18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER ‘‘Hon. J. S. Rosevear took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– An article appears in this morning’s Canberra Times under the heading “ Mr. Menzies attacks attitude of Dutch “. We aTe aware that the Leader of the Opposition is noted for sudden changes of attitude in many matters. In fairness fo the right honorable gentleman, will you, Mr. Speaker, give him an opportunity to explain where he stands on this particular matter?
– I do not think that the views of any honorable member are a subject for investigation by me.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Supply :incl Development whether any Commonwealth or State government priorities apply in respect of structural materials, such as steel beams for building, iron and .-tee) for concrete reinforcements, wire, bolts and nuts for transmission lines, galvanized iron for roofing, fencing wire, wire netting? If there are no government priorities, are there any trade priorities supported by various governments? If so, what are those priorities? If there are no priorities, have any governmental <>r trade quotas been fixed for each State; and, if so, on what basis and for what amounts, particularly in respect of cement galvanized iron, iron and fibro piping for irrigation purposes, fencing wire, wire netting, structural steel, bolts, nuts and screws?
– During the war period the Australian Government controlled the allocation of all the materials mentioned by the right honorable gentleman, but at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1945 or 1946, it was agree that the State governments themselves should agree upon a ba.ii.s of allocation of such materials as between the States, and that each State should control the allocation of its own quota. The list of materials subject to this limited measure of control is not very lengthy, and, later, I shall supply the details to the right honorable gentleman. For example, structural steel is not subject to any control whatsoever, hut reinforcement rods are subject to the limited form of control I have mentioned. I trust that I have made it clear that the Australian Government simply allocates materials subject to control upon a basis agreed upon by the States themselves and that each State allocates its own quota.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service what steps have been taken to settle the dispute which is disorganizing shipping and holding up the export of hides, skins and wool?
– The employees involved held a meeting yesterday at the Leichhardt Stadium, Sydney, when proposed terms of a settlement were placed before them. Unfortunately, they refused to accept the terms and. consequently, the ban still operates. At lunch-time yesterday, when I was informed of the decision of that meeting, 1 immediately contacted the Chief Conciliation Commissioner, Mr. Mooney, and asked him to arrange an early conference of the parties. The matter is now in his hands, and I trust that he will comply with my request.
– In view of the adverse comments that are being made in the press and elsewhere on the work that is being done on the waterfront, will the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether the delay in the turn-round of ships in the Port of Melbourne is often occasioned by an order from shipping companies to working gangs to “ take their time”? Can the Minister say why such orders are given? Is it a fact that gangs are not always transferred from ship to ship, although that is permitted by the rules of the Stevedoring Industry Commission, as, for instance, paragraph 7 (3) of Order No. 30 of 1948 ?
– I knew something of this matter some years ago, but it is now in the hands of the Stevedoring Industry Commission and the Minister for Shipping and Fuel. I shall ask the Minister to supply a detailed reply to the honorable member’s question.
– As the Treasurer, no doubt, is aware, there are living to-day in Australia a number of retired civil servants who are dependent upon pensions receivable from countries, such as Burma, which formerly were, but w< longer are, within the British Commonwealth. Those pensions are rigid, and cannot be varied to meer increases in the cost of living. Th” result is that the recipients arc t.o-d:i in a most difficult financial position. Will the Treasurer consider ways and means of granting a tax concession to those persons, even if it is only slight, in order to relieve their financial difficulties ?
– The solution of the matter which the honorable member has raised is difficult, because the recipients of the pensions .reside in Australia and are subject to the same tax liabilities in accordance with their income as other citizens of this country. The honorable member has suggested that as their pensions have not been increased in proportion to increases in the cost of living, some special tax concession should be granted to them. I remind him that persons who are in receipt; of income, other than pensions, from overseas are in a similar position. As the honorable gentleman knows, the act confers upon the Commissioner of Taxation a discretionary power to grant relief in cases of hardship.
I assume that the honorable gentleman has some particular instances in mind, and if lie will submit; to me one or two examples, I shall discuss the matter with the Commissioner of Taxation in order to determine whether the position of such persons can be alleviator] in any way.
– During the last sessional period the Parliament passed the Mental Institution Benefits Bill, which provided for the payment of the expenses of the inmates of mental institutions. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Health make representations to the Government of “New South Wales to amend the State Lunacy Act in order to enable the Mental Institution Benefits Act to be implemented in that State? At present, residents of ‘N7ew South Wales are not eligible for the benefits of the Commonwealth act.
– Last year, the Commonwealth propose.’! a plan to relieve the relatives and friends of inmates of mental institutions of the payments that they were making in respect of the patients. All the States accepter! the plan, but each State must implement it with legislation before the Commonwealth act can become effective within its borders. So far, South Australia is the only State that has passed the necessary legislation, and I expect that the Commonwealth will begin mak ing payments in respect of that State in the near future. The Government of New South’ Wales has intimated that similar legislation will be submitted to the Parliament of that State in March. I. hope that other States will follow suit.
– Many of my constituents, and, in fact, most country telephone subscribers, are suffering great inconvenience as the result of long delays in receiving telephone calls booked between country towns and Melbourne. Telephone operators, generally speaking, appear anxious to give speedy service but are without adequate equipment. It appears that an increase in the number of direct lines is required between country towns and Melbourne, and in this connexion I have received a petition signed by 103 subscribers of the Donald exchange for presentation to the Postmaster-General. Doe* the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral know that this difficulty exists, and will he tell me what action the department is taking to overcome the delays? Will he also hand the petition from the Donald subscribers to the Postmaster-General, and urge prompt action in the matter?
– I shall be very pleased to hand the petition from the residents of Donald to the PostmasterGeneral and acquaint him with the remarks of the. honorable member on the matter. I point out, however, that the honorable gentleman, in common with all other members of this Parliament, regularly receives statements from the Postmaster-General indicating what is being done in the provision of additional trunk-lines and also stating the difficulties that lie in the way of the PostmasterGeneral carrying out the full programme which the Government has sanctioned and which the department is anxious to execute at the earliest possible moment. The people of Donald will get. sympathetic and reasonable treatment, as will the residents of all other parts of Australia who want these additional facilities and who are now in a position to pay for them, thanks to the prosperity which this Government has created.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. t relates to the system of classification of applications for telephone services under which priorities, based on the essentiality and the nature of the business of the applicants, are allotted. Under this system I understand that primary producers are a 1 lotted priority No. 3, and are thereby pin in very much the same position as people of much less importance in the community such as, for instance, bookmakers. Will the Minister ask the Postmaster-General to consider a reclassification of such applications in such a way as to provide thai primary producers will be awarded priority No. 2 because of the essential character of their business? Such a priority should apply particularly to primary producers adjacent to the cities who suffer us the result of the present system
– The system under which the essentiality of the claims for telephone installation is determined, is a very old one. ft has been in operation for many years, and as a matter of fact T think it was determined by a Postmastergeneral who was a member of the Australian Country party.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister on the subject of financial assistance to universities, which w.is raised in this House some time before Christmas. T appreciate the fact that it is primarily a State matter, but i> has some national significance because of the efFect that financial difficulties are ‘having upon universities, particularly in connexion with their research activities. 1 ask the Prime Minister whether there have been any further developments in connexion with the suggestion that; the ‘Cm inn on wealth should grant further financial assistance to universities t h ro ugh o u t A u s t ra 1 i a .
