18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.Speaker (Hon . J. S. Rosevear) took . the . chair . at 3p.m.,and read prayers.
– I have to inform the House that the HonorableRobert Semple, Minister of Works and - of . Railways . and Minister in charge of the “State ‘Hydro-electric Department, ‘Roads and “‘PublicBuildings in the Government of . the . Dominion . of New Zealand, is within the precincts. With the . concurrence of honorable. members Iproposetoprovide . him with aseat on the . floor of ‘the . House beside . the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.!
Mr. Semple thereupon entered the chamber,and was seated accordingly.
– There has been placed in theLibrary a copy of Lord Wavell’sdespatch . 911operations . in the South-WestPacific from the .19th . January . to.the . 25thFebruary, 1942. These havenow been released by. the Governmentof theUnitedKingdomfor publication.
– Can the Minister forLabour and National . Service inform the House of the outcome of the compulsory conference called to avert the threatenedone-day stoppage of road transport in SydneyonFriday next? Is theMinister aware of the latest development in - the Queensland Tail strike resulting in . the overwhelming defeat in secret.ballo ts of efforts to, bring a number of unionsintothedispute, . and. so- extend it? Does the Minister know that the threatened stoppage in Sydney will, if it becomes effective, dislocate air services, including overseas services? Ifto-day’s compulsoryconference should fail to avertthethreatened stoppage, willthe Minister set up thenecessary machinery to enable a secret ballot tobe taken so that therank and file of unionists may decide the issue’?
-A compulsory conferenceis being held to-day in Queensland, and I hopethat a satisfactory . settlement will he reached.
– I referredto the Sydney dispute.
– The honorable member referred todisputesin both States. Asfor the dispute in New South Wales, I am not going to anticipate the failure of the conference which has been called. I believe that it willbe successful. Weshall not talk about what may happen until after that conference has concluded.
-In connexion withtherecentamendment of the regulations regarding the repossession of houses and the eviction of . occupants,will the . Minister for Works and Housing consider . a further amendment providing that a ‘tenant shall have first option to purchase before any action can be taken to recover the house that has been sold? Did the honorable gentleman read in . the Adelaide Mail afew weeks ago a statement by Mr. Wainwright,the Controller of ‘Building Materials in South Australia, blaming theNational . Security ‘Regulations . for the . black marketing that exists inhouse transactions by enablingpeople to purchase houses and then take proceedingsfor the eviction of the tenants?
– I did not read the article to which the honorable member has referred. I assure him that the regulations do not in any way encourage blackmarketing in houses. On the contrary, they are designed to give protection to the tenants and therefore to stop black marketing. The giving of first option . to purchase to a tenant has not yet. been examined by me. I shall consider thehonorablemember’s suggestion and endeavour to ascertain how it would affect the community generally if it were given effect.
Mr.FADDEN. - A serious situation exists, in. r.egard. to. rural, industries, housing and production generally because. of the acnte steel shortage. In view of’ the: conflict’ of opinion as to. the reason for the shortage, will the Prime. Minister, orderan inquiry into the cause of the shortagewith a view to taking, remedial action?’ Will’ the right Honorable gentleman, direct particular attention to industrial’ disputes in the coal” industry and the- slow turn-round’ of shipping?1
– Coal’ and steel production are constantly made the subject of conferences and consultations; Every endeavour is being made to. augment coaL production. Another factor affecting’ steel production is the acute shortage of labour- in’ the steel industry: Efforts have- been’ made to overcome that shortage. The Minister for Immigration, is. endeavouring to arrange for some of: themigrants coming’ to Australia, to be located’ in. steel-producing areas and consultationsavith representatives of the steel industry have, taken, place, with that purpose in view: I understand,, also, that, the. Minister- for “Works’ and. Housing is making’ arrangements for; the building of hostels in; steel-pro.ducing; areas wher.ethe., shortage- of labour is: mosti acute: The- demand for- steel, to meet not-; onlyAustralian! but also Ifew. Zealand requirements; is. very great. Am opportunity also exists for the: export of steel- to countries/ which greatly need- it. I assurethe. right honorable, gentleman that, any, matters he has r.aised im his, questions which. ar,e not- already- the- subject of. investigation, will be looked into.
Postage - BRITISH Food mission.
Mr,FALKINDER:- Will” the Minister representing’ the– Postmast’er-tSreneral have inquiries made into the extras ordinary: ciroumstances surrounding- the-, despatch’ by. the branch of the; Returned’ Sailors-, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia at Geeveston, Tasmania, of 30.’ food paroels for; Great Britain, ad’dressed to- the: secretary at. the: head-quarters, of the British Empire. Legion in: Londom?’ Will he ascertain whether- these parcels were all addressed by one person–, in Ho:ba-r,t and: sfintint.wo lots from; a Hobart emporium, the- postage being’ 5s.10d. for, each, parcel? Will: he -ascertain whether -23 of. theparcels, arrived; and. whether, several were, acknowledged? Will he. also ascertain, whether seven, parcels, were, returned; marked’ “insufficient: address”, and. whether, the Geeveston Branch, of, the: Returned. Sailors,, Soldiers, and. Airmen’s. Imperial League of. Australia was. thereupon, asked to pay 5s.. 10d.. postage for each, parcel for transmission from. England, and, 5s..10d. postage, for. each, parcel for. its despatch again, to England, making a. total, of 1.7s. 6d. postage in respect of each, of the; seven, parcels, returned? In. view of the fact that. 23 of the parcels with identical, addresses were safely delivered,, will a remission, of the. return postage, and” of the proposed additional’ forward postage ba granted?
– I know somethingof the matter, mentioned by the honorablemember, because when Iwas.in.Tasmaiiiaa fortnight ago the secretary and president’ of- the Tasmanian Branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League- of Australia Brought it’ to– my notice in the- presence of LieutenantColonel’ Larking; who is: the president of the British Empire Legion-. The fault; obviously; lies with, the” British PostOffice. All- of the- parcels’were delivered: in England; and in respect of thoseparcels alleged’ to have been insiifficiently addressed I cannot understand why they were not– sent: to-, the head office of the- British- Empire. Legion.. The- latter: parcels were: returned to: Australia and Lieutenant-Colonel . Larking’ is; I understand; going to take upthe: matter with the Britishi Post; Office.. The: portion of the honorfable:; member’s . question- directly inrvolving thej Aiustralian Postal. Department isithe.req.uestrfor.-a-. remission- of. the additional postage involved ins respect; of.’ the parcels returned to- Australia and. the-postage of 5s-. 10d-.. demanded . for-eachs of- those parcels; if: they ar,e.i to be; sent back’ to.- England properly; addressed-. Ishall bring the- honorable- member’s! request, to, the notice of- the.- Postmaster.Generali and-, ask-, him, to- f ur.nish- a, reply*.
– Before the representatives of the Britishi Foodf Mission arrived- in Australia;. I’ asked thattthey begiven an opportunity to visit the Muur-ay
Valley, and was assured that that area would not be overlooked. In view of the report in the Sunraysia Daily that a visit to Mildura was made by. three representatives cf the mission, namely, Sir Henry Turner and Mr. McPhail and Mr. Strutt, together with Mr. Goodwin, an officer of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, I now ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is possible, when such important visits are to be made, to inform in advance the member representing the area concerned. The “Mildura Municipal Council learned of the intended visit only a few hours before the arrival of the delegation, and had no opportunity to point out to the delegation many of the areas considered suitable for their purpose. “Will the Minister now endeavour to arrange for Mr. R. Plummer, the leader of the British Food Mission, to visit this productive area? ff such a visit is arranged, will the Minister notify me accordingly?
– The British Food Mission at present visiting this country has complete freedom of movement and the right to make such arrangements as it thinks fit. It would be discourteous for any member of the Government to arrange for it to tour districts represented by certain honorable members which it might not desire to visit. Effect has been given to the wishes expresed by the mission. Every courtesy and assistance has been given to its members, and officers and cars have been placed at their disposal. The members indicated where and when they wished to go, . and I imagine that they do not desire to have members of this Parliament or other persons accompanying and possibly embarrassing them. They either ask for an officer to go with them or one is offered. If they so desire, they can instruct that officer to inform the town clerk or the member of this House representing the area concerned that they intend to visit that district. I am not prepared to accede to the suggestion made y the honorable member. I know that honorable members like to have distinguished visitors of this kind come to their districts. However, I have not influenced the visitors in any way and, so far as I know, none of them has visited my electorate.
– I ask the PrimeMinister whether it is a fact that thereis an almost complete ban on the importation of machinery from dollar areasand whether this ban applies to machinery for the manufacture of important medical drugs and tablets? If so, doeshe not consider that the importance of penicillin tablets warrants their manufacture in Australia, and that importation of machinery for this purpose should be permitted?
– There is not a complete ban upon the importation of capital equipment from the United States of America or any other dollar area. The fact is that there is a very great shortage of dollars and we are under an obligation to the United Kingdom, which is having a difficult time with respect to the dollar ban, to purchase dollars from it in order to conserve dollars as much as possible. A considerable amount of capital equipment has been imported during the year, and in some cases licences which had been withdrawn have been revalidated in respect of capital machinery considered to be absolutely essential. Furthermore, in some cases firm undertakings have been given covering a period ahead that certain essential equipment will be brought in. I could cite dozens of instances in that respect. I have not had brought to my notice the particular case mentioned by the honorable member, but I assure him that if he supplies the details to me I shall examine the matter. One honorable member said lightly, “ Hear, hear !”. I hope that honorable members have a complete appreciation of the difficulties of the dollar position, because if they have not, they are suffering delusions. We have to purchase our dollars from the United Kingdom. Because of the lack of dollars, the people of that country are denying themselves all sorts of things that they need. We are justified in paying heed to their sacrifices. That is entirely apart from the fact that if the United Kingdom’s supply of dollars run out, and we are not able to purchase dollars from it, the restrictions that we shall have to undergo will be much severer than they are. However, whenever it can be shown that it is abso lutely essential to import from the dollar area, applications for import licences are given every consideration and, unless the amount involved runs into millions of dollars, are generally granted. A special committee examines all applications and doubtful cases are referred to the Minister for Trade and Customs and myself for decision. If the honorable member supplies me with particulars, I will examine them.
– Is it a fact that Trans- Australia Airlines will fly its Convair aircraft from the United States of America via Europe, a distance of 15,000 miles, instead of along the normal 8,000 trans-Pacific route, and is this because of the limited range of the aircraft? Has the attention of the Minister for Civil Aviation been drawn to an article in Smith’s Weekly to-day containing a series of allegations about Convair aircraft, including one that a certificate for pressurization and de-icing equipment has not yet been granted, though Trans-Australia Airlines advertisements feature both? In view of the serious nature of the statements in that newspaper, will the Minister make a statement in due course giving the official view?
– It is intended to fly the Convair aircraft to Australia via Canada, Labrador, Iceland and England, whence they will follow the usual route. That is not because of their limited range, because they will have to cover fair distances, but the distances will be far less than they would have to cover if they flew the Pacific. If they came to Australia via the Pacific route they would have to be equipped with extra petrol tanks. That would cost a considerable amount of money. On arrival in Australia, the extra tanks would have to be removed again at a substantial cost. It is expected that a considerable saving of dollars will be made by bringing the Convair airliners to Australia by the proposed route. The honorable member asks me whether I have seen an. article in Smith’s Weekly. He is probably a frequent reader of the newspaper, butI rarely read it, and I do not take much notice of many of the allegations that it publishes, because false allegations have been made in it about me. It is correct to say that so far certificates have not been granted in respect of pressurization, but that is in process of being done. The Convair aircraft is completely airworthy and, when certificates for pressurization have been granted, they will be ready to fly to Australia. I am convinced that they are the best aircraft of their type in the world obtainable at present.
Dollar Deficits - Imports from Sumatra - Supplies for Taxis.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the statement that increased supplies of petrol for Australia are to be drawn from Sumatra in the Sterling area? Will this mean an improvement of Australia’s dollar position? If Australia obtains petrol in sterling areas, is its cost debited to our sterling account or is it debited in dollars? If it is possible to obtain all Australia’s petrol needs from sterling areas, will petrol rationing be abandoned ?
– I endeavoured, apparently not too clearly, to explain to the House previously that every gallon of petrol saved is a dollar saving. It does not matter whether the petrol imported by Australia comes from a sterling source or a dollar source. Any reduction of petrol consumption in Australia results in a saving of net dollar expenditure by the sterling area because the production of petrol in sterling controlled sources is less than sterling area consumption. Australia receives most of its petrol requirements from the sterling area, and the United Kingdom receives most of its petrol supplies from the dollar area. Involved in this problem are matters of haulage and all sorts of other considerations that I shall not discuss now. During the last fortnight, the general managers of two of the major oil companies - one of them made a public statement on the matter - informed me that it is desirable, apart from factors associated with dollars, that all possible savings of petrol should be made. If we could obtain petrol from the Netherlands East Indies for sterling, and provided our aggregate consumption did not increase, we would reduce, over all, the quantity of petrol which would havetobe obtainedfromthedollararea and paid forin dollars.My information about Sumatra was giventome bythe general managerofone ofthe major oil companies,whichhas arefinery : onthe island. This companyhasalready receivedoneconsignmentof petrol, and hopestoreceive somemore in the near future. That will constitute ca smallproportionofthetotal quantityof over 95,000 tonsofpetrol amonth whichwe requireinorder tomaintainthe present ration. No guarantee can be given of any relaxationofpetrol rationing until theposition iscompletely clear, first, as to . theavailability . of tankers, and, secondly,in. regard to the dollar position. Difficulties are : likely to arisethroughout the world in regard . to the supply , offuel oil, and I cannot -give anyguarantee at the moment about petrol rationing. . The positionwillbe judged . on the circumstancesfromtime totime.
– Taxi driversin country districts are concerned atthe verysmall quotaof petrolthat is allottedtothemunder the rationing scheme. It isimpossible for many of them tokeep up payments for their taxi cabs, theirlicences,insurance, main tendance,replacement ofbroken parts and tyres, petrol supplies, and . the cost of keeping -.their families, : on . their earnings from .their quotas.I do not say that Sydney taxi drivers rare allotted too much petrol andcould live ontheir . earnings f rom a much lower allotment than their present quota;of 220gallons a. month for eachcab. However, country drivers, who havegreater distances to cover than city drivers, receive as little as.59 gallons a month ‘to my knowledge. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for SupplyandShipping whether he will review the requirements : of country taxi drivers in. relation to . those of city drivers with aview to . giving them, particularly those . who live.in.Queensland, a reasonable ration of petrol, sothat they.may earna fair livelihood and at thesame time meet theneeds of the travelling public in the places where they operated
– The : honorable : member has just heardanexposition by the Prime Minister ofthenecessity for conserving . dollarsand, therefore, for continuingpetrolrationing.I wasnotaware ofany discrimination between taxi-cab drivers incities ‘andthose incountry areas in relation to petrol allowances. I shall drawthe attention ofthe MinisterforSupply and Shippingto the matterand askhimto inquire into it. It might ; beofassistanceto the Ministerif the honorable member were to providedetailsof the various casesof whichhehasknowledge.
– Frequently in the press, and certainly on overseas broadcasting stations, statements are made regardingthe need . for aninternational force to help theUnited Nations in the many problems which confront it to-day. Australia is asignatory to the United NationsCharter.If Australia ‘be asked to provide its quota foran international force to assist in solving some of the problems which now confront theUnited Nations, I. should like thePrime Minister toinform . me what arrangements have been made here to enable usto fulfil our obligations.
– Order! The honorable member is not in order in debating the subject; . he should ask a question.
Mr.FRANCIS. -TheUnited Nations would require the services . of an internationalforcetomeetanemergency, such as an insurrection, revolution,orarmed clash. Will the Prime Minister inform me what arrangements have been made to supply Australian’s quota ofsuch a force ? Willtheforce be provided from British Commonwealth OccupationForces, or from . reinforcements to . British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, or from the small permanent army of 5,000 men which we are . alleged to -have to-day instead of a force of 19,000 men, which the Government undertook to raise? I should also like the Prime Minister to inform. me how we are to . meet our obligations under the United Nations Charter, to which, I emphasize, we are a signatory, if . at any time we are asked to provide sucha force? How is the force to be recruited, what arrangementshave been made in this matter, andhas the position been discussed by the Governmentor theAustralian MilitaryBoard?
-All the signatories to the United Nations Charter have entered into certain undertakings. Naturally, the point which; the. honorable member raised isone; of. Government policy, and. if theoccasion arose decisions would, have to be made on it. I ask the. honorable member to place. his “speech” upon, the notice-paper.
– Will the Minister for.Post-war Reconstruction:, inform, me whether it is: a factthat the financial assistance, which, is granted by the Commonwealth to: students; for the., purpose, of enabling? them: to- pursue: a. higher educationispayableaccording.toa scales which, begins to? diminish: when, the: income, of: a family exceeds: £250, and disappears completely when it reaches approximately- £588.? Isit furtherafact that.basewage. increases, permitted by, cost of living adjustments, and I additions to m argins, allowed,. by the: Arbitration Court are lost to families, in which children, are the recipients’ of education benefits’, because when the- income of the parents- thusmoves into a Higher scale less aid is- received? In view of the imminent commencement of the university year; will, the Minister give urgent consideration to raising the permissible income so that working families will not bemulcted of wage increases in- this manner ?
– Theconditions under winch subsidies are paid to university students are very much as the; honorable member. Has outlined. The maximum assistance is: £153 per annum plus fees, and that is payable; when the income of astudent’s parents does not exceed approximately £250. The amount of subsidydecreases as the incomeof the parents increases, until atapproximately the; £600. income level a student is no longer eligible for an allowanceor for university fees. It is true, as the honorable member has- said,’ that’ as a salary or wage in-: creases; whether because a parent- has obtained another job at a higher remuneration, or because of . increases due to arbitration court, awards, the amount of the subsidy payable decreases. I shall have the matter examined, but I point out to the Honorable member that these allowances are related to social services benefits generally, and., that. it would,be inappropriate, to. increase, them, without takingintoconsideration . other allowances, paid under the. social, services scale. I am afraid thatI cannot- promise, any adjustment before the university year commences, but I. assure the honorable member, that . his . representations. will, be considered in relation, to any increases that may be considered, in other social services payments.
Former Enemy Nationals- Distribution.
– Some time ago it was stated in the press- that a; Commonwealth advisory committee, would- meet early inFebruary to consider audi report upon the admission of former enemy nationals to this country as immigrants. I ask the Minister for Immigration whether this committee has completed its investigations; and if so when its report will be made available to honorable members ?
– The committee, met in, Sydney in. January under the. chairmanship, of-, the- honorable member for , Parkes. It is a large and . representative body. As Australia hasnowratified peace treaties with all the.ex-enemy countries except Germany, Austria . and’ Japan, a recommendation has been made that’ we should resume immigration from those countries with which wehave ratified peace treaties-. A scheme- under which former- enemy nationals ‘ will be admitted is being worked out. Obviously; we do not’ want many thousands’ ofthem- applying to- come; Here in- the- near- future, because- wecould not accommodate them. In- any case we must ensure- that our former- enemies- shall’ not enjoy better conditions: than those, applying to immigrants’ from countries- which were our allies: I shall make an announcement’ in regard to this matter in about a fortnight, and I hopethatIhave satisfied the honorable member in regard to the positive action that is being taken.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Immigration to an article appearing, in the London. Economist, of the. 3rd January last, entitled “Toll of Emigration,”,, wherein, it is stated that migrants from Britain for the first nine months of 1947 were distributed among the British Dominions and the United States of America as follows : - South Africa, 19,000; Canada, 14,000; United States of America, 14,000; Australia, 8,000, and New Zealand, 4,500. The same article states that there are 95,000 people waiting to go to South Africa, 50,000 to Canada, and 25,000 to Australia and New Zealand together. Can the Minister say whether the marked preference shown by British migrants for Canada, South Africa and the United States of America over New Zealand and Australia is due to the fact that the former have democratic and not socialist governments ?
– I have not read the article in the Economist of the 3rd January last, but I will read it. The figures cited by the honorable member do not seem to make sense. For instance, it is not true that only 8,000 persons came to Australia last year. As a matter of fact, 32,000 came to Australia, of whom 20,000 came from Britain. More than 6,000 arrived here under the free and assisted passages scheme. I believe that many more than 14,000 went to Canada. As I say, I cannot understand how the journal arrived at its figures.
– They are the figures issued by the British Government.
– I do not know whether they are, but I will look into the matter. I shall try to enlighten the honorable member on this and other matters. People go to South Africa and Canada and America in preference to travelling the greater distance to Australia because, in those other countries, they retain a sense of nearness to their homeland. I do not think that prospective emigrants to the countries mentioned are influenced very much by the kind of government under which they will live. However, if that consideration is a factor, I can only point out that the kind of government which we have in Australia cannot be regarded with disfavour in Britain when so many people from there were willing to travel so far to come to this country. Apart from that, however, I should say that in the matter of immigration as in the matter of love, propinquity is everything.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether consideration is being given to representations which have been made for removal of the ban upon the importation of cyanogas? Cyanogas is a cheap and very efficient method of rabbit destruction which is very widely used in the districts which I represent, and representations have been made by almost every branch of the Primary Producers Union and other farmers’ organizations for the removal of the ban. These organizations point out that inability to obtain cyanogas, particularly in a time of labour shortage, will cause a considerable reduction of the amount of foodstuffs which can be produced for export because of destruction of pastures by rabbits. I also ask the Minister whether a decision can be given fairly soon on this very important matter?
