing of those deposits at rates of interest which would probably average 3 per cent., judging by the rates charged on Commonwealth bonds, treasury-bills and . overdrafts, the committee would appreciate an explanation of the fact that the Commonwealth Bank made a profit of only £6,000,000 last year. Admittedly that is a substantial sum, and any bank would be glad to know that its profit on the year’s trading reached that figure; but, on the assumption that the Commonwealth Bank would average at least 3 per cent, on advances made from moneys deposited with it by the trading banks, from that one source alone it would appear that a gross profit of £12,000,000 should have been made during the year. In addition to those sources of income, the Commonwealth Bank has other trading operations; it has its own advances from moneys deposited directly with the Commonwealth Bank and its own dealings with governments and with the purchasers and sellers of securities. It would be interesting to know what return the Commonwealth Bank is getting from moneys which were not deposited with it, but were deposited originally with the private trading hanks.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I was addressing myself to some matters which were exercising the minds of honorable members on this side of the chamber in regard to the Commonwealth Bank. The Treasurer is, of course, the real head of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and this institution is the principal instrument of government credit and of the financial policy of the Government. The banking legislation of 1945 placed upon the Treasurer the responsibility for, and the opportunity of, directing the credit policy of this country through the agency of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Since the Treasurer has foreshadowed the introduction of legislation designed to confer on the Commonwealth Bank a politically controlled monopoly of banking in this country, I took the trouble to examine some of the recent instructions issued to the bank and to inquire into its suitability to exercise the great responsibility which the Treasurer proposes to confer upon it. The matter can, of course, be discussed more exhaustively when the proposed legislation is introduced, but in the meantime I have asked some questions of the Treasurer. I asked him whether there had not been an abnormally low number of conversations of government securities during the recent loan appeal, and whether there had not been in recent weeks an abnormally high rate of withdrawal from deposits in the Commonwealth Bank or in the Commonwealth Savings Bank. I also asked him whether an instruction had been issued to the tellers of the Commonwealth Bank to inquire from customers who were withdrawing substantial sums their reasons for doing so. I received an immediate answer to the last question, and I do not intend to pursue that aspect of .the matter any farther. I have had a glance at the last report and balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, and some of the information contained in those documents will be most interesting to honorable members and to the public in view of the legislation which the Government proposes to introduce.
An extremely high proportion of the assets held by those institutions as an offset against their liability to their depositors consists of government securities, including Commonwealth treasury-bills. The balancesheet of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia shows that it relies largely on government securities, including Commonwealth treasury-bills, amounting to approximately £470,000,000 and securities of other governments and of local and semi-governmental authorities, amounting to approximately £6,000,000, to meet its liability to depositors of approximately £505,000,000. The balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, in which the savings of a very large number of thrifty people are deposited, shows that depositors’ balances and accrued interest amount to approximately £426,000,000, while the bank’s principal assets against this huge liability comprise Commonwealth Government securities, including Commonwealth treasury-bills, and securities of other governments and of local and semigovernmental authorities, totalling approximately £400,000,000. I have expressed these sums in round figures in order to make the position more easily comprehensible to honorable members, but the detailed figures are shown in an official publication issued by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. I have no doubt that the average person imagines that the Commonwealth Bank conducts its business on the same lines as do other banks, namely, that they purchase real securities to offset their deposits. However, as the balancesheets reveal, that is not the case.
The Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, which has a liability to depositors of approximately £426,000,000, relies upon the securities of Commonwealth and State Governments and of local and semi-governmental authorities amounting to approximately £400,000,000.
– That is quite a sound practice, and is in line with the policy adopted by all State savings banks.
– Quite so; and that leads me to inquire what proportion of the deposits held by State savings banks, which are the repositories of the savings of the people of Australia, is offset by their holdings of Commonwealth securities.
– Where else are people to invest their small savings?