– The Minister for I’n-i-war Reconstruction and I have given a great deal of consideration to the matter of granting additional assistance to UStraliam universities. On several occasions
I have received representations from various universities, particularly the University of Sydney. Recently I met a deputation consisting of the ViceChancellor and two members of the Senate of the University of Sydney, who presented to me a financial statement setting out (lie prospective liabilities of the university for the present financial year. Honorable members are aware, of course, that the Australian Government has given very substantial financial assistance to the universities, both in connexion with capital equipment, such as buildings, and also under the post-war reconstruction training scheme. The Government expected that, as the reconstruction training scheme drew to a conclusion, universities w011 ld find themselves in financial difficulties and therefore it intended to make an examination of their financial resources. Such an examination could be made, I. assume, only with the approval of the various State premiers and the vice-chancellors of the universities. The University of Melbourne receives a very much larger annual grant from the Victorian Government than the University of Sydney receives from the New South Wales Government. This Government proposed, subject to the consent that I have mentioned, to appoint a small committee, of three members at the most, to examine all the financial factors associated with university control and management. After that proposal had been made, I learned on very good authority that the Government of New South Wales had decided to make an examination of the position of the University of Sydney. I understand that that examination is still being made. The Australian Government does not propose to take any action until that examination has been completed, and then only with the consent of the interested parties. Subject to such consent, the Government intends to make a general examination of the finances of all Australian universities.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether there is any troth in London reports that the Australian Government is now insisting upon the production of birth certificates by person= who apply for the granting or renewal of Australian passports. If so, what is the purpose of that policy? Is it correct, as reported, that it is causing delay in the issue of passports, and much inconvenience and unnecessary cost to Australians who desire to obtain passports? Will the Minister give consideration to modifying this requirement in order to reduce the cost and inconvenience that it occasions?
– I do not admit that very great cost and very great inconvenience are caused by this requirement. We require applicants for passports who claim to be Australians to produce a birth certificate or some other evidence which proves that they are Australians. Under the recently enacted nationality and citizenship legislation we desire to know who are Australians and who are not Australians and who, being Australians, are entitled to the protection of the. Australian Government and Australian diplomatic representatives whilst abroad. All that is required is that an applicant for a passport shall produce a document of some validity or some evidence that he is of Australian birth.
– Would a previous passport be accepted ?
– Yes. If an applicant can produce evidence of that kind, he is given an Australian passport. I shall minimize the possibility of inconvenience being caused to people who cannot prove that they are Australians. There are some Australians who cultivate an accent that is not Australian and I suppose that my officers have some difficulty in deciding, at any rate on accents, whether certain ‘people are or are not Australians. What we want to know is who are the people who are entitled to protection by the Australian Government. That is the purpose of the requirement. The whole matter has arisen from the recently enacted legislation.
– Will the Minister modify the requirement?
– I will promise to minimize any inconvenience that may be caused I will not promise to modify anything, because I do not know the specific cases which the honorable gentleman has in mind. I promise to do my best, as usual, to serve the people.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether private airline companies which are utilizing space at Mascot Aerodrome for their business activities are taking advantage of the fact that, because they are on Commonwealth property, they are not liable to pay local government rates? Does the Australian Government charge rent to these companies? If rent is charged and the Australian Government is commercializing this land, will it pay to the appropriate local councils the taxes which would normally be levied on such land?
– I cannot say whether the Government is charging rent for properties that are occupied by certain people. The aero club at Mascot is provided with space and facilities free of charge. That is1 the normal practice throughout Australia.
– Aero clubs are nonprofitmaking concerns.
– Hangars and workshops, when workshops are situated on aerodromes, are made available to private companies so that they may do their work close to their aircraft. As » rule, the properties are leased. The leases are re-assessed from time to time by the Department of the Interior and charges are made in respect of them. There is no commercializing of airports in the sense of making profits from them. The Australian Government has made available approximately £12,000,000 of capital for the provision of airports and other facilities for the use of the people of Australia. It has made nothing at all from its activities in this connexion. Some of the companies to which the honorable gentleman has referred are refusing to pay the charges that have been laid down, whilst others are paying them. That matter will have to be settled legally. If there is any other information which the honorable member desires, I shall he happy to get it for him.
– Having regard to the legal aspects of the question which I addressed yesterday to the Minister for Civil Aviation with respect to the disappearance of certain Australian aircraft.
I ask the Attorney-General whether it is correct that Mr. S. V. Godden, of Sydney, the registered owner of one of the aircraft, has left Australia by air in the last two days, that is, since the department began its inquiries? As I pointed out previously, certain buyers have obtained permits from the Department of Civil Aviation to bring migrants to Australia and some -of those aircraft have not returned here. One of them is reported as having been sighted at Tel Aviv. Is it correct that Godden left this country without answering legitimate questions put to him by the Department of Civil Aviation about what had become of his aircraft? Because of the unsatisfactory features of this case, will the Attorney-General give urgent consideration to reviewing controls with a view to preventing the diversion of aircraft registered in Australia for engagement overseas in activities contrary to the policy of the British Commonwealth and the United Nations organizations, such as illicit arms traffic?
– The question whether an individual did or did not comply with aviation controls is a matter for the Minister for Civil Aviation. Should my colleague wish to discuss with me the legal or international aspects of the matter, I shall be pleased to arrange such a discussion, and, later, supply the information sought by the honorable member for Balaclava.
– I should like the Minister for Immigration to explain the position of the Queensland branch of the Shaftesbury Homes organization in relation to child migrants. I understand that the organization is complete in itself, and is a corporate body under letters patent from the Queensland Government, but that it cannot nominate immigrants to this country until the Minister for Immigration approves. As I understand that there are 500 migrants available to the Queensland branch of Shaftesbury Homes, why has the Minister not approved of this very worthy organization receiving them?