– I shall be glad to take this matter up with the Minister for Trade and Customs and supply the honorable member with an answer as soon as possible.
– From time to time I receive reports that certain building materials, such as timber and iron, are being exported from Australia. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether these reports are correct ? If so, where do these exports go and why are these materials being exported when building materials of all kinds are badly needed in this country?
– It is true that small quantities of timber, iron and other building materials are being exported from Australia. However, they are being shipped almost entirely to New Guinea and other territories north of Australia, in order to make good the devastation caused there by the Japanese and bring the productivity of plantations up to prewar volume and, indeed, in excess of that volume.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform me whether the allparty parliamentary committee to review the conditions governing the payment of war gratuity has yet met, and, if so, whether it has reached any decision?
– I shall answer the question because I think that on a previous occasion I mentioned that I intended to consult with the Leader of the Opposition and, possibly, with the Leader of the Australian Country party, to secure the appointment of two new members to the committee which is to consider ways and means of making more liberal conditions governing the payment of war gratuities. The committee has not met as yet, but if satisfactory arrangements can be made along the lines I have indicated the committee should be able to meet shortly. All relevant information has been assembled and will be available to the committee, so that it should be possible for it to consider the matter and report to the House prior to the Easter recess.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform me whether an order has been issued by Army Head-quarters to rifle clubs in New South Wales directing them to reduce their effective membership by 20 per cent? This direction seems to be unreasonable, inasmuch as rifle clubs in that State have, forsome time past, been limited to an overall membership of approximately 11,000, and in the case of at least one club, namely, the Orange Rifle Club, 80 per cent, of the members are ex-servicemen. Will the Minister review the extraordinary direction issued by Army Headquarter’s ? .
– While I was in South Australia last week-end to attend a presentation made to General Dean, in whose honour a local rifle range has been renamed, I learned that the instruction mentioned by the honorable member had been issued. I immediately communicated with Mr. Sinclair, of the Department of the Army, who is also secretary of the rifle clubs organization, and asked him to forward to me the departmental file so that I might review the matter. I agree with the honorable member that rifle clubs should be encouraged to increase membership, and certainly not to decrease it. I hope to supply the information sought by the honorable member at a later date.
– Last week, Mr. Speaker, you were good enough to say that you would ascertain from the Chairman of the Privileges Committee when the House might expect to receive the report of that committee on the allegations made against the honorable member for the Northern Territory. I now ask whether you have any further information on the subject ?
– I wrote immediately to the Attorney-General, who is chairman of the committee, but I have not yet received a reply.
Alleged Improper Practices
– Is the Prime Minister aware that a senior official of the Prices Branch was recently charged in the Special Federal Court in Sydney with alleged black marketing in connexion with the renting of a house and that at the hearing certain witnesses for the Crown, who had previously made statements supporting the case for the prosecution, declined, on the ground that they might thereby incriminate themselves, to give evidence of the payment of money, with the result that the charge against the official was ultimately dismissed ? Is this official still occupying the same or any other position in the Commonwealth Public Service ? If he is, what investigations, if any, have been made into the incident? Further, was any immunity offered to those witnesses to encourage them to give evidence against the defendant? If not, why was this not done, so that the court might have an opportunity to adjudicate fully upon a matter affecting not only the administration of prices control, but also the good name of the Commonwealth Public Service?
– I know something of the case to which the honorable member refers, but I am not familiar with the. whole of: the details. I understand that the Minister in. charge . of the department, to. which this officer, belongs is haying the matter investigated. The. conduct; of the. case, is a matter for the. Attorney-General’s Department. A detailed statement will be prepared showing what has been done.
Cost of Ambulance Services
– Can the. Treasurer say. whether it is true that expenses incurred in connexion with engaging an ambulance, for. conveying a patient to where medical treatment may be obtained is not an allowable deduction under the heading of.’ medical expenses for income tax purposes? If it is not, will the Treasurer consider having such, expense made an allowable, deduction?’
– There hasbeen some discussion about expenses incurred when engaging ambulances:I shall look into the matter, and. a reply, will.be.furnished later to the honorable member.
– Can the Minister, for the Army say what: target, was set. in connexion with: the present; recruiting campaign for the Australianarmy? , How many recruits’ have been obtained, and what has been the cost up: to date? In view of the fact that insufficient recruits have been obtained what is going to be done to bring the forces up to the required strength?
– The target is 19,000 for the permanent army. Wedid not expect to get in one year the whole 19,000 as a result of the exhibitions now beingheld in variouspartsof the country: The idea was to obtain the full number of 19,000 over aperiodoffiveyears. The number obtained so far is very satisfactory.
– How many?
– Approximately 7,000. There is still an exhibition tobe heldinTasmania and . another in. Western Australia, so that it is impossible yet, to state, the total cost. However,, when the figures are available, they will be supplied to the Honorable member.
Reconstruction Training Scheme
-Can the Minister forPost-war Reconstruction say whether members, on the New South Wales. Public Service who are- taking; part-timerehabi litation training: courses are allowed, time off during working hours to attend.classes, whereas Commonwealth’ public servants have to attend classesin the evening after doing a. full day’s work?
– I do notknow whether, members, of. the New South Wales Public . Service are allowed time off to. attend classes. I shall have inquiries made, and. if anything can be done to ensure that ex-servicemen are given proper, opportunities, for. training, it will be done.
-Is it a fact that
Australian representatives- were not included: in the talks between senior officers of Britain’sFar Eastern Command and New Zealand service chief? If so, for whatreason weretheyexcluded? In view of the close inter-relation between Australia and New Zealand, as recognized by the Anzac Pact, and the fact that the Dominions will nowhave to take a far greater part in providing-for Empire defence as the result of the recently announcedreductions intheBritisharmed forces, have anyarrangements: been: made for an exchange of views on a tripartite basis? If not, will such arrangement be made before the. British servicechiefs return to Britain?
– I do not know anything about the consultations towhich the honorable member has referred . Iassure him, however, that there is very close liaison between all the Empire forces associated with defence development, and research. When Lord Mountbatten visited Australia, I and the Minister for Defence, and the New Zealand Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, had the closest consultations withhim on matters relating to the defence of the Pacific and general Empiredefence. That wasoneof the principal purposes ofhis visit. I assure the Honorable member that the fullest liaison is maintained between those associated with defence matter in the various Empire countries.
Mr.Harrison. - Doesthe right honorablegentleman know anything aboutthe conference to whichIhavereferred?
Mr.CHIFLEY.- No;but Igive the honorable member ‘a general assurance that thereisno lack of consultationbetween the variousEmpire governments.
-A newspaper articlepublished on the15th October, 1947,under the heading”Distributing WoolProfits” reads -
Earlyinthecoming year theFederalGovernmentwill legislatefor the distribution among growers of theaccruedprofits from the sales ofAustralian wool by Joint Organization.
TheMinister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) will introducethebill in the first -sessionof 1948. The paymentswillbe authorized to growerswhosent wool for appraisement under the war.-time arrangement.
Payments to growers will be made in proportion to the valuewhich their appraised wool boreto thetotal valueofall woolduringthe operation of the ‘JointOrganization scheme.
There seemstobesome misunderstanding about this payment.Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state whethera bill willbe introduced for the ultimatepaymentof this sum, orwhether payment willbemadeduringthis year? A statement -ofthe ‘Government’s intention in this matter would clear upa lot of misunderstanding among wool-growers.
Mr.POLLARD.-Anybody who knows anything about (the Joint Organization must, realize that no payment can be made to the growers until the scheme is ultimately wound up and it has beenascertainedwhether aprofithas beenmade or a losssustained. I did. not write the newspaper article. I do not even know in what newspaper it was published. Obviously,however, itwas intended to conveyto wool-growers that they will share in any profits which accrue asthe result : of the ‘operationsof the Joint Organization, the winding upof whichmay ‘take fromsixto ten years. However, : ifsales are maintained at therate reachedduring-.the last two -years, it ispossible that : the Joint Organization may be wound up within thenextfive years.
-I have receivedfrom the honorable member forReid (Mr.Lang) an intimationthathe desires tomove the adjournmentofthe House for the purpose of dis cussinga definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
Thereportof theAuditor-General for 1946-47, withparticular reference to -
) the request thatthe Auditor-General be given access to assessment files in theTaxationDepar tment ;
thedisclosurethat £50,000000 in assessed incometaxhad not been collectedatthe 30thJune last;
the practice of diverting money from Consolidated -Revenueto -reserve funds whichare inexcess of anticipated requirements;
the disregard of economy inpublic spending;
losseson governmentcontracts and market-pools; and
financing of Glen Davis National Oil ProprietaryLimited.
Mr.LANG (Reid) [4.1].- Imove -
ThattheHousedo now adjourn.
– Is the motion sup ported.?
Fivehonorable members having risen insupport of the motion,
Mr.LANG.- The Auditor-General’s report should receivethe immediate attention of this Parliament which has adefinite ‘obligation to give to theAuditor-General’s ‘findings its gravest consideration. Is it the intention of the Government to pigeon-hole the report? That appears to have been the practice thathas been developed in this Parliament.Noprovision has been made for the report to be debated.No public assurances are given that the matters raised by the Auditor-General will be remedied. The (‘Government appears to hold the view that the sooner everything aboutthereport.isforgotten the better for everybody concerned. That is reducing the position of the Auditor-General to the level ofanofficialnonentity. - All his work is futile. Hisreport becomes a deadend report. The Auditor-General is the custodianof publicfinance. Any outside companyin this country cannot carry on without anofficial clearance from its auditors. In that respect a government should be in no different position from that of an ordinary individual or an ordinary company. The Government should obtain an annual clearance from the Auditor-General and there, should then be the fullest discussion by the Parliament of any comment that he may make as the result of his survey of the Government’s finances. This Parliament debates the budget ‘ at great length ; it devotes a great deal of time - many days, and sometimes weeks - to the consideration of the Government’s estimates of revenue and expenditure; hut after all those millions have been expended, and the Auditor-General has submitted his report, it is tabled, circulated and forgotten. There exists in the Parliament t:o-day no all-party committee for the express purpose of reviewing public expenditure. Consequently, the Parliament depends entirely upon the AuditorGeneral for its knowledge of what is happening in respect of government finance; and when the Auditor-General finds it necessary to report adversely upon some aspect of government administration the onus is upon the Parliament to give his findings the most detailed consideration. During the war, government departments expended money recklessly. Sometimes, such recklessness was justified, because it was a time of war; but now it is high time when we have returned to normal that sound business methods should be adopted. It is time that the Parliament and the Government paid attention to the Auditor-General and what he says in his report.
The relationship between the AuditorGeneral and the Taxation Branch demands immediate consideration. The question has been raised by the AuditorGeneral himself. May I point out that the Auditor-General is an independent official, and because he is so protected his report is much more important and valued. The Auditor-General possesses a judicial status equivalent to that of a High Court judgeship. His officers are permanent members of the Public Service, and they are specially trained for their specialized ‘ work. On the other hand, the Commissioner of Taxation is an officer of the Department of the Treasury. He is subject to the ministerial direction of the Treasurer; and many officers of the Commissioner of Taxation, to-day, are untrained officials. They are temporary officials; they are temporary public servants. The Auditor-General, in his report, claims the right of access to taxation assessment files. On behalf of some one in the Government, an unnamed spokesman for the Government says that taxation files are secret, even though they have been made available to officials of the Prices Branch. They are so secret that it is sacrilege for any one to see them except an official of the Prices Branch. But how can the Auditor-General carry out his job unless he has access to the taxation files? Is it safe for a temporary employee of the Taxation Branch to be given access to
There is an even greater obligation upon ‘ the Auditor-General to safeguard the Treasury from political interference. Otherwise, the way is open for the Treasurer of the day to juggle the country’s finances. If he happens to be a Treasurer who desires to have at his call huge reserves of Consolidated Revenue, he can fix higher tax rates than he actually requires, and then delay the issue of assessments. Simply by delaying the issue of assessments until after the expiry of the financial year, he can present a completely false picture of the national finances to the Parliament and to the people. It is not, suggested that the Auditor-General should check every individual taxation assessment any more than he checks every individual admission ticket to a race-course ; but he should have the right to make whatever check be deems to be necessary. That would protect the taxpayer against the adroit application of complicated taxation formulas; it would protect the small, the middle-class and the wealthy taxpayer. It would also be a safeguard against Treasury hoarding. It would bo a protection against political juggling, especially in election years. “We- were promised that under the payasyouearn system, income tax collection would be almost automatic. Yet the Treasurer admits that 67,000 assessments for the 1945-46 financial year have not yet been issued, and 6,000 are still waiting to hear about their obligations for the year 1943-44. The Parliament should call upon the Auditor-General for a complete report on taxation, after he has been given full power to inspect all the files. Then the Parliament should deal with the position as it exists.
The Auditor-General’s strictures on certain, aspects of Government administration are in honorable members’ hands. Some of his comments are alarming in their implications: the wrongful use of government cars; the mystery of the 40,000,000 yen acquired by the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces irregularly; the huge losses by the Australian Apple and Pear Marketing Board; the bottomless pit of Glen Davis finance ; the failure to supply the Parliament with the cost of the representation abroad of the Department of Information war contract discrepancies, as revealed by the AuditorGeneral. These are only a few of the matters calling for urgent consideration by the Parliament. The Prime Minister would do much to enhance the reputation of the Parliament as a responsible governing body by agreeing that the AuditorGeneral’s report should be debated by the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) has made some extraordinary statements. One implied that the Commissioner of Taxation is subject to direction by the Treasurer. Honorable members on both sides of the House who have been treasurer, and most other honorable members, know that the Commissioner of Taxation is not subject to direction by the Treasurer or any other Minister, not even the Prime Minister. He is answerable only to the Parliament. He is as completely independent as’ is the Auditor-General. Whatever he does is done under the’ authority of the Parliament itself, not the Trea- surer. It is perfectly true that he interprets the law passed by the Parliament and that differences of opinion may exist as to his interpretation, but that is entirely a matter for his decision. The only way in which that position can be altered is by the Parliament’s passing a law for that purpose. I emphasize that he is as secure and independent in his position as is the Auditor-General. The honorable member referred to the AuditorGeneral’s advocacy that he be given access to taxation returns and assessments. When it was proposed that the Prices Commissioner be given such access, strong protests were made by certain Opposition members; Even I, as Treasurer, could not ask, with any expectation of having my request granted, to be allowed to examine a taxation return - not that I would - because the law prevents my being allowed access to returns. When the proposal that the Prices Commissioner should have access to taxation documents was under discussion, the opinion was that access should be restricted to the Prices Commissioner in person and that neither the Treasurer nor the Minister for Trade and Customs, under whose administration the Prices Commissioner operates, should have the right to examine any matter involving the secrecy provisions of the taxation law. I have thought about those provisions a good deal. This is not a new problem; it has concerned other treasurers and other governments. The secrecy provisions are stringent. They may be lifted in respect of matters concerning prices control, and I think the Taxation Commissioner may produce to the “Universities Commission a certificate showing the income of taxpayers to whose children subsidies are paid in respect of their university education., I doubt the wisdom of widening the field. It is at present open to the Auditor-General to satisfy himself that an assessment is made on every return furnished, that the tax assessed is collected, that all collections are paid to Consolidated Revenue, that all refunds of lax are duly authorized, and, if he no desires, that every person who should have furnished a return has done so. There are about 2,000,000 taxpayers. Does any one suppose that the AuditorGeneral, unless he had a vast number of experts on his staff, would be able to cheek taxation returns effectively ? The staff of the Taxation Branch is trained. It is perfectly true that during the war temporary staff had to be employed. If the experts employed by the Taxation Branch have difficulty in checking returns and issuing assessments, how on earth could the Auditor-General do the job without a specially trained staff ? If given effect to, the Auditor-General’s proposals would require duplication of the existing expert staff already employed.
I do not know what the honorable member for Reid was talking about when he referred to juggling. The Commissioner of Taxation is not a party to any juggling. He shows the amount of arrears due, taxes paid, and information of that kind. So far as he is concerned, this is merely a bookkeeping statement.
The honorable member for Reid referred to several matters relating to arrears. Honorable members may have some difficulty in understanding this subject with perfect clarity. The honorable member for Reid stated that approximately £56,000,000 was owing at the end of the financial year 1946-47. That amount is approximately 27 per cent, of the total income tax collections. But what honorable members should always bear in mind is that the returns submitted by the Commissioner of Taxation include many claims which are shown as outstanding, but which are not due to be paid. A taxpayer is always allowed a period in which to pay the amount shown on his assessment. That period varies, according to circumstances, and is sometimes quite long. Frequently, taxpayers ask for an extension of time in which to pay their taxes. As the result of various circumstances, a taxpayer may not be able, within the period shown on his assessment, to pay the total amount of tax that is due. This class of person usually includes, not wage and salary’ earners, but those who pay provisional tax. Another reason why the exact position is not shown is that, although the Commissioner of Taxation may ‘show that, at a specified date, a certain amount of money was owing, the taxpayers concerned, if they are wage and salary earners, may already hold receipts for the payments of instalments of tax covering the amounts shown on the assessments. Under the payasyouearn system, persons, in receipt of salaries and wages have instalments of tax deducted weekly or fortnightly from their earnings. When they receive their assessments, the total amount of the deductions is approximately equivalent to the amount of tax shown on the assessments. Sometimes, these deductions are collected months before the assessment is .due. For these reasons, it is not possible to determine exactly what is the percentage of payments already made to the Treasury.
The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) will deal with the use of government motor cars to which the honorable member for Reid referred.
The honorable member for Reid implied in general terms that this Parliament disregards the Auditor-General’s report. Long before I became a member of this Parliament, I read the criticisms of successive auditors-general of the accounts of various governments. Those criticisms were far more severe than the criticisms of the present Auditor-General of this Government’s accounts. If some honorable members are not disposed to accept that statement, they should .read some of the reports of a former auditor-general, Mr. Cerutty. They would then discover that the criticism of governmental accounts by an auditor-general is not a new development.
– Two wrongs do not make a right.
– I have not suggested that they do.
– The Prime Minister did so.
– Does any honorable member suggest that the comments of the Auditor-General cast some doubt on the financial honesty of this Government? Although I have not read the complete report, I have not found, to date, any comment which casts any doubt upon the honesty of a Minister or the Government in regard to these accounts.
The honorable member for Reid also referred to the position of various trust accounts, and to the practice of diverting money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to reserve funds. During World War II., a number of trust funds were deliberately created, not only by this Government, but also by its predecessors. I realize that the establishment of the funds was necessary at the time. Since the cessation of hostilities, the proceeds of sales and transfers are being paid into these funds, and the amount of money in some of them is increasing. However, I remind honorable members that twothirds of the money which was initially paid into the trust funds came from loan funds, and not from Consolidated Revenue. Naturally, the government of the day did not consider that it was able to provide from Consolidated Revenue the whole of the initial amount required to set up these trust funds. The result was that more than 66 per cent. of the initial payments into the trust funds Avas provided entirely from loan money. The liquidation of war contracts, and other factors, from time to time, have resulted in the building up of some of these trust funds. During the last few months, I have been examining this matter. Later, the Government will have to devise a policy for dealing with them. The Auditor-General has not implied that some one has purloined or embezzled money from these trust funds. Honorable members might ask, with some justification, whether the amounts remaining in the trust funds are too large, or whether the number of trust funds is excessive. I could understand criticism of that nature. But, surely, no honorable member will suggest that any dishonesty has occurred in the handling of public funds !
– Has not the AuditorGeneral criticized the laxity in the handling of these funds ?
– Before Mr. Joyce was appointed Auditor-General, he was Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, and held that office at the time when most of these trust funds were established.
– He was only carrying out government policy, and cannot be blamed for that. Any criticism of him on that account would not be fair.
– I worked with Mr. J oyce when he was Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, and I have not a higher respect for any other public servant than I have for him. He is a great public servant, with a high sense of rectitude in the performance of his duties. Perhaps he believes that too much money has accumulated in the trust funds.
– He would be quite right in holding that view.
– The increase of the amounts in these trust funds has been due to receipts from sales and transfers to other departments and to the public. The position of these trust funds must be dealt with by act of Parliament. Before the Auditor-General issued his report, I was examining how we might utilize the money in these particular funds.
Auditors-General in their reports have nearly always criticized, quite justifiably, some acts of governmental administration. That is the function of the AuditorGeneral, and, for that reason, he has been made independent of the government of the day. In the past, some governments have strongly resented these criticisms. I desire to make it plain that the present Government does not resent any of the statements contained in the latest report of the Auditor-General.
– The Government does not take any notice of them.
– That is not correct. Apart from anything else, it was my own knowledge of this officer that caused me to examine his recommendations in his latest report. Having worked with him for five years before he was appointed Auditor-General, I have had experience of his great ability and integrity. I as Treasurer, and the Government as a whole, would examine any recommendations that he made, quite apart from the fact that he holds the office of AuditorGeneral.
– Has action been taken in regard to any of the Auditor-General’s criticisms ?
– I received the report last week-
– Has the right honorable gentleman read it?