– -I do not complain of people depositing their money in savings banks ; on the contrary, I think that that is perfectly sound. The point I am making, however, is that the main asset which savings banks hold to meet their liability to their depositors consists of Commonwealth and State government securities and Commonwealth treasury-bills. The honorable member has been a member of this chamber for a much longer time than I have, and he is more familiar with the Commonwealth’s financial history. Therefore, he no doubt recalls the time when Commonwealth securities were quoted at public auction at. a figure very much lower than their face value. He will also recall that at one time Commonwealth bonds of a nominal value of £100 each were sold in New York for ‘less than £40, and that even in Australia they sold at a figure considerably lower than their nominal value. Members on this side of the chamber do not contend that the occurrence of that situation can be avoided at all times, because Commonwealth and State governments must necessarily encounter unexpected and unpredictable difficulties. We all understand that governments must take risks which banking institutions cannot afford to take. But it is not without significance that even to-day one cannot discharge one’s liabilities to the Commissioner of Taxation or the Commissioner of Stamp Duties in a State by the tender of Commonwealth bonds. Commonwealth agencies and departments will not accept the Government’s own securities at their face value, yet notwithstanding this the Government does not hesitate to grab the deposits of small investors in State savings banks and in the Commonwealth Savings Bank in order to fill government loans.
– The word “ grab “ is uncalled for; subscriptions to the loans are negotiated by the responsible officers of the institutions mentioned by the honorable member.
– I understand that the assets of the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia include securities of the type I have mentioned, of a nominal value of approximately £400,000,000. Can the Minister tell us how many millions deposited by investors in private trading banks have been grabbed by the Commonwealth at an interest payment of -J per cent, and then loaned by the Commonwealth Bank, either to private borrowers at rates of interest varying according to the rates fixed by the Commonwealth - I think that their ruling rate at the moment is approximately 4i per cent. - or loaned to governments at the treasury-bill rate, or invested in government securities at 3£ or 3£ per cent.? We must not forget that, since .194.5, the Commonwealth Bank has been the instrument of the Treasurer of the day. If the Commonwealth Government, through the Commonwealth Bank, has not “ grabbed “ those millions of pounds of deposits with the trading banks, I do not know what the word “ grab “ means. In Great Britain, a Labour government in recent weeks has done something which, it had been claimed, no Labour government would ever do; it has conscripted labour in peace- time. In Australia, at the present time, there is conscription of capital and wealth by the Commonwealth Government. It conscripts the deposits with the private trading banks and, by a process of negotiation - as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has termed it - conscripts the small deposits of the depositors with the State and Commonwealth Savings Banks, -for investment for government purposes.
– For the last five years the amount has been £50,000,000 a year.
– The right honorable gentleman can tell this story with a great deal more knowledge and detail than I can. hope to achieve. The matter is one to which the ‘ committee should have some regard, because, whilst in the past there has been an element of stability in the system, in that, if an error of judgment were perpetrated by those directing the CommonwealthBank, the private trading institutions could absorb any shock which might develop in the community, the Treasurer now proposes, and his supporters have given him the necessary authority, to make of our banking system a politically controlled banking, monopoly. So, whatever attitude we might have taken in the past to this form of investment in government securities by the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank, that attitude must be coloured to-day by our knowledge of what is ahead of us. I. refuse to accept the proposition that there is stability in a situation in which, with a politically controlled monopoly, the small deposits throughout the length and breadth of this Commonwealth are, in the main, to be invested in government loans and securities. It would be a hazardous enough proposition if we were heading for the “ golden age “ of which the Prime Minister talked a year or so ago; tout the right honorable gentleman has abandoned all talk of a golden age, and has told us that he now needs these powers, and this control over our banking institutions, in order to prepare for a recession which is ahead of us. If there is a recession ahead of us, and the Treasurer is to have a political monopoly, of the banking system, I do not think that any depositor in a savings bank can feel any sense of security in the knowledge that his money is tied, up in Commonwealth bonds or treasury-bills. I should welcome from the Treasurer, in the course of this debate, a statement as. to how he proposes to ensure stability and security for those depositors. “What proportion of the savings bank deposits is represented by Commonwealth bonds and treasury-bills? “Within recent years, approximately one-third of the total national income has been expended upon government purposes. We thought, at the time, that that was a war-time expedient which would pass with the coming of peace; but the budget which the Treasurer has presented to us makes it abundantly clear that it is to be a permanent policy of his Government, and that, from now on, at least one-third of the national income is to be expended upon government purposes. If the policy of socialization, to which the right honorable gentleman and every honorable member who sits behind him in the Parliament are pledged, is to be further implemented, then a very much higher proportion of the national income will be expended on government purposes in the future. If that be so, then the people who have money to lend, the people who have saved from their resources, will be required to Iia ve a bigger and bigger proportion of their savings invested in Commonwealth bonds and treasury-bills.
