18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for External Affairs to reports from Singapore referring to Australian policy towards South-East Asia. One of these reports quotes the Commissioner-General of the United Kingdom in South-East Asia, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, as having stated during the visit of the Australian Goodwill Mission that Australia’s recent actions had done irreparable harm not only to itself but also to all European nations with interests in South-East Asia.
– Order ! The honor- ii bie member knows that he cannot make statements on behalf of somebody outride the House when asking a question.
– -This matter directly affects the Parliament.
– Mr. MacDonald’s statement debated the policy of the Government. The quotation of such statements is not permissible in a question.
– The report from Singapore states that Mr. MacDonald, having made the statement in the presence of Chinese, Malayan, and Indian political leaders, expressed the hope that Mr. Macmahon Ball, leader nf the Australian Goodwill Mission, would advise the Australian Government
– Order ! The honorable member is still out of order. He is not permitted to debate, as proxy for Mr. MacDonald. what the Government should do.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs whether the Government has received any communication from Mr. Macmahon Ball regarding the statement’ that has been made in Singapore and the attitude of sections of the population in Malaya towards the Australian Goodwill Mission and Australia’^ immigration policy. Is he in a position tomake a statement to the House on the subject
– The honorable member referred, in one form or another, to a. report published by a Singapore newspaper criticizing this country as it ba.frequently done in the past. First of all.. this statement by Mr. Malcolm MacDonald is supposed to have been, made-
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman heard my ruling and knows that he cannot debate Mr. MacDonald’s statement.
– I do not propose to dc so. “With your permission, Mr. Speaker. I point out that the Acting Leader of the Opposition has referred to something which has not been authenticated, even in the newspapers.
– But has the right honorable gentleman received any report ‘(
– No; there has been mreport about Mr. Malcolm MacDonald. The functions which Mr. Macmahon Ball was appointed to carry out in Singapore have been completed, and he is now iD another portion of South-East Asia. On behalf of the Government, I deprecate the attempt of an extremist newspaper to cause trouble between Malaya anr! Australia.
– To-day’s newspapers published the following extract from a report which appeared in the Singapore Free Press : -
The Governments of Singapore and tinFederation of Malaya first learned of the Good will Mission visiting Malaya from the news papers.
That is the mission which Mr. Macmahon Ball is now leading in South-East Asia. Last week, the Minister for External. Affairs stated that those governments -had been consulted prior to the departure of the mission for the purpose of ascertaining whether it would be welcome. Will the right honorable gentleman state whether, in fact, the proposed visit was announced in the press before the Australian Government had consulted the Governments of Singapore and Malaya ?
– I understand that there was a newspaper report - not an official announcement - of the projected mission, but to the best of my knowledge when I made the statement and also now what I said was and. is correct. I said that the Australian Government had communicated, not only with the Governments of Singapore and the Federation of Malaya but also with every one of the governments of the countries that constitute South-East Asia, and had received from them assurances that the mission would be welcome. We have since received thanks from those governments for the work that the mission has done.
– Was the first announcement of the intention to send the goodwill mission to South-East Asia made in the press?
– The press published a statement that the goodwill mission was projected, but I think that the Governments of South-East Asia knew of the proposal before the official announcement was. made.
– I wish to make a personal explanation, because I have been misrepresented in a report which appears in the Canberra Times this morning, referring to the proceedings before the Industrial Board in Canberra yesterday. I was elected to the Canberra Community Hospital Board as a representative of the Australian Labour party last year, and, incidentally, by a very large majority. The Industrial Board made provision-
– Is it not necessary that the approval of the House must be obtained before the honorable member can continue in this manner?
– Is the honorable member for Balaclava an authority on the Standing Orders? Perhaps he may be better off if he sticks to legal matters.
– I do not know about that!
– I have ruled before in this House that when honorable members are attacked outside the Parliament, they have the right to reply in the House.
– The Industrial Board, made provision in the award for the appointment of a deputy matron for the Canberra Community Hospital. The Hospital Board, of which I am deputy chairman, obtained a direction from the Minister, and proceeded to make that appointment by calling for applications, examining the applicants, and choosing one of their number for the position. A complaint was lodged with the Industrial Board by the Hospital Employees Federation, that, the Hospital; Board had acted unjustly in not appointing a certain applicant and alleged that she was not chosen because of her activities in the Hospital Employees Federation, of which she had been secretary. That case has now been heard by the Industrial Board, and in to-day’s issue of the Canberra Times the following report appears: -
Replying to Mr. Sheehan, Mr. Fraser said that the union affiliation of Sister Curley had never entered his mind and was only a secondary consideration to the credentials and qualifications of an appointee to suchan important position.
The report continues -
Mr. Sheehan attacked Mr. Fraser, as a unionist, for not looking first to a member of the Federation to fill the post.
What I actually said yesterday to the board was that, in considering the qualifications of the applicants, union membership was not in my mind, and that the clause of the award requires that preference shall be given to members of the federation, provided they are of good character and possess the necessary qualifications.
– Does not the Reestablishment and Employment Act come into it?
– The honorable member for Fawkner cannot enter into a debate on that matter. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro isentitled to correct the statement made in the press.
– I rise to order. Standing Order 258 provides -
By the indulgence of the House a Member may explain matters of a personal nature, although there be no question before the House: but such matters may not be debated.
It has been ruled, regarding the second part of the Standing Order, that the matter could not be debated. But I direct attention to the introductory words of the Standing Order which state that this matter must be subject to the indulgence of the House. I am aware that on several occasions, by the indulgence of Mr. Speaker, honorable members have been allowed to make personal explanations, but I point out that on a strict interpretation of the Standing Orders, the indulgence of the House must be obtained.
-Order ! I advise the honorable member, as a lawyer and a potential Speaker, to examine the Standing Orders a little further.
– The statement which I actually made was that when I, as a member of the Hospital Board, was considering the qualifications of various applicants for the position . of deputy matron, union membership was not in my mind. In conformity with the requirements of the case, I had first to decide whether an applicant possessed the necessary qualifications, and not until that !had been done had I to consider the matter of union membership. That is not stated in the report; nor is it stated that the chairman of the board immediately said that my remarks in that connexion were entirely correct. The newspaper also reported Mr. Sheehan as having said -
There was some unseen influence at work, -which probably took Mr. Fraser’s mind off that aspect–
That is the aspect of union membership - some unseen influence which we are not able to discover.
The report does not say that Mr. Sheehan did not make that statement until after the hearing of evidence had closed, and that I immediately pointed out to the tribunal that Mr. Sheehan had had me in the witness box for cross-examination, that he had net made any suggestion of that kind during cross-examination, and that I was willing to re-enter the witness box to allow him to cross-examine me on any of those points. Those matters are not brought out in the report. Finally, I desire to say that the Industrial Board has decided that the Hospital Board did not exercise any discrimination against an unsuccessful applicant because of her union activities. The board has yet to make a decision on other matters that were raised.
– “Will the Minister for External Territories inform me whether the itinerary of the King and Queen next year will include a visit to Papua and New Guinea? If not, will it be possible to bring to Australia a contingent of native people from those territories who served with distinction in World War II., to take part in the celebrations, possibly as members of guards of honour in the capital cities?
– The itinerary that has been prepared for the Royal tour of Australia does not provide for a visit to the territories of New Guinea and Papua. I understand that consideration was given to the question of whether there should be some representation from those territories and also from Norfolk Island, which will not be visited, so that their peoples might feel that they have participated in the welcome to the Royal visitors. I shall make inquiries and inform the honorable member whether that can be arranged.
– There is a duty on tea of 5d. per lb. when imported in packets of under 20 lb. and of 3d. per lb. when imported in larger quantities in chests. No tea is grown in Australia. The Prime Minister has said, I understand, that the Government intends to withdraw certain subsidies that are now being paid, including that on tea. If that is done, the price of tea will rise. Will the Prime Minister take action to have the duty on imported tea removed so that the price paid for it by consumers will be as low as possible ?
– As an ex-Minister for Trade and Customs, the honorable member knows that the increase or decrease of customs and excise duties is a matter of government policy. The duty on imported tea will be considered when the matters to which the honorable member has referred are reviewed by the Government.