– I got through half of it on Saturday afternoon, and I propose to get through the other half next Saturday afternoon. The House may rest assured that the Auditor-General’* recommendations will be given due consideration, but to confer upon Mm power to examine taxation returns would, I consider, involve considerable duplication.
– I think tha.t the right honorable gentleman is misunderstanding the Auditor-General’s recommendation.
– In regard to relieving the Auditor-General of all responsibility in respect of taxation returns, I point out that the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Act already do that. This Government was not responsible for those provisions. They were inserted by the Parliament long ago. My view - I am -sure that it is shared by honorable members on both sides of the House - is that any relaxing of the secrecy provisions of the Income Tax Act is not desirable. Obviously the Auditor-General could not himself examine 2,000,000 taxation returns. He would require a large staff to assist him. That would mean adding to the number of people in the community who have access to income tax returns and thus have an opportunity to look into the private business of individuals. That would be most undesirable. Consideration will be given to the AuditorGeneral’s remarks concerning trust funds, and at the appropriate time, the Parliament will be asked to deal with the accumulations of money in these funds.
. -A mutual friend of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and myself told me recently in Sydney that in years gone by the right honorable gentleman had been a wonderful footballer and that it was impossible to bring him down with a flying tackle. The right honorable gentleman obviously has .not lost his form. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) tackled him low to-day but failed to bring him down. The Prime Minister endeavoured to draw many red herrings across the trail in reply to the charges made by the honorable member for Reid. I cannot imagine that the right honorable gentleman honestly believes that he has placed the correct interpretation upon the AuditorGeneral’s remarks regarding an effective audit of the Taxation Branch. The Auditor-General, I am sure, would not suggest for one moment that he be given authority to check 2,000,000 income tax returns. All that the Auditor-General wants is power to make an effective check of the operation of taxation principles, and of the -systems of accounting and assessing followed by taxation officers. Surely that is a fair proposition. To compare the Auditor-General with officers of the Prices Branch and others who have access to taxation assessments is ridiculous. If there is any one in the community who can be relied .upon to carry out an effective check of the accounting methods of any public organization in this country, surely it is the Auditor-General who is appointed for that specific purpose. The object of having an auditor-general is to protect >the taxpayers of this country. Referring to this matter, the Auditor-General states on page 32 of his report -
Included in the suggestion submitted by me to the Treasury for consideration was a proposal that the act should be amended to confer upon the Auditor-General the right of access to all income tax assessment papers and that such amendment should be so worded as to ensure that it will not be overridden by any future provision of the Income Tax Assessment Act which does not specifically provide that the Auditor-General shall not have such access.
Then, after quoting an opinion given by the .Solicitor-General, he says -
The effect of this interpretation of the law is to preclude the possibility of an effective audit of income tax assessments or action .to ensure that the provisions of the law relating thereto have been complied with. In principle, the Audit Act imposes upon the AuditorGeneral the responsibility of the audit of the Commonwealth accounts and finances, although, hi view of the Solicitor-General’s opinion, the letter nf the Ian- appeals to be defective. If a similar situation obtained in relation to other Commonwealth revenues and .the AuditorGeneral could not ensure that the correct -(mounts of -revenue had been assessed in accordance with the law, his revenue .audit would be of comparatively little value.
The Auditor-General is not precluded from carrying out an effective audit of customs and excise revenue, postal revenue, or any other public revenue, and I brush aside the Prime Minister’s remarks regarding secrecy simply by stating that it is ridiculous to compare the Auditor-General’s position with that °of -other .government officers such as Prices Branch officials. Most of these men are temporary employees, yet they are able to get all the information that they desire. This recommendation has emanated from a man who seeks only to carry out his duty effectively, and who believes that to do this he must have more statutory power. No man has greater insight into government finances than the Auditor-General. He is a man of unimpeachable integrity, and cannot be compared with temporary officers.
The report of the Auditor-General necessarily deals with matters that are at least eight months out of date. The report can only deal with the year that ended on the 30th of the previous June, and much can happen between that date and the tabling of the report in this House. In view of the nature of this report, the intervening period should have afforded an opportunity for the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Treasurer and therefore head of the Auditor-General’s Department, to give effect to the remedies suggested by the Auditor-General in his report. But what do we find? In the past, Ministers of this Government have treated the Auditor-General with apathy and scant consideration. Not long ago, when the present Australian Ambassador to Washington, Mr. Makin, was Minister for the Navy and Minister for Munitions, he admitted that he had not even seen the Auditor-General’s report which had been presented to the Parliament three months previously. That report contained serious allegations regarding financial transactions undertaken by the Munitions Department ; yet. on the 19th June, 1945, Mr. Makin said, “While 1 am Minister for Munitions, I shall not be hindered in my work by the Auditor-General or anybody else “. Throughoutthe term of office of the present Government, departmental heads have laidthemselves open to criticism on grounds which have been the subject of adverse comment by auditors-general over the years.
The report which we are now considering is not much different from its predecessors in this respect. It refers to laxity of administration, questionable financial practices, waste of public money, unsound accounting for goods, and many other abuses which the Auditor-General has brought to light and for which satisfactory remedies have not been guaranteed by the Government. These criticisms have been expressed by an official whose position is sufficiently independent to enable him to make a most thorough, conscientious and unbiased investigation. Nevertheless, Ministers generally defend the heads of departments whose operations have been criticized in the report instead of giving effect to the recommendations made by a highly qualified officer specifically appointed to advise the Government on such matters with a view to protecting the community in connexion with departmental administration and. finances. In 1944-
-Order! There can be no reference to 1944. The subjectmatters on which the motion before the House is based refer to the AuditorGeneral’s report for 1946-47.
– Within a few minutes of the tabling of the Auditor-General’s report in this House last week, I questioned the Treasurer regarding the considerably increased total of arrears of income tax as at the 30th June, 1947. That total was £57,000,000.
The right honorable gentleman endeavoured to justify the magnitude of the amount and went to a great deal of trouble to explain the system, under which taxes are assessed and collected. However, I remind him that the same system operated long before this Government came into office. That is the test of the matter. Let us compare the totals of arrears of tax as at the 30th June in each year since 1943, when tax rates were much more severe than they are to-day. The Government claims credit for having reduced taxes by various percentages since that time. At the 30th June, 1943, arrears of tax amounted to £20,145,000. By the 30th June, 1944, the total had increased to £34,545,000, and on the 30th June of each of the three succeeding years, the amount had increased progressively to £38,660,000, £45,022,000 and £57,751,000 respectively. The excuses offered by the Prime Minister dissipate like ice-cream in the sun.
-Order! The right honorable member’s time has expired.
– Included in the points submitted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) is a reference to what is termed “ excessive use of motor cars “ by Ministers and officials. The honorable member himself brought no evidence to support his use of the word “ excessive “, and the only reference to this subject is taken from the Auditor-General’s report. Consequently, I am compelled to confine my remarks almost exclusively to that report. I ask honorable members opposite to examine what the Auditor-General has stated in connexion with the use of government motor vehicles. He has drawn attention to the fact that the Government has already taken steps to conserve petrol by doing certain things. He has stated -
The number of motor cars attached to various departmentshas increased enormously during recent years-
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member may not say “ Hear, hear “ if he waits until I have read the entire sentence. It is characteristic of him that he jumps in before he finds out how deep the water is. The quotation continues - the total at 30th June, 1947, being approximately 1,400 as compared with approximately 200 at the 30th June, 1939.
I draw the attention of honorable members to the position in 1939 as compared with the position to-day. In 1939, when a government representing the present Opposition parties was in office, actual budget expenditure was £94,400,000. In 1945-46, the budget expenditure was £544,000,000.
– So the Government uses more motor cars on that account!
– The honorable member complains that the Government has put more motor cars into service because it has expanded its administrative work as I have indicated. Apparently he expects the Government to carry on with the same fleet of vehicles as existed when honorable members opposite were in power and had a budget expenditure of £94,400,000. Why, social services expenditure alone has increased almost to that amount because this Government has given to the people of Australia social benefits which had been promised for many years by Opposition parties when they were in power! I continue the quotation from the Auditor-General’s report -
The large number of motor cars now allotted for exclusive use by individual officers is particularly noticeable.
– The Minister did not read the rest of the previous paragraph.
-Order! The Minister can make his speech in his own way.
– I notice that the honorable member-
– Order ! The Minister should address the Chair.
– I was pointing out, to the discomfiture of honorable members opposite, that one objection raised by the Auditor-General relates to the fact that government motor cars are often garaged on private premises. I welcome that objection. The Government had already given instructions that vehicles under the control ofdepartmental officers, other than those who were likely to be called out on night duty, should be garaged on government premises. That notice, according to my file, was issued four months ago, before the AuditorGeneral’s report was available. Therefore, I say that the Government has considered every possible way of conserving petrol, in keeping with an appeal which was made by the Prime Minister to the people some time ago. The AuditorGeneral’s report also states -
The Government has recognized the necessity for reduction of motor transport costs. To provide a more effective control over the use of official motor vehicles and a more economical and efficient service a Central Transport and Storage Authority under the control of the Department of Munitions has been established . . .
In effect, the Auditor-General commended the Government for the steps that it had taken to correct irregularities which be had referred to earlier as “ anomalies “. The Auditor-General’s report goes on to state : “ This policy should greatly assist in curbing expenditure on motor car running “. In my remarks I am confined to the specific matters mentioned in that report, because the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) refrained from making any comments, charges or allegations against the Government of a specific nature. Had he done so, I would have been entitled to discuss them. The annual report of the Auditor-General is regarded by any government as a most important document, and whenever the attention of the present Government has been drawn to irregularities it has taken immediate steps to correct them. So far as government motor vehicles are concerned, I know from observations I have made as the Minister responsible for their supervision, that Ministers generally are cooperating in the Government’s endeavour to conserve petrol. Furthermore, I remind honorable members that managers and executives of large private companies have more petrol to consume than ordinary motorists, because transport is necessary for the proper conduct of their businesses. If one went out to the Sydney road this afternoon one would find business executives travelling in private motor cars between Sydney and Melbourne. Many business executives have occasion to call at Canberra to discuss matters of business with Ministers and government departments, and, for that reason, they frequently travel between Sydney and Melbourne by car instead of by other means. I do not object to that practice, but, because some criticism appeared in the press recently concerning the use of government motor cars, the honorable member for Reid moved the adjournment of the House to discuss the subject and other matters. If I were not confined to ‘the matters on which his motion is based I could inform honorable members of serious abuses in regard to State government motor vehicles which occurred during the honorable gentleman’s term of office as Premier of New South Wales. Many of the allegations made against the Department of the Interior in respect of the operations of government motor vehicles have been answered. An example of the baseless accusations made in this regard is supplied by the allegation which appeared in the press that on one particular day six ministerial motor cars left Canberra for Melbourne. Inquiries by the Department of the Interior elicited the fact that only two motor cars left Canberra for Melbourne on the day mentioned, and they were used to convey members of a British food mission to Melbourne. It is quite easy to make allegations of that kind, but to sustain them is an entirely different matter.
Apparently the honorable member for Reid did not take very much care in preparing his speech, because, during the entire course of his remarks, he adduced no evidence in support of his allegation of the misuse of government motor cars. Therefore, my reply is confined, necessarily, to the report of the AuditorGeneral, from which I have read extracts. I suggest that the contents of that document, insofar as they relate to the use of government transport, should bo accepted by members on both sides of the House.
– With a naivete that is rather refreshing, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) entered into the debate, saying, in effect : . “ The reason why I have participated in this debate is not that charges have been levelled against the department which I administer, but rather that the Auditor-General has made certain statements in regard to it, and I feel that I should point out that those statements commend rather than criticize me “. However, it seems to me that the Minister “doth protest too much”; he gave me the impression that he had something to hide and was seeking to launch a counter-attack in order to disarm honorable members who might have some criticism to offer of the Minister and the Department of the Interior. I invitehonorable members to consider that portion of the Auditor-General’s report which relates to the Transport Branch of the Department of the Interior. The report of the Auditor-General must be given most careful consideration by the people of Australia because that official is the watchdog of public finance. He is the only official in the country who is authorized to criticize the Government aud offer suggestions to it, and because of his special statutory position action can be taken against a government on his recommendation. The person appointed to that position is not susceptible to intimidation by any government, and when he criticizes government departments and draws, attention to wasteful expenditure of public moneys, maladministration of departments and other irregularities, the Parliament and the public must take notice. Any government which has a realization of its responsibilities must take action to set its house in order when the AuditorGeneral criticizes it. Of course, we have often seen reports containing criticism of a government and its departments presented to Parliament in respect of which no corrective action is taken. Moreover, the last annual report of the AuditorGeneral is mild compared with the terms of some of the reports submitted by him during the term of office of this and the’ preceding Labour Government. Nevertheless, it is bad enough.
I propose to deal with two aspects of it, and if the Minister had been patient enough to wait until later in the debate, he would have had something to answer. However, he seized the opportunity to speak before any specific charges were made against him.
– That is a cowardly thing to say.
– The Minister for the Interior knows that the duration of this debate is limited to two hours, and apparently he thought that by speaking before any charges were made against him he would escape criticism. The Minister knows that customarily a member of the Government refrains from speaking until the department which he administers is criticized. Then, of course, he has an opportunity to answer ‘any charges which may be made against him. In point of fact the report of the AuditorGeneral does contain serious criticism of the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for the control of government motor vehicles. Under the heading “ Motor Transport “, paragraph 184 of the report states -
Audit reports received during the past year indicate the desirableness of serious consideration being given to the curtailment of expenditure on motor transport in all departments.
It would appear that the need for economy in the use of motor cars is not yet fully realized by many officials. This need is now greatly accentuated by the difficult position in which the Government finds itself in relation to dollar funds and the ste.ps being taken to ease the position by the reduction of petrol consumption on the part of the general public. These facts call for a much stricter control of the use of motor cars in all departments.
Do those statements indicate that the Auditor-General is lavishing encomiums on the Minister or presenting’ bouquets to him ? The Minister sought to create the impression that he had been commended by the Auditor-General, whereas, in fact, he had been blistered and blasted by that official. The Auditor-General’s report goes on to state -
The number of motor cars attached to various departments has increased enormously during recent years, the total at the 30th June, 1947, being approximately 1,400, as compared with approximately 200 at the 30th June, 1939.
That is a substantial increase; but when honorable members realize that the number of public servants has increased to such a degree that they are now in a proportion of one to four of the working population of this country, the increase in motor vehicles is understandable. I dare say that in the near future there will be not 1,400 but 14,000 government motor cars. The number of government vehicles must naturally increase with the number of public servants, and in spite of the comment of the Auditor-General I venture the opinion that the number of government motor cars will be increased further in the near future.
Reliable estimates indicate that Australia’s dollar deficit this year will be approximately 147,000,000 dollars. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) informed the House in December last that the dollar position had deteriorated rapidly during the preceding eighteen months, and that the Government was aware of the implications. Yet, despite that assurance, the Government has continued to use motor cars and petrol most extravagantly, and has even chartered private aeroplanes to fly Ministers to Canberra. I again ask the House to consider the Auditor-General’s comment that the shortage of dollars is being accentuated by the extravagant use of government vehicles. The strictures of the AuditorGeneral and the rumours circulating in the cities of Australia with regard to this matter call for an inquiry by the Government. In every State allegations are being made of the misuse of ministerial cars. There are three Ministers in the House at, the present time against whom such criticism has been levelled. It is said that they allow their cars. to be used by their wives and daughters for shopping purposes. Whilst one Minister was overseas, I saw his car being used to carry his daughter to and from school. Eather than send his luggage by rail, one Minister, on his return from overseas, ordered his car to be sent to Brisbane for it. Those things rankle in the public mind, provoke ‘ criticism directed against the facilities normally enjoyed by Ministers and honorable members, and lower the prestige of the Parliament. I make no criticism of the use of ministerial cars for legitimate purposes such as travel between capital cities. I do not criticize Ministers for using their cars to attend public functions and to carry out their general duties. I oppose criticism of that sort, but I denounce this misuse. The same remarks apply to public servants. I have seen Commonwealth cars garaged overnight in garages attached to ordinary homes and used during the week-end for picnics and travel to pleasure resorts.
On page 68 of his report, the AuditorGeneral refers to the ban imposed by the wharf labourers on the shipment of goods from Australia to the Netherlands East Indies, and makes the following scathing criticism : -
In addition to the losses referred to under “ Food Supplies: Purchase and Distribution” a loss of £60,097 was incurred in respect of operational rations purchased for the Netherlands East Indies Government. The department stated that owing to the refusal of wharf labourers to load Netherlands East Indies ships the goods could not be shipped and eventually the Netherlands East Indies Government requested that the contract be cancelled. The Minister directed that no objection be raised to such cancellation. Subsequently the goods were declared surplus to requirements and disposal was effected at greatly reduced prices. Treasurer’s approval was given to the amount of £00,097 being written off by charge to Division 213, Food Supplies, Purchase and Distribution.
When shipments were stopped, contracts for ordinary commodities amounting to approximately £12,000,000 were cancelled.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) is the titular head of the Liberal party, and the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) is the nominal leader of the Australian Country party, but when a smear campaign is launched the actual leader of the Opposition forces is the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang). Honorable members opposite do not follow this lead because they are enthusiastically in favour of what the honorable member does but because they have to do what they are told. I have never seen members of an opposition rise so half-heartedly as honorable members:, opposite did in order to give the honorable member for Reid the support necessary to allow his motion to come before*the House. They were so ashamed of” their performance that most of them did’ not rise from their seats at all. TheLeader of the Opposition has shown his: contempt for the motion by absenting; himself, and I commend him .for. hi& public spirit and his sense of the appropriateness of the occasion.
The Government has been charged with quite a number of things. I am wondering who prepared this indictment. When 1. was in Sydney during the week-end, I read in the press that this motion was to be submitted to-day, but that it was to be moved by a member of the Opposition. Somebody has been at work in the meantime. The brains of the forces of the Opposition have concocted something and passed it on to the honorable member for Reid, perhaps because, as a comparatively new member of this House, he may not be charged with the things with which some honorable members opposite could be charged’ if they took upon themselves the responsibility for submitting this motion. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) talked of the misuse of government motor cars but not of the misuse of a stamp allowance. He did not speak of the misuse of motor cars in the days when the Labour party was in opposition and when the non-Labour forces comprised the Government of Australia.
– They would not like an inquiry about that.
– As the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) remarks,, honorable members opposite would, no.i like a complete inquiry into the use of government motor cars during the last few years. There may be abuses from time to time, but nobody will deny that Ministers need the facilities with which executives of any company of any size in Australia are provided at the company’s expense so that they may perform their duties. In a country covering an area of 3,000,000 square miles, Ministers need to move quickly from place to place. After all, there are only nineteen of them to do the work. I do not know of any member of the Opposition refusing to travel in a ministerial car when offered the chance to do so, or saying that he wished to examine circumstances in which the car was being used before deciding whether or not to accept the offer. As a matter of fact, Ministers receive many requests for help from honorable members on both sides of the House, and every time a request is made it is, if possible, acceded to.
Those who make use of facilities provided by the Crown have little reason to attempt to besmirch the reputations of Ministers and others. I understand it is a legal principle - and I now look at the very erudite gentleman who represents Parramatta - that those who come into court should at least have clean hands. As the honorable member for Reid has attacked this Government, alleging lack of economy in public expenditure, the misuse of official cars and the diversion of money from Consolidated Revenue to reserve funds that are in excess of anticipated requirements, I am entitled to examine the reports made by the Auditor-General of New South Wales during the period when the honorable member was Premier of that State and had the opportunity to put into practice the principles he has enunciated here to-day.
– I rise to order. When the Leader of the Australian Country party was speaking, Mr. Speaker, you ruled that the right honorable gentleman could not refer to the reports of the Commonwealth Auditor-General for previous years. The Minister is now proposing to go back many years and to read a report of the Auditor-General for New South Wales. I suggest that that is out of order.
– I listened very carefully to what was said by the honorable member for Eeid. He accused the Government of the misuse of public funds. In order to test his credibility, the Government is entitled to show, if it can, that a similar charge, can be made against him.
– In his report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales for the financial year ended the 30th June, 1931, Mr. John Spence, the Auditor-General for that State, quoting from Duvell’s Parliamentary Grants, said -
The cardinal principle on which the whole of our financial system is based is that of parliamentary control . . . Upon this fundamental principle laid down at the very outset of English parliamentary history, and secured by 300 years of mingled conflict with the Crown and peaceful growth, is grounded the whole law of finance, and, consequently, the whole British Constitution.
And then Mr. Spence said -
Under the Constitution of New South Wales, no revenue could be spent without parliamentary sanction. Such sanction was to be found in the annual appropriations and in special appropriations by statute.
He proceeded to talk about the need for an annual appropriation act, and the need for the discussion of the estimates by Parliament, after which he continues -
If the Appropriation Act is not passed within this period the Government has no legal authority to make further expenditures, but may have recourse to “ Supply “ bills, by which authority is obtained to continue expenditure on the “ Supply “ basis, pending the presentation of the budget and the passing of the Appropriation Act.
Then, for the first time in the history of Australian parliamentary government, an auditor-general felt compelled to say this -
For the last financial year, statutory supply for July, August and September was availed of, but Parliament was dissolved on the 18th September, 1930, before the annual Appropriation Act had been passed, or before supply for October had been granted.