– The Shaftesbury
Homes organization has grown up only since the war ended. The Queensland Government is not satisfied that it can do the things that it undertakes to do. There are a number of organizations already in existence such as the Fairbridge Farm Scheme, the Big Brother Movement, Barnado Homes, and the Salvation Army Homes, which are quite capable of receiving all the child immigrants available in Great Britain. If we approve of the Shaftesbury Homes scheme, about which we are not quite happy at present, we shall be adding one more organization to the number already available to receive the children. As I have said several times in this chamber, fortunately the number of British children who were doubly orphaned as the result of aerial and submarine warfare was very small. We had expected 50,000; but it was found that the actual number was only about 3,600. The British Government quite rightly believes that those children have a particular claim on the affection and regard of the British people. Therefore they are not available for transfer to the Dominions. Children are arriving in limited numbers for the other bodies that I have mentioned, but, so far, not one organization has filled its accommodation completely. The application of the Shaftesbury Homes authorities is under consideration, but I dispute the claim that it has 500 children available. The Australian Government and not any particular private authority arranges the selection, medical examination, and transport of migrant children, and my officers who visited Brisbane with me three or four months ago consulted with the Shaftesbury Homes authorities. All 1 can say is that when the Queensland. Government is prepared to sanction the allocation of children to theShaftesbury Homes in Queensland the Australian Government -will give favorable consideration to co-operating in its. work.
– I understand that, in Tasmania, the Agricultural Bank is empowered to make loans to fanners for the erection of buildings on their properties to house their employees. The terms of those loans include repayment over a period of five years free of interest..
Would the Minister for Immigration consult with the Treasurer to ascertain whether it would be possible to arrange for loans to farmers who are prepared to erect homes on their properties to house immigrants, such loans, I suggest, to be repayable in ten years instead of the five years provided for under the Tasmanian procedure? I also suggest that such loans, like the Tasmanian loans, be free of interest.
– I shall be glad to consult with the Treasurer to see whether the Treasury or the Commonwealth Bank can do anything along the lines of the Tasmanian scheme. I take it from what the honorable gentleman says that under the Tasmanian arrangement loans are available to farmers free of interest and that he desires the Commonwealth to make similar interest-free loans available, but repayable in ten years instead of five. It is a very novel scheme, but I shall certainly discuss it with the Treasurer and I have no doubt that the (“firming community of Australia, if the Government decides to adopt the scheme, would be even more appreciative than ever of our efforts to help it.
– Will the Minister for Immigration table a statement showing the contracts made by him for the transportation and housing of the 100,000 displaced persons in Europe whom he claims that he will bring to Australia ? Will the Minister indicate to what extent the Australian Government has been committed by the contract which it made with a Scandinavian shipping firm ? Is the Minister a party to the use of vessels on the Panama register, which are known to the maritime unions as “scab” ships because they are not subject to the international code regulating shipping and do not pay award rates to the seamen employed on them? Have details of the contracts for the erection of buildings in Italy and also in Australia been submitted to the Public Works Committee? ff not, does the Minister intend to submit them to the committee for independent investigation and report?
– The honorable member is quite “ off the beam “. The Australian Government has made no contracts for housing migrants, nor has it entered into any contract for the provision of shipping for migrants. We make our contribution to the International Refugee Organization set up by the United Nations. All the other member States pay their contributions, and the organization itself charters the ships or arranges for shipping contractors in Europe to charter them, or make whatever arrangements are necessary for shipping to bring displaced persons to Australia. Some of the ships used are not chartered, but are lent by the United States of America Army Transport Department. Four such ships have come to Australia, General Heinzelman, General Sturgiss, General Stewart, and General Black. Most of the ships that have brought displaced persons to Australia have flown the British flag. The other day, I read in a newspaper that a very reputable firm in Sweden was chartering ships, but they were of various nationalities, and none of them, to” my knowledge, flew the Panamanian flag: This Government, unlike some bygone governments T could mention, does not encourage the use of “ scab “ labour-
– What does the Minister mean by that?
– I leave that to the honorable member’s imagination. I shall inform the honorable member for Reid of the amount of money we paid to the International Refugee Organization, and the amount spent in chartering ships to bring displaced persons to Australia, so far as I am able to get the information. When the displaced persons reach Australia, they are housed in army huts on Government property. To-day, we have accommodation for 15,000 persons. When the migrants leave the camps and go- into employment, they are housed by their employers. For instance, the 900 displaced persons employed in the sugar industry in Queensland were housed in cane-cutters’ barracks provided by the employers. I cannot tell the honorable member anything more.
Administration. Mr. G[ILLETT.- Is the Minister for External Affairs prepared to confirm the statement that I made in the House on Wednesday to the effect that the Council of Chiefs in Nauru, a mandated territory administered by the Australian Government, had petitioned the United Nations organization in the matter of maladministration of native affairs on that island by the Australian Government? If such a petition has been made by Nauru, has it reached the United Nations organization, or has it been sidetracked in any way by the Australian Government? Further, has the Minister any knowledge of a desire expressed by the Council of Chiefs in Nauru that that island, at present under mandate, should be reclassified as a colony under the British Crown? Is it a fact, as I have alleged, that complaints have been lodged with the Australian Government from Nauru Island, alleging maladministration, &c, and that no action has been taken by the Australian Government, to meet those complaints? Does the administration of Nauru Island come under the control of* the Minister for External Territories, and does the Minister for External Affairs himself have any administrative responsibility under this mandate < Does the Minister for External Affairs agree with the attitude of the Australian Government in connexion with this most unfortunate circumstance? Will the M inister lay on the table of the House all the correspondence between administrative officers in Nauru and the department in Australia? If this does not come within his department, will he arrange with the responsible Minister to table such papers?
– The administration of Nauru, so far as it is the responsibility of the Executive Government, falls within the jurisdiction of the Minister for External Territories, whose department is at the moment being administered by my colleague, the Minister for the Army, hut I can answer some of the questions raised by the honorable member. Nauru is under the administration of three governments, those of Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, as the honorable member himself pointed out recently. There have been complaints regarding certain matters that took place in Nauru, and these, I am informed by the Prime Minister, are being investigated by the Minister who is acting for the Minister for External Territories, in addition it is true. 1 understand, as the honorable member mentioned, that a petition ha? been sent recently to the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations by some of the native chiefs in Nauru, li will no doubt be considered by the Council in due course. Certainly there has been no attempt by the Australian Government to sidetrack any matter that has been placed in the proper manner before the Trusteeship Council. I have not covered all the points raised by the honorable member, but have dealt only with the matters of which I am personally aware. 1 shall ask my colleague, the Minister acting for the Minister for Externa! Territories, to give the honorable member fuller information next week.
Mr. BOWDEN Is the Prime Minis ter aware that wire netting, 42 in. by li in., IS gauge, can be landed in Australian ports from American sources ai a selling price not exceeding £6 per 100 yards roll? Will the right honorable gentleman arrange for supplies of thai netting to be made available to farmers and consumers free of customs duty? Can he say whether the Government ha.been advised by the American Industrial Research Foundation that it is prepared to supply, within a short time, 450,000 rolls of assorted 42-in. and 12-in. netting at a price not exceeding £1,060,000? Will he investigate that offer with a view to ensuring that users of wire netting in this country will not have to continue to” purchase wire at much greater cost? Will the Prime Minister also consider the immediate allocation of £100,000 for expenditure in the dollar area for the purpose that I have indicated ?