– In the course of his recent attack on the Australian Wheat Board, the Minister for Commerce and
Agriculture indicated that members of the board had failed to pay sufficient attention to matters of great importance and that, therefore, he had not discussed with them the International Wheat Agreement. Does the Minister not consider that this demonstrates the - urgent need tor the appointment of a permanent head of the board, which has been without a chairman for a long time? Has any decision been made with regard to that matter?
– The attack on the Australian Wheat Board, referred to by the honorable member is a figment of his imagination. When I . attack any authority or any individual, I hope that [ shall do it properly. I did not attack the Australian Wheat Board. In a speech that I made in this House recently T related the facts regarding their response to an inquiry that was made of them in connexion with the wheat agreement with the United Kingdom. That vas all. The appointment of a chairman pf the board is a matter of Government policy. I am sure that, when the Government docs make a decision, the honorable member for Wimmera will be delighted with it.
Proposed Conference on Rents and Prices Controls.
– The Prime Minister has told the House that it will not be possible for him to make a definite announcement is to the Government’s future policy with regard to prices control until it has been considered by the caucus of the Parliamentary Labour party at the meeting that is to be held next week. Can the right honorable gentleman say whether caucus will then .be asked also to consider the retention of other forms of control, such as clothes rationing and capital issues control, that are at present being administered by the Australian Government? The meeting to which I have referred will probably be the last occasion on which caucus will meet before the coming recess and if the approval of caucus is necessary .before any change of policy can be made it should be given then or it will not be practicable to give it until late in the year. I point out that the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act, from which the Government derives itsauthority to administer these controls, expires at the end of this year.
– It is not usual for honora’ble members to inquire from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition what either proposes tosubmit for consideration at party meetings. I have not been so presumptuous as to ask the Acting Leader of the Opposition what he is likely to put to his party. All I can say is that a Cabinet subcommittee is examining the whole matterrelating to subsidies and controls as related to subsidies. In many cases subsidies and controls are interlocked with rationing and ‘ the dollar shortage. The matters so affected comprise a long and varied list. I cannot say precisely what will be put to the Parliamentary Labour party at its meeting. That would be expecting too much of me. The matter will be thoroughly examined -by the Government.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the report that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, has proposed that all State Premiers should meet the right honorable gentleman to discuss the transfer of rents and prices control to the States? Is he aware that several of the Premiers have indicated that they favour this proposal? In the circumstances, does he propose to call a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers to discuss the smooth transfer of these controls from the Commonwealth to the States?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred. However, I was informed this morning that according to press reports exchanges of views have been made by telegram between the Premiersof some States with the object of arranging a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers to consider the transfer of rents and price.controls. Since Cabinet decided to make its recommendation to the ministerial party, I have spoken personally to only two of the Premiers, the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Hanlon, whom I saw yesterday, and the Premier of New
South Wales, Mr. McGirr, to whom I *poke on the telephone. Neither of them mentioned anything to me about arranging a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, for the purpose mentioned. The Commonwealth will do everything it can to help the State Premiers to effect a smooth transfer of controls. No request has been made to me to call a conference. If such a conference were called it would be for that specific purpose only. I should not be prepared to discuss any other matter at it as it is anticipated that a conference will normally be held about the end of August. I have proposed that that conference be held on the 23rd August, but I have not yet received a reply from any of the Premiers that that date will be convenient for the holding of the ordinary meeting of the Loan Council and the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. If the Premiers believe that I, personally, as Prime Minister, or that Commonwealth officers can help in some special way to effect a smooth transfer of controls to the States, I shall be prepared to take up the matter with them. The problem is most difficult, Indeed, the administration of these controls has proved very difficult for the Commonwealth; and I do not think that even members of this Parliament have fully realized how difficult it has been. If a request for a conference is made I shall consider it favorably, provided that the conference can be held at a time which will not clash with sittings of the Parliament, and that is to deal only with the subject of controls.
– I ask the Prime Minister when I may expect a reply to question No. 2 on to-day’s notice-paper standing in my name, and relating to the. sea transport of steel products. This question has been on the notice-paper since the 22nd October, 1947. What is the cause of the inordinate delay of eight months in answering this question?
– I shall arrange for a written reply to the question of the honorable member which appears on the noticepaper. I could answer it verbally now, but I doubt, whether I should be permitted to do so under the Standing Orders. Ail the matters referred to in the question have been dealt with by the Premier of Queensland and the Premier of New South Wales. The Premier of Queensland has assured me that the Premier of New South Wales has been most helpful in making all arrangements within hi’ jurisdiction to secure the rapid delivery of goods which had accumulated at Nev South Wales ports. I understand thai these goods have been delivered both rail and by road. I spoke to the Premier of Queensland yesterday and he did not make any complaint about this matter.
– Why have I had to wai’ eight months for an answer to m question ?
– There is much urgent work to be done, and answering the honorable member’s question would not assist the transport of steel *>< Queensland.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to the following statement ir. the Australian Dairy Review: -
A bacon famine threatens unless prompt action is taken to avert the steep decline in production. This view has been expressed by the president of the Australian Pig Societe (Mr. F. Hawtin), who explained that representations have been made to the Federal Government, through the Australian Meal Board, for an early review of prices. Then was no time to lose, he said, because producer could not continue to maintain production uneconomically as they were now doing.
I ask the Minister when pig breeders mav expect some intimation regarding the new prices to be arranged with the United Kingdom Government. Pigs are not produced overnight, and producers should know well in advance what returns they may expect.
– I am aware, of course, that pigs are not produced overnight, although they are hogs for reproduction. I appreciate the difficulties under which pig breeders operate, and 3 understand their desire to know as early as possible of any increased prices that may result from the negotiations between Australia and the United Kingdom.
However, all I can say in respect of these negotiations is that we have received a recommendation from the Australian Meat Board and have taken certain action in relation to it. As soon as the United Kingdom Government indicates whether or not it is prepared to accept the offers that have been made. I shall make an announcement to the people who are vitally concerned in this industry.
– In view of the fact that doctors are refusing to use the official forms for prescriptions so that their patients may have the benefit of the free medicine scheme, will the Minister representing the Minister for Health arrange for chemists to apply an official stamp to those prescriptions which fall within the accepted formulary, and thus save patients from having to pay for the medicine?
– I read in this morning’s press that chemists who were prepared to co-operate with the Government were compelled to charge their customers, and thus deprive them of their rights under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, because the doctors would not prescribe on the official forms. I do not know whether the honorable member’s suggested method to prevent this robbery of the public can be given effect to, but I shall make inquiries.
– Will the Prime Minister afford an opportunity during the present sittings of Parliament for a debate on Australia’s immigration policy as it affects Asiatic countries, and Australia’s diplomatic and commercial relations with those countries?
– The current debate onthe Supply Bill affords an opportunity to honorable members to discuss that subject if they care to do so.
– Some honorable members have availed themselves of that opportunity.
– I do not think that the present sittings will continue for long enough to allow of a special debate on immigration. However, I shall discuss the matter with the Minister for Immigration in order to see whether the honorable member’s request can be given favorable consideration. If a debate cannot be held during the present sittings, perhaps it will be possible to arrange for one at a later date.
Loans to ex-Servicemen.
– An exserviceman in business has written to me complaining that he is unable to obtain a loan for business purposes. He has been told by financial institutions to which he applied that the law prevents them from advancing him money, although they may make advances to his business competitors because their names were on the list before the legislation was passed. They say that if the legislation is amended they are prepared to advance him money.. I ask the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to do something to remedy the position.
– Quite frankly, I do not understand the point which the honorable member has sought to make. The Re-establishment Act provides for the making of loans to ex-servicemen, and many loans have already been made. I did not know that if an ex-serviceman obtained a loan under the act he was precluded from obtaining further financial accommodation from outside sources. That, I assume, is the ground of the honorable member’s complaint. If the honorable member will supply me with a copy of the correspondence dealing with the case which he mentioned I shall have inquiries made.
Enlistment of British Personnel
– I ask the Minister for the Army to make a statement on the position of Australians in the British Permanent Army who desire to transfer to the Australian Permanent Army and live in Australia and of British Permanent Army personnel who desire to transfer to the Australian Army. . If transfer is permitted, will those who transfer retain their Army rank?
– I understand that within the next few days a decision will be reached by the Military Board on the matter of British Army men desiring to join the Australian Army and Australians desiring to migrate to the United Kingdom to join the British Army.