Is any man who did that entitled to come here and indict any government or party for the misuse of public funds? The truth is that the budget for 1930 was presented on the 17th June, 1931, and passed on the 27th June of the same year.
– I rise to order. Has that anything to do with the alleged misapplication of Commonwealth funds?
– I have already ruled on that point. Was the honorable member here at the time ?
– Well, I have not altered my opinion.
– It appears that certain honorable members opposite are most anxious to protect their friend from criticism. As I pointed out, the honorable member for Reid brought down his appropriation bill for 1931 on the 17th June, 1931, and it was passed on the 27th June, 1931, just three days before the end of the financial year. Therefore, there was no opportunity to control expenditure. Mr. Spence went on -
Legislation, more especially in recent years, has tended increasingly to limit that parliamentary oversight and control of expenditures which should be secured by annual appropriations based on detailed estimates submitted for discussion by Parliament.
– That ought to be in our Auditor-General’s report.
– Probably it was, for the year during which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) was a member of the Government. With respect to unauthorized payments from the suspense account and advances to the Treasurer, the New South Wales Auditor-General at that time had even more scathing comments to make, and it is significant that payments from the suspense account and advances to the Treasurer totalled, for the year in question, £382,000. So serious was the matter in the view of the Auditor-General that he stated -
Attention is called to the following expenditures, which are not in supplementation of supply items and are not included in the Estimates for 1931-32 submitted to Parliament : -
Purchase of Motor Cars for Ministerial Motor Car Service and Passenger Tourist Service . . .
-Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– Four thousand pounds was spent on motor cars without an appropriation.
.- The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) made an allusion to the erudite member for Parramatta, by whom, I presume, he meant me.
– It was merely a matter of courtesy.
– Even that is rare from the Minister. His entire defence to the charge which has beenbrought against the Government consists in a scrabbling around among the records of New South Wales parliamentary debates and parliamentary papers relating to a period fifteen years ago. From these sources he digs up accusations against the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), but I do not believe that the public will be particularly interested in that sort of talk when it is offered as a defence against criticism of this Government’s action. It is no defence against charges of improper conduct by the present Australian Government to refer to what someone else did in another parliament fifteen years ago. Also, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), in his very feeble defence - if I may use the word without offence - said that other governments had also been criticized by the Auditor-General. Of course they have, but it is still true that two wrongs do not make a right. What we have to decide here is whether the Parliament of the Commonwealth and, in particular, the Government of the day, will take any notice of what ito own officer, appointed by statute, says about the Government’s conduct. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) adopted the age-old tactic of reading part of a paragraph, and then skipping over the rest. I interjected, inviting him to read the rest of the paragraph, but he did not do so. The paragraph is to be found at page 182 ofthe AuditorGeneral’s report, and refers to the very striking fact that, between 1939 and 1947, the number of government cars increased from 200 to 1,400. The Minister wisely stopped at that point, but the report itself goes on to say -
This increase is to some extent attributable to the growth of departmental business and activities, but is probably due to a large extent to the failure to re-adjust in consequence of the diminution of war-time activities. It is to be feared that the rapid growth of war expenditure and the subordination of other less important matters to the successful prosecution of the war, have engendered a disregard for economy (particularly in connexion with the use of motor cars) which is now difficult to eradicate.
I regard that as criticism of the Government and of Government officials, and yet the Minister for the Interior would have us believe that there was no such criticism ; that, in fact, the AuditorGeneral had given the Government a pat on the back, that all those things referred to belonged to the past, and that there was nothing further to worry about.
It is wise to pause here to consider who the Auditor-General is. He is an independent official appointed by statute. His function is that of a watch-dog. It as his duty to make reports which can Still be published in this country, though “one wonders for how much longer that “will be possible. His reports may be read = and studied by the public of Australia, who may draw their own conclusions -from them. Discharging his function as watch dog, he has pointed out the things which should be taken notice of, not only by the public and the Opposition, but also by the Government. It is plain to every one that the Labour party dislikes this official. They dislike his office and they dislike the officer, and, if they dared, they would abolish the position. However, they dare not do so, so they ignore what he says. In other days, criticism of the kind which the Auditor-General has levelled against the Government would have led to the resignation of the government, but that does not happen any more. Ministers blandly ignore what the Auditor-General says. Again and again, the Auditor-General has criticized in the most pungent terms the action of the Government, and the Government has gone its own sweet way, and done nothing about the matter. A year or two ago the Auditor-General criticized the action of the Government in illegally using public funds for the purposes of a referendum campaign. I am prepared to say that exactly the same illegality will be practised by the Government at the referendum to be held in about three months’ time.
I rose principally to deal with the misuse of official motor vehicles. The Minister for the Interior has read to the House a particular paragraph from the Auditor-General’s report. I should like, to state clearly to the House what I believe to be the true position and the proper standard to be applied. I believe that high officials of the Parliament should have the free use of official motor cars for their work. I agree with the Minister for Information that high officials engaged on public business should have the use of official motor cars to convey them to and from their homes. I do not believe in the dragging down process that goes on in certain sections of the press and among certain mean sections of the community who would deny reasonable transport facilities to such officials. The same remarks apply to Ministers of State. Whatever one might think of them politically, they occupy important positions, and all of them have to work hard. That being so, they are entitled to reasonable and even generous transport facilities. I believe that there should be no carping and mean criticism in that respect. These remarks apply also to members of the Parliament when travelling on public business. They are entitled to use official motor cars for this purpose when such cars are available. We all have to work hard. If there arppeople who misunderstand the position and do not think we work hard, and believe that we should ride in discomfort, I do not agree with them. All members of the Parliament are entitled to reasonable facilities of that kind. That is one thing, but when official motor vehicles bearing Commonwealth numbers appear at the Wyong races on Saturday afternoons, that is an entirely different matter. So also is the parking of official motor cars outside private homes day and night, a complaint that has been reported to me on dozens of occasions lately. I do not agree with that. Nor do I agree with Ministers’ families having utterly unreasonable access to ministerial motor cars, as was the case when a Minister’s wife was brought from Brisbane to Sydney in a ministerial car. That is an improper use of public vehicles. The wrongful use of official motor vehicles brings us all into disgrace. It is the task of the Minister for the Interior to see that this does not occur. If he does not do so, he fails to exercise his functions. Between 1939 and 1-947 the number of government motor ears increased from 200 to 1,400. I read in the press two or three days ago that 41 of the 48 new Buick cars landed in Australia had been taken over by the Government. It is wrong that in time of peace there should be such a swelling of the number of official motorcars and no adequate supervision of their use. The position will not be met by the hypocritical course adopted last week when, as a piece ofwindow-dressing, members of this House were forced to go by omnibus to a diplomatic function at the far end of Canberra to which they would normally have been conveyed by motor cars. That is all nonsense.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It was not my intention to address the House on this matter, but I have been impelled to do so by statements made by honorable members opposite designed to make it appear that all the faults are on the side of the Government and none of them on the side of the Opposition. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) made a bold play about the misuse of government motor cars by Ministers to transport their families to perform purely domestic tasks such as shopping and the like. It is well known, but it has not been mentioned during this debate, that the honorable gentleman who made that statement did these very things when he himself was a Minister.
– I rise to order. Is the Honorable member entitled to make a palpably false accusation under the guise of a debate such as this?
– That is not a point of’ order. If the honorable member believes’ that he has been misrepresented, he will be entitled to make a personal explanation when the honorable member for Watson has resumed his seat.
– In amplification of the statement which is alleged by the honorable member for Wentworth to be false, but which he knows to be true, I say that it is well known that when he was a Minister his wife did her shopping at Double Bay and Rose Bay and that a ministerial motor car was frequently seen there when she was making her purchases.
– That is a flat lie.
– Order ! The honorable member must restrain himself.
– It is a slimy lie.
– Order !
– It is known that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) used to transport his pigs and calves in government vehicles, until the drivers “ baled-up “ on him. If the Opposition desires an inquiry into the abuse of the use of official motor cars, this Government would welcome such ari inquiry, just as it would welcome some other inquiries that might well be made.
The matterswith which the motion is associated contain not merely one ground upon which the House may discuss what is assumed or purports to be urgent, but a whole placard of matters which can only be described as an attempt to smear or discredit the Government, the answer to none of which could possibly be given within the time allotted under the Standing Orders for a debate of this kind, namely, two hours. However, it is worth while dealing with one or two of the subjects to which atten tion has been directed. The motion deals with the request of the Auditor-General to be given access to assessment files in the Taxation Branch. I am informed that the Taxation Branch not only undertakes the task of assessing income tax, but also has in operation an internal audit which guarantees that in all cases the tax assessed and required to be paid is correct and that the revenue received from the payment of such taxe3 as are leviable has in fact been received. It has been represented to me tha.t this audit is 100 per cent. correct. That being so, it seems unusual for honorable members opposite to endeavour to load the branch with additional officials or groups of officials whose work must result in delays in the branch at the very time when the Opposition is asking the Government to expedite the issuance of tax assessments. Should the branch, besides its own work, be obliged to place at the beck and call of the Auditor-General and his staff a number of public servants who may be required to produce many documents, some of which may take considerable time to findand despatch from one office to another, it is certain that the time required for the issuance of taxation assessments would be much longer than at present. Indeed, I conjecture that in such circumstances the time now required for the issuance of taxation assessments would be doubled. If assessments are to be issued quickly - and no one wants to be left in suspense with regard to his or her tax liability - and the work of the Taxation Branch is to be carried on efficiently, it cannot be hampered with persons who are not directly engaged in the work of that branch.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) also referred to “ losses on government contracts and market pools “ and “ financing of Glen-Davis National Oil Proprietary Limited “. The only comment I make about those headings is that some of the existing marketing pools, notably the pool established to acquire apples and pears, were established by governments formed by the Opposition parties, which also sponsored Glen Davis National Oil Proprietary Limited. Those things were done quite properly. We do not say that those activities should not have been initiated, because at the time the Glen Davis prospect was financed by an anti-Labour government there was a distinct possibility that Aus’.ralia’s war effort might be seriously curtailed owing to lack of petrol supplies, and even though petrol could be obtained at Glen Davis only at a price much higher than that of petrol supplied through normal channels, that project was in the nature of a defence work. No one cavils that that was done. Yet, although every one recognizes that a great deal of expenditure in war-time is wasteful and that in peace we should set aside portion of the expenditure incurred in those directions in time of war in ameliorating the lot of the people, this Government is now accused of doing things which were initiated by governments formed by the Opposition parties. This Government simply carried on during the war with activities related directly to defence purposes.
The honorable member for Reid also charged the Government with “ disregard of economy in public spending”. I do not know whatis exactly the duty of the Auditor-General under the Audit Act beyond that of reporting to the Parliament annually with respect to the finances of the Government. But whether it is within the ambit of the Auditor-General to say that the Government has disregarded economy in public spending, I believe that that would he quite unlikely. However, that is the kind of general charge thai can be made, not by the Auditor-General, but by honorable members opposite, notably the honorable member for Reid, which they never attempt to substantiate, but is always brought forward in a way to give to the Opposition an opportunity to discuss matters which may not strictly be relevant to the purposes for which a motion of this kind is moved. To say that the Government is disregarding economy in public expenditure is merely an expression of opinion which is highly debatable. Such a charge should be dealt with only on a substantive motionsuch as a no confidence motion, because it involves a matter of high policy. I believe that if honorable members do not talk out the motion, they will reject it.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. Earlier, I rose to a point oforder and you, Mr. Speaker, rightly directed that if I felt that I had been misrepresented I had the right to make a personal explanation. I have been grievously misrepresented. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) and all honorable members know full well that I was a Minister in a previous government for a period, over ali, of two years and seven months. During that period my wife suffered a grievous illness. She was in hospital for over twelve months, and, eventually, the illness caused her death. For many years subsequently I was a widower; so honorable members will see how dastardly is the lie that has been uttered by the honorable member for Watson.
– It is most regrettable that the public of Australia has not the opportunity to read in its complete form the report of the Auditor-General, because this story of the Government’s activities would rival the popularity with the people, and the unpopularity with the Government, of Chaucer’s
Canterbury Tales. This document is a crying indictment of the Government in respect of its misuse of funds throughout the period under review. Yet it is treated in the lightest possible manner by Ministers, including the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who has spoken in this debate. The Prime Minister, as has been said, drew red herrings across the trail. Then the next Minister to speak, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), seemed to derive comfort from the criticism voiced by the Auditor-General about the misuse of government cars, which largely come under the control of the Minister for the Interior. The Auditor-General in his report, in dealing with the misuse of motor transport, said -
It would appear that the need for economy in the use of motor cars is not yet fully realized by many officials. This need is now greatly accentuated by the difficult position in which the Government finds itself in relation to dollar funds and the steps being taken to ease the position by the reduction of petrol consumption on the part of the general public. These facts call for a . much stricter control of the use of motor cars in all departments.
The Auditor-General then pointed out that the number of government cars has increased since 1939 from 200 to 1,400. The Minister for the Interior used the most curious argument on this subject. In effect he said that because the Government’s budget had increased from £96,000,000 in 1939 to £360,000,000, the Government could waste more money in acquiring and using more motor cars. The Minister, even on his own figures, could not get his arithmetic right, because the Government’s revenue of £360,000,000 in 1946 was roughly four times greater than its revenue in 1939, and, consequently, the Government was entitled according to his own method of calculation to acquire only 800 additional cars, whereas, in fact, it acquired 1,400. motor cars, or 600 more. Shakespeare wrote As You Like It, and his namesake in Canberra, as well as the Auditor-General, has pointed out very forcibly in the Canberra Times that Ministers and Government officials use motor cars just as they like and for whatever purpose they like. The Auditor-General in his report also states -
Of course, the Auditor-General cannot do anything to prevent this waste; he can only draw attention to the waste of government funds involved in the misuse of government motor cars. I should like to draw attention to many other matters in the report, but unfortunately the ten minutes allowed to honorable members to debate an adjournment motion prevents my doing so, but I must mention the references on page 160 to the Commonwealth Liquid Fuel Control Board -
Expenditure by the Commonwealth during 1.946-47 for control of petrol and substitute fuels, including rationing and other expenses, amounted to £237,096 (£288,121. in 1.945-46)’. This sum includes £48,000 paid to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for the service of distributing petrol ration tickets, and £180,785 (of which £44,000 represents advances to State governments to meet reimbursed expenditure as at 30th June, 1947), paid to State governments for expenditure in the administration of the scheme.
So lacking are Ministers in administrative nihility and interest in the public welfare that they permitted to happen in New South “Wales the scandal in which a nineteen-year-old youth was able to make a clear profit of £6,000 on the sale of petrol ration tickets illegally obtained. Only last week he was convicted of having obtained petrol ration coupons by means of forged truck registration certificates. It was said in evidence that he had spent the money obtained from the sale of the coupons at 3d. a gallon ticket on “high life in the mountains “. The youth’s criminal exploits involved almost 500,000 gallons of petrol, which had to be paid for in “hard” dollars, about which the Prime Minister whined at question time to-day. According to the evidence, the youth was only one member of the gang. Apparently the Government has made no effort to root the others out. If he was only one member of the gang, undoubtedly many more millions of gallons of petrol have been illegally used.
The report shows, on page 21, that the cost of the administration of the Department of External Affairs rose from £404,443 in 1945-46 to £866,261 in 1946-47. The people are entitled to know whether they have received value in return for that expenditure.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker.
– Order ! I was about to say that apparently the honorable member for New England has not read the purpose of the motion made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang). Attention is directed to certain matters, but no reference is made to petrol or the Department of External Affairs.
– I regret that I went a little wide of the sub ject. There are other points that I desire to raise. One concerns the money expended on wool appraisement centres in various country districts of New South Wales.
-Order! That matter has nothing to do with the question.I advise the honorable member to read the subject-matters on which the motion is based in order that he may learn what he may discuss.
– I was referring to the Auditcr-General’s report. I do not want to deviate, but wide latitude has been given on some matters.
-Order ! The honorable member must not reflect upon the Chair. No one has been given more latitude than the honorable gentleman.
– Well, I refer to the disclosure that over £50,000,000 in asessed income tax had not been collected at the 30th June last. That is owed, not by the wage-earners of Australia, whose tax is collected weekly or fortnightly under the payasyouearn system, but by people who could readily pay ; but have been allowed the use of the money interest-free year after year because the Government is too lazy or too uninterested to collect it. We have the Auditor-General’s statement that that amount does not include tax due on unassessed returns, which, in all probability, amounts to another £50,000,000.
I next come to losses on government contracts in marketing pools. A very heavy loss occurred in the operation of the Vegetable Seeds Committee. It was only a small committee, but its waste is typical of the way in which the Government has handled the people’s money. It lost about £88,000 on a turnover of about £800,000. That is a tremendous loss. Any one who had anything to do with the committee will agree that it was a most unbusinesslike and difficult body to deal with.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The crude and undignified speech of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) made no contribution of value to the debate. It has been amply demonstrated that the Auditor-General’s report cannot be adequately debated on a motion for the adjournment of the House, because honorable members have only ten minutes in which to speak. Moreover, the report has been in our hands for only a few days, and we have not had sufficient time in which to give proper consideration to its recommendations. Consequently, the motion of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) is unfortunate. The honorable member, however, listed a number of subjects with which he attempted to deal. The one that I wish to direct my attention to relates to the Taxation Branch and the desire of the AuditorGeneral for access to individual returns and assessments and the arrears of tax said to be owed by taxpayers to the Government. It is difficult to know who owes it. It may be owed by people who would normally be able to pay but have not the liquid funds to make immediate payment. That is one possible explanation of the growth of the amount of arrears of tax now owing compared with what was owed during the war when rates of tax were higher but when opportunity for expansion of business was less than now. In those circumstances, the cash was available in many instances to meet the income tax assessments. To-day, however, with the possibility of business expansion, the opportunity to expend money which has been saved or placed in reserve may easily mean that many individual taxpayers are not able to meet their current commitments, and, consequently, desire an extension of time in which to pay. The Prime Minister also pointed out that assessments have been rendered, and although instalments of tax may have been deducted weekly from the taxpayer’s earnings, the assessments still represent the amount which is payable to the Commissioner of Taxation until the final settlement is made.
The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) suggested that it was a fundamental necessity to sound accounting that the Auditor-General should have access to individual assessments. In my opinion, it would not he wise to adopt that principle. The AuditorGeneral’s real responsibility begins when income tax has been collected, because it is his duty to see that the expenditure is authorized and properly vouched for. In my opinion, it is wrong in principle for the Auditor-General to have authority to trace back individual assessments, and to act as a controller of tb” Commissioner of Taxation in carrying out his functions. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said, the element of .secrecy is involved. Honorable members apparently agree that the information contained in income tax returns should not be widely known. If the Auditor-General’s sta.ff were give access to returns and assessments, the opportunity to preserve secrecy would be reduced.
In his official capacity, the Commissioner of Taxation possesses a great deal of authority. He is responsible to the Parliament, and he functions under the Taxation Acts. He is bound to observe the provisions of that legislation. He is given wide discretionary power to impose arbitrary penalties, and to grant to taxpayers extensions of time in which to pay the amount of their assessments. These powers are vital, first, to protect the revenues of the country, and, secondly, in the interests of individual taxpayers who desire an extension of time in which to pay their assessments, so that an undue financial burden may not be imposed upon them. If the Commissioner of Taxation were subject to continuous and close scrutiny by the Auditor-General, the discretionary power that he exercises would not always be available to him. It would be a bad thing if the Commissioner of Taxation was obliged to bear in mind that any extension of time that he granted might be criticized, or even heavily censured by the Auditor-General.
A similar position arises with the imposition of penalties. At the discretion of the Commissioner of Taxation, heavy penalties may be imposed upon taxpayers for certain offences. If , in exercising that discretion, the Commissioner of Taxation is subject to a higher authority in the person of the Auditor-General, the power conferred upon him would be of little value, because he might be criticized by an overriding authority for its legitimate use. If any further information is required, it should be given to the Parliament. The Commissioner of Taxation has power to impose or remit penalties, and grant an extension of time in which to pay. If any explanation is required of the Commissioner of Taxation, whether it be in respect of the amount of arrears of tax or penalties imposed on individuals, the information should be sought in this Parliament, anc! given to this Parliament. It would be wrong, in principle, if the Auditor-General were given an overriding power over the Commissioner of Taxation. As that is the principal submission of the honorable member for Reid, I consider that his proposals should he rejected.
.- The honorable member for “New England (Mr. Abbott) mentioned Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, and said that Ministers used government motor cars “ as they like them “. If honorable members are seeking the name of the Shakespearean play that best describes the subjects discussed to-day, I suggest Much Ado about Nothing. The subjects mentioned have been frivolously debated. No definite charges have been made, and no details have been supplied of alleged misdoings by the Government, Ministers or public servants. Using general terms and charges, and references to what might be taking place, members of the Opposition have sought to discredit the Government. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) referred at length to what he described as “ disclosures that £50,000,000 in assessed income had not been collected at the 30th June last”. In reply, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) dealt fully with that subject. Let us not forget that, day after day, honorable members on both sides of the House make representations to the Commissioner of Taxation on behalf of constituents for an extension of time in which to pay their taxes. Millions of pounds must be owing to the Taxation Branch of the Treasury as the result of these representations. We must also remember that many appeals are made to the Taxation Board of Review against the Commissioner of Taxation’s assessments.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.
Sitting suspended from 6.2 to 8 p.m.
Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) Amendment (No.1).
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 20th February (vide page 147), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) 1934-1939 he amended * . .* (vide page 2140, volume 194).
Upon which Mr. McEwen had moved by way of amendment -
That item 157 be postponed.
.- I propose in brief terms to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) which, in effect, is that the Government defer action on this item pending further consideration. The proposal is advanced in the hope that the logic of circumstances, or common sense, will prevail over what we look upon as the entirely unrealistic attitude of the Government. The amendment is to item 157, which arbitrarily specifies that the duty on Canadian barbed wire shall be 50s. a ton. I assume that this duty originally was intended to protect similar industries in this country. If that is so, the need for it no longer exists, because local production falls so far short of national requirements that it is almost impossible to buy, beg, borrow, or steal a coil of barbed wire in certain areas in the country. We need not here concern ourselves with the many causes which contribute to this unhappy state of affairs; but we do concern ourselves with the effects, and I believe that the Government should accept this amendment to relieve a situation which is rapidly becoming farcical. It is very encouraging to note that certain Labour supporters, including the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson), are unreservedly supporting the principle of this amendment. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has advocated the free entry into this country of certain housing timbers that are in short supply and are not produced in Australia. The principle in each case is exactly the same. We are merely requesting the’ Government to defer action until it has considered the free entry into this country of supplies essential to increased production. We seek this concession only temporarily until Australian manufacture can catch up with the local demand. It is unthinkable that this Government, which is literally wallowing in riches, should insist upon this duty of 50s. a ton merely for revenue purposes or to enrich itself further at the expense of individuals, whose untiring labour against all odds, including constant industrial irritations, has succeeded in maintaining a reasonably stable economy in this country. Our primary producers can only continue their good work if the Government adopts a more realistic view of their many problems. I remind the Government that there is such a thing as taking the pitcher to the well once too often. In similar manner the Australian farming community may be irked beyond endurance, particularly when it realizes that barbed wire and other essential materials are scarce, not primarily because of a shortage of steel, shipping, or of labour, the stock excuses given so often, but because of industrial dislocation wrought by certain “ Red “ irresponsibles in this country, whilst an indulgent government takes the view that “ boys will be boys”. The people of this country are enjoying a “hot-house” prosperity at present - a prosperity in money though not in goods - but the time is coming when they will realize that whilst they are able to expend millions of pounds upon superfluous luxuries, they cannot expend many pounds on essentials for production in this country. It will not cost the Government anything to defer action on this item until the proposal that has been advanced by the honorable member for Indi can be examined. All that we seek is a temporary removal of the duty to overcome the deplorable shortage of commodities essential to the maintenance of a stable economy in Australia.
.- Attention has already been drawn to the fact that acceptance of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) would not exactly meet the Opposition’s wishes, because if consideration of this matter were deferred the addendum to this item would remain, with the result that the duty would be even more than it is now. I should like an assurance that the Government will permit barbed wire to be imported from Canada duty free until there is sufficient steel in this country to manufacture our own requirements. Day after day, honorable members receive communications from country people asking where they can get a few coils of barbed wire. Fulfilment of these requests seems to be utterly impossible. Earlier to-day, a statement was made in this chamber regarding the shortage of steel, which, of course, is claimed to be the reason for the scarcity of barbed wire, wire netting, piping, and other rural requirements. Apparently the Government is prepared to permit this anomalous and wicked position to continue. In the western districts of Queensland and New South Wales stock population has been reduced considerably owing to the absence of wire of all kinds. In some area3, dingoes are taking charge because they cannot be fenced out. Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) prepared to give an assurance that the Government will examine the position, with « view to suspending the duty on Canadian barbed wire temporarily until local supplies become available? I should .bc happy to receive that assurance. Adequate supplies of barbed wire are essential if primary production is not to be further retarded and the task of the man on the land rendered even more difficult than it is to-day.
– On Friday last, it was pointed out to the committee that the deletion of this item would not profit anybody, but, on the contrary, would increase the rate of duty on barbed wire. This schedule merely provides an exchange adjustment formula. Honorable members who are endeavouring to create the impression that they are doing something to assist primary producers by raising this matter to-night are merely misleading the people. Barbed wire imported from dollar areas or any other sources to-day is so expensive that no Australian primary producer could consider purchasing it, even if it were landed here in ship-loads. Recently, I saw a quotation of £3 15s. per cwt. for barbed wire landed in Australia from the United .States of America. The price of the locally produced barbed wire - I remind the House that production of this commodity is back to 80 per cent, of its pre-war total - is 28s. a cwt. It is fantastic to suggest that the import duty is having an effect upon supplies of barbed wire from overseas. I cannot imagine any of my friends in the Australian Country party paying £3 15s. per cwt. for barbed wire imported from the United States of America or Canada. Those are the plain facts. In any case, the proposed amendment would have no beneficial effect. The net result would be, in fact, a slight increase of the rate of duty on barbed wire. In these circumstances the amendment is not acceptable to the Government. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) asked the Government to examine this matter when it reviews the general tariff situation. Reviews are always being made and the honorable member’3 request can be grauted.
.- I am not at all satisfied with the reply given by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard). Farmers in Queensland have been badly in need of barbed wire for a very long time, but they have not been able to get any help from this Government. About twelve months ago there was a succession of floods in the southern coastal regions of Queensland, and tens of thousands of miles of barbed wire, wire netting and plain wire and large quantities of galvanized iron on farm buildings were washed away. I have made frequent requests to the Government to do everything possible to speed up the production of wire and wire netting and distribute it to the primary producers. Throughout the crisis in Queensland I sent telegrams to the Minister for Works and
Housing (Mr. Lemmon), whose department was then in charge of the distribution to the States of wire and galvanized iron from Newcastle and other manufacturing centres. However, th’e situation has not been relieved in any way. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has said that the cost of barbed wire would be too high if it were admitted from Canada under the preferential agreement that we are now considering. The Government should show the primary producers that it is anxious to give them all possible help by agreeing to our request to approve of the admission of barbed wire from Canada under by-law.
Log timber should be admitted in the same way. To-day we need timber more than we have ever needed it before, yet, under these proposals, the Government persists in extracting duty in respect of imported timber. Why cannot log timber be allowed to enter Australia free of duty under by-law? Such a provision would not cause any loss of employment to Australians, and, in fact, would create work in our timber mills. It would be of great help to people who are badly in need of homes by giving an impetus to house construction. During the war, members of the Opposition vainly urged the Government not to worry about making “ blueprints “ for the future, but to make sure that our timber resources would be properly exploited when the need arose. Many hundreds of small timber mills in Queensland andelsewhere are not operating to-day. They could he used to cut the timber in the forests, from where it could be distributed throughout Australia. The Government has been so preoccupied with preparing “blueprints” that it has not applied itself to the practical job of finding for our home-seekers the timber that’ they need. It is ridiculous that, under these tariff proposals, the Government persists in applying import duties to barbed wire and log timber for which the people are crying out. It gives no satisfaction to the people to tell them that barbed wire production to-day is the equivalent of 80 per cent. of pre-war production. Where is the barbed wire thatis being produced ? That is what we wantto know.
– Does the honorable member want the Government to appoint a few more bureaucrats to go in search of it?
– No. The country is burdened with bureaucrats appointed by this Government. The sooner we get freedom in industry arid do away with hold-ups, restraints, prohibition’s, and complicated forms that have to be filled in before one can buy a tack or a hammer, the sooner will this nation advance to prosperity. The Minister is’ not acting in the best interests of the people, who are struggling to answer the call to increase production of foodstuffs for our own kiri in the United Kingdom and for the starving people of Europe. How can our farmers produce food, particularly Butter and other dairy products, if they have no wire with which to build fences to protect f odder crops for their stock? £ repeat that the farmers of Queensland who suffered in the floods twelve months ugo havenot had relief yet. I appeal to the Minister not to be satisfied to say that the cost of imported barbed wire would be too high. He should make representations to the Government of Canada, explain Australia’s need, and ask for its co-operation on the condition that the Australian Government removes the import duty from barbed wire. I ask him to heed our appeals and provide for the free admission of both barbed wire and log timber under by-law.
– Speaking on this subject last week, I stated that, like the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), I considered that the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) would not meet the wishes of the committee. I suggested then that the Government should give an assurance to the honorable member for Indi that it would consider permitting the importation under by-law of both softwoods and barbed wire. The honorable member for Indi informed the committee that he would be prepared to withdraw his amendment if the Minister then in charge of the bill would give such an assurance. To-night the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who is in charge of the measure, has not attempted to answer the Opposition’s criticism of the Government’s proposals in relation to these’ two items. Indeed’, he has not stated a case at all in rebuttal’ of the charges that we have1 made. Instead1, he has used the old moth-eaten argument, that the amendment would not achieve the wishes of the committee. We acknowledge that. We say that, if’ the Minister is’ sincere and’ has no argument to advance against the case that we have made out, he should consider permitting the entry under bylaw of barbed wire and softwoods. He has said that higher rates of duty will apply if the amendment is adopted. That is- quite true,’ and we do’ not blink the fact. However, the Minister can overcome this by saying; “ These duties’ date back to the Ottawa Agreement. The position in’ Australia to-day is entirely different from what it was then. We are suffering.from a housing shortage and are badly in need- of softwoods. Therefore, T shall endeavour to help’ the people by permitting the entry of softwoods under by-law. I also acknowledge that barbed wire is in short supply-. I know how this affects the development of our beef industry, and, in view of the acute need for b’eef and. our obligations to the United Kingdom., I. will permit the entry of barbed wire under by-law.” That would be the common-sense attitude for the honorable, gentleman to adopt. However, instead of doing so, the Minister says, with his tongue in his cheek, that the proposed amendment would not meet the situation.
He knows well that- he has the power to give effect to the wishes of the committee by acting as- I have suggested. He must be aware of the seriousness of the scarcity of softwoods for homebuilding. Hardwoods are not suitable for roofing purposes. Furthermore; the use of green timber is causing rafters to warp so severely that tiles cannot be placed over them. Timber in houses under construction is subject to long exposure to the weather because of the acute shortage of tiles. I know of scores of halfcompleted houses in which the rafters have been exposed for months and months, until they have become completely buckled. If tiles are in short supply and it is necessary to use softwood instead of kiln-dried hardwood, then, in the interests of the people who want houses built, the Government should permit’ the entry of timber under by-law. It has the power to do’ so, and the Minister has the remedy in his own hand’s. If he gives an assurance that by-law entry will be permitted, the amendment will be withdrawn and” the committee will not divide. The Minister has power in’ his own hands to do something, to assist the primary producers of this country, who are doing their utmost to produce food _fdr the starving people of the United Kingdom and Europe, and he can help if he wants to. I cannot understand why he’ is’ so stubborn in refusing to give the assurance which we seek.
.- The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) suggested that if bar’bed wire were allowed to come into- the country, the retail price- would be £3 15s. percwt, and he amazed me when he said that the farmers would not be prepared to pay, that price. Apparently he has not “ the ear “ of the farmers. My information is that they will pay anything to- get barbed wire.
– £3 15s. per cwt.?
– Yes, and even’ more. If the Minister would give’ me’ 10,000 coils I would guarantee to sell it at £3 ’15s. per cwt.
– Then the farmers can- ‘ not be in the bad state financially which he honorable member continually suggests they are.
– They would sooner pay that amount for- barbed wire than pay it to the Government to be squandered. The Government is continually exhorting farmers to produce more- food to feed the starving millions in other parts of the world, yet at every turn it is endeavouring to frustrate th’em. As a former agriculturist, the Minister should know that when a farmer’s fences are down thework of looking after stock is much harder and involves the employment of more labour, and that his time is occupied in unnecessary work.
The Minister said that Australia was producing 80 per- cent.’ of its pre-war production. Where is that production? The farmers cannot get hold of- it. If the manufactured goods are lying in manufacturers’ storehouses, why does the Government not ensure that they are distributed throughout the States so that they will be available for purchase by farmers ? It may be that petty industrial troubles of the type mentioned by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) are the cause; but, after all, it is the responsibility of the Government to see that the wheels of industry are kept turning and that distribution proceeds in the normal way. The Minister accused members on this side of the chamber of desiring to establish another body of bureaucrats to distribute wire. I suggest to him that it would be better if the Government dispensed with the services of some of the present bureaucrats and put them to work in order to give primary producers, who are the backbone of this country, the assistance which they so richly deserve. I have received numerous requests from farmers’ organizations and individual farmers asking that the Government should remove the duty on a number of their requirements, which are practically unobtainable in Australia. I am sure that if the opportunity were given the farmers to purchase the materials which they so badly need, they would seize it with both hands.
– I have already spoken during this debate, but, because of the negative attitude displayed by Ministers, I feel impelled to speak again. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) have concerned themselves in this matter, and, because of the positions which they hold, they are the very Ministers to whom ex-servicemen and farmers look for assistance. However, I am amazed to-night, just as I was amazed during the debate last week, at the utter lack of any constructive suggestions from either of them. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said to-night that the farmers could not possibly buy barbed wire at the price which he mentioned. I admit that that price would be very high, but I am convinced that we should open the gates to allow the entry of materials so badly needed by primary producers, although the measure might be only an emergency one. When goods of a particular kind are in short supply, and Australian industry cannot produce them., they should be imported. This is essentially a primary producing country, and if we do not keep the primary producersequipped with the implements and materials they require to carry on, the country’s standard of living must suffer. Every Australian knows that, and every Australian should insist that primary production be fostered and encouraged to develop in order that Australia may continue to advance.
The Minister should tell the people what can be done and exactly what the Government intends to do. I have made many representations on behalf of my constituents asking for the supply of additional wire. Prior to the last harvest, I received a letter from a constituent in the Wimmera in which he said : “ Half my paddock is in crop; the other half is excellent pasture, but I cannot turn my cattle in to the other half because they would destroy my crop “. If that man had had a few strands of barbed wire he could have turned his cattle in by simply placing the wire strands across the paddock to ‘ protect the wheat. Hi3 cattle would then have had the advantage of being able to graze on the portion of his paddock that was not under crop. Only two strands of barbed wire might be needed to enclose a herd of cattle. In circumstances such as those primary producers are prepared to pay high prices for barbed wire because they know that it would give them a good return. I made representations to the Minister for Supply and Shipping and to other Ministers, and they replied that, because of the lack of labour in Australia, nothing could be done. Members on this side of the chamber have ma.de certain definite suggestions to open the way for the entry of goods urgently needed in this country. If things which we badly require are not coming forward, what is to be done? Does the Minister suggest that the Government should simply do nothing, and allow primary production to languish, or has the Government some scheme to assist primary producers to restore production to its former level? That is a fair question, and I should like a fair answer.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) made a great to-do with his suggestion that the Government should remove the duty on softwoods. He made a great outcry about the housing position, and lie said that hardwoods were not suitable for roof construction because of warp and so on. The honorable gentleman obviously knows very little about timber. Even if the Government immediately reduced the duty on housing timber, not one more stick of softwood would come into Australia. Before the war, Australia produced 592,500,000 super, feet, and last year it produced 900,000,000 super. feet; in other words, Australia’s timber production increased by more than 50 per cent. In Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, most of New South Wales, and practically throughout Queensland hardwood is used for all forms of roof construction, and it is sheer humbug for the honorable member to suggest that hardwood cannot be used for roofing timber.
I propose to deal now with the criticism of myself made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), when he referred to the period when I was in control of the allocation of materials. I have explained this matter before, but, for the benefit of the honorable member, I propose to do so again. Each State receives an allocation determined at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and the Government authorizes distribution within the limits of that allocation. Once material is allocated to State authorities its control passes entirely out of the Government’s hands. However, when the recent serious floods occurred in Queensland - as these calamities do from time to time in all States - I did allocate to Queensland an extra 300 tons of barbed and plain wire, which was in addition to its normal allocation. That came from the allocations that would have been made to other States. It is, therefore, not true to say that this Government did nothing.
So much has been said about the duty on barbed and plain wire that it might be thought to be considerable. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) has said that farmers will pay almost any price for wire, and that he could sell large quantities if only it could be imported. The price quoted by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was £3 15s. per cwt. and duty amounts to only 2s. 6d. per cwt. If the honorable member is such a good salesman, and if he can sell any quantity at £3 15s. per cwt., because the farmers have money that they want to spend’ in order to avoid paying income tax on it,, this tariff will make no difference. What humbugs and hypocrites honorable members opposite are! It might be inferred from their remarks that the duty was in the vicinity of £2 or £3 per cwt., whereas, in fact, it is only 2s. 6d. It has been suggested that if it were abolished there would be a great flow of material into the country. The truth is that it is not the tariff that prevents the wire coming in and we should be unable to get it even if the duty were removed.
.- The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) always speaks with great vigour, but that does not maie his arguments more accurate. He seems entirely to have missed the point with regard to timber importations. In my speech on Friday last I proposed that, having regard to the scarcity of timber and the high cost of building, the Minister should promise to grant by-law entry to Oregon logs, which are used in building. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) approved of that suggestion and said that that timber was largely used in South Australia. The point is not quantity but price. If my proposals were adopted, building costs would be reduced, but the Minister can-, not see that ; he cannot see that a loading of 17J per cent., plus primage, plus sales tax and so on, makes this timber more expensive. Had the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) said that there might he some merit in the Opposition’s argument, and that he would investigate to see whether it was possible for timber to come in more cheaply and thus assist in reducing housing costs, honorable members on this side of the committee would have been satisfied and no amendment would have been moved.
I asked a question earlier to-day about the accumulation of steel on the wharfs at Newcastle, which includes barbed wire and building steel. The managing director of Lysaghts has said that the accumulation amounts to 58,700 tons, and is valued at over £1,000,000. That matter comes under the purview of the Minister for Supply and Shipping. Because this Government has been so dilatory in dealing with waterside matters, and has allowed Communist inspired unions to take charge, barbed wire urgently needed by farmers and galvanized iron wanted by builders in every State is not being shipped. Because of the slow turn-round, thi pa are sailing loaded only to half their capacity. It now takes fourteen days to load a ship, whereas previously the period was eight days.
– Does the honorable member realize that if this duty on Canadian barbed wire is eliminated, it will completely offset the preference now given to the United Kingdom? Barbed wire from the United Kingdom is imported free of duty.
– I was not speaking of the duty on barbed wire, but of the duty on timber. There are huge quantities of barbed wire accumulated on the wharfs here, but the Government is not ensuring that it is delivered. I know of Victorian manufacturers who send their own motor trucks to Newcastle to bring steel back to Melbourne.
I know that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who act9 in this chamber for the Minister for Trade and Customs, is. fully occupied with the affairs of his own department, hut if he will consult with the officials he will learn that it is common practice, where there is a scarcity of some commodities or where they are urgently needed by a primary or secondary industry, to allow by-law admission, especially when they come from another country within the Empire. If an application is made for by-law entry of oregon logs, all the Minister needs to say is that he will judge it on the facts. If he does, I have no doubt that the investigations will show there is a scarcity. If it were allowed to come in under by-law, this heavy duty would be avoided for the time being. Such a course would not injure the hardwood millers. The millers of Australia are doing a very good job, but already they have all the orders with, which they can cope.
.- As usual, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has not confined his remarks strictly to the issue before the committee. Undoubtedly the farmers need more barbed wire and wire-netting. The amendment makes a very good talking point for honorable members opposite. They hope to lead the farmers to believe that if it is accepted more wire will be available, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The purpose of the bill before us is simply to put certain tariff items into proper order. Formerly the duty was assessed on the sterling value of the goods arriving here, but now it is proposed to assess it on the value in Australian currency. That is the question before the committee.
– There is an amendment before the committee.
– The amendment proposes to defer the matter altogether. The Government’s proposal is, in effect, to reduce the duty, but if the matter is deferred the duty will continue to stand at a high figure and the plight of the farmers will be worsened. Agriculturists are in need of mere wire. It would be imported, if it could be obtained. There is, however, a world-wide shortage of this commodity and there is little hope of importing it. As the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) pointed out, the duty amounts only to 2s. 6d. per cwt. Even if the goods could be landed in Australia, from where should we find the dollars to pay for them ? Honorable members on this side of the committee who represent farming constituencies want the farmers to get more wire, but it is useless to set up a smoke-screen and to pretend to the farmers that we are trying to help them. I want to see something done to assist them. The Minister has said that he will have the matter considered, and I accept his assurance. Nothing can be gained by holding up the item now. We know that there is a shortage of wire, very little having been available to ordinary users in Australia during the war. Moreover, because of the prosperity of the farming industry, there is now an increased demand for wire from those who wish to improve their properties. If the Opposition could show that, should this amendment be accepted, more wire would be made available, I would exercise what influence I have with the Minister to induce him to agree to their proposal. However, I am convinced, after listening to those Ministers who have spoken on the subject, that there is nothing to be gained by the amendment. Members of the Opposition, and particularly of the Australian Country party, are merely using it as a talking point. For years past they have made a pretence of helping the farmers, but in reality they have done nothing at all, whereas this Government has done a ;great deal to make the farmers prosperous.