– I explained to honorable members the situation in regard to importation of wire netting only a few days ago. Although some developments may have occurred since, I have heard nothing of the offer mentioned by the honorable member. The inquiries which I made at the time showed that requests had been made by only two companies for permission to import wire netting from the dollar area. One com- pa ny quoted a price of £10 c.i.f. & e. per 10U yards roll, while the other company quoted a price of £12. Of course, the American netting is of inferior quality to the Australian wire netting because the wire is tinned before it is woven into mesh instead of being tinned after it has been woven, as is the case with Australian wire netting. I thought that I had made it clear to members of the Opposition, who have asked similar questions previously, that all applications made so far for the remission of duty on imported wire netting have been granted, and that a similar concession will be extended to any further applications, unless the landed cost of the wire is cheaper than the selling price of the local wire netting - which is not likely to be the case. The honorable member referred to the allocation of £100,000 to increase the quantity of netting available, but I point out that the amount mentioned was to be a quarterly allocation, and that it was intended to continue to make a similar allocation throughout the year. It was believed that the allocation of that amount would enable 5,000 tons of wire netting to be imported from America. In addition to that, I mentioned the other day that approximately 35,000 tons would also be available, apart altogether from the importation of the aluminium manganese wire to which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has previously referred. The price of aluminium manganese wire may, however, prove too expensive. I shall make inquiries for the honorable member and ascertain whether any serious offers to provide American wire netting have been received. When I made inquiries in the matter previously I found that one of the firms that have been indulging in a lot of propaganda concerning the need to import American wire is offering it only at a very high price.
Trusteeship of Pacific Islands. Mr. WHITE.- Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether the United States of America, has refused to put those of its island possessions which are situated above the Equator, and which were taken from the Japanese, into the care of the Trusteeship Council of the United
Nations? If so, what was the reason?’ Were the Admiralty Islands, which are administered by Australia under a League of Nations mandate, and former German. New Guinea handed over to the Trusteeship Council by Australia at the instance of the Minister for External Affairs? If that is so, can defence measures be legitimately taken now in the Admiralty Islands under the terms of the trusteeship ? Was the Australian attitude regarding Manus Island, one of the Admiralty group, in not permitting the United States of America to use the island as a base, influenced by the different attitudes of the United States of America and of Australia towards the Trusteeship Council?
– The honorable member’s question covers a considerable area, but I think I can explain the situation shortly. There are two types of trusteeship under the United Nations Charter. One is a general type of trusteeship, which applies to New Guinea in the case of Australia, and to Samoa in the case of New Zealand. There are also other examples. There is a second type of trusteeship, called a strategic trusteeship, in regard to which approval must be given, not by the General Assembly of the United Nations, but by the Security Council. Manus Island is part of the Admiralty group, which is an integral portion of the mandate assigned to Australia and continued as a trusteeship. It was specifically provided in the trusteeship agreement covering New Guinea and, therefore, covering Manus Island also, that Australia should be entitled to defend the area, including Manus Island. Thus, there is no limitation whatever on Australia’s rights in regard to Manus Island. The only difference between that type of trusteeship and the trusteeship that the United States of America has accepted in relation to the Japanese mandated territories, the Marianas and the other groups, the Marshalls and the Carolines, is that the Security Council approved of them in the case of the United States of America, and there are restrictions placed upon the action that can be taken there, such as inspection and the like, which may not be applied in the case of Manus Island, but broadly speaking the conditions are the same. Australia is free in connexion with Manus Island to develop a base for defensive purposes, and the United States of America is equally free in its strategic area. There has been no difference between the United States of America and Australia in relation to Manus Island. Last night I endeavoured to give the House an account of that matter. It has nothing to do with the matter of trusteeship. There was no refusal by Australia to the United States of America of the use of Manus Island, and if an emergency arose in the Pacific it would be found that the naval forces of the United States of America would use Manus Island, and that Australian naval forces could use American bases.
– Will the Prime Minister confer with the recently appointed Governor of the Commonwealth Bank with a view to having interest rates for home building reduced, in conformity with the legislation providing that the rate of interest for homebuilding loans should be the lowest possible?
– This is the Prime Minister’s chance to reply to a question briefly, with a simple “ Yes “.
– In compliance with the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition I say that the suggestion of the honorable member for Griffith will be considered.
– The Minister for External Affairs stated recently that the United States of America had never suggested that it should take over Mann.Island. How does the Minister reconcile that with the statement that he made en the 6th December, 1946—
– Order ! The Minister is not called, upon to reconcile at question time anything relating to something that he said on another occasion.
– I ask the Minister whether the statement that he made on the 6th December, 1946, to the effect that, the first formal communication from the United States of America in relation to
Manus Island was made on the 20th March, 1946, is correct.
– That question is in order.
– I am quite certain that any statement that I made of that kind was correct, and there has been no contradiction of it in anything that I have said since. The negotiations in relation to Manus Island continued for a considerable period after that time.
– But a formal request for the transfer of Manus Island was made in March, 1946.
– If the honorable member will give me the precise terms of the statement to which he has referred, T am quite sure that I can clear up any apparent ambiguity.
Distribution of Copy.rig.ht Fees.
– In the course of the debate on the Australian Broadcasting Bill last year the honorable member for Richmond drew attention to the small amounts of copyright fees that Australian composers had received for the use of their works by the Australian Broadcasting Commission during the year ended the 30th June, 1938. 1 promised the honorable member that I would ask the PostmasterGeneral to obtain up-to-date information concerning the distribution by the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited of fees collected from Australian broadcasting stations for the use of Australian compositions. In accordance with my undertaking, the Postmaster-General has obtained a complete statement from the association containing the desired information and explaining the principles on which the association works. With the consent of honorable members I shall incorporate the statement in Hansard. It reads as follows : -
Throughout the world the hundreds of thousands of copyright items that were played literally millions of times throughout the year, could not be protected even in the. case of any one item by any one author, composer or publisher, acting individually or jointly.
Hi. It lias recently been suggested, however, that although the Association did represent Australian writers, those writers did not share properly in the fees received by the Association for the use of music controlled by it as a trustee. To take the facts, however, an .in:! lysis- of the following figures will show how erroneous is such a criticism. Firstly, to take the a unit: ii t. of total distributable: i.e. net revenue in respect of Australian compositions (this total embracing composer, author and publisher shares), the following are the figures from 1040 up to date: -
IT. It must be emphasized that these totals do not include any special merit or other awards for local composition, but merely that amount which those compositions have earned by their total ratio of performance to the total of all music performed.
Mr. G. S. Cooper (Chairman) ; Managing Director of Boosey & Hawkes, (Aunt.) Pty Ltd.
Mr. Ernest Lashmar Manager for Australasia for Chappell & Co. Ltd.