– In view of the growth of Commonwealth departmental activities at Newcastle and the dearth of office accommodation in that city for such Commonwealth officers as conciliation commissioners, will the Prime Minister consider using the one and a quarter acres of vacant Commonwealth land next to the Customs House for the erection of Commonwealth offices, which would obviate the need for the payment of high rents for private premises leased by the Government for the accommodation of its officers at Newcastle ?
– I know that in size and importance Newcastle is rapidly growing. Requests have been made from time to time by the honorable member for Hunter and others for the provision of Commonwealth offices in that city to house such Commonwealth officers as Taxation Branch officials. The matter of the erection of a building in which to house Commonwealth activities in that city has not been given thought so far, but, in view of the great importance of the district, I shall discuss with the Minister for the Interior the use of the area referred to by the honorable member for the erection of office accommodation. I cannot make any promises, but I shall have the matter examined.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service the following questions: - 1. Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to certain statements made recently by Mr. William Urquhart, formerly employed in the Minister’s department as national service officer at Newtown - (a) that he opened six different banking accounts through which some £29,000 passed in two years, while he was national service officer, and that in addition he purchased a private safe in which he also kept large sums of money; (b) that he used government cars for purposes completely outside his work as an officer of the department; and (c) that there was a Public Service inquiry into the release of certain barmaids by him, and that charges were made against him by another officer of the department, but that at that inquiry no evidence was given of the existence of these bank accounts or these large sums of money? 2. Will the Minister order a complete review of Urquhart’s work and other activities in the department, of the man-power exemptions granted by him, and of the man-power orders signed by him allocating workers to individual employers ?
– The National Security (Man Power) Regulations were repealed some time ago, and it is a long time since Mr. Urquhart was an officer of the Department of Labour and National Service. I do not know anything about his domestic affairs or any more about his bank accounts than I know about those of the honorable member for Parramatta. It is not my business to probe into them. If there are any suspicions-
– Exactly what does the Minister mean by that?
– I would have no more authority to inquire into his banking business than I would to inquire into that of the right honorable member.
– I am talking about his activities while a member of the department.
– He has not been an officer of my department for some time, and I know nothing of the statements referred to by the honorable gentleman, nor am I going to worry about them.
Motion (by Mr. Drakeford) agreed to-
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act toapprove the purchase by the Commonwealthof certain shares in Qantas Empire Airways Limited and subscription by the Commonwealth to issues of capital by that company, and for otherpurposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Qantas Empire Airways Limited was formed in January, 19341, as the result of a partnership agreement between Imperial Airways Limited and the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited. The latter company, widely and popularly known as Qantas, had been formed as a pioneer civil air service operator soon after the end of the L914-18 war, with head-quarters at Longreach, and its operations were confined to the linking of the inland terminals of those Queensland railways which run inland from the coast. As the company’s operations were extended, its headquarters was moved to Brisbane. The company became the first Australian overseas operator when it undertook the Darwin-Singapore section of the air link with the United Kingdom. The introduction of the Empire air scheme in 1934 necessitated considerable expansion, and this was achieved by the formation of the partner company, Qantas Empire Airways Limited. This company was subsequently to take over the operation of all services, the original pioneering company, Qantas, becoming solely a holding company with 50 per cent, of the shares in Qantas Empire Airways Limited, the remaining 50 per cent, being held by the United Kingdom company, Imperial Airways Limited.
Imperial Airways Limited subsequently became the British Overseas Airways Corporation, owned by the United Kingdom Government, which thus became a 50 per cent, part-owner of Qantas Empire Airways Limited. Arrangements between the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia for the post-war operation of the service between Australia and the United Kingdom envisaged parallel partnership operation by operators designated by each government, and it -was thus obvious that the Australian operator, Qantas Empire Airways Limited, should be entirely Australianowned. Negotiations were accordingly opened with the United Kingdom Government for purchase by the Australian
Government of the British Overseas Airways Corporation shareholding, and thesubsequent purchase was authorized by the Qantas Empire Airways Agreement Act 1946.
With the purchase of the British. Overseas Airways Corporation shares.. Qantas Empire Airways Limited remained a public company, 50 per cent., of the shares being held by Australia, and 50 per cent, by the pioneer company. Qantas Limited. The only change wasthe substitution of three Australia); directors in place of the three BritishOverseas Airways Corporation directors..
It had been proposed originally thar both operators in the parallel partnership operation of the Sydney-London, service should use British Tudor aircraft, but it soon became apparent that thistype, or, in fact, any modern British aircraft would not be available for a long time. In the meantime there was a real danger that other countries would: become firmly established on the routeunless modern aircraft could be introduced by the partnership at an early date. Consequently Qantas Empire AirwaysLimited, with the full approval of the Australian Government and the United, in the United States of America for four Lockheed Constellations, recognized atthe best long-distance passenger aircraft available. This order was actually placed before the British Overseas Airways Corporation shares had been purchased by Australia. The total cost of the four Constellations, including spares and other associated expenditure, was approximately £2,0Q0;000, whereasthe total share capital of Qantas Empire Airways Limited at the time of the British Overseas Airways Corporation: purchase was, and still is, only £523,000. In considering methods of providing the additional capital necessary to meet this commitment, regard was also taken of the future of the company as the chosen instrument of Australia in the development of international services, it being apparent that the opening up of further routes and future increases of frequencies on the Sydney-London service would: entail additional purchases of costly modern aircraft and the provision df other facilities essential for the establishment and maintenance of a high-class air transport service. Another important aspect was that Qantas Empire Airways Limited would be operating in partnership with the British Overseas Airways Corporation, which is entirely owned by the United Kingdom Government,’ and under arrangements made between the Australian Government and the United Kingdom Government. It was immediately apparent that many advantages would arise from both operators being completely owned by the respective Governments, including simplification of negotiations on financial matters, which are exceedingly .complex in a service of this nature. After a very full examination of the position, the conclusion was reached that complete government ownership of Qantas Empire Airways was desirable, amd an approach was accordingly made to Qantas Limited regarding the sale of its 50 per cent, shareholding to the Commonwealth. On the 26th May, 1947, following upon a period of discussions, the vice-chairman of ‘Qantas Limited wrote to the Acting Minister for Civil Aviation advising the willingness of his board “ to negotiate and to receive an offer”. The negotiations were held in a spirit of friendly co-operation, and on the 5th June, 1947, an .offer was transmitted to the company on the basis of a cash payment of £455,000 for its holding of 361,500 shares in Qantas Empire Airways Limited, the sale to be effective as at the 10th June, 1947. A condition was that Qantas Empire Airways Limited should declare and pay a dividend at the rate of 7 per cent, for the year ended the 31st March, 1947, the Commonwealth thus purchasing the shares ex the 1946-47 dividlend, but with full rights to all profits earned between the 1st April and the 30th Tune, 1947. Another condition was that the purchase would carry full right to the use of the name or design “ Qantas “ in connexion with future air services. On the 14th June, the company advised its acceptance of this offer, subject to ratification by its shareholders. An extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders of Qantas Limited, held in Brisbane on .the -3rd July, 1947, duly ratified the terms of sale to the Commonwealth, and payment of the full amount of £455,000 was effected during the following week.
The position now is that as from the 1st July, 1947, Qantas Empire Airways Limited has been operating as an entirely Commonwealth-owned undertaking. It must be emphasized, however, that apart from necessary changes in the board of directors, the personnel of the company and the wealth of tradition inherited from the original pioneer company, added to since 1934 by the operations of Qantas Empire Airways Limited itself, remain unchanged. While the original company, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited, has virtually passed out of existence - I believe that itliquidation is now in process - the name “ Qantas “ coined from its initials and which has become world famous through the years, is still the hall-mark of a mighty airline which can now look for ward to the fulfilment of a destiny probably never dreamed of by the original founders in 1920. Of these founders. Mr. W. Hudson Fysh is at the head of the present company as chairman and managing director, and I cannot speak too highly of his outstanding qualities, or of the place which he occupies, not only in this country but also in the international sphere as an authority on civil air transport. Unfortunately, the original chairman of Qantas, and later of Qantas Empire Airways Limited, Sir Fergus McMaster, was forced to withdraw some time ago because of ill-health, but no reference to Qantas would be complete without acknowledging the part played by Sir Fergus in building up from a very humble beginning an organization known and respected throughout the world.