– I challenge the statement of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) that members of the Australian Country party are using the amendment only as a talking point. Their great desire is to ensure that farmers shall be able to obtain the wire they need in order to effect repairs or fence their properties. Wire is also .needed by ex-servicemen who desire to bring their holdings into production. We have always supported sound protection in Australia so that our secondary industries may develop, and compete successfully with the products of cheap-labour countries. However, Australian industry has progressed beyond that point. We have in Australia an iron and steel industry which, to the credit of the country, was, before the war, exporting its products -overseas, and selling them in open competition with all comers on the world’s markets. Now, however, there is a shortage in Australia of 450,000 tons of steel, and that is one of the reasons for the grave shortage of wire. We appeal to the Government to remove the real reason for the shortage. At none of the : steel- works is there more than a week’s supply of coal at grass. Supplies of coal are being deliberately rationed by the unions so that they may maintain their :grip on the industry and, as the result, people in the country cannot get the goods which they so urgently need. Practically all kinds of wire are scarce, but at the moment we are considering barbed wire in particular. During the war, there was patented in Great Britain a method of manufacturing barbed wire by oxy-welding barbs on to ordinary No. 10 wire, and by this process hundreds of millions of miles of barbed wire were manufactured. It is suitable for all uses, but no attempt has been made to import from Great Britain some of this enormous quantity of barbed wire which was manufactured during the war.
Australia is, to-day, suffering from a shortage of steel caused by strikes and go-slow methods in the coal mines and on the wharfs. These tactics are being pursued with the deliberate intention of harassing the Australian people and delaying production. We want to ensure that those who wish to produce are allowed to do so. In Newcastle alone the production of steel is short by 4,000 tons a week. If that steel were available it could be used for the production of barbed wire. This shortage is due to the scarcity of coal, which, in turn, is due to stoppages and go-slow tactics. Because of the shortage of coal, 161 coke-ovens are producing only 1,800 tons a day instead of their proper output of 2,340 tons a day. The production of ingot steel is down by 5,000 tons a week, and this, again, is reflected in the production of barbed wire.
The hold-up of transport services is also delaying the manufacture of wire. No less than 49,000 tons of steel is lying in store awaiting shipment to industries, but it cannot be removed because of shipping hold-ups. In addition, 9,000 tons of piping and enough steel to roof 7,000 houses are awaiting shipment, to say nothing of the steel that ought to have been produced, but has not been. Before the war, we manufactured in Australia 600 miles of wire netting a week; we are now manufacturing only 150 miles a week. These production delays are due to the continued industrial stoppages and pin pricking tactics of those who owe allegiance, not to Australia, but to a foreign power. They are preventing production by the farmers, who are trying to pay the nation’s debt and make the community prosperous.
.- Despite the efforts of honorable members opposite to confuse the issue raised by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), the matter is really very simple. There are shortages of materials in Australia, and nowhere are those shortages more acute than in requirements for building generally and housing in particular. It is of no use for the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) to deny by implication that there is a shortage of timber. It is of no use merely citing figures indicating that timbergetting in this country is at a record level. T represent an area in which there are probably more houses under construction than in any other district in this country, and at no time in the history of Australia has more expensive timber gone into the construction of a house. It is ridiculous for the Minister, with a full knowledge of the facts, to endeavour to state a ease of this sort. Not a mile from this chamber we have the spectacle of houses, no better than sardine cans, being built of an expensive substitute material simply because suitable timber cannot be obtained. The proposal of the honorable member for Balaclava, that Canadian timber should be permitted to be imported into this country under special licence, represents one means by which the very serious shortage of timber may be overcome. We could also obtain from our sister dominion in this way at least some portion of our wire requirements.
Reference has been made to the duties on timber and wire. The duty on timber imported from Canada under this schedule ranges from 17½ to 47½ per cent. In addition, there is the natural protection on any item imported from Canada which is inherent in the present rate of exchange. In relation to the pound sterling, the Australian pound is devalued, whereas the value of the Canadian dollar is considerably increased. Thus, an added protection is given to the Australian industry. The cost of transport must also be taken into consideration. It may be safely assumed that the timber suitable for house construction imported from Canada will sell at not less than 100 per cent. above ruling prices in Canada. That people, who are prepared to pay high prices for timber because of theirurgent need of it, cannot obtain supplies quickly enough, even at so inflated a price, is an indictment of the Government. It has been said that we cannot afford to buy Canadian timber because of the shortage of dollars. How do we earn dollars? We earn them by the export of our primary products, principally wool and gold. Everybody knows that the development of the wool-growing and mining industries is being retarded because of the lack of metal equipment. It is barbed wire in the case of the wool-grower, and heavy machinery in the case of the gold-mining industry. Much of our requirements of these commodities could be obtained from Canada. We are desperately short of houses, and we must pay grossly inflated prices for every item that goes into house construction. The proposition put before the committee by the honorable member for Balaclava seems to offer a partial solution of the problem of supplying some essential building requirements. This Government, however, appears to be merely a “ shortage “ government. It is not satisfied unless there is a shortage of some sort. To-day we have a shortage of coal, of gas, of timber, of wire, and of almost everything we require. Here is an opportunity partly to overcome the shortage of at least some essential commodities.
.- The amendment proposed by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) is designed to convey the impression that its intention is to reduce the duties on imported wire. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) said that if we open the door to Canadian imports we shall immediately have unlimited supplies.
– That is grossly misleading. Neither honorable member said that.
– They said all our barbed wire requirements could be supplied.
– Nothing of the kind.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Clark).Order ! If the honorable member for Indi persists in interrupting the debate I shall have to deal with him.
– These statements are deliberately intended to mislead the farming community. Honorable members opposite suggest that if duties are reduced a great flood of material will immediately flow into this country. They are well aware that no duty is imposed on barbed wire from Great Britain - if we could get it - and that the duty on barbed wire from Canada is 2s. 6d. per cwt. The honorable member for Swan said that he could sell 10,000 coils of barbed wire to-morrow, but who would want to pay £3 15s. a coil for barbed wire? Would he sell it to ex-servicemen who have been placed on the land ? I realize that there is a serious shortage of barbed wire. 1 have been trying without success to obtain some for a couple of years. I went to my local dealer, who told me to put my name on his list, but nothing happened. I then went to the wool firm with which I deal and was told again to place my name on the list, but the result was the same. I am prepared to take barbed wire of any kind, either black or galvanized wire; but I cannot get it. Fired by the misleading propaganda disseminated by the Australian Country party some unthinking primary producers condemn the Government for its alleged failure to supply their requirements.
How are such supplies as are available distributed ? A farmer asked me why 1.10 coils of wire netting were allotted to one station. I said, “ Because you voted * No ‘ at the referendum “. Others say, “ I have, had no wire for five years “. My reply to them is, “ Neither have I “. I asked them why they did not get their requirements ten years ago when their fences were first in need of repair, and they replied’ that they then had no money. In those days anti-Labour governments were in office.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has characterized this Government as a “shortage” government. I remind him that when honorable members opposite were in office there was ample money, material and man-power for the building of houses for the people, but no attempt was made to build them. To-day all of us have money - even I have money - but there are shortages of materials of every kind. With the present price of wool, I receive for my wool as much in one year as I previously obtained in three years. This year, if prices do not crash, I shall probably get four times as much. We all have money and we all want wire at the same time, thus accentuating the demand. Even if wire production were at the pre-war level it would take a considerable time for Australian manufacturers to meet current requirements. Not only during the war years, but also for many years prior to the war, when governments formed of honorable members opposite were in office, little was done to meet the needs of our primary producers.
.- Every honorable member who has risen to defend the retention of the existing duties on barbed wire and timber has simply underlined the strength of the case submitted by the Opposition. Each has confessed that there is a dire shortage of these materials which cannot be remedied by local production. Each has admitted that something ought to be done ; that the farmer is in a desperate situation owing to these shortages, and that the homeseekers cannot build homes. Yet the Minister of Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) insists upon the retention of these heavy duties, which prevent any one from even attempting to import these goods. He airily declared that it would cost £3 15s. a coil to bring barbed wire to this country. Well, let us have a “go” and see what happens. If that cost is prohibitive, these duties will not matter at all. What is the Minister burking at? He said that we have reached to 80 per cent, of our pre-war production. That means that there is a shortage of 20 per cent. If we were to permit the importation duty free of 20 per cent, of our requirements, we might establish equilibrium with respect to supplies of barbed wire.
– There is no one stopping the farmers from importing barbed wire from the United Kingdom.
– Only the duty retained by this Government.
– There is no duty on barbed wire imported from the United Kingdom.
– We are now debate ing a Canadian preference tariff, not a United Kingdom preference tariff. The Minister is expert in drawing red herrings across the trail. He asks, “ Why not get United Kingdom barbed wire because there is no duty on it?”. He knows that barbed wire is not obtainable from Great Britain at present; but, at the same time, he knows that it is obtainable from Canada and that we could obtain supplies from that country if farmers were encouraged to import it. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) sneered at members of the Australian Country party. He said tha* we were posing as champions of the farmers by trying to get wire for them. I do not know whether the honorable member goes to the races, but if he does he must be a “ tote “ bettor, because he has “ a bit both ways “ every time. I remind the Government of how it treated the fanners in respect of supplies of barbed wire during the war and since. 1. am talking about black ungalvanized wire and “Disposals- Commission barbed wire “, which the Government sold to the farmer at £20 a ton. Not one coil of that wire would take a strain without breaking into thousands of pieces.
– That is a first-class lie, because I have used hundreds of yards of it.
– I bought a few tons of it myself, and it is still lying useless in the paddock on my farm. The Minister can have it for the trouble of taking i+ away.
– -Because the honorable member is too miserable to pay decent wages.
– Talking about wages, I remind the Minister that such is the shortage of labour that no Australian to-day will work for anything like the wages prescribed under awards. This Government profiteered at the expense of the unfortunate farmers so far as sales of barbed wire were concerned; and it is still profiteering at their expense by retaining this duty. If the duty were lifted, we could afford to import at least 20 per cent, of our requirements of barbed wire from Canada. Is this duty necessary for the protection of Australian secondary industries at present ? No Australian secondary industry to-day needs this protection, because the entire output of all of those industries can be .easily disposed of. -None of our secondary industries needs to be boosted at present by a. protective duty. Yet that waa the purpose of this duly when it was first imposed many years ago. Does the Government require the revenue derived from this duty which it is taking out of the pockets of the farmers?
The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) said that the duty represented a cost of only 2s. 6d. a coil. When the Minister himself received a rise in salary I did not hear him say that it. would mean only 2s. 6d. an hour extra. All such ‘half-crowns mount up and add considerably to the cost of production in this country. With respect to building timber, duty is to be imposed at rates ranging from 17$ per cent, to 55 per cent, ad valorem. Does the Ministersay that that is only 55 per cent, to keepCanadian timber out of this country, or only 17$ per cent, to keep unmilled logs out of the country? He said that last year Australia milled 90,000,000 feet of timber compared with about 59,000,000’ feet milled before the war. However, in all parts of the Commonwealth one now sees homes only partly built because theunfortunate people trying to build homescannot obtain the necessary timber tofinish the job. Yet the Minister responsible for that state of affairs proudly declares that 90,000,000 feet of timberwas milled in ‘.his country last year. It will take much more than that quantity of timber to satisfy the requirements of people seeking to build homes in thiscountry. Thousands of ex-servicemen who have married since the war ended areobliged to live with relatives and “inlaws “ under conditions which, ultimately,, may tend to break up their marriages. But what does the Government do about that matter? Do Ministers listen sympathetically to the practical proposition, advanced by members of the Opposition to encourage the importation of thesenecessary timbers? The Minister says,. “ What about Oregon versus hardwood !” Would the Minister himself build a homewith freshly cut timber in the roof? The- timber now available is hardly off the saw before it is put into new houses, and, consequently, within a year, or two, the timber shrinks or warps and roofs begin to leak. That is the result of the gerry building of homes by forcing the use of unseasoned timbers. Canadianoregon is recognized as one of the finest timbers for home-building. It does not shrink or warp ; it is easy to drive nails into and it is admittedly unrivalled in many other seekers in this country, I enter my protest tion.
I know that the Government will not accept the amendment. Ministers at the table have said so decidedly. Nevertheless, on behalf of the farmers who need these materials to be enabled to produce food for Britain which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture airily promises will be made available whilst he does nothing practical to implement such promises, and also onbehalf of home seekers in this country, I enter my protest against the retention of these duties.
Mr.BLAIN (Northern Territory) [9.8] . - I spo!keonthis proposallast week chiefly with respect tothe importation of timber; and I am pleased this evening tosupportthe demands made by members of the AustralianCountryparty, who in this debate havedisplayed practical knowledge ofthe subjects underreview.I know something about barbed wire. During the war of 1914-18 I had the privilege of seeing the Germansbehind the barbed wires. I wasthen on the outside looking in. During the recent war, as a prisoner of the Japanese, I was behind barbed wire on the inside looking out. Only an hour ago I received a telegram which I shall read in order to show how little the Government is doing to make available supplies of barbed wire to settlers in outlying areas. I agree with members of the Australian Country party that if the duty were removed from barbed wire, or considerably reduced, farmers would be able to obtain supplies from Canada. The Inland Radio message to which I refer was sent to me today by a settler in one of the most remote parts of Australia, namely, the Roper Valley, which is about 50 miles beyond “ Never Never “ station on the Roper River. The radio message reads -
Have over 8 miles posts erected. Badly want 5 tons 12 half -gauge galvanized barbed wire, 5 tons 8-gauge plain galvanized wire to complete. Could you contact Minister concerned arrange purchase permit. Very urgently need. Do best. Regards. - Tom Holt.
Holt is pioneering in a small way beyond Roper River. Barbed wire has greater significance in the Northern Territory than in any other part of Australia. The cattle go wild and must be confined. No “ small “ man can start without barbed wire. His first need is a horse paddock of about 6 square miles, and barbed wire is the main requirement in fencing the paddock. When he gets on his feet, he needs a paddock of, say, 10 square miles for his bullocks, which must be enclosed, because he cannot allow his cattle to become mixed. So graziers in the Northern Territory should have a first priority in obtaining barbed wire. If the Territory is to be developed as it should be the cattle must be confined, and seen more than twice a year. Under present conditions they are seen only twice a year for branding. I am referring to the ordinary domestic cattle, the Shorthorns, which are, as it were, amenable to discipline; but if, as is proposed, crossbreed Zebus are introduced, they roustbe confined in smaller areas. Otherwise the Northern Territory cattle industry will not develop as it should. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon), in replying to the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), said that he was pleased to be able to say that last year he had allocated to Queensland an extra 300 tons of barbed wire, which ought to have been allocated to other States. But where does the Northern Territory come in? I regret the absence of the Minister for Works and Housing and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), but, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) appears to be in charge of the business, I ask him to ascertain what the position is in regard to the Northern Territory. Is it to be treated as a State and have a separate allocation of barbed wire, or is it to take the scraps left over from Fremantle, Brisbane and Melbourne? That is what is happening. My constituents imagine from comments in the press that I have not been on the job, but I assure them that within two months of my return to the Parliament in 1945, in an effort to obtain a proper allocation of supplies for the Northern Territory on a basis comparable with that on which the States are allocated their supplies, I was closely in touch with Mr. Lucas, who was in charge of the supply of materials. He has since been transferred to the “War Service Homes Branch of the Department of Works and Housing. The stock reply of the Government in respect of allocations made to the States is that quotas are allotted to them and distributed by them according to priorities nominated by themselves. I should like an assurance that the Northern Territory will be similarly treated.
It has been claimed that hardwood can be used for roofing. A sensible government would ensure that houses should be constructed only in part with Australian natural woods, and that the rest of the timber should be imported. When Mr. Lane-Poole was Director-General of Forestry, he said- that if we import too little timber we cut too much of our own. If the duties on imported timber were reduced to the absolute minimum, more timber would come into the country from overseas, and our own forests would be conserved. We must take precautions to safeguard our own timbers. Logs are being imported into Queensland from Borneo by Brett and Company Proprietary Limited. That company is doing a mighty fine job, and more power to it! But the Government seems to be interested only in New Guinea as an overseas source of timber. I hope that New Guinea will supply a lot of our timber needs, but the necessity to conserve our own forests is so great that we should exploit all other available sources.
When he was Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), accepting my advice, evolved a scheme whereby barbed wire would to stacked at Alice Springs for distribution to the “ small “ settlers, but when this Government took office the proposal was overlooked. In fact, this Government seems to have no policy to assist the development of the Territory by the provision of barbed wire, bores or any other requirement. I ask the Government to adopt the scheme of the honorable member for Indi. I also ask the Minister for Works and Housing to be as magnaminous towards the Northern Territory as he claims to have been towards Queensland in the allocation of barbed wire and other materials.
.- The Australian Country party has shed a lot of crocodile tears about barbed wire, but the amendment that the item be postponed is so much humbug, because the problem of how to procure supplies of barbed wire for the farmers of Australia cannot be resolved merely by the moving of amendments. There are certain sources of supply. The local manufacturer is doing his best to satisfy the local demand, and British manufacturers can ship barbed wire to Australia on which the importer, under the preferential tariff, does not have to pay duty. The other source of barbed wire to which importers can normally turn is not open at present, because it is within the dollar area, and it is useless for honorable gentlemen opposite to try to convince the country people that simply by postponing this item there is likely to be any immediate or distant improvement in the availability of barbed wire. They could not convince any member of the committee that there could be and I do not think they believe their own arguments. The system of import licences prohibits, for the timo being, the importation of certain commodities for which dollars will have to be surrendered. So that closes the door on the possibility of obtaining supplies of barbed wire from the dollar area. I understand that, in recent weeks, the Government has been offered supplies of British barbed wire on which no duty is payable. The point to be considered is whether there should be a Treasury subvention to bring the price of the British wire within the means of the farmers who need it. On the contrary, rather than accuse the Government of endeavouring to block, by this particular schedule, the obtaining of a quantity of barbed wire, members of the Opposition should recognize that the Government is indeed helping the farmer by subsidizing, in effect, the obtaining of barbed wire from British sources.
The schedule under consideration is a simple one. It provides for the validation of something which was done as far back as the 15th November, 1947. At 9 a.m. on that date, there was a change over, for the sake of convenience and easy computation, from the calculation of duties by relation to sterling amounts to a calculation of duty on local currency amounts. All that happened, in effect, was that, for the purpose of ascertaining what duty was payable, a sterling amount was translated into Australian currency. This duty is being reduced so that the percentages obtaining when the duties were calculated on the sterling basis shall remain unaltered when they are calculated on the local currency basis. That is all that will be achieved by this measure.
– That is precisely nothing.
– It is, in effect, precisely nothing; but the machinery of the Customs Tariff Act calls for such an enactment as is now proposed.
– The honorable member has to fill in somehow the time that he is allowed for his speech.
– This is not a matter of filling in time. The honorable member for Indi, as a former Minister, knows that it is necessary, for administrative purposes, to pass legislation which is purely of a machinery character. Members of the Australian Country party have seized the machinery measure now under consideration as an opportunity to make it appear that they are really earning their salt in this chamber. Perhaps they desire to make it appear that they constitute a country party in fact as well as in name; otherwise, we would not know that it is a country party in fact.
The local cost of producing barbed wire is approximately £28 a ton, and the duty is 50s. a ton, which is equivalent to about 10 per cent. Members of the Australian country party are endeavouring to show that the Government, by retaining this duty on the importation of barbed wire from Canada, which is the only country with which this measure deals, will impair the efficiency of primary producers. That, of course, is not so, and any attempt to make it appear so is humbug. The whole problem is one of procurement, and I believe that it can be solved only by increasing the production of this barbed wire in Australia, or obtaining supplies from Great Britain, no doubt with a government subvention in order to bring barbed ‘wire within the reach of the average farmer.
– T have listened to a few speeches by Government supporters on the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). I regret that, in too many instances, that honorable member’s motive, and his method of procedure, have been misrepresented. I. accept without hesitation or qualification any assurance given by our merchant friend, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein), that barbed wire is unprocurable outside Australia, because I am sure that if supplies were available anywhere in the world he would ensure that the farming community of Australia obtained them. A few moments ago the honorable gentleman referred rather sneeringly to the Australian Country party, and said that he hoped that its members were trying to prove that it was a country party in fact as well as in name.
– Will the honorable member explain why he resigned from the Australian Country party?
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Barker to address the Chair.
– I am addressing the Chair, and I have one eye on you, Sir. Of course, I am not one-eyed, as ‘Cyclops was. I should like to obtain from the honorable member for Watson an assurance that he is a practising socialist in his private activities. If he . can prove to us that he is, then he might be justified in making .the remarks he has made about the Australian Country party, and honorable members on this side of the chamber.
The facts of the situation, which we should not overlook, are that the Australian Country party has not asked for the imposition of a higher .rate of duty on imported barbed wire. The procedure which the honorable member for Indi followed was in strict accord with the Standing Orders. The only form in which the honorable member could submit bis amendment was to move that the item be postponed as an instruction from this committee to the Minister to do a certain thing. That “ certain thing “ is not to reduce the tariff immediately. The Australian Country party contends that, in the event of commercial relations between Australia and Canada, and the dollar area generally, so improving that we can obtain supplies of barbed wire from there, the Minister should admit barbed wire free of duty under by-law. That is the purpose of the amendment, and the honorable member for Indi adopted the only procedure, which the Standing Orders allow, for this objective to be achieved.
Some honorable members opposite have misrepresented the position by claiming that the real effect of the Australian Country party’s proposal is to ensure that the price of barbed wire to the producer shall be higher than at the present time. I do not believe that any member of the Australian Country party is of opinion that the amendment will be accepted, but I do say to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), who is one of three Ministers who have spoken in this debate, and also to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), who hails from Glasgow and who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of political red herrings-
– I do not come from Glasgow.