Mr. Eugene Coossens ; Director of Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Mr. Frank Hutchens ; Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Mr. Robin Wood ; Department of Information and Programme Manager of Radio Australia.
The figures included in the statement clearly indicate the benefits which have been conferred on Australian composers by the incorporation in the Australian Broadcasting Act, on the recommendation of the Gibson broadcasting committee, of a provision requiring all stations to use Australian compositions for at least 2J- per cent, of the time devoted to the broadcasting of music. It will be observed that the amount of copyright fees paid for the broadcasting of Australian compositions grew from £1,220 in 1941-42, the year before that requirement was enforced, to £5,700 during 1946-47. In the course of his speech on the Australian Broadcasting Bill, the honorable member for Richmond also urged that legislation should be introduced to provide for compulsory arbitration between Australasian Performing Right Association Limited and the broadcasting authorities. In this connexion, I can only repeat what I said at the time. The Government will consider what .changes are necessary in our Copyright Act after it has had an opportunity to consider the recommendations of the International Copyright Conference which was held at Brussels last year.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs. I understand that a committee was recently established to inquire into the problem of crime and sex comics and other sex literature. Can the Minister give the House any information about the work of the committee? Has it yet met, and. if so, with what result?
– I shall be glad to convey the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Trade and Customs with a view to securing the information which she desires.
Medical Services - Rosemount Hospital
– The acute shortage of doctors in the Repatriation Department in Brisbane has resulted in serious delays in the investigation of claims by ex-servicemen for pensions and for treatment in relation to war disabilities. Recently, a deputation from the Legion of ex-Servicemen waited on the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation in Brisbane, and made a request for the provision of better facilities and for the appointment of additional medical officers so that the claims of ex-servicemen could be more quickly examined. The deputy commissioner stated, among other things, that applications from exservicemen relating to disabilities due to war service numbered 450 a month. In the repatriation office in Brisbane there is serious congestion with resultant inconvenience to ex-servicemen. Will theMinister for Repatriation look into this matter? If it is not possible for him to obtain the services of additional medical officers in Brisbane, will he ascertain whether it is possible to transfer medical officers from other States so that the delays will beminimized and the inconvenience caused to ex-servicemen in Queensland relieved?
– It is true that the Repatriation Department has experienced difficulty in keeping its medical staff upto strength to enable it to deal with the examination of ex-servicemen and with other matters relating to the administration of the department. The general shortage of medical men in the community is naturally felt by the Repatriation Department, which has had to meet the position as best it can. I do not know that I am able to promise to transfer doctors to Queensland from other States because the shortage of doctors exists in all States. I shall examine what the honorable member has said with respect to the position in Queensland to see whether anything can be done to meet the problem. However, I do not know that the position in that State is as bad as the honorable member has suggested.
– Can the Minister for Repatriation make a statement regarding the position at the Rosemount Repatriation Hospital, Brisbane, following the investigation made by Genera! Wootten on ‘behalf of the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board concerning accommodation at that institution? Has the promise made by the department to> make available certain wards for public patients at that institution been fulfilled, or has the department withdrawn it?
– At the request of the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board, the chairman of the Repatriation Commission made an investigation of the number of wards at the Rosemount
Repatriation Hospital that might be surplus to the requirements of the Repatriation Department. At the time that inquiry was made the Minister for Health asked my department to release a portion of the Rosemount Hospital to meet the requirements of his department. Having regard to the acute shortage of hospital beds in hospitals controlled by the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board, I have asked my colleague whether he considers that his department’s needs should be given priority over public requirements. I have asked him ‘to treat the matter as urgent, and I am now awaiting a reply from him. When I receive that reply I shall be able to finalize the matter.
– Has the Attorney-General examined in detail the ‘United States of America Subversive Activities Control Bill 1948, which contains certain provisions for the control of communism? If not, will he examine it with a view to ascertaining whether the enactment of a similar measure in Australia would provide more effective control of communistic activities in this country.
– The honorable member for Capricornia has placed a question on the notice-paper dealing with the matter which the honorable member for Maranoa has just raised. I am endeavouring to obtain a copy of the American bill to which he has referred. I do not think that it had passed either House of the United States Congress. I shall renew my efforts to obtain a copy of it.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received any representations from certain unions whose members are employed in. the Commonwealth Public Service for the repeal of section 66 of the Public Service Act which provides for the summary dismissal of any officer who directly foments or takes part in a strike? If so, what reply did the right honorable gentleman give to such representations? If he has not yet given any reply, will he give an undertaking that section 66 of the Public Service Act will not be repealed and thus refuse to meet this demand for the right to strike?
– Requests for the repeal of section 60 of the Public Service Act have been made over a number of years to this Government and to preceding governments, but so far as I recollect such requests have never been pressed very strongly, or conjointly, by Public Service organizations. I understand that from time to time certain stoppages have occurred but no particular action has been taken under the section mentioned. The Government has not given any consideration to the repeal of that section.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. Dedman) read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to give effect to the Government’s objective of fostering the shipping and shipbuilding industries in Australia. .The plans which have been developed and embodied in the bill are the result of long and careful consideration by the Government and will ensure that these industries are maintained and developed on sound lines.
The motive actuating the Government in bringing forward the bill is the necessity from the defence point of view to develop an efficient shipbuilding industry and maintain the industry at a level which will permit it to meet the country’s need for ships in peace-time and be capable of rapid expansion should future hostilities make this necessary, and maintain an adequate and efficient mercantile marine. Experience in the last war amply demonstrated the basic necessity of a shipping industry in time of war, and it will be agreed that the role of the mercantile marine in the defence of Australia and the British Commonwealth is hardly secondary even to that of the fighting services themselves.
Maintenance of key industries such as these is equally necessary for the sound development of this country in peace-time. I u particular, the absence of a substantial shipbuilding industry has been a notable deficiency in the heavy industries of Australia. The measures which the Government proposes, therefore, are essential for this country’s welfare, in both peace and war.
However, it is not any part of the Government’s plans to nationalize the shipping or the shipbuilding industries. Press reports, attributed to members of the Opposition, indicate that they intend to oppose this bill strongly on the ground that it is another instalment of socialism in this country. Press criticisms have also been made which suggest that the Government, by some sinister and undisclosed means, intends to bring about the nationalization of these industries in some indirect fashion. Very little has been said, however, of the benefits which have accrued from the Government’s activities in the shipping and shipbuilding fields. No reference has been made to the fact that during and since the war as a. result of the Government’s policy, the shipbuilding industry in this country has been materially developed. In fact, without the ships built in Australian yards, now operating on our coast, together with the vessels chartered by the Government from over. seas, the interstate carriage of goods today would be in a desperate position. If the so-called menace of socialism is the only ground on which this measure is opposed, then I can assure the Opposition here and now, that there is nothing in the bill which provides for or will permit the nationalization of shipping or the shipbuilding industry, nor has the Government any intention to do this by any indirect method. The bill has three objectives, and three objectives only: - First, to provide for the setting up of a Commonwealth line of ships; secondly, to provide for the maintenance of the shipbuilding industry ; and, thirdly, to provide for an adequate and efficient mercantile marine.