On the same point, I ask the Treasurer to tell us, before the debate on his departmental estimates concludes, what proportion of the investible funds of the insurance companies are to-day invested in Commonwealth loans or treasury-bills for government purposes. We know that during the war a very large proportion of the funds available to the insurance companies was invested in Commonwealth loans. Those people who have taken out. insurances as security for their old age would be interested to know how much of their money is being invested in Commonwealth loans, and what proportion of the funds of those companies that investment represents. In a stable economy, these points that I raise would not, perhaps, be of any great urgency or consequence; because, with the risks of the community widely spread, damage in one direction could be repaired by means of the resources that were available, in another direction. But when the people of Australia “put all their eggs in one basket “, and when those “ eggs “ are the only assets that they possess in this world in the form of savings and security, then they are entitled to know exactly how their security and safety are to be ensured by a government which adopts such a policy. I hope that before the debate concludes the Treasurer will be able to satisfy my curiosity on these points.
-The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), in quite an impressive speech this morning, stressed what he considers is the necessity for the removal of land sales control. He also said that, in his opinion, there could be a removal of land sales control and at the same time a continuation of rent control. That statement expresses a growing and, I believe, an honest, feeling in the community. I submit that, whilst that may be technically and legally possible, it would be administratively impossible. It has been said on several occasions, both inside and outside this Parliament, that America has, in effect, achieved that condition - that the removal of land sales control has not had any effect on rent control. That is not borne out by this extract from a New York newspaper -
Kent rises throughout the country since controls were ceased two days ago shocked tenants. Angry tenants are swamping Rent Control offices with cries and demands for legal action.
Because of the strength of the demonstrations against increased rents, the American Congress was compelled to re-enact legislation designed to check increases of rents; but the legislation introduced had not a sufficiently wide scope, and did not embrace buildings similar to the flats in the residential districts of the cities of this country. It was claimed that rent control was effective in respect of the ordinary single unit dwellings; but the statistics reveal that the rents of the residents of what are known as apartmenthotels, from which all controls bad been removed, rose by 150 per cent, in Chicago, 50 per cent, in San Francisco, and 60 per cent, in New York and Cleveland. That was tile result of modifying rent control in the United States of America. Before the rent controller here can make a determination it is necessary for him to take into consideration the value of the property as on the prescribed date, which is fixed by the Minister in charge of the regulations by notice in the Commonwealth Gazette.
Honorable members have pointed out that if control of land and property sales were removed prices would rise by 50 to 65 per cent. I submit that the new prices would have to be taken into consideration by the rent controller in determining rents. For instance, if a property formerly valued at £1,500 were sold for £2,250 it would be technically possible for my officers to .take no notice of the higher price, and to insist that the rent be based on the 1939 value. The new owner, however, would certainly appeal against the determination on the ground that, as the Government had allowed the .transfer, and taxed, ‘the sale at the higher rate, it had no right to demand that rents should be based on the lower 1939 value. As a matter of fact, we encountered trouble of this kind when rent control was administered by State boards up .to the end of 1946. When 1 became Minister, I found that there was much variation between the determinations of different boards, and that there was such a general upward trend in rents, that I gazetted new regulations in March. 1947, in order to bring about uniformity, and stabilize rents. Experience has proved that the action was justified. 1 am sure that if property transfers were allowed at the higher rate which would prevail if restrictions were removed the court would, on appeal, allow higher rents to be charged. Even at the present time, valuations up to 20 per cent, above the 1939 figure, as allowed by Laud Sales Control, are sometimes taken into account by the Appeals Court in determining rents* If control were removed, rents would rise immediately in order to meet the increased price of property and if, as honorable members have stated, prices increased by 50 per cent., we may take it for granted that rents would rise proportionately. Rent is one of the major items in the “ C “ series of retail price index numbers, and if rents went up prices would go up all round. Control of land sales will be necessary until house building has caught up to the prevailing housing shortage. Any unrestricted increase of rents at the present time would lead to inflation.
.- I have only one comment to make on the Minister’s statement. He has explained the difficulties confronting the Government, and we are well aware of them. Without doubt, some control of rents is necessary, but the Minister says that it would be impossible to lift the restrictions on the sale of property because of the relation between the price of property and the level of rents. I submit .that, while his argument holds good in respect of sale; of properly intended for subsequent letting, it does not hold good in regard to sales for occupation by the purchaser, a point which the department has probably not considered. For instance, an ex-serviceman who wishes to buy a farm often has to wait six to twelve months while the application is being considered by the Treasury. Even then, a price may be fixed which is unacceptable to the vendor, and the deal falls through. As the result, many desirable settlers are prevented from going on the land. The same principle applies to city property. It should be sufficient if an undertaking were given, and included in the contract of sale, that the person buying the property would occupy it himself.