– Then, I do not know where the honorable gentleman gets his accent, because it is the accent of a Clydesider, if ever there was one. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, not only in his speech, but also by interjection, has referred at length to the subject of barbed wire. He also disputed a statement by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) about the quality of certain black barbed wire. I happened to purchase some of it. I shall not say that there were as many breaks in it as the honorable member for Richmond stated, because I believe that he was exercising a little poetic licence, hut if the Minister had the experience that I have had with it, he would have required the patience of Job when using it to erect a fence around a few trees. The Minister has not yet explained the proposals of the Government to meet the barbed wire requirements of the authorities in bush-fire areas in South Australia and other States.
– The honorable member should communicate with the Premier of South Australia with a view to ensuring that the authorities in the bush-fire areas shall receive a higher priority for their supplies of barbed wire.
– There, again, a red herring is drawn across the trail. The Minister has an inexhaustible supply of red herrings. His stock is always being replenished.
– The honorable member should know that the distribution of barbed wire within the States is the responsibility of the respective State governments, all of which have accepted that obligation. The former Labour Government of Victoria took immediate action to ensure that all stocks of barbed wire were allocated to bush-fire areas.
– That was a very good speech. It is not very often that I am permitted to stand up in this chamber while a Minister makes a speech sitting down. The Minister breaks out in a new place every day like an active volcano. Whatever the position regarding barbed wire may be within the States, this Government is responsible for its allocation to the States; it is responsible for the hold-ups of shipping which prevent supplies reaching the States; it is not prepared to deal courageously with the coal situation; and it has permitted steel production to fall by 40 per cent. since last year. It has failed entirely to do anything in regard to these matters.
I come now to timber. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) said something about the high rates of duty on imported timber and the desirability of developing timber supplies in New Guinea. We have before us a schedule of duties imposed upon products of Canada - a dominion with which we have certain reciprocal trade arrangements, and to which we hope to sell cur surplus dried fruits, wine, and other commodities. The . duties in the schedule range as high as 55 per cent, for timber “ bent or cut into shape; dressed or partly dressed “. The next item carries duty of 47£ per cent., and on the following page we find a list of items on which the duty in almost every instance is 47£ per cent, or 55 per rent. When customs duties such as these are being maintained upon the goods of a sister dominion, is it any wonder that all kinds of methods are being employed to try to get timber out of New Guinea ?
– All these duties were imposed by governments of which the honorable member was a supporter.
– Yes, but at that time the financial condition of this country, and our financial relationships with the rest of the world, were entirely different from those of to-day. There was no dollar crisis and there was no great demand for timber for the construction of homes. The Minister is well aware of these facts, and when lie sat on this side of the chamber he expressed his views on customs duties rather forcibly. If we are to develop the timber industry of New Guinea, we must go further than these tariff proposals. I quite agree that New Guinea cannot be dealt with in this legislation, but I remind honorable members that certain individuals are attempting to deal with New Guinea timber by rather unorthodox methods which, sooner or later, will have to be curry combed in’ this chamber. If the Minister believes that he can overcome the housing shortage in Australia by imposing customs duties as high as 55 per cent, and 47-^ per cent, and thus deliberately increasing the cost of homes, provided timber can be obtained from Canada, he is very much mistaken, and if the answer that he has given in regard to the importation of barbed wire is valid, then it is equally valid in regard to timber from Canada. The real crux of the position is not the duties of customs that the committee may or may not impose from time to time, but the relationship of Australian sterling to Canadian dollars. Unfortunately, that is not dealt with in the proposal now before the committee. In moving the amendment, the honorable member for Indi has taken the only course open to an honorable member on this side of the chamber who wishes to put the Ministry in a position to deal with the situation should it arise when Parliament is not in session. I support the amendment.
– We have been informed that the quantity of barbed wire that could be imported into this country is so small that the abolition of the existing duty on this commodity would not result in any substantial increase of supplies. But barbed wire is an essential ingredient in the production of the foodstuffs that are so urgently required by the people of Great Britain and of Europe generally. Government supporters in this chamber belong to an industrial party and they cannot be expected to understand the problems of primary producers. They are more concerned, of course, with the demands of their supporters in the great cities of the Commonwealth which contain more than 50 per cent, of Australia’s population. We of the Australian Country party, on the other hand, are watching the interests of rural dwellers and endeavouring to get them a fair deal. Another essential ingredient in production in this country is adequate housing for those engaged in production. Any one who travels in country districts as I do knows that throughout our rural areas there are many hundreds of partly finished houses. In some cases only the foundations have been laid because timber is not available to build the frames. There is also a scarcity of roofing materials and fencing wire to subdivide properties. We have been told to-night, not only by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon), but also by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) that we cannot import barbed wire or timber because these commodities are not available in Great Britain, and we cannot buy them from hard currency countries. I have always admired the extraordinary modesty of the honorable member for Watson in this chamber. No doubt that modesty has prohibited him from disclosing to us how he managed to obtain watches from Switzerland, which is a hard currency country.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the items now before the committee.
– I was just explaining that there are ways, apparently, of obtaining goods from hard currency countries which a certain member of this chamber exploited, but, because of his natural modesty, he will not disclose them. The imposition of a high duty upon imported barbed wire will not assist primary production, and the imposition of a duty of 17$ per cent, on unsawn logs, and 47$ per cent, on timber “ bent or cut into shape, dressed or partly dressed “, will not speed the erection of homes. Throughout this debate the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) has used the argument, “Your Government imposed these duties “. That is quite true, but I remind the committee that at that time Australian sawmillers could not compete with imported timber and members of the Australian Country party and of the Liberal party, realizing that the people of Australia must be protected as much as possible from any threat to their standard of living, imposed these duties. An entirely different position obtains to-day. In contrast to government supporters, we on this side of the chamber are consistent in the policies that we advocate. To-day, we are still looking after the interests of the people of Australia. The Minister for “Works and Housing said, to-night, that Australian sawmills were working to full capacity but were unable to meet housing requirements throughout the Commonwealth. _ Therefore, I suggest that we should import timber from Canada. During the life of this Parliament, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has travelled all over the world making international agreements providing for the freer flow of trade, both within the British Commonwealth and with foreign countries. One of the commitments which this Government has made involves subscribing to the Bretton Woods Agreement and entering into partnership in the International Bank for
Reconstruction and Development. The second annual report of this bank states -
The Bank’s task is to help raise the level of the world’s production as greatly and as rapidly as it can.
Australia is one of the undamaged areas of the earth which can increase its production very quickly if its people are accommodated in houses and if its farmers obtain sufficient material to enable them to produce the maximum possible quantity of food for export. This interesting report of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development also states -
The basic character of the Bank’s lending operations is prescribed by its Articles of Agreement. Loans may not be for relief purposes or for political purposes; they must be for either reconstruction or development.
If this Government were looking after (he interests of the Australian people as it should be doing, it would take action so that Australia, which is committed to an obligation of 200,000,000 dollars in connexion with this bank, would be able to raise a loan from it for the purpose of bringing urgently required barbed wire and timber into this country. Holland and France have already obtained loans from the International Bank-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member must deal with the matter before the committee.
– We should be much more likely to get the dollars that we so urgently need from the bank if we did not have these extortionate rates of duty. They are anathema to all of the bodies with which we are linked in this hierarchy of international trade organizations, which is supposed to be solving the problems of a world which is apparently taking no notice of its existence and Ls getting into a more confused state every day.
I support the amendment, which proposes that the imposition of these dutites be postponed so that the Government may alter its decision and impose tariff rates which will encourage the raising of a dollar loan for the development of Australia and the production of goods urgently required overseas.
.- I support the amendment on two grounds. I confess at once that I do not believe that the mere elimination of the duty of 2s. 6d. per cwt. on imported barbed wire would have much influence on the influx of that commodity from Canada. However, everybody must realize that one of the most obnoxious shortages in Australia to-day is that of barbed wire. It has a very serious effect on our efforts to increase production in primary industries, and it also has a detrimental effect upon the expansion of our land settlement schemes for ex-servicemen. Although I do not believe that the removal of the duty of 2s. 6d. per cwt. now imposed on imported barbed wire would have very much effect, there is much to be said in favour of the proposal. This duty has no virtue from a protectionist point of view. Our barbed wire industry is not in need of. protection to-day. As a revenue-producing duty it obviously has no effect at all, because barbed wire is not being imported from Canada at present. No harm would be done to the Government or to the country, but benefit would accrue to farmers if the duty were removed and barbed wire were permitted duty-free entry into Australia under bylaw as suggested.
– It is a new one on me that the removal of duty from a commodity which is not being imported would be of benefit.
– But wire may come into the country. At any rate the duty gives no encouragement to importation.
I refer now to timber. 1 listened with interest to the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) when he talked about the increased production of cut timber in Australia. He said, quite correctly, that production had increased during the last year by about 50 per cent, over the pre-war rate of production. Nevertheless the honorable gentleman knows that there is still an acute scarcity of timber for house-building and for other purposes. We must have more timber, not only for houses but also for many other essential needs. I was interested to hear the Minister oppose the proposal to remove the duty, because I recollect that in January he brought forward a proposal for the importation of 10,000 prefabricated homes from Finland. Is duty to be paid on those houses? I presume not, as they will be imported by the Govern ment. However, this scheme involves the importation of a very large quantity of timber. Apparently the Minister realized then that the importation of timber is essential. Therefore, I cannot understand why he or any other Minister should raise any objection to the proposal to remove this duty. What is the real desire of the mover of the amendment? It is simply that, by means of a by-law, certain timbers may be admitted duty free and the payment of the very high rates of import duty, varying from 17$ per cent, on unsawn timber to 47$ per cent, on sawn timber, may be avoided. Nobody is likely to deny that this would cause a very considerable reduction of the costs of timber and would thus tend to bring down the cost of homebuilding. I hope that the Government will give earnest consideration to the proposal and agree to remove the duty. We need timber above all things in Australia. We cannot produce enough timber of the various types required to meet our needs. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) must know that Oregon timber is still essential to a number of building operations. I cannot conceive of him or any other Minister insisting upon the application of this duty, which is now completely out of date and should therefore he removed at the earliest opportunity. I strongly support the amendment.
.- I spoke earlier in the debate this evening and I have listened to every member who has spoken since. I listened particularly to the Ministers who have spoken because I was anxious to hear some valid reason advanced to justify objection to the proposal advanced by members on this side of the chamber. Although I listened most attentively to Ministers and their supporters, I have not heard any real justification of the Government’s attitude. Honorable members opposite have sought to misrepresent our objective in their effort to justify opposition to our proposal. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) began his speech at the wrong end, but ultimately he was obliged to admit that he had been waiting for two years to obtain barbed wire. At the beginning of his speech he set out to prove that members on this side of the chamber were endeavouring to establish a land overflowing with milk and barbed wire. No such suggestion has been advanced by any member on this side of the chamber, nor do we suggest that if the concession which we are seeking were granted it would result in the availability of a large quantity of barbed wire. In point of fact we do not know whether barbed wire is available at all, except from countries with dollar currencies. All we ask is that the Government give itself power to take advantage of any opportunity that may occur to assist primary producers. Any one who listened to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) for the first time must have been amazed at his arithmetical calculations. He suggested that removal of the present duty of 50s. a ton would have the effect of increasing the amount of duty payable. He did not explain exactly what he meant, and his remarks suggested the introduction of an entirely new system of mathematics. I presume that what he intended to convey was that the provisions of the item which we are at present discussing are a modification of that item as it was originally drafted. The item under consideration amends the original item, which provided for payment of a duty of 50s. a’ton, plus 2s. a ton under certain conditions. The Minister sought to suggest that if the Government agreed to the amendment of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), it would be bound by the original provisions of the item, and that it would be powerless to limit its application. That is a foolish suggestion. What a helpless lot of creatures we should be if we were to allow a few printed words to prevent the Government from extricating the country from an. extraordinary difficulty. Then the Minister suggested that the farmers must be prosperous indeed if they would be willing to pay £3 15s. per cwt. for imported barbed wire. Of course, he did not explain how that price is arrived at. We do not know the f .o.b. Canada cost-
– If the honorable member had listened attentively he would have realized that I was not referring to Canadian wire, but to wire imported from the United States of America.
– The committee is discussing wire imported from Canada.
The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) suggested that if primary producers could afford to pay the price I have mentioned they could afford to pay an additional 2s. 6d. per cwt. He either did not realize, or did not concern himself with the obvious fact that the payment of such a price would be a “ desperation payment”; one exacted by the law of necessity. Primary producers must have barbed wire to protect their investments, and to continue working their properties. Fancy a farmer making that suggestion! Adoption of the Minister’s suggestion would 3imply result in the Government obtaining an extra 2s. 6d. per cwt.
It is extraordinary that honorable members opposite should feel it obligatory upon themselves to frustrate every proposal which emanates from this side of the committee designed to relieve a desperate situation. So far the debate has proceeded on a reasonable plane, the only exception being the contribution of the honorable member for Wannon, who seems to have a chronic tendency to raise party political issues. I emphasize that members on this side of the chamber are not supporting the amendment of the honorable member for Indi on political grounds, but because they realize that it is necessary to ease things a little at a desperate time. I trust that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is not trying to convince the public that members of the Government are so, helpless that if they accept the present amendment and that a duty of more than 50s. a ton would still have to be imposed on imported wire. We on this side of the chamber desire that the Government should be quite free to assist, primary producers by importing whatever the country. needs at the present time. Of course, that has nothing to do with our advocacy of a preferential tariff in respect of goods imported from Great Britain. If Great Britain could export any article to Australia that we need to-day it would have done so long since. It is because goods are not obtainable in Great Britain-
– But they are.
– Then, why does not the Government get them?
– Because country people will not pay the price.
– A live mouse is better than a dead lion. If wire can be imported from Canada at £3 15s. a ton it should be imported, because, although Australian wire costs only 28s. a ton, it is unprocurable.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Government should go into the business of importing and distributing wire?
– The Government is already doing that without having consul led any one. However, I am not suggesting that the Government should import and distribute wire. If I had my way I should tell the Government to mind its own business in respect of all enterprises, leaving them to be managed by people who are qualified to do so. However, as the Government necessarily controls the distribution of some goods, it should issue permits-
– A permit is not required to import wire from the United Kingdom. Any Australian merchant can do that. There are no restrictions–
– There are restrictions.
– There are not.
– I know that in the case of tools oftrade restrictions are imposed in Great Britain on their export from that country.
– The honorable member is shifting his ground now ; we are dealing with wire, not tools of trade.
– The principle is the same. The sale of any article which can be sold for dollars is restricted in Great Britain. The Minister cannot shuffle out of it in that way. If a particular article is convertible into dollars, a restriction is imposed by Great Britain on its export to sterling areas.
– That is not so. The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.
– The importers of whom the Minister suggested I should inquire told me that what I have just said is true.
– If the honorable member will come to my room after the debate
I will show him an official list of articles on the sale of which there is no restriction.
– Merchants such as the firm of McPherson Limited, assure me that the export of commodities from Great Britain to sterling countries is restricted, particularly if such goods are convertible into dollars. However, the arguments advanced by the Minister and his supporters are not worth a snap of the fingers.
– I rise in order to correct the misapprehension of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), who sought to convey the impression that it is not possible for the Government or merchants to import wire from the United Kingdom. It is possible, and no restrictions whatever are placed on the export of wire or wire netting from the United Kingdom. However, the price of wire and wire netting imported from the United Kingdom is so high that no importing firm in Australia is prepared to import it at the price charged. I have in my possession a letter from a Melbourne firm inquiring whether the Government would be prepared to pay a subsidy on wire imported from the United Kingdom in order that its price to farmers might be reduced. The letter states that the price of British wire netting would be double that of Australian wire netting, the price of which is 50s. a coil. All that the present proposal seeks is to preserve to United Kingdom manufacturers the benefit of the preferential tariff, which was introduced originally, not by this Government, but by a government supported by honorable members opposite.
Mr.White.- That was back in 1931.
– That preference was strenuously supported by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), who is always “ blowing “ about the preferential duty introduced by the Government of which he was a member.
– Does not the Minister believe in Imperial preference?
– Members of the Government do believe in it, and fought strenuously for its adoption. In supporting the proposed amendment, which is designed to eliminate duty on barbed wire and wire netting, the honorable member for Balaclava is seeking to rob British manufacturers of the benefits of the preferential tariff which they enjoy against Canadian and other manufacturers. He cannot have it both ways. If the Government accepted the proposed amendment, and no duty were imposed on Canadian goods, honorable members opposite would contend that we were wrecking the British Empire and accuse us of disloyalty. It is time that the people of this country ceased to listen to such humbug and twaddle. The fact is that today the prices of products from overseas are so high that merchants will not import them. Members of the Australian Country party and of the Liberal party suggest that because there is a shortage the Government should do something to alleviate it. There is only one thing the Government can do. If private enterprise has failed in this respect in Australia, honorable members opposite, by their suggestion, are advocating the early introduction of a socialistic scheme under which the Government would take over and control all the steel works and so arrange the distribution of their products that every one got a just proportion. Under the present system, the Australian Government does the best it can, and enters into voluntary arrangements with the firms manufacturing these products in Australia. In this very difficult period, the Government has a duty to see that each .State obtains a fair proportion of any product that is manufactured exclusively in one State. In the main, all wire is manufactured in New South Wales. The Australian Government employs what the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) is pleased to term “ bureaucrats “ to confer with Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and other companies and to ensure that an adequate portion of the output goes to each State. When the product reaches those States -
– It does not reach them.
– It does reach them, and the honorable member for Wimmera knows that it does. When it does, the
State governments, having the necessary administrative machinery - of a temporary character, it is true–staffed by a number of those bureaucrats who are so essential if some measure of justice is to be done when shortages occur, take over the distribution within their areas. Those governments, lacking the desire or the means to introduce a system, of government distribution, enter into some sort of contract with the merchants. An honest merchant will see that supplies to his various customers are allocated having regard to their legitimate needs or to the date on which the orders were placed. There are, of course, distributors who, instead of treating the need of the customer and the date of lodgment of the order as the deciding factors, supply wire to people who are their best customers for other products or who have the most influence with them. I ordered some plain wire over six months ago from the firm with which I deal. When I placed my order I received a letter saying that, owing to the number of orders already on their books, I should not get it for. some time, and I have not got it yet. Had I lodged my order with another firm that wanted my business, I might have got the wire on the very next day. While this haphazard and temporary form of control exists within the respective States, some injustice will undoubtedly occur.
The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) referred to the bush-fire area in South Australia. When that bush fire occurred there were in stock in certain stores in Adelaide and other parts of the State quantities of barbed, plain and other wire, ready to be despatched to people who had placed orders. The honorable member will not deny that.
– I do not know what they had.
– I tell the honorable member for Barker that there were certain quantities of wire held by the merchants ready to send to their customers throughout the State. There was nothing to prevent the Premier of South Australia immediately issuing an order that not one coil of wire should go to any area other than the bush-fire area. That was what was done in Victoria when the disastrous bush fire and flood occurred there. The Cain Government immediately issued such an order, and those who had ordered wire for their normal ordinary programmes did not get it until the requirements of the devastated areas were met.
This is not a problem for the Australian Government, but for the State governments. It is quite true that the total quantities of wire required for the bush-fire area in South Australia might not have been available in the State at that time, but, having allotted the available supplies for that purpose, the Premier would have had an excellent case to present to the Commonwealth distribution authority for another allocation.
– I thought the Minister said the Premier had tons of wire at his disposal if he liked to use it.
– The honorable gentleman knows that that is true.
– I do not. 1 shall present the other side of the case.
– The honorable gentleman knows there is always wire in transit. He knows further that a State Premier can immediately issue a blanket order preventing even one coil of wire being moved to any area other than the one in which tho emergency conditions exist. It is true that in present circumstances the quantity in stock would probably be small, but the fact remains that that could be done. Having used all the wire that was available, the State Premier would have an excellent case for an increased quota from the next shipment from Newcastle.
There is power from time to time to admit timber free under by-law. Merchants frequently make requests to the Minister for Trade and Customs for the admittance of timber under by-law. I have not the slightest doubt that they will continue to do so, and that their cases will be dealt with by the Minister in accordance with the situation existing at the time.
All that is being done with regard to tariff rates under this bill is to provide for the application of a new method of exchange adjustment. If honorable members opposite want to suggest the elimination of the preference now enjoyed by the United Kingdom, the time to do it is when the general tariff schedule is before the committee.
Mr. Archie Cameron rising to address the committee,
– The honorable gentleman having already spoken twice is not entitled to speak again at this stage.
– I spoke to the amendment ; I now desire to speak on the general question.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) stated that the Premier of South Australia could divert to certain purposes every hundredweight of wire netting in the State.
– The Minister said he could. He did not say he should.
– I did not use the word “ should “. “Who said that ?
– The honorable member must address the Chair.