Any one who examines dispassionately the position of these industries before the war will be forced to admit that they
Mr. Dedman suffered from many weaknesses. The Australian coastal fleet was reasonably adequate to cater for the needs of the Australian trade, although some areas were insufficiently served by shipping services. The fleets, however, were in a large measure composed of relatively old and out-of-date ships. I am not criticizing the shipping companies on this account, as the position was doubtless in great measure a legacy of the depression years. Nevertheless, with the impact of war, our resources were quite inadequate to meet in full the demands which were made upon them. I do not wish to be misunderstood on this point. The private shipping companies co-operated during the war with the Government in the various wartime shipping controls which is was necessary to impose, and rendered very good service in assisting to maintain our sea-horne trade. The crews of the vessels did their part and, in fact, all those connected with the industry deserve praise for the part which they played during the war years. The fact, is, however, as I have indicated, that our resources in ships were insufficient to serve our war-time needs. Many of the ships were old a.nd were frequently immobilized for repairs, and the stage was approaching where even to meet the ordinary commercial needs on the coast, substantial replacements would have become necessary.
The shipbuilding industry, too, had been permitted to languish. It is true that several attempts to assist it were made by successive governments of the parties now in Opposition when they were in office, but the measures taken were quite inadequate and had no worthwhile effect in stimulating the shipbuilding industry. In any event, the damage had already been done, and the industry should never have been allowed to disintegrate. At the outbreak of the war, apart from the Cockatoo Dockyard, there were virtually no shipbuilding establishments in the Commonwealth, and the Government of the day was forced to make belated efforts, while Australia was actually engaged in hostilities, to re-establish this vital industry. Subsequently, the Labour Government continued to support the industry which now has reached worthwhile proportions and which, during
I lie war, rendered splendid assistance to the Allied cause by constructing large numbers of vessels for the Navy and other services, as well as merchant ships for the carriage of essential civilian cargoes. A commencement has also been made with the rehabilitation of the Australian coastal fleet and we now have in operation 25 merchant vessels built to the order of the Commonwealth during and since the war, as well as a number of ships which have been built in Australian yards on private account. The Government is determined to continue to assist, so far as lies within its power, in the building up of an efficient and modern fleet of vessels on the Australian coast, and is equally determined that the shipbuilding industry, which was re-established during the war, shall not be allowed to fall into decay as happened after the 1914-18 war, with the consequent dissipation of its resources and trained man-power. This measure will ensure that these objectives shall be carried out.
In order to achieve these ends, the Government in this bill provides for the setting up of an Australian Shipping Hoard clothed with the powers necessary to enable it to operate vessels on the Australian coast, between Australia and the Territories, and in the overseas trade. The board will have some powers of an advisory nature in regard to shipping and shipbuilding matters generally, but apart from these, its functions will relate solely to the operation of ships. It is to be given no powers whatever over the private shipping companies, and apart from the fact i hat it will be operating vessels in competition with the private lines, it will have no control over their operations.
The measures intended to foster the shipping and shipbuilding industries are contained in Parts III. and IV. of the hill. These measures provide that no /4-el exceeding 200 tons may be built in Australia except under a licence granted by the Minister, and, further that no vessel exceeding 200 tons may engage in trade on the coast except under licence, such licence being granted if the ship is 1 1 than 24 years old and was built in an Australian shipyard. The licence to trade, it should be noted, is automatic ami is granted on application if the vessel in respect of which a licence is sought complies with the conditions laid down. Provision is made for existing vessels to continue operating. The effect of these latter provisions will be that in future, subject to certain exceptions, all vessels for the Australian coastal trade will be built in Australian shipyards, thus providing a market for the output of those yards. The market will be a continuing one as vessels will not be permitted to trade after they reach the age of 24 years, which is the period generally regarded as representing the limit of the useful life of a ship. This provision will also ensure that the coastal fleet shall be kept in a reasonably up-to-date condition and shall not he composed of large numbers of obsolescent vessels.
The provision regarding licensing of shipbuilding will enable a planned programme of buildings to be embarked upon with those vessels which are most urgently needed being built first, and orders spread both among the different yards and over a period of years. This will avoid the undesirable position arising of excess orders being placed in the early stages during the present period of high demand for ships, followed later by a falling off in orders, with a consequent slump in the industry. The procedure, it is true, will mean that, for the time being, replacement of some over-age ships will be deferred, and existing vessels continued in the coastal trade until the lag can be overtaken by new construction. In the interests of a stable shipbuilding industry, however, this deferment for a time of replacements is considered to be fully justified.
The Government proposes also to assist the shipbuilding industry financially. Various means of doing this, as for example, by payment of bounties and protection by means of a tariff, were considered, but were found to have some disadvantages. The bounty or subsidy method is rather inflexible, and tariff protection, in addition to having proved inadequate in the past, would have the effect of increasing the cost of vessels to the Australian shipping companies, and, consequently, would lead to rises in freights. The bill, therefore, provides that the Minister may buy ships, and sell ships, and it is proposed that vessels will be ordered by the Commonwealth and when constructed will be cold to the private shipping companies at a lower price than their cost to the Commonwealth, the difference in cost representing the financial assistance provided by the Government.
The companies wishing to order ships will, therefore, in the first instance approach the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, and after their requirements have been determined, orders will be placed for the vessels, which on completion will, as I have stated, be resold to the company. It is intended that the vessels will be sold to the private companies at a price approximately equivalent to the cost of similar vessels if they had been built in a British shipyard, with a proviso that the amount of subsidy shall not exceed 25 per cent, of the Australian cost of the ship. This method of providing financial assistance, it is considered, will meet present needs. Lt will give the necessary degree of flexibility, enable the subsidy to be varied as necessary in accordance with such factors, for example, as variations in the costs of (ships built in the United Kingdom, and also permit of variations as Australian shipyards gain further experience and are able to reduce their costs of construction. No disadvantage to the shipping companies will result, as they will be enabled to buy vessels at approximately the same cost as they would pay had they followed the usual practice of the past and had their vessels built in a United Kingdom shipyard.
It is hoped that .as experience is gained by the management and staffs of the Australian yards, the disparity in costs between Australian and British yard will be reduced, and every effort will be made to achieve this result. There is no reason why ultimately Australian costs should be significantly higher than British costs. The yards will he encouraged to install modern efficient equipment, and as the supply of materials and labour improves, the Australian yards should be able to compete on level terms with overseas shipbuilders. As a further means of reducing costs, it is intended that some degree of standardization will be introduced, and vessels built in Australian yards will, as far as is possible consistent with the needs of the shipping industry, be confined to a relatively small number of standard types. It is essential, of course, that vessels be designed and fitted to suit the trades in which they are to engage, and the extent of the standardization which it is hoped to achieve will not prevent vessels from being fitted out in accordance with the particular needs of the various companies.