In addition to Mr. Hudson Fysh, the present board of directors comprises the vice-chairman, Mr. W. C. Taylor, a director of Tasman Empire Airways Limited ; Mr. G. P. N. Watt, acting secretary to the Treasury, who is also a member of the Australian National Airlines Commission; Mr. D. McVey, who formerly held important posts in the Commonwealth Public Service, including the position of Director-General of Civil Aviation; and Sir Keith Smith, whose contribution to aviation is too well known to require am mention here.
I should now like to make some mention of the actual price paid to Qantas Limited for the 261,500 shares sold to the Commonwealth, namely £455,000. That price represents approximately 34s. lOd. per dha re, and as a negotiated price has no exact basis of calculation. Regard was had, however, to an expert valuation of the shares as at the 31st March, 1946, which was carried out in connexion with a previous purchase from the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation, to the level of profits earned since that date, and to the appreciation in value of certain assets above the figure to which they had been written down in the company’s books. Consideration was also given to the improvement in the future prospects of the company since 1946 by the purchase of modern Constellation aircraft, and also to the. fact that the Commonwealth’s existing 50 per cent, shareholding implied it guarantee of future profitable operations and returns to the private shareholders.
In all the circumstances, the price of £455,000 was considered to be very satisfactory from the viewpoint of both parties. It enabled the Commonwealth to become the sole owner of a wellestablished all’ transport undertaking, and it provided sufficient funds to enable Qantas Limited to return to its shareholders upon liquidation an amount equivalent to the quotation of their shares on Australian stock exchanges at the date when negotiations first commenced. I am quite satisfied thai the transaction represents a good purchase by the Commonwealth, and fair and just compensation to the Qantas shareholders.
The bill before the House is designed to ratify the purchase from Qantas Limited, and to appropriate the amount of £455,000, which was temporarily paid from the Treasurer’s advance. 1” referred previously to the purchase by Qantas Empire Airways Limited of four Lockheed Constellations at an approximate total cost of £2,000,000, and also to the fact that that order was placed before the Commonwealth purchase of the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation shares. As the company did not have the necessary capital to finance this purchase, it arranged terms with the Lockheed corporation, under which some £900,000 of the purchase price would be covered by promissory notes maturing in series over a period of four years from the date of delivery of the aircraft. Under this arrangement, promissory notes are now in existence to the value of approximately £S70,000, and it is considered desirable, for many reasons, including a substantial dollar saving on interest payments, that the notes should be paid off as soon as possible.
The remainder of the Constellation purchase has been financed from the company’s existing resources and. by an overdraft with the Commonwealth Bank, which is now approaching £700,000. Other commitments of the company are of the order of £500,000, leading to the conclusion that the company is undercapitalized to the extent of £2,000,000, present share capital being still only £523,000.
As the sole owner of the company, the Commonwealth is responsible for the provision of adequate capital to enable it to carry out its programme of planned development of international services, and this bill seeks authority for the provision by the Commonwealth of such additional capital sums as are required from time to time. The bill contains provisions for a special appropriation of £2,000,000, which it is intended shall be paid to the company before the 30th June, 1948, to enable outstanding commitments to be met at that date, and it also contains a provision to enable future capital requirements to be provided through the annual vote of the Department of Civil Aviation.
In brief, the bill provides for ratification of the Commonwealth’s purchase of Qantas Empire Airways Limited and for the availability of funds to allow of its future development as Australia’s’ international air transport operator. I am firmly convinced that this purchase has been in the best interests of Australia, and that in Qantas Empire Airways we possess an instrument which is serving, and will continue to serve, Australia in the maintenance of our rightful place in international air transport, with its consequent benefit to Australian trade and industry and the reduction of our geographical isolation which must benefit the Commonwealth as a whole.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 10th June (vide page 1918), on motion by Mr. Chifley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill is for the purpose of providing the Government with sufficient funds to carry on the affairs of the country until the budget for the next financial year is dealt with by the Parliament. I take this opportunity to discuss the general subject of taxation, with particular reference to some of the statements made last night by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard). General opinion throughout Australia, irrespective of the Minister’s views, is that the present rates of tax are crippling production. The Minister claimed that the Government isentitled to all the credit for the prosperity which exists to-day. He well knows, as everybody knows, that the tragedy of war caused shortages, which brought about the high prices which now prevail throughout the world. We need only to cast our minds back to the days of World War I. to recall a similar steep increase of prices as the result of similar influences. In those days, the producers received a higher price for butter than they received at any time during World War II. or afterwards. Those responsible for the winning of the war were the men and women who offered everything in order that we might retain our liberty. They were prepared to make that sacrifice so that we might have the benefits of the high prices and prosperity which we now enjoy.
The Minister wrongly declared that everybody in Australia to-day is happy. The truth is that people will not go to the country districts for employment because of the unsatisfactory conditions of work and life there. The Minister also said that one could visit any country saleyard and find almost every farmer from the surrounding districts in attendance ready to buy stock. Thatmay be true, but the honorable gentleman wrongly interpreted the reasons for this state of affairs when he declared that it indicated prosperity. The honorable member for
Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) andothers have confirmed the statements whichI made in this House some time ago giving the real reasons for large attendances at stock sales. The Minister must be fully aware that unless a farmer who sells his stock replaces it in thesame financial year, the bulk ofhis receipts from the sale is taken from him in the form of taxes. I know of one man who, because of drought, considered selling all of his stock. He took his problem to a taxation expertwho told him that, from a financial point of view, his best course would beto sell 50 per cent. of the stock, allow 25 per cent. to die, and try to save the remaining 25 per cent. The expert told the man that, if he sold all ofhis stock, the amount he received for itwould be so heavily taxed that, when the drought finally broke,he would have only enough capital left to enable him to buy about 20 per cent. of the original number. If the Minister thinks that that indicates prosperity he must have a very strange outlook. He must know that the farmers attend stock sales for two reasons. The first is the effect of heavy taxation. The second is that their only means of livelihood is the raising of stock. Whenever farmers sell stock they must buy more. The severity of taxation has also caused a shortage of stock. Numbers have decreased year by year, until to-day it is almost impossible to obtain new stock. The result is that buyers must pay fantastic prices in order to replenish their herds and flocks.
Statistics tell thesad story. As an example, Irefer to figures for Queensland, which I have taken from the Year Book. In 1942-43, the number of cattle and heifers in Queensland was 1,308,780. By 1946-47, the total haddecreased to 1,123,273.
– The drought caused heavy losses.
– Figures for other States show similar trends. In Queensland, the number of dairy cattleand heifers has declined by 14 per cent. since 1942-43. However, that does not tell the whole unfortunate story. The situation has been aggravated by an even greater decline in the number of calves feared. In 1943, 232,276 calves were reared in Queensland. In 1947, the total was only 15S,203, representing a reduction since 1943 of 32 per cent.
What are the reasons for this decline? Obviously, taxation has been a very important factor. Shortage of labour is another factor. Unsatisfactory living conditions in such areas do not entice people to go there to live and work. Production figures in the dairying industry also show an alarming decline. Referring again to Queensland, production of butter in that State in 1942-43 amounted to 49,782 tons. In 1946-47, the last year for which complete statistics are available, the amount was 33,068 tons. I know that droughts have aggravated the situation, but, even allowing for their effects, the. best that can be said is that production is only being maintained. Milk production in Queensland in 1938- 39 totalled 347,336,000 gallons. In 1939-40. when the number of cattle in production was greater than in 1938-39, the total was only 325,344,000 gallons. The number of cattle increased after 1938-39 until it reached a total of 1,308,780 in 1942-43, after which there -was a gradual decline. I shall compare the milk production figures for 1938-39 and 1939-40 with those of 1946-47. In 1946-47, only 204,863,000 gallons were produced. If this trend continues, the Government will have to buy an additional fleet of transport aircraft in order to bring milk from New Zealand to supply our population. V. Minister who can rejoice in this situation, .boasting of increased production and prosperity, must have a weird imagination indeed !
The honorable gentleman also claimed -credit on behalf of the Government for Australia’s social services. I give the Government some credit but the Minister took credit for everything that had been done on behalf of the people. He spoke of some social services which are granted without the application of the means test. He neglected to give credit to the Government supported by honorable members on this side of the House, which instituted child endowment, but conveniently took -credit for the Labour party for the introduction of old-age and invalid pensions which have been in existence for many years. In fact, a .provision was incorporated in the Constitution which gave to the Commonwealth Parliament power to make laws relating to invalid and oldage pensions. The amounts payable for old-age and invalid pensions have a much lower purchasing value to-day than they had in the ‘thirties. Reductions were made in those pensions by the Scullin Government in the ‘thirties. There are two sides to every question.