– How could that be enforced ?
– It would be a contract which, I presume, would be enforceable at law like any other contract.
The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan), who is present, but who cannot speak because of a bad throat, has asked me to draw attention to a cutting from the Melbourne press in which it is stated that a newcomer to this country, who has taken up tomato-growing, complained that he was unable to collect money due to him. The police asked to see his books, and he confessed that he did not keep any. They asked how he made out his income tax returns, and he said that he did not pay any tax. It is possible that there’ are many other cases of the kind in which tax payment is evaded, either wittingly or unwittingly. I suggest that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) should arrange that all immigrants, of whatever nationality, should be supplied upon, arrival with a hand-book as a guide to paying their taxes. When some people do not pay their taxes, others have to pay more than they should. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has explained that there is outstanding £47,000,000 of uncollected income tax, and £60,000,000 for which assessments have not yet been issued, making a total of £107,000,000. As a result, the Government keeps tax rates unnecessarily high. If people are wilfully evading the payn.fi:t of taxes they should be made to pay. Why should honest citizens and business firms, who pay their dues regularly, have to carry the burden of what amounts practically to bad debts because the Government is careless about its collection of taxes? Therefore, that matter should be looked into; and, furl her, something should be done regarding newcomers so that they will know exactly what the law is.
.- I believe that the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) was sincere in his arguments with respect to Land Sales Control. That authority has accomplished much good. We know that the parties to any transaction have the right of appeal to the Treasurer, or the Treasury delegate in the respective States, as well as to the panel constituted in each State. Those panels, which include the nominees of organizations representative of estate agents, are the final judges as to whether a. proposed price conforms with the regulations. The need for land sales control is emphasized by the experience of many ex-servicemen when they have sought to obtain homes. I know of a case of a property owner who complained bitterly because he was not allowed to sell a home to an exserviceman for £2,100. However, I elicited the fact from the property owner that the home had been constructed two years ago at a cost of £1,200. Thus, he wished to make £900 out of the ex-serviceman who wanted to buy it. Cases of that kind help us to realize -the value of land sales control. In another case, the purchase price asked for a block of land was £S00 in excess of the value assessed officially. That was a substantial discrepancy. At the same time, however, I agree with the honorable member for Richmond that prospective purchasers of homes should not be penalized when the price agreed upon by the vendor and purchaser exceeds the official valuation by only a small figure. For instance, I am now making representations on behalf of a person who desires to purchase a home for £900, but the Treasury delegates will not agree to a sale in excess of £855. An important feature of this case is that the prospective purchaser has been residing in the home for some time. Having regard to that fact, I believe that so small a difference between the official price and that agreed upon between the parties should not warrant prohibition of the transaction. As the honorable member for Richmond pointed out, an unscrupulous person who was not averse to black-market tactics would not fall to obtain that property for the sake of £45. Thus, the purchaser to whom I refer would be deprived of obtaining the home in which he is residing ; and in the event of a sale being made on the black market, as it were, he would face eviction. In cases of that kind, when only a comparatively small sum of money is involved, I believe that the land sales control authority should exercise some discretion. Incidentally, evictions have reached quite a high figure in South Australia.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the efficiency of the administration of the Taxation Department in South Australia. Recently, while waiting at the office in Adelaide for an interview, I had reason to make a mental note on this matter. For instance, I noticed a young lady so busily mailing cheques to various taxpayers covering refunds of overpayment of tax that she had barely a moment to spare. The Taxation Department in South Australia has done a magnificent job. Taxation experts and leading Adelaide accountants acting on behalf of big companies in South Australia have personally expressed to me commendation of the efficiency of the taxation officers in Adelaide and that view is borne out by my own experience. Those officers have set a standard which might well be emulated by other departments.