The above four matters, namely, the establishing of the Commonwealth line, the licensing of shipbuilding, the requirement that ships trading on the coast shall be built in Australia and replaced as they reach the age of 24 years, . and the granting of financial assistance are the basic provisions of the bill. In addition to those, of course, the bill contains a number of detailed provisions. The Commonwealth line will be operated by an Australian Shipping Board which will consist of five members charged with the duties and obligations imposed upon it by the bill and vested with the necessary powers and functions to carry out those tasks. Provision is made for the payment of members, leave of absence, delegation of powers, &c. The board will be given the power to operate shipping services within Australia, between Australia and the territories, and between Australia and overseas countries, and to carry out the necessary incidental business of a shipowner in relation to shipping services established, by it. The board may, subject to the Minister’s approval, purchase or charter ships and dispose of any ship owned by it, purchase or lease and dispose of land, buildings and wharfs and purchase «r hire and dispose of equipment or stocks necessary for the operation of its vessels. It may subcharter shins and may appoint agents or act as agents for shipowners. It is expected that the board will continue to carry apprentices on its vessels and therefore it will be empowered, to train or arrange for the training of seamen. It will also be responsible for advising the Minister as to the basic design of ships to be constructed in Australia and regarding any action necessary to maintain and develop the shipping and shipbuilding industries. As I have indicated previously, the.=e are purely advisory functions and will give the board no powers in regard to the operations of the private shipping companies.
The basis of the board’s fleet will be the vessels which have been built to the order of the Australian Government. The board will be vested with the property in those ships and also with other property of the board that was set >up under the National Security Regulations and has been responsible for the operation of these vessels during and since the war. Finally, the board will be enabled to appoint a staff on both a permanent and a temporary basis. The general terms and conditions under which appointments will be made will be subject to the approval of the Public Service Board. That provision will ensure that the terms of employment shall he in line with those of the Commonwealth Public Service and. other government authorities. Seamen and officers on the board’s ships will be engaged on a temporary basis in the same manner as applies throughout the shipping industry at the present time, but it is hoped that it will be possible at a later date for the hoard to engage officers and seamen on some less temporary basis.
With regard to finances, the board may borrow money on overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank, and advances may also be made by the Treasurer. No other borrowing will be permitted, except with the consent of the Treasurer. The usual provisions will apply regarding bank accounts, the application of moneys, and the keeping of accounts which will be subject to audit by the Auditor-General. The board will be subject to taxation, other than income tax, under the laws of the Commonwealth, but will not be subject to any State taxation law to which the Commonwealth is not subject. Provision has also been made for the application of profits made by the board. The hoard will he charged with the duty of issuing an annual report, together with financial accounts, which will be tabled in the Parliament.
I have already dealt with the licensing provisions of the bill, which are designed to protect and develop the shipping and shipbuilding industries, and I have indicated that exceptions will be permitted to meet special cases. The provisions relating to exemptions may be used to permit the importation of vessels from overseas, for example, if a vessel should be needed urgently for a particular trade or if a vessel of a type cannot be built in an Australian yard should be required. Exceptions under this heading, it is expected, will be few in number and the necessity for such exceptions will disappear as Australian shipyards gain the necessary experience in building the larger class of vessels. It is hoped that eventually the Australian industry will be able to construct all types of ships, including even such specialized vessels as passenger liners, tankers and whaling ships. Provision is made that vessels already trading on the coast may continue to do so until they can be replaced by Australian-built ships. As long as the present shipping position prevails it will be necessary to continue licensing vessels over 24 years of age until Australian yards can cope with the volume of work involved in .replacing over-age ships and those lost during the war. As a corollary to the licensing provisions, the Minister will be empowered to prevent the transfer of vessels from the Australian registry and the mortgage of ships or shares in ships to persons resident outside Australia.
Part IV. of the bill, in addition to containing the provision for the purchase and re-sa.le of ships by the Minister to which I have already referred, contains a number of miscellaneous provisions principally of a machinery nature relating to procedure in the case of actions against the board, the preservation of awards of the Arbitration Court, the application of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act and the Seamen’s Compensation Act to the board’s employees, and the making of regulations. The schedule lists a number of acts which have some application to the activities of private shipping companies. It is provided that these acts shall apply in like manner to the Australian Shipping Board, which will thus be placed in the same position as a private company as far as the requirements of the relevant provisions of those acts are concerned.
I trust that, having studied the provisions of the bill, honorable members on both sides of the House will realize the substantial benefits that will accrue to the
Commonwealth from the measure, and that therefore it will receive support from both sides of the House. Benefits to which I have referred should be fairly obvious, but I shall mention the principal advantages that will accrue from the bill. The establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers to operate on the coast will assist in maintaining the movement of cargoes which, without the activities of the Commonwealth in the shipping field, could not be covered at the present time. I mention in particular the assistance which has been given by the Commonwealthowned and chartered ships in the carriage of essential iron and steel products from Newcastle and Port Kembla to States that do not produce those materials, the lifting of coal and ironstone, the carriage of sugar from Queensland ports, and the assistance which has been given by Commonwealth vessels to areas that would not otherwise, be adequately served, notably in the north-west of Western Australia and Tasmania. In order to operate those services, it has been necessary for the Commonwealth to charter vessels to augment the vessels of the Australian coastal fleet. Those vessels, whilst they are not altogether suited for the Australian trade and are uneconomical to operate on the coast on account of their size, are the only vessels for which charters can be secured. The Government, therefore, has chartered the ships in the general interests of the Commonwealth and has operated them, although such operation is not financially profitable. “Without them, the Commonwealth’s requirements for the carriage of essentia] cargoes could not be met, and these charters will be continued in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole as long as they are necessary, in spite of the financial loss which results from their operation. The chartered vessels will gradually be replaced with Commonwealthbuilt ships, run either by the Commonwealth line or by the private shipping companies.
The existence of the Commonwealth line will enable the Government to provide shipping services to areas that have not previously been adequately served or that, may need additional services for developmental purposes. Vessels of the Commonwealth line may also be used if necessary, where they can assist in the policy of decentralization which has been agreed upon between the Commonwealth and the States. The use of ships in trading of this nature is not financially attractive in the early stages, and private interests are often reluctant to provide ships for such purposes. The Government does not intend that financial considerations alone shall prevent shipping services from being provided where it can be shown that they are necessary, and provision is therefore made in the bill that the Minister may direct the board to establish a service where such a course is necessary to serve the requirements of a particular area and is desirable in the public interest. Special provision is made for the financing of such services. It may be expected also that, the presence of Commonwealth vessels on the coast, will provide the stimulus of competition with the private companies and will have the effect of evoking an improved service, and of preventing freights from vising to an unduly high level.