– But who took the pensioners’ homes from them?
– Is that any worse than taking 5s. off their pensions? I sa that it is not one-way traffic, and credit is also due to previous governments which improved social services. Does the Government desire to remain in a static position? Is it not the function of am government to try to improve the position from year to year? Is it not a condition of election to the government benches that the honorable members concerned shall be progressive in relation to social services, conditions governing primary production, and in any other direction possible? The Government >.- so devoid of good works that it mus continue to live in the ‘thirties, or in Adam’s age, to try and justify its present position. I do not want to be misunderstood. I give credit where it is deserved, for any social services improvement thai has been effected, .but there has been altogether too much encouragement given to people to lean on social services. 1 contend that greater encouragement ; should be given to individuals who wish purchase homes and contribute to their own personal security. The proceed* from the present overburdening taxation should be used for national reproductive purposes.
The electorate I have the honour n represent is the greatest primary-pro ducingelectorate in Australia. With thexception of sugar and one or two other minor products, every primary product o; any consequence in Australia is produced within my electorate, and that cannot be said of any other electorate in Australia. That is probably due to our geographical location. I am prepared to discuss products of any magnitude grown within my electorate. Let us consider wool. The previous Government, t.» which I have referred, secured an agreement with the British Government and promised the growers that they would receive any profits made as the result of chat agreement.
– It was a shocking agreement, and the honorable gentleman knows it !
– It is more shocking to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller). The Government does not want to hand the profits back, but desires co retain them and treat them as government revenue.
– The honorable member opposes everything!
– Increases must be based on world prices. That applies to beef and every other product.
I wish to deal with dairying. The Minister claimed credit for securing the price of 2s. per lb. for butter. I should like to cite a few facts. I have referred to the decline in dairy cattle and the number of calves that are reared, which is a serious position if we want that iudustry to progress. I contend that the present price. of 2s. per lb. for butter is inadequate, and people will not go to the country because of the conditions prevailing.
During World War I. the dairymen received as high as 2s. 5d. per lb for butter. I may say that I have known the hardships of dairying, because I have been a dairyman. In fact, I still have a dairy on my farm, but I am not working it personally while I am representing the people in this Parliament. When the Scullin Government was in office, I received as little as 6d. per lb. for butter.
– The Scullin Government was never in power.
– I say that it was in power. During the years between 1919 and 1939 - excluding the period when 2s. 5d. per lb. was paid for butter, but including the disastrous period of the (Scullin administration when only 6d. per lb. was paid - the average price for that commodity was 16.39d. per lb.; in the six years of World War II. tho dairymen received an average of 15.44d. per lb. - nearly Id. less. I ask honorable members to take particular notice of those facts. The low prices being paid at tinbeginning of the war were continued until Opposition members ultimately forced the Government to increase the price. The report by the advisory committee on production costs in the dairying industry . which was made by practical men of the industry, recommended that 2s. 1-jd. per lb. should be paid, but the Government did not adopt that recommendation The report covered all condition.operating in the dairying industry, where people were required to work 56 hours a week. Such conditionare not applicable to the city. Th* public servants on the commission said. “ That is good enough for the serfs in the country ; we want cheap butter “. The ‘ report was accepted by the Government. The dairy-farmers have to pay heavy taxation out of the 2s. per lb. received, and the result of the realization is not a* good as previously. The Government should be prepared to face up to the position.
– The place smells like » dirty cowyard!
– Yes, but thipeople in the city expect everybody te wallow in it so that they may have cheap food. The Government continues to hide its head behind its hands as the ostrich buries its head in the sand,, and takes n’ notice of the serious decline of the industry. I say that, in order to assess thiposition correctly, we must have regardto the quantities being produced. Australia is, undoubtedly, losing money because of the reduction in exports, due to the decline in production.
Australia should have a flourishing cotton industry, but unfortunately, that industry is almost out of eixstence. The guaranteed price of only 15d. per lb… which this Government offers, prevents producers from growing cotton profitably The Tariff Board has investigated thisindustry on three or four occasions, and each time has recommended a price lower than the Government’s guaranteed price. In 1939, the Menzies Government offered a guaranteed price of 15d. per lb., which,. at the time, was very satisfactory, and in the following season, the cotton cropwas the largest ever grown in Australia. In later reports, the Tariff Board recommended to this Government a price less- than 15d. per lb. Honorable members who study the basis of these recommendations, will see that the board believes that the industry should pay low wages. If members of the Tariff Board consider that people- will seek employment in the cotton industry for wages of; 25s., £2 or £2 10s. a week, they are not worthy to hold their jobs. If the basic wage, which is payable to workers in secondary industries, were made applicable to employees in. primary industries, the guaranteed price of: 15s* per lb., would obviously be too- low.
Recently, the Government withdrew some of the subsidies that it had paid for several years on cotton goods imported from’ Egypt. Although these goods cost a minimum of 32d. per lb., the Government expects Australians to grow cotton- for 15d. per lb. In effect, the Government’ proclaims that it does not want a cotton industry in Australia-. The market here for our cotton is almost unlimited. Our people urgently require cotton goods, but the Government, instead of encouraging the growing of cotton, prefers to pay subsidies on imported cotton goods. The growers have not been encouraged to increase production and reduce costs by using machines. [ understand that two machines have been imported, and that a licence has been granted for the importation of a third. That will assist to improve the conditions, but unless the Government accedes to the recommendation of the Queensland Cotton Board of a fair price of 22d. per lb., practically no cotton will be grown in Australia. Primary producers, other than a few who grow it on a small scale as. a sideline to other primary products, because it suits them to do so, will not be- interested. Even by guaranteeing a price of 22d. per lb., the’ Government would save lOd. a lb. compared with the cost of imported cotton goods.
The. Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has made a statement upon the grain sorghum industry. This is another industry which he personally is responsible for practically extinguishing in Queensland. I make that . assertion in the realization, that it is a serious one, but when we compare last year’s production with, this year’s figure; the- truth of my assertion -will readily be seen. Production last year exceeded. 4,000,000’ bushels, but this year it is less than 1,000,000 bushels, Drought conditions cannot be blamed for the decline, although they may have aggravated the position slightly. I admit that, because I want to be fair. According to a statement issued by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, the planting of grain sorghum this year does not exceed 40 per cent, of last year’s acreage. That proves my assertion. When the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was asked to grant a licence to export surplus grain sorghum last year, he pretended that he desired to protect the interests of the growers. Honorable members on this side of the House made vigorous representations to the Minister in support of the granting of the licence, and we were obliged to battle for months before we were successful. After the Minister had repeatedly refused to accede to our requests, some of us- approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), and. conferred with the right honorable gentleman and the Minister for the purpose of having the decision revoked. The advice which -had been tendered to the Minister was that, on the basis of the- consumption, of grain sorghum during the first six months of the year, the balance of the crop would be required for domestic requirement? during the second six months. We pertinently reminded’ the Minister that the first six months of the year had followed one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history, while in the second six months the country had received bountiful rains, and the demand for grain sorghum had eased. All we wanted the Minister to tell. us was where markets for grain sorghum were, offering, overseas. When the licence was finally granted, it was too late’ to encourage primary producers to plant large1 areas with grain sorghum this year.
We also urged that the net realizations from the export of the surplus grain sorghum should go to the growers; that is to say, the growers alone should receive the benefit. Only the unsold grain sorghum was- to be exported. Then the Minister for. Commerce and Agriculture made an attack, on the co-operative organization which had received the licence. He said, in effect, that the organization had made a bad mess of the business; that it had received a price of £24 a ton (Australian) at which price the merchant had made a profit of £9 a ton. One of the members of the board described that statement as a malicious lie. I shall relate the facts. The price received was £24 a ton (Australian) ; r.he price at which the grain sorghum was sold was- £22 10s. a ton (sterling), which was equivalent to £28 2s. 6d. a ton (Australian). But the price at which the organization made a deal was on the basis of “ into store “ ; the price at which the grain sorghum was sold to the merchant who exported it was on a f.o.b. basis. The merchant had also to carry out certain services, and he received only £3 12s. 6d. a ton to cover all expenses. That answers the statement of the Minister. I read the report of his remarks in Hansard, and I desired to correct them.