Mr. HARRISON (Wentworth) [2.521. - I should not have spoken at this juncture but for the observation of the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) following the suggestions made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) with regard to the need to abolish land sales control. The honorable member said that he could see no reason why land sales control should not be abolished, and rent control retained. I thought that he made out a very strong case. He established beyond reasonable doubt that land sales control was affecting the morale and, indeed, the morals of the community. He said that this control in many cases penalizes honest persons, and in certain circumstances might contribute to honest people being made bankrupt. Under the present system, many persons suffer definite monetary loss in ordinary trading transactions because they prefer to adhere honestly to the regulations. Naturally, such a system encourages dishonesty on the part of less scrupulous persons. The Minister’s only reply to that was, in effect, “ Surely, when regulations are passed, every person in the community should conform with them as they are the law of the land “. That is nonsense. If that were so, we should abolish all our police courts and have no need to insert penalty provisions in any legislation at all. The fact of the matter is that human nature being what it is, the Government must provide for the policing of all legislation. The Minister also undertook to prove that the Government could not abolish land sales control unless it abolished rent control also, because the two are so closely interlocked. That statement reveals the working of the mind of the Minister and the department. If we are to believe all the evidence placed before us, no fewer than 80 or 90 per cent, of the transactions covering the sale of real estate are negotiated on the black market at prices showing extraordinary increases above the valuations by the delegates of the Treasurer or their valuers. Most of the real estate which is changing hands to-day is sold at greatly enhanced prices, which in no way affect the rents paid by the great majority of the people. For that reason, we urge that the control of real estate sales should be lifted, so that honesty may again reign in these transactions. If a dishonest form of operating does not affect rents, how could an honest form of ‘operating affect them-? We seek to bring to an honest level these transactions in real estate. It is perfectly true that if land sales and rent control were abolished there would be an automatic increase of rents; but if land sales control alone were abandoned rents would not be affected, and transactions now carried out on the black market would be legal.
– There are also dishonest rent agreements.
– Of course there are, and I propose to cite some examples of them. The average citizen cannot be proud of our moral standards to-day. On every hand there is open defiance of the law, because it operates unfairly, and no attempt is made to police it. No law or regulation can be effective unless it be enforced. A man who is closely associated with .me desired to buy a piece of land. An agent showed him several blocks, from which he chose one as being suitable to his needs. In reply to a question, the agent said “ The price of the land is £550. Of course, that is not the pegged price “. When the man expressed surprise, the agent asked, “ Have you not done business in this way? “ The man said, “ I do not. know what you mean “. The agent then said, “ The price of !he land is £550. You pay me £200, for which you will not be given a receipt, and when the sale at £350 is approved by the delegate of the Treasurer you can pay’ me that amount on the signing of the contract. That is how these transactions are carried out “. That practice is being followed in almost every land transaction. I .made it my business to discuss it with a representative of one of the big firms of legal practitioners which handles real estate transactions for buyers or sellers. I asked how the firm handled cases of this kind. I was informed that the linn did not deal with that part of the transaction which was illegal; that Hie vendor and the purchaser made their own arrangements; and that all it was interested in was the contract price approved by the delegate of the Treasurer. This legal gentleman, however, indicated ‘hat he knew that other arrangements were invariably made between purchasers and vendors. Everybody knows that these illegal’ practices are followed in almost every transaction.
It is true, .as the honorable member for Richmond has pointed out, that an honest man is penalized and may, because of his honesty and his desire to maintain a high code of ethics, be forced into bankruptcy. The Government is well aware that inflation is being caused as the result of the high prices now being paid for real estate. Rents, however, are not affected by such transactions, because they are pegged at values existing at a certain date. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) referred to dishonest rent agreements. It is much easier for the Government to police rent control than a control covering both rents and real estate transactions. Nine times out of ten the person who desires to rent a dwelling to-day is forced to buy, at an exorbitant cost, some furniture or fittings installed in it. It is difficult to control illegal transactions of this kind. The problem of rent control, however, goes much deeper. The landlord and tenant regulations bear heavily on those who, having let their own homes, desire to repossess them. For instance, an exserviceman of World War I. let his home at Turramurra and went to live in Bondi. Subsequently his wife developed pulmonary tuberculosis. Her doctor told the husband that he would have to take his wife to a higher altitude, or she would not recover. He sought to obtain repossession of his home at Turramurra, where the Lady Davidson Home for the treatment for tubercular patients is situated, and sought an eviction order against his tenant. However, the magistrate ruled that unless he could provide the occupier with another home with equal accommodation his application could not be granted. The man pointed out that the area of his home at Turramurra was in excess of that now permitted in new homes. He said to the magistrate, “ The law prevents me from building for my tenant another home equal in size to my home at Turramurra “. The magistrate said, “ Sorry ; I cannot help you “. This man’s wife was forced to continue living in Bondi, an area unsuitable to her physical condition, and thus her life may be shortened. His only alternative is to resort to the black market. That example surely shows the absurdity of these controls. The Minister for Works and Housing is fully aware of the circumstances of this case, as is also the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who sought to give the man a right of appeal against the decision of the magistrate.