At a later stage when the coastal trade permits, it is proposed that Commonwealth vessels shall also engage in the overseas trades. Since the previous Commonwealth line was disposed of, there has been very little activity by Australian companies in overseas shipping services, and it is regarded as necessary and desirable from the point of view of the welfare of the Commonwealth that Australia, which is dependent upon seaborne trade for the carriage of its imports and exports, should have its own vessels engaged in carrying a reasonable proportion of those cargoes. Private shipping companies in Australia are evidently unable to undertake the operation of vessels in overseas trade to any great degree, and the Commonwealth line will eventually fill that gap. The competition of a government line in the overseas trade will have beneficial results in keeping down freight charges, both on exports of Australia’s primary products and on the import of goods from overseas. Moreover, this country will have some control over its own destiny in this sphere instead of being entirely dependent on overseas interests for the carriage of its sea-borne trade. I have already mentioned the important defence aspect of maintaining a mercantile marine and a shipbuilding industry. If these industries are to play their full part in war, they must be maintained during the years of peace. The Government regards this matter as being of the greatest importance and considers that the maintenance of industries which are of such importance to the defence of Australian cannot be left entirely to private enterprise.
Criticism of the Government’s intention to proceed with this bill has already become manifest. I am .aware that the Government will be charged with embarking upon .another socialistic experiment to the detriment of the nation in general and the taxpayer in particular. The Government, however, offers no apologies for this measure. The experience of the former Commonwealth line will doubtless be extensively canvassed as an example of what may be expected on this occasion, and all the old criticisms, most of them ill-informed, will be revived. It is true that losses were shown by the previous Commonwealth line in its later years, but in the early years of its existence substantial profits were made. At the time when the line showed a loss, its experience was no different from that of the private shipping companies, and any losses that were incurred were due not to the fact that the line was a Government enterprise but to world-wide economic conditions and a. slump in the shipping industry generally. In fact, the company to which the remaining vessels of the line were sold, at a ridiculously low figure, itself went bankrupt. The Commonwealth is still owed a substantial sum of money for the vessels of the old Commonwealth line. Other factors which operated to the detriment of the line were unfair criticism in the press, which tended to undermine public confidence, and the announced intention of the Government of the day that the line would be sold, which naturally made regular shippers hesitant to continue patronizing it. The Commonwealth line was forced to operate with a fleet which was composed mainly of old and outofdate ships which were quite unsuitable for the trade in which they were engaged. Critics of the line ignore the substantial indirect benefits which accrued to the Commonwealth, particularly the savings
in freight on exports of primary products that resulted from its operations in competition with private shipping companies. The establishment of the Commonwealth line, therefore, will contribute towards strengthening the defence potential of the Commonwealth. It will provide the stimulus of competition in the coastal trade, with a consequent effect on freights. It will enable services to be provided for areas which hitherto have not been adequately served. At a later stage it will provide Australian ships for overseas trade, to the benefit of Australian importers and exporters. The new line will commence its operations under more favorable auspices than did the previous line. It will have new vessels, which will be suitable for the trade in which they will he engaged, and it will have the advantage of the experience which was gained in the operation of vessels during the war years. Cargo offering around the Australian coast is sufficient, to enable both the Commonwealth line and the private companies to operate with full ships, and some increase of the total number of vessels on the coast would appear to be necessary to enable all the cargoes offering to be adequately catered for. As to the financial results of the line, I have indicated that chartered ships are not financially profitable. While these are retained, losses will result from their operation. In due course they will be replaced by Australian-built tonnage. It is confidently expected that the financial results will be favorable when the Australian Shipping Board is properly established and is able to operate entirely with its own ships.
The arguments in favour of encouraging the shipbuilding industry are equally strong. Shipbuilding is- not only a key heavy industry, which can play an important part in the Commonwealth’s industrial economy in time of peace, but it is also an industry which is of the highest priority in time of war. In order that the industry may play its full part in assisting the war potential of the Commonwealth, it is essential that it should be maintained in a flourishing state during the years of peace. Should an emergency occur, the industry could be immediately switched over to a wartime footing, instead of having to be established during war-time, as happened when war broke out with consequent difficulties of securing and training manpower and providing the necessary machinery and equipment at a time when the resources of the nation were strained in other directions as a, result of the war. It may be argued that the Government’s proposals will give a monopoly of shipbuilding to Australian yards. That may be so, but it is by no means a new phenomenon in Australian industry. Similar conditions have been created in other industries by means of tariff protection, which has prevented overseas competition and given a practical monopoly to a number of Australian industries.
I do not think that any honorable member would object to the principle of protecting an Australian industry, whether by means of a tariff or otherwise. Furthermore, Australian shipyards will compete among themselves, and this should ensure that costs w 11 be kept down to a reasonable level. It is hoped that as yards gain more experience and current difficulties of securing materials and manpower are remedied, substantial savings in costs will result. Costs of construction in Australian yards are higher than in the United Kingdom but they are lower than those applying in many overseas countries, notably in Canada and the United States.
It may also be argued that, with the present need to replace lost and over-age vessels, coupled with the general shipping position in Australia and the fact that it is necessary to charter vessels from overseas, imports of ships should be permitted to enable the lee-way to be made up. It is true that it may take the local industry a number of years, possibly as long as ten years, completely to overtake the lag. In the meantime, however, licences will be given to existing ships to continue to trade after they have reached the. age of 24 years and, if necessary, the Commonwealth will continue to charter overseas ships. The needs of the Australian shipping industry, regarded on a long-term basis, are just sufficient to enable the yards to operate on an economical basis. Every ship imported from overseas, of course, means one fewer ship to be built in Australia. From the longterm point of view, therefore, it is necessary that as high a proportion as possible of shipbuilding be retained for the Australian shipyards. It is also necessary that building should be spread to prevent an excess of activity in the early years followed by a slump, and also to provide a more even spreading of age groups of vessels operating on the coast. The private shipping companies will be placed at no disadvantage as a result of the present measure, as the proposals for financial assistance to the industry will ensure that they will secure their ships at approximately the same price as they would pay if they purchased them from United Kingdom yards. The shipping companies will be given every opportunity to place orders in Australia for their requirements. If the yards are fully occupied with orders from private companies, the Government will refrain from placing orders with them to an undue degree. The Government considers that its objective of fostering the shipping and shipbuilding industries is essential for the well-being of the Commonwealth, and ‘ ‘believes that this measure will enable these objectives to be achieved. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. McDonald) adjourned.
House adjourned at 11.58 a.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Mr. Norman Mighell.
n asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– I am having inquiries made and will supply the honorable member with the information he desires as early as possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 February 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19490218_reps_18_201/>.