– The honorable member is supporting the middle man.
– Nothing of the kind. I remind the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) that 1 fought to establish the princi pie. that all the realizations should go .to the growers, and that only the unsold grain sorghum held by the growers should be exported. What did the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture do? Unknown to any one else, including the organization, he allowed a merchant at Wallangarra, in Queensland, to export 325 tons of grain sorghum, which he had probably bought for £7 or £8 a ton and sell it for about £28 a ton this making a net profit of approximately £20 a ton. Who is supporting the middle man ? Obviously the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is, because he allowed the middle man to make a profit of approximately £20 a ton on that sale. I challenge the Minister to refute that statement. I ask again, who is supporting the middle man?
– The honorable member is.
– We know perfectly well who is supporting the middle man. I wonder what is behind the action of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in allowing a merchant to export grain sorghum outside the growers’ organization, and in attacking the organization. Perhaps I should refer here to an interesting piece of Queensland history relating to this co-operative organization. It handles this business at cost without a brokerage fee. When the then wheat board decided to buy out a milling company in Queensland, at a price of £450,000 in order to make it a co-operative concern, the Queensland Labour .Government, in which the present. Director-General of Agriculture, Mr. Bulcock, was the Minister for Agriculture, introduced a bill designed to prevent the transaction. In effect, the Queensland Labour Government tried to make it a personal matter against the chairman of the board, in the hope of nullifying the deal. However, the organization persisted with its efforts and today it is an outstanding example of successful co-operation in Queensland. It can handle the sale of grain sorghum. The statement by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seems to me to be another attack on this co-operative organization. Why should an attack be made on a body that will handle grain sorghum without charging a broker’s fee, and will pass the whole .of the proceeds from the sale to the growers? Why should merchants be allowed to sell it and make a profit of £20 on each ton in so doing? All these matters require to be explained, and it will not do for the Minister merely to adopt a pious attitude and suggest that his actions are designed to protect the interests of the growers. The grain sorghum industry has almost been forced out of existence. A socialistic experiment is at present being undertaken in Queensland. The State government is to .expend £2ji000.,000 and the British government £500,000 on the production of grain sorghum. In view of the need for this commodity in the United Kingdom and other countries, I wish the experiment every success, but all the grain sorghum that the Government requires could have been produced this year by the farmers of Darling Downs, without using extra labour. The land on which .the grain could have been grown is lying idle because the Government refused to guarantee more than the miserable price of 3s. 3d. a bushel, which the Minister admitted to me was below the cost of production. Had the Government guaranteed to producers a price of £10 a ton, all the grain sorghum necessary to meet the needs of this country and others would have been produced.
I have often referred to the tobacco industry. On this occasion I shall content myself with saying that it is a pity that we do not grow more tobacco in Australia. The reason why we do not do so is that the price paid to the growers is not a profitable one. The Government tried to help by increasing the percentage payments, but the method of handling and marketing the crop was faulty. The Government showed weakness when it allowed the tobacco combine to take charge. If it desires to save dollars it should encourage the production of more tobacco in Australia and thus avoid the necessity for imports from dollar areas. “We can produce larger quantities of good quality leaf than we are doing at present. There has been a !ong debate on the subject of wheat.
– Honorable members opposite had the worst of it.
– I will admit that growers had the worst of it. So far as the Minister’s statement on wheat is concerned, I need only to refer to the lost opportunity to export wheat from Australia because, owing to the Government’s policy of restricting the quantities that “ould be grown, not enough was produced.
– The honorable member might deal with the peanut industry. He knows more about that than about wheat.
– 1 did not want to deal with an industry in which I am personally interested, because it might be thought that I was “ flying a kite “. [ can deal with it as occasion arises, and have done so. However, I say in passing that had it not been for the fight that I waged in this House, there would have been no market to-day for peanuts. The Government sought to divert the entire Australian crop to the manufacturers of peanut oil. It reduced by Id. a lb. the price paid by the manufacturers to the growers, but no corresponding benefit was given to consumers. That reduction of the price reduced the growers’ return by £80,000, of which £40,000 was reimbursed to them by the Treasury. The price fixed by the Prices Branch operated only in relation to the growers’ cooperative organization. Anybody outside the organization could sell at a higher price, but the Prices Branch, which only wanted to hamstring a co-operative organization acting on behalf of the growers, did not worry about that.
I want now to deal with unemployment and sickness benefits. In a question addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health recently, I suggested that it was necessary to amend the act governing the payment of these benefits because some employees did not lodge their applications within the prescribed period and in consequence received no payment. Pari VII. of the Social Services Consolidation Act of 1947 provides for the payment of sickness benefits from and including the seventh day after the day on which the claimant becomes temporarily incapacitated for work, provided the claim if lodged within six weeks of that day. The Minister replied that he thought that sufficient latitude to deal with late applications was allowed to those administering the act, but cases which have been brought to my notice since then show that there is no elasticity. The country employee, in particular, is penalized because of his ignorance of the provisions of the act. Conditions in the city are different because there men congregate together and are able to acquaint one another with the provisions of various acts of Parliament that affect them. The act should be amended so that workers in country districts who have the misfortune to fall ill and do not lodge their applications within the prescribed time, shall not be penalized. I suggest that the period should he extended to three months or longer. If a worker in a country district becomes ill, his wife is at her wit’s end to keep the home going while he is away in hospital. When he returns to his home, his first thought is to ease his wife’s distress and get conditions in the home back to normal. He does not think immediately of lodging his claim for unemployment and sickness benefit, but that is no reason why he should be deprived of it. If it is a genuine case of illness, the man should he paid irrespective of whether his application is lodged on a Wednesday or a Thursday.
– The period is six weeks now.
– I am aware of that, but sometimes a letter from the remote areas of Queensland takes three weeks to reach Brisbane. Conditions in the country are entirely different from those in the cities.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture mentioned tractors, and blamed previous governments for not having them built in Australia. Apparently, he does not believe in progress. According to him everything should now be static - and .Spitfire aeroplanes should have been built by the Scullin Government. The Labour party has certainly produced one “ spitfire “, namely, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. At any rate, ploughs are manufactured in Australia, but the farmers cannot get them. I have been told, although I cannot vouch for its truth, that ploughs are being exported and sold at higher prices than those prevailing in Australia.
– Why did the honorable member say it if he cannot vouch for its truth?
– I mention it now in order to- hear the Government’s answer.
– The honorable member made a statement without having anything to support it.
– This is the proper place in which to make inquiries. If the assertion is wrong, let the truth be told. People have been informed by the firms which manufacture ploughs that they are being sent overseas. Let the Minister verify or deny the statement.
– I thought the honorable member wanted less government control?
– The Australian Government has always controlled exports. Does the Minister want to lose that control, also? Obviously, exports should be under the control of the National Government. Why are the farmers unable to get ploughs, headers and other farm machinery? Whatever the cause - conditions of employment, high taxation or the shortage of materials - the fact remains that the machinery is not available. If the serfs on the land - and that is what the Government wishes the farmers to be - are to produce food, at least they should be able to obtain the mechanical means to do so, because they cannot get labour. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture slighted the primary producers by suggesting that they .were driving about the country in limousines. It was unworthy of a Minister to suggest that the primary producers should not have motor cars. Everybody knows that in country districts motor cars are a necessity.
– The honorable member is becoming as great a twister as his leader.
– I am not a twister. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture used the word “ limousines “. My answer is that in the country a car is a necessity, because no other form of transport is available. Our railway tracks and rolling stock are worn out. The State Government in Queensland has imposed a tax of 3d. per ton-mile on goods carried by road. Therefore farmers must have their own means of transport. They must also have machinery if they are to continue producing. Without it, production will decline.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) alleged that last night I said that primary producers should not have motor cars or limousines. That is a despicable lie. What I said was that in days gone by-
– I rise to a point of order.
– No point of order is involved.
– I said last night that in the days when governments, of which the honorable member for Maranoa approved, were in power the primary producers went about in jinkers and old motor cars, whereas to-day - and rightly so, I said - they have good cars. I indict the honorable member for Maranoa as a despicable falsehood teller.
– I object to the Minister’s statement, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– I challenge the honorable member to produce the Mansard record. If he were a man,, he would do so.
– I ask that the Ministers statement be withdrawn.