Mir. ARCHIE CAMERON. - I thought it sounded -like some one who wrote a book on finance. The Minister also said that if certain merchants thought they were likely to obtain a new customer by so doing, they would supply him with wire. If the honorable gentleman thinks that those who handle wire supplies in South Australia are prepared to make deliveries in order to secure new customers, it is a wonder that he does not attempt to deal with that situation, instead of leaving it to the States. Only a few days before I left home I received a letter from a firm of stock agents, Goldsbrough Mort and Company Limited, with whom I had placed certain orders. As for barbed wire and droppers, they were not prepared to forecast any time when I might be supplied, but they stated that orders for No. 10 galvanized wire and No. 12$-gauge high-tension wire, which had been approved up to July and August, 1946, were now being supplied, but that no orders lodged since July of 1946 in one case, and August in the other, had been supplied. As my oldest order had been lodged in July, 1947, I might not be supplied until next November or December. If the Minister thinks that stock agents in
South Australia are holding up plain wire, netting, barbed wire, &c., in order to get new customers-
– I did not suggest that they were holding up supplies, but I did say that some of them could do so in order to give preferential treatment to their customers.
– The Minister said that if the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, liked he could divert every coil of wire in South Australia. The Minister added that there were under-cover supplies of wire in that State.
– I said that stocks were in store or in transit.
– In the merchants’ stores, or. in transit. There is always some wire going in and coming out.
– I do not believe it. If there is so much wire in transit, why is it that orders lodged in July and August, 1946, have only recently been filled, and that orders thirteen months old cannot be filled at all until the end of this year? The Minister raised this argument himself in order to make it appear to the people who read Ilansard that the members of the Australian Country party were putting up a case that was not genuine. He is not game to make inquiries in South Australia, and in the other States in order to find out what quantities of barbed wire, plain wire, droppers, and netting are on hand, and what orders have already been approved for allotment. So that the Minister will not be able to baulk the issue I shall put a question on the subject on the notice-paper for to-morrow.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) mentioned certain men appointed by the Commonwealth Government, and added with a sneer that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) would probably regard them as bureaucrats. Of course he. would, and rightly so, too. The Minister said that these men had allotted adequate supplies of wire to the States. I interjected at the time to say that they had allotted inadequate supplies.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) has already spoken twice on this item. Therefore, he is not in order in speaking again.
– It was stated by the Chair that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) had spoken twice since the amendment was moved.
– The honorable member has spoken to the item and also to the amendment. He may not speak again.
.- I wish to refer to what the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) said.
THE CHAIRMAN.- When the honorable member spoke to the amendment, he also spoke to the schedule. Therefore, he is not entitled to speak again.
– I rise to a point of order.
THE CHAIRMAN.- No point of order is involved.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That the resolution be adopted.
.- During the debate, there has been a certain amount of misrepresentation of the position.
– The debate in committee.
– The Chair has no knowledge of happenings in the committee. The honorable gentleman may not refer to that discussion.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) led honorable members to believe that adequate quantities of steel were available to the community. He ignored the fact that large quantities of iron and steel are held up on the wharfs at Newcastle, amounting to no less than 58,000 tons. He should have promised to dn something about the matter, but he did not do so, even at the end of a long debate which could have been concluded on Friday last. When I said that he should have authorized the importation of oregon timber-
– The honorable member is again referring to another debate.
– The cost of housing could be reduced by importingoregon. The hold-up of steel on the wharfs by Communist-dominated unions should be investigated. There will be unemployment in the engineering industry in Melbourne unless supplies of steel are forthcoming. Certain firms have sent motor trucks to Newcastle to transport the steel they require because they cannot depend on the slow water-siders and bad transport. This must result in raising costs, and it is one of the ways in which the Government will help to bring about what is now fashionably called a “ recession “, but which will really be a depression. There will be unemployment among skilled workers because of shortages unless the Government remedies the position. The Government should promise to consider granting permission for the importation of oregon logs at a cheaper duty, seeing that this would not interfere with the milling of Australian hardwood.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 14th November, 1947 (vide page 2143, volume 194) on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That on and after the fifteenth day of November, One thousand nine hundred and forty-seven, at nine o’clock in the forenoon, reckoned according to standard time in the Australian Capital Territory, the schedule to the Customs Tariff (Exchange Adjustment) Act 1933-1939 be amended . . . (vide page 2128, volume 194).
– This proposal is complementary to Customs Tariff Proposal No. 2, which has already been passed by the committee. As honorable members will note, the proposal eliminates exchange adjustment on all relevant items in Customs Tariff Proposal No. 2. Honorable members will, no doubt, be aware that provision has existed since 1933 for the automatic adjustment of certain duties in the event of an appreciation of Australian currency relative to United Kingdom currency. In 1936 another method was evolved by which the rates of certain items were subjected to variation in accordance with a formula known as “ the exchange corrective”. The two systems worked concurrently in relation to the customs tariff, but the position was anomalous in some respects and led to a certain amount of confusion both in Australia and overseas. Now that the value for duty of goods imported into Australia is to be expressed in Australian currency, it has been felt that the rates of duty shown in the Australian tariff should be expressed at their net level under existing exchange conditions. Indeed, honorable members will realize that it is impracticable to negotiate rates of duty with other countries, leading towards trade agreements, if the rates are subject to automatic variation, and it was on the basis of effective “ net “ rates that the interim tariff agreement was recently made at Geneva.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 18th February (vide page 43), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the schedule to the Customs Tariff 1933-1939, as proposed to be amended by Customs Tariff Proposals, be further amended * . .* (vide page 34).
– Recently I tabled three tariff resolutions, namely, Customs Tariff Amendment No. 4, Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) Amendment No. 3 and Excise Tariff Amendment No. 3. In tabling them, I explained that the proposals were primarily a reintroduction of earlier tariff amendments in preparation for a tariff debate. As outlined earlier, it was proposed to take the tariff debate in groups and the memorandum of alterations which has been circulated to honorable members summarizes the group of proposals recently tabled.
Certain of the items in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 4 were a part of the Government’s war-time budget programmes and the memorandum shows all the increases effected in these particular items since rates were last debated. The budget items are numbers 1, 3 (b) (2), 3 (i), 20, 21, 22, 53 (b) 73, 320 (c) (1) (b), 334 (v), 334 (x). The revenue involved from the aspect of customs duties, however, is not large, as the increases, with two exceptions, were complementary to increases of excise duty which were the main sources of increased revenue. The amendment to item 320 (c) (1) (b) represented a reduction of duty on substandard cinematograph film. The revenue duties on dates were increased to 4d. per lb. by a previous government in May, 1940, and reduced by it to the present rate of 3d. per lb. in September, 1941. A short explanation of the other amendments in the proposal will be found in the memorandum of alterations.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- I desire to ascertain whether the duties in the schedule of the bill are revenue duties imposed a long while ago in order to raise funds to procecute the war, or whether they are duties of a protective character. If they are protective duties, I should like to be informed as to what items come within that category.
– I can perhaps best outline the situation by confining my remarks to the first item. The proposed amendment, which has operated since the 3rd September, 1942, is re-introduced in proposal form so that it can be adopted and enacted. It represents an increase of ls. 7d. a. gallon above the rates introduced on the 29th October, 1941, ls.10d. a gallon above the rates introduced on the 21st November, 1940, and 2s. 7d. a gallon above the 1933-39 tariff rates. The rates are complementary to the increase of the rates of duties on excise beer, and are imposed in order to preserve the existing margins between customs and excise rates. The item is not important from a revenue-producing aspect, as nearly all beer consumed in Australia is produced in local breweries.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 18th
February (vide page 43), on motion by Mr. Poll ard -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) 1934-1939, … be further amended . . .(vide page 39).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Pollard, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 18th February (vide page 43), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the Schedule to the Excise Tariff 1921- 1939, … be further amended . . . (vide page 39).
– This proposal is the third of the group recently tabled with the main purpose of reintroducing amendments which had been tabled in a previous Parliament, in order to proceed with a tariff debate. The amendments in this proposal have all appeared in previous resolutions with the exception of items 2 (l) and 10 (e). Most of the items appearing were part of the Government’s earlier budget programmes and these include items 1, 2 (a) to (i), 2 (o), 2 (q), 6 (a) to (d), 7, 8,12, 14,15 and 19. Some of the increases for revenue purposes were imposed by previous governments and the memorandum of alterations shows the stages by which the duties progressed. No increases have been imposed since the budget of September, 1942.
No changes in rates of duty are involved in the other items appearing in the proposal. Excise item 2 (l) previously provided that spirit for the manufacture of essences paid concessional rates of excise duty, if the essence with which it was compounded was a citrus essential oil produced from Australian raw materials. There has recently been produced a more concentrated form of citrus essential oil, namely, citrus turpeneless essential oil, and it was decided that the admixture of this oil with spirit should also entitle the spirit to a concessional rate of excise duty. Items 3 (b) and 4 (b) may be termed as primarily amendments of an administrative nature. Item 3 (b) previously provided that all fusel and amylic alcohol had to be denatured to obtain excise duty free entry for prescribed uses. It was found that denaturing in certain cases affected the resultant product and the proposed working of the item now permits denaturation to be dispensed with where necessary. The amendment to item 4 (b) was to bring the wording of the excise concession on saccharin into line with that afforded under the Customs Tariff. Item 6 (e) formerly provided for a levy of 6d. per cwt. from tobacco-growers for the purpose of financing the operations of the Federal Tobacco Advisory Committee, a body constituted on the recommendation of the Australian Agricultural Council, to further the interests of Australian tobacco-growers.
In consequence of the formation of the Australian Tobacco Board in 1942, the Australian Agricultural Council recommended that the. Federal Tobacco Advisory Committee ceased to function. As the funds of the new board were to be obtained by other means, there was no necessity to maintain the levy provided for under item 6 (e). Items 10 (b) to (e) represent an extension of privileges afforded to official representatives in Australia of overseas countries. In the last few years the field of representation has been greatly enlarged and the excise provisions have been extended accordingly. Honorable members will note that item 10 (d) provides that the extension of the privileges under the sub-item may be granted on a reciprocal basis.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Bill presentedby Mr. Pollard, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Dedman) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-I direct attention to the serious position that has arisen in the north-east of Western Australia as the result of the latest petrol rationing. This evening I received the following telegram : -
Petrol rationing quota introduced. Our instruction cease selling until 1st March. Quota far below normal customers’ requirements. March quota worse. Water carting heavy petrol pull. Stoppage means dead sheep.
Most of the people referred to are on the edge of the water scheme known as the No. 1 water scheme in Western Australia, which is kept in constant supply by connexion with the gold-fields water scheme. The farmers’ own water supplies are depleted because of the light winter rains last year. August was very dry and there was no possibility of conserving water. The farmers are carting water day in and day out to keep their stock alive. Just before I came to Canberra, one farmer was carting daily 1,500 gallons at 9d. a 100 gallons to keep his flock intact. If the petrol position is allowed to last for even a few days, the farmers will have to sell their sheep and probably glut the market in doing so, or allow them to die. I should like to know whether anything can be done to assure them of sufficient petrol to enable them to continue to cart water until the season breaks, which should be next month. A good check is exercised on the use of petrol by the local governing authorities on behalf of the Commonwealth Liquid Fuel Control Board. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) knows of the special coupons issued for the carrying out of farming. If the people concerned are precluded from obtaining their requirements, the position will be very serious. The road boards mostly concerned are the Mount Marshall Road Board and the Mukinbudin Road Board, which are on the edge of the water scheme. Ihope that the Minister will place my request before the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) and arrange for an immediate inquiry in the hope that something may be done to tide the settlers over until the rains come.
– The request of the honorable member will be referred to the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley), who, I am sure, will do everything possible to grant it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act -
A p poi n tmen ts - Department -
Attorney-General - W. M. Phillips.
Defence - A. E. Buchanan.
Labour and National Service - D. E. Graves.
List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Service on 30th June, 1946.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act -
National Security (Prices) Regulations Order - No. 3257.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 21.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 20.
Stevedoring Industry Act - Orders - 1948, Nos. 3-6.
Supply and Development Act - Regulations -Statutory Rules 1948, No. 19.
House adjourned at 10.44 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Treas u ry-bills.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows : -
t asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. An application has been received from the Chamber of Mines of Western Australia (Incorporated) forsome financial assistance to the gold-mining industry. This is being investigated and will be considered by the Government.
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will the Government give consideration to the establishment of a departmental parliamentary or independent committee to investigate existing taxation laws with a view to the submission ultimately to Parliament of a bill to simplify the existing statutes.
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The question of simplifying taxation legislation is constantly before the Government, but the view is held that no good purpose would be served at present by the appointment of such a committee as is suggested.
The desirability of simplifying the taxation laws is fully recognized by the Government, but it has to be realized that complexity inevitably follows the necessity of making the taxing instrument thoroughly effective. Any desired degree of simplicity could, of course, be readily attained at the” expense of equity but, in times of high rates of taxation, the Government believes that the great body of taxpayers would not be disposed to forego equity for the sake of simplicity. No small part of the present complexity of the law is clue to the necessity to ensure that all sections nf the community bear their fair share of the taxation burden.
It is not out of place to mention that endeavours have been made in many parts of the world to have the taxation law’s simplified but, so far as the Government is aware, no country has yet achieved that desirable end. There is abundant evidence to indicate that the taxation laws of the United Kingdom and the United States of America are not less complicated than the Australian taxation provisions.
The difficulties inherent in any effort to evolve a simplified taxation code will be appreciated from a consideration of the following extract from paragraph 23 of the report of the Codification Committee under the chairmanship of Sir F. F. Liddell, K.C.B., K.C., appointed by the United. Kingdom Government to codify the income tax law with the special aim of making the law as intelligible to the taxpayer as the nature of the legislation admits : - “ It may be as well at once to indicate the limits within which these highly desirable objects are attainable. The ordinary layman, conscious of the simplicity of his exiguous salary or other source of income, constantly complains of the complication of income tax law, and probably no other chapter of legislation is more often the target of his vituperation. If he expects that the result of our labours will be to satisfy his aspirations for a short and simple code he is doomed to grievous disappointment. Such critics fail, not unnaturally, to realize the nature of the problem. There is no other branch of law which is so far-reaching and pervasive or which touches human activities at so many points.”
e asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
In view of widespread apprehension concerning the harvesting of the record wheat crop, will he prepare a comprehensive statement covering (a) the expected availability of labour in all the main wheat-growing areas, (b) the distribution of sacks, including the allocation per acre in the various areas, (c) State and/or federal measures for the control of grasshoppers, mice and other pests, (d) the supply of coal for rail haulage from all the main areas, (e) the supply of railway trucks, (f) the capacity of (i) permanent and (ii) temporary storages at railway stations and sidings, (g) the capacity of port terminals, and (h) any measures proposed to expedite the loading and turn-round of oversea vessels carrying wheat?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The handling of the 1947-48 Australian wheat crop has been undertaken by the Australian Wheat Board in conjunction with State government instrumentalities and private organizations.
The bulk of the crop has already been delivered to the Australian Wheat Board - namely 180,000,000 bushels of the total expected receivals of slightly more than 200,000,000 bushels. No special difficulties or problems arc expected to bo encountered in handling the balance of the crop, and shipping it to various oversea destinations.
t asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
t asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
g asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2 and 3. A communication was addressed to the honorable member on the 17th December, 1947, giving information available as at that date. Since then Mr. S. G. McFarlane, C.M.G.. M.B.E., Secretary to the Commonwealth Treasury, has been elected an executive director of the International Monetary Fund, and of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development as of the 30th January, 1948. The salary, including housing and other allowances attached to the position of executive director of either the fund or the bank is 17,000 dollars per year. When one person holds office as executive director of both institutions only the salary attached to one such position, namely, 17,000 dollars per year is paid.
s asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following information : -
s asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. I have not seen the statement referred to by the honorable member, but I do not anticipate the complete elimination pf Empire preferences within any period which can at present be foreseen. Empire preferences wi’.l only be reduced on an ad hoo product by protect basis as part of a mutually advantageous bargaining process in return for equivalent tariff reductions by foreign countries against Empire trade. The reductions of Empire preferences which have been previously agreed upon as a result of the Geneva negotiations arc only a small proportion of those in existence.
Oil from Coal.
y. - On the 26th November last, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked questions regarding the production of oil from coal in Australia. I now inform the honorable member as follows : -
The report of the Inter-departmental Committee on this matter was considered recently and the Government decided as an initial step to establish a Fuels Section in the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Department of Supply and Shipping. The functions of this section will be (a) the formulation for the consideration of Cabinet of Commonwealth policy in regard to fuel development, and (b) the administration of such fuel development or production projects as the Commonwealth may control either alone or in collaboration with other Commonwealth departments or with one or more States.
It is reported that developments have recently taken place in the United States of America which would have an important hearing upon the determination of future Commonwealth policy.
Besides very extensive activities of large commercial interests in that country the Bureau of Mines has an extensive programme of investigation of the various processes for producing liquid fuel from coal. While the basic principles of the various methods are well known, the major question concerns the economics of the processes. The Bureau of Mines is investigating the Gergius process for the hydrogenation of solid coal, the FischerTropsch process for the synthesized gas produced from coal or other sources, the production of liquid fuel from oil shale and the underground gasification of coal. There are indications that American modifications to the Fischer-Tropsch process may bring about a definite improvement in the process.
From a scientific point of view the programme of work that is being undertaken by the United States is of great importance, and it is the intention of the Government to send scientific and technical officers to that country, as well as to Great Britain, to inform themselves of the progress of the work.
With regard to the question of obtaining information from Germany, Australia has been a warded as reparations a small semi-technical hydrogenation plant which, amongst other purposes, can be utilized for experiments on the extraction of liquid fuel from coal. This unit is now being dismantled and packed in Germany for shipment to Australia in the near future.
New Guinea: War Damage Compensation.
y. - On the 20th November last, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) asked a question regarding the basis of War damage compensation to planters in New Guinea. I have had this matter examined, and the following sets out the position : -
Since early1945, payments of war damage compensation have been proceeding and a total exceeding £5,000,000 has now been paid in respect of Papua and New Guinea.
The Commonwealth war damage scheme provides that compensation for damage to “fixed property” (buildings, &c.) is the cost as at the date of termination of compulsory abandonment of restoring the damage but with a limitation of the 1942 value.
On other classes of property such as private chattels, plant, stock, livestock, growing trees and palms, the compensation is on the basis of value at the time of loss (usually 1942).
Under the scheme in operation in Great Britain, compensation for damage to buildings, &c., is assessed by two distinct methods, namely, (a) cost of works - broadly, this method is applied to buildings which had a full economic value and which were regarded as essential; and (b) value payments - those not included in (a) .
The value payments are assessed primarily on valuation standards operating as at the 31st March, 1939, and to these are added amounts varying from 45 per cent. to60per cent. as the measure of increase in valuation standards between that date and 1947.
As far as is known officially in Australia, compensation in Great Britain for loss of, or damage to, movable property such as private chattels, plant, stock, &c., is limited to the value at the time of the loss or damage. Inquiries are, however, being made in this regard.
The British scheme does not embrace the colonies nor territories held under mandate, but it is understood that machinery was recently set up to examine the position in the various regions. After reports are received, the extent to which compensation can be provided is to be determined. At present, therefore, the planters in the Solomons (apart from Bougainville Island, which is part of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea), Gilbert and Ellice Islands, have no legal rights to compensation, nor is it known the extent, if any, to which they will be compensated.
The possibility of adjusting war damage compensation payments in Australia to valuation standards from 1945 onwards, has been considered from time to time. It was found to be inadvisable mainly because of the many complications and anomalies which could arise. For example, the armed forces acquired thousands of vehicles throughput the Commonwealth in 1941 and later, for which payment was made at the values operating at that time. Owners effecting replacements now must do so at current values, without any further compensation rights.
The commission’s assessments for losses of mature palms in Papua-New Guinea have varied from18s. to 4s. per palm, according to the many and varying factors which have a bearing on palm values. The average value of a mature palm in New Guinea assessed to date is slightly in excess of 10s.
Compensation payments under the Commonwealth scheme carry interest at 2½ per cent. per annum and to payments now being made interest for a period of from four years and five months to five years and ten months is added.
Shipping: Port Delays.
n. - On the 18th February, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) asked a question concerning the delay in the turn-about of ships in Sydney Harbour. The Minister for Supply and Shipping has supplied the following information: -
The Commonwealth Government appreciates that vessels remain in Australian ports, including the port of Sydney, for considerable periods, and is doing everything possible within its power to improve conditions.It will be appreciated, however, that the powers of the Commonwealth in this direction arc limited and that the ports and the harbour installations come within the administration of the various State authorities. Furthermore, the bulk of the vessels entering Australian ports are owned by private ship-owners and the Commonwealth Government has no control over the operation of these ships nor the transport of cargoes from the wharfs. Notwithstanding these limitations, the Commonwealth has interested itself particularly in respect of the port of Sydney and recently in co-operation with the State authorities initiated action to expedite the clearance of cargoes from wharfs and wharf sheds where congestion doubtless affected the rapid handling of ships’ cargoes. The Stevedoring Industry Commission, on which both employers and employees are represented, is in almost constant session regarding the manning of ports with waterside labour andwith the industrial conditions of waterside labourers. Recently, the commission arranged for an additional 750 waterside workers to be placed on the quota for the port of Sydney and the commission will continue to do everything within its power to assist in this direction. The apparent delays to ships in Australian ports cannot be attributed to any one particular factor, nor can the problem be easily solved. The Commonwealth Government will continueto watch the position closely, and, in collaboration with other authorities, will do what it can to expedite the handling of ships in Australian ports.
l asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 February 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19480225_reps_18_196/>.