– What other action could we take?
– The Minister should have a discriminatory right to dispense justice in circumstances such as I have just related. First, the law provides that the owner of a house, before ejecting his tenant, must provide the tenant with another home of equal size; but another law provides that new homes of more than a prescribed area shall not be constructed.
– Nonsense !
– It is not nonsense. The Minister is well aware of the facts of this case. He knows that I am referring to the case of Mr. Whitton.
– The final decision must be made by the magistrate.
– The Landlord and Tenant Regulations could be altered.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we should override the decision of the court?
– That is being done almost every day.
– That is not true.
– When the Government’s legislation has been rejected by the High Court, the Government immediately alters it in order to circumvent the legal decision. It has been done a dozen times in this House to my knowledge. The Minister is saying now, in effect, “ I have introduced a regulation. It may bear harshly on certain sections of the community, but because I have introduced it I cannot amend it”. What nonsense! Of course he can amend it if he so desires. The honorable member for Richmond has shown clearly that under the present land sales control land transfers are carried out in a dishonest way. We say remove the land sales control and make these dealings honest. Rent control can be retained. The Minister says this is not possible, but I suggest that he take the matter to his departmental officers and get the advice of somebody who has some knowledge of the subject.
– I agree that in certain cases the control of land sales is proving onerous, but to suggest, as the honorablemember for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has done, that a removal of this control would benefit individuals in the lower income groups is ridiculous. In most cases the absence of control would result in these individuals being penalized heavily. I have had brought to my notice only to-day the case of a man who bought a piece of land for £200 and finds now that the subTreasury will permit him to sell it for only £160. He has written to me asking whetherthe Treasury valuation can be reviewed. A fortnight ago I received a letter from a man who wanted to buy a block of land for £225 which the subTreasury valued at £175. The man told me that unless the sub-Treasury would agree to an increased price he could not purchase the land because the owner would not sell for £175. But when I took the matter up with the sub-Treasury, I found that the valuation was not made by one official sitting in his office and perhaps having little knowledge of land values, but by an outside panel of valuers. I could cite other cases that have been brought to my notice recently in which individuals have been unable to purchase blocks of land because the owners would not agree to sell at the official valuations. That disposes of the argument that all land is being sold on the black market. I should like to see a relaxation of the present control as early as possible, but I would not for one moment suggest an immediate and complete lifting of all restrictions. This is a problem that will last as long as there is excess spending power in the community. There is no doubt that the high purchasing power of the public to-day is the cause of inflated prices for many commodities. One honorable member of this chamber said recently that he had been able to obtain a motor car at the pegged price ; but he was only one in a thousand. I ask for leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; progress reported.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I have received the following telegram from the president of the War Widows Craft Guild:-
With reference to the Minister for Repatriation’s unfounded statements that the War Widows Craft Guild had recommended help for women with one or two children as apart from other widows, such a cruel and absurd recommendation has never been discussed by the guild.
I hope .that when the Minister (Mr. Barnard) returns next week he will pay attention to this matter. The few crumbs he threw to the war widows recently will not satisfy me or them. They should not be termed pensioners. They are widows of men who were not careless or spendthrifts but put their country first, and they are in a special category. What they receive from the Government should not be doled out. to them parsimoniously. What they receive should be called not a pension but compensation or an allotment. It is high time that the Government appointed a committee of ex-servicemen in all parties to settle this question amongst others.
– If it is political the honorable member will not have the matter settled that way.
– It rises above politics and political parties. The committee of ex-servicemen appointed in 1943 did some good work, but did not go far enough, and the matter of war widows is one of the subjects that were overlooked. The Government would not have made the meagre concession it did make but for the fact that meetings of war widows in Melbourne and other capital cities shamed it. The Minister misrepresented the war widows’ petition when he said that the Government hae given them what they asked for. I hope that next week, on his return from his appearance before the Arbitration Court on behalf of his union in Tasmania, the Minister will give consideration to the war widows’ protest. I should like also to hear the views of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) on the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.16 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
British Commonwealth of Nations.
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y. - On the 25th September, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I informed the honorable member that inquiries would be made and I now inform the honorable member as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 October 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19471003_reps_18_193/>.