– The honorable member for Maranoa has objected to the statement as- unparliamentary^, and- 1 ask the Minister bo, withdraw it.
– I withdraw- it, birt it is still true.
-The Minister must withdraw the statement without comment.
– I withdraw the statement, and ask the honorable member for Maranoa, if he is a man, to look up Hansard and, having read what I actually said, to withdraw his despicable assertion..
– The honorable member ha& repeated his offence. He should withdraw the statement unreservedly.
-The word “lie” was objected to as being unparliamentary, and the Minister has withdrawn it.
– This debate provides me with an opportunity to add” something to the remarks, made earlier in the debate by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I support his appeal for aoa., increase of pensions, and the abolition of the means test. Honorable members representing industrial districts have a more intimate knowledge of the need’s of the workers than ha-ve- other honorable- members,, and I believe that Australia is sufficiently prosperous to provide- adequately for- eve-ry one living- in it. We have frequently been told that the workers are better off now than ever before in the history of the country, and that the Government has raised pensions and improved social services. That, of course, is true, but the net gain to pensioners is very little. Prices have risen so much that the pound is not worth nearly as much as before. In fact, I should say that a pension of 37s. 6d. a week is to-day worth no more than one of 25s. or 2’7s. 6d. before the-war. High wages were received by the workers during the- war, but in many instances, they served only to re-establish those who had suffered during- the depression. In any case, the workers- had little to spend their money on during the war because good’s were not available. The money they saved to provide themselves with homes is now not enough for the purpose, because of the extravagant increase of building costs. It will take them years of saving to make up for the increased cost of building. Those who have acquired homes, at. inflated prices, will suffer severely if a depression, comes.. Many of those without their own homes have had to pay out a large part of their wages in rent, because rents are out- of alt proportion to incomes. Many workers’ have had to pay £3 a week or more for houses which have none of the labour-saving devices which,, it is claimed,, the workers are enjoying. Therefore, when it is said, that workers to-day are much better off than formerly I feel bound to point out that in the crowded industrial areas there is little or no evidence to support the statement. There is still anxiety and an ever-present fear of another depression. Rents are high, and with the failure of the Government’sreferendum proposals, they will be higher skill. High rents affect particularly thoseiai the lower fixed income groups. I have pointed out on a number of occasions that age pensioners are being hard, hit by high rents. Other members of the Parliament including the honorable member for Hunter, and Senator Tanguey have also- drawn attention’ to this f act. When the latter- on: the- 9th April, directed attention’ to- this matter- in the” Senate- she was informed ‘by the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) that any person who believed that he was being charged an excessive rent could take the matter to the Rent Controller. That assurance, however, is of little comfort when we recall that two age pensioners in Sydney, who protested against an increase of the rent for the small cubicles that they occupied, were forcibly’ evicted and found themselves without any accommodation at all. These things leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Recently, at one of the Melbourne city courts, every one of 104 cases listed, for hearing, involved the eviction of a tenant. There is nowhere else for these people to go. It is urgent that the Commonwealth and State governments should make more adequate provision for the housing of aged people. All the available institutions are full, or as full as their staffs will permit; yet many pitiful cases are creating a problem that no authority is attempting to solve. This means that there is an ever-present sore spot in our community in spite of the social services now provided.
In contemplating this problem, I draw the attention of honorable members to a pamphlet recently made available through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In it appears an article on the World Health Organization. The constitution of that organization, signed in 1946 by 61 nations, emphasizes that if the people of the world cannot exist “half slave, and half free “, also they cannot exist half sick and half well. The article defines health as “ a state of physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity “. Dealing with world health, the pamphlet says that the World Health Organization “must, as the time is ripe, grapple with the more difficult, but even more fundamental, problems of mental hygiene, nutrition, housing and medical care, and with the health implications of the greatest factor in promoting disease in the world to-day - the problem of poverty”. It is said that there is no poverty in Australia to-day and that people are much better off than they have ever been before. But I know that there is poverty in Australia.
I have urged the abolition of the means test; I do so again. If it is impracticable at present to abolish the means test altogether, surely its operation could be modified. Every week people approach me on these matters. I receive letters from pensioners and would-be pensioners not only in my own constituency, but also throughout the Commonwealth. There are elderly persons, including widows, who have a few war bonds and have been waiting for an opportunity to buy homes for themselves. The money that they have saved represents their homes, but while it stands to their credit, they are ineligible for a pension. If they are forced to live on their small capital they will never be able to own their own homes. This seems to me, and to them, an unnecessary hardship. By relaxing the provisions of the means test, these people could be made eligible for pensions, thus placing them in a similar position to others who already own their own homes. The only difference is that whereas some have been fortunate enough to acquire homes, others, through no fault of their own, have not had an opportunity to do this, although they have some part of the necessary capital if not all of it.
To plead that the majority of the people are better off than they were in days gone by is easy, but not impressive. In this place of luxury living, honorable members may make such statements yet remain ignorant of the anxieties of those who live on low fixed incomes. Many of them are. old and weak, but they have helped to create the wealth of this country and are entitled now to security and protection. Young and active men and women who are pressing forward to make a contribution to our progress are hampered and thwarted, with the strings of war still about them. Some relief should be given. For the aged and the sick, there should be higher pensions side by side with an adjustment of the remunerations of those in the low fixed income groups. I receive a number of letters on this matter, but I shall quote only from one. It was written by the secretary of the Retired State Employees Association and it is relevant to my remarks. The writer says -
The members of the above association desire to bring before your notice the fact that the Commonwealth means test on social services has in many cases deprived them of the 25 per cent, cost-of-living increase granted by the Hollway Government.
When we got our 25 per cent, increase on superannuation pension to meet the increased cost of living, those of us receiving any portion of the widow’s, invalid or old-age pension, had that pension reduced by 25 per cent, owing to the means test. This means that the Commonwealth revenue got our increase.
I have received similar letters from other associations of superannuated officers who are living on what may be termed the “bread and jam line”.
Recently, I referred to the living allowance paid to reconstruction trainees. In reply, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) claimed that this allowance was more than the basic wage; but in the State of ‘ Victoria the allowance has been at least 2s. a week less than the basic wage, and since the recent increase of .that wage, the disparity has been even greater. I do not know of any adjustment having been made in the allowance corresponding to the increase of the basic wage. People living on the reconstruction training allowance are unable to pay the higher rents charged in the inner suburbs of our cities, and have to live in the outer districts. This means the payment of increased fares, for which the fares granted in the allowance is totally inadequate. That further increases their general expenses. “Whilst the provisions of adequate housing for the people is part of the platform and policy of the Labour party,, and is regarded by the World Health Organization as fundamental to community health, we have not yet made much headway with the construction of homes in this country. It can safely be said that in any year the number of houses constructed has not equalled the number of marriages. The lag still remains because sufficient homes have not been built. In Victoria alone the State Housing Commission has a waiting list of over 30,000 home-seekers, and no emergency accommodation is provided for those who are evicted from time to time. Evictions frequently take place when houses are sold over the heads of the tenants. I know of a great number of cases of that kind in my electorate. Many of the people evicted have families of young children. The shortage of housing is always attributed to a shortage of materials and labour; but a large volume of housing material and a proportion of building labour is being used by the Department of Defence on projects which are absorbing extraordinary sums of the taxpayers’ money. Consequently, many of our youngest generation are being allowed to pass through infancy and adolescence without a home, and the care which a home represents. In order to do justice to the children of families that cannot obtain houses - and their number runs into thousands - the Government should make a special grant to provide more nurseries, creches and other pre-school centres which could help to offset this evil. If we have the regard for the population of this country which we claim to have the Government would not hesitate to follow that course. These matters are even more urgent than increasing the flow of migrants from overseas, or the housing and entertainment .of royalty. I say that without prejudice. Finally, I point out that although it may be said that to-day our people generally are in better circumstances, the fact remains that at both ends of the age scale there are cases of extreme hardship. The very old cannot live decently on the present rates of pensions, and much less can those who are infirm, whilst in many instances babies are turned out of the hospitals where they are born within three, or five, days. The claims of those people are not recognized by any government in the provision of shelter and home-life. I urge the Government to give consideration to their needs.
made an unwarranted attack upon the conciliation commissioners appointed under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The purpose of that measure was to streamline industrial arbitration, and from the time it was implemented it has, despite certain deficiencies, justified itself not only because it has streamlined industrial arbitration but also because it has been the means of establishing more cordial relations between employer and employee than existed previously. When the bill was before the House the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and other legal honorable gentlemen opposite pointedly criticized the possible appointees. The theme of their song on that occasion was that only persons who had legal training should be appointed to those positions, that is, persons who had graduated at universities and were able to use the letters LL.B. after their names. However, the Government made a wise choice, and the appointees have justified their appointment. Industrial arbitration does not call merely for interpretation of the law; it requires arbitrators who, themselves, have experienced the conditions existing in industry. The men who were appointed as conciliation commissioners had spent many years in industry, whilst many of them had had considerable experience as trade union movement advocates before industrial tribunals. On that ground alone, the appointees are admirably equipped for their work. From the day of their appointment they have helped considerably to improve relations between employer and employee. It is amazing that at a time like the present, when we are enjoying industrial tranquility, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale), being unable to cite any disturbance in recent months, should deal with industrial unrest which existed as far back as November last. That was typical of his indictment of the Government. However, when he chose to fall back upon events which happened in November, my mind went back . to the position which existed on the Sydney waterfront in December. At that time I referred to the dislocation on the waterfront resulting from action taken by the Metal Trades Employers Association of New South Wales. I again refer to it because of the criticism made by honorable members opposite in this debate, and to show that industrial disruption is not caused solely by trade unionists. In December last every shop on the Balmain waterfront was closed as the result of action taken by the employers. For workers engaged on the Balmain waterfront last Christmas was a black Christmas, indeed. Small employers who did not want to be drawn into the dispute were forced by Mr. Fowler, the secretary of the Metal Trades Employers Association, to enter into it. Many of those employers approached me personally and told me that they were not involved in the dispute, but had been instructed by Mr. Fowler to close their shops. That dispute originated over a matter concerning the crane drivers at Poole and Steel’s works and it was deliberately extended to all employers on the waterfront. The dispute lasted seven weeks, but from the point of view of the workers concerned it was not merely a matter of loss of employment for weeks, or even months. That close down seriously affected their livelihood and, at the same time it had grave repercussions on production in this country. That dispute, I repeat, was not brought about by trade unionists but was deliberately engineered by employers.
It is interesting to comment on the silence of the Opposition on the attitude of the British Medical Association to the Government’s free medicine scheme. Its silence was paralleled by that of the press and the radio stations of Australia, which, until the last few weeks, suppressed statements made on the subject by the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna). The Government has made several approaches to the British Medical Association with a view to ironing out satisfactorily the differences between them on the subject of free medicine, but the association has taken the attitude of “ This is our stand !” The Minister for Health suggested some time ago to the Association that it should appoint three representatives to confer with three nominees of the Government on the difficulties, but the association has refused to co-operate. Its policy is a deliberate attempt to destroy the efforts of the Government to give to the people the free medicine that is their right. Many varying opinions have been expressed about the British Medical Association - people are entitled to their own opinions - but my opinion of it is that it consists of professional mediocrities who bask in the reflected glory of a few eminent men in the medical profession.
– I say that quite definitely, because I believe that the British Medical Association in Australia exerts an influence out of proportion to its standing and without parallel in any other British community. The British Medical Association in England does not wield an influence so powerful as that wielded by its counterpart in Australia. The attitude taken :by the Australian association on the subject of free medicine is dictated, not by ethical instincts, but by commercial instincts. It is frightening to reflect that because of perversity of the British Medical Association people on low wages and pensioners are deprived of the right to get for nothing such drugs as those in the sulfa group, which, if prescribed for them on other than the Government form that entitles them to the free service, cost them from 10s. to 15s. a time. It has happened before, and it will happen again, unless the association’s attitude softens, that people who have saved £200 or £300 against their retirement have lost the lot in paying doctors, hospitals and chemists. The Government has removed from people’s minds the menace of hospital bills. The hospital benefits scheme, with which about 97 per cent, of the hospitals in Australia have become affiliated, entitles public ward patients to absolutely free treatment and patients in intermediate and private wards to a reduction of their bills by £2 2s. a week. Now, when the Government proposes a sound scheme to remove from their minds the menace of chemists’ bills, the members of the British Medical Association ruthlessly stand in the way of that most desirable objective. Its attitude is incomprehensible. According to the press to-day, more than one-third of the prescriptions dispensed since the 1st June would have been free had doctors used the Commonwealth Government’s prescription form. The formulary covers 672 prescriptions and, according to a statement made by one doctor, it is sufficiently wide to cover 85 per cent, of normal prescriptions. The Government will not resort . to- conscription; it asks the doctors to support the scheme of their own volition. Australia is not the first country to introduce a free medicine scheme. Similar schemes exist in other countries. The system has operated in New Zealand for a long time. The formulary adopted by the Government is designed to avoid the abuses that have crept into the New Zealand scheme. I hope that a spirit of tolerance will prevail among the doctors and that they will soon realize their responsibilities and co-operate with the Government. They should be aware that their lack of cooperation is antagonizing the people. J commend the scheme to the medical profession and congratulate the Government on having removed from people’s minds the fear that long periods of illness will swallow up their savings in hospital fees and medical charges.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Holt) adjourned.
House adjourned at 12.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The information is being obtained and will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Royalties payable to the Administrations of the territories are as prescribed in the Timber Ordinance 1909-1920 of the Territory of Papua and the Forestry Ordinance 1936- 1937 of the Territory of New Guinea respectively.
n asked the Minister for External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s, questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following information : - 1. (a) 2nd July, .1946; (6) 25th August, 1940.
Tasmanian Shipping Services.
n. - On the 9th June, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) asked a question concerning the provisions of an additional freighter in the Victoria-Tasmania trade so that transport of cargo between Tasmania and the mainland will not suffer by the temporary suspension of Taroona’s itinerary because of the necessity to carry out the vessel’s annual overhaul. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel has supplied the following information : - 1 am happy to be able to assure the honorable member that adequate cargo tonnage is being arranged in the Melbourne-Tasmania service. It i.s realized, of course, that the total quantity of goods normally carried by Taroona itself is relatively small and that no purely cargo vessel could be expected to turn round as quickly as
Taroona. Nevertheless, the best possible service will be afforded during the expected brief absence of Taroona.
Civil Aviation: Payments to Mb. A. W. Coles and Mb. W. C. TAYLOR
– On the 3rd March, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) asked me a question concerning positions held by Messrs. A. W. Coles and W. C. Taylor in respect of certain airline bodies. The Minister for Civil Aviation has advised me as follows: -
Mr. A. W. Coles is chairman of the Australian National Airlines Commission (salary ?3,500 per annum), and Chairman of Directors of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (fees ?500 per annum).
Mr. W. C. Taylor is vicechairman of the Australian National Airlines Commission (salary ?500 per annum’), vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of Qantas Empire Aitways (fees ?300 per annum) and member of the Board of Directors of Tasman Empire Airways ( fees ?250 per annum ) .
In answer to the last part of the honorable member’s question the following information is furnished: -
As regards the visit to the United Kingdom and the United States of America by Mr. Coles from 22nd December, 1046, to 1st March, 1047, travelling and hotel expenses were approved on tho basis normally applicable to senior Com,monwealth officers required to proceed to those places on duty, vis: - (a) When travelling between places outside Australia £2 2s. sterling per day or 10 dollars in the United States of America or Canada, reduced to 10s. sterling or 2.60 dollars in the United States of America or Canada when the transport provided includes sustenance; (6) in the cities of tho United States of America and Canada, hotel expenses for normal accommodation and sustenance only, and excluding all charges for such items as refreshments, gratuities, papers, tobacco or laundry, plus an allowance of 7.S0 dollars per day; (o) in cities in the United Kingdom andother places, hotel accounts as above, plus £1 10s. sterling per day; and, in addition, the Treasury approved of the payment of a special entertainment allowance at the rate of 10 dollars per day whilst in the United States of America on this particular mission. On this basis the amount paid to Mr. Coles totalled £012 18s. 2d. and, as the trip was undertaken in his dual capacity of chairman, Australian National Airlines Commission and chairman, British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines Limited this amount was borne equally by the two organizations and the amounts paid by each organization ure included in the statement above. It will be observed that these are the only expenses paid to Mr. Coles by tile Airlines Commission.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 June 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19480611_reps_18_197/>.