18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) rook the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, -at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– Has the Minister for Immigration seen a report in last night’s Melbourne Herald in which that newspaper’s London correspondent, Trevor Smith, said that Australia’s hopes .of large-scale migration from Britain, even on a long-term basis, appear to be dashed because of shipping difficulties? Will the Minister advise the House whether the shipping position is as serious as the report to which I have referred suggests, and whether there is any foundation for this pessimistic forecast?
– I have not seen the statement attributed to Mr. Trevor Smith, but I do know that that gentleman is a very dismal prophet about the availability of shipping for immigration. We have very much more shipping available than, from time to time, Mr. Smith forecast would be available. In 1947 the Government brought 30,000 immigrants to Australia in the shipping available and in 1948 it brought 70,000 immigrants here. This year it will bring 110,000 immigrants to the country, of whom 70,000 will be British people who are anxious to come to Australia. I cannot say why this “ Dismal Desmond “ should always be saying that we shall not obtain i his or that amount of shipping to bring immigrants to Australia.
– He paid a very nice tribute to the Minister.
– If he did so, it was well deserved, although I have to overcome my natural modesty to say so. 1 can assure the honorable member for Martin that I shall examine the Melbourne Herald report,’ and if I can improve Mr. Trevor Smith’s outlook by making him less of a pessimist and more of an optimist, I shall be very happy to do so, because I should like his help., as well as the help of every one else who may be able to assist us to get the right atmosphere that we want in this important matter of increasing our population.
– As the Minister for Immigration is aware, ships frequently arrive at the port of Melbourne carrying migrants bound for other States, such as New South Wales and Queensland. Will the Minister give consideration to the desirability of advertising the arrival of these vessels so that the public of Victoria may have an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to new arrivals who may be obliged to spend a day or two in Melbourne before proceeding to their final destination? This was done in connexion with, the arrival of Ranchi The migrants carried away with them not only a most favorable impression of Australian hospitality but also happy memories of their first contact with the land of their adoption.
– Ranchi was held up in Melbourne because of some trouble a week or so ago, and the people of the metropolis of Victoria responded magnificently to the appeal of the State migration authorities to give hospitality to the new arrivals. Not only did many people take the British migrants into their homes hut they also took them sightseeing and did everything possible for them. I believe indeed that there were so many offers of hospitality that there were not enough migrants to be taken care of. I expressed appreciation of what the Victorian people did for the new arrivals. I shall see what can be done by_ the Common wealth Deparment of Immigration to announce the arrival of vessels so that if any stoppage should occur in
Melbourne or if any ship is delayed for a lengthy period the people of Victoria will be able to help as they did on the occasion to which I have referred. I do not know whether the newspapers reported my expressions of appreciation but 1 did express them and they were well deserved.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration to state the policy of his department in respect of wives and families of displaced persons who have immigrated to this country. Is anything being done to bring such families to Australia? Does the department take any precaution when selecting displaced persons for immigration to ensure that their wives and families also shall be eligible to come to Australia? Is it possible that we are bringing to this country displaced persons whose dependants may not be regarded as eligible for immigration to Australia because of their -tate of health or other circumstances?
– There are two classes of married displaced persons immigrating to this country. First, there are married men who prefer to come here ahead of their families on a promise that, within six months of their arrival, the Australian Government will embark their dependants for Australia. Secondly, there are married displaced persons who will not travel without their dependants. Many married men in the first category came to Australia with single persons of both sexes in the first few months of the operation of the displaced persons immigration scheme. The average age of immigrants who arrived on the first four immigrant ships, each of which carried approximately 8S5 persons, was only 25 years. Those immigrants were of great value in the production of essential materials in this country because they could all be put to work. We have now decided not only to bring to this country the dependants of immigrants already here, and to ‘house them in camps such as those at Cowra and Uranquinty, in New South Wales, Tatura in Victoria, Northam in Western Australia, and Brighton in Tasmania, but also to embark whole families, the fathers of which would not travel without their dependants. That is being done now. I have no doubt that in the 33,000 displaced persons who will embark for Australia in the first six months of this year at Genoa or Bremerhaven, there will be many dependants of immigrants already here, and many family units in the second category that I have mentioned. Probably by the end of this year all persons who have already immigrated to this country will have their immediate dependants also in Australia. Ii may not be possible to have entire families settled in one town or in one area of employment, hut at least, all the original immigrants will know that their dependants have arrived in Australia, and that they need no longer fear what may happen to them should further trouble occur in Europe. The honorable member has mentioned persons who may not be medically fit to come to Australia. I shall examine that matter further and inform the honorable member of the result of any. decisions reached.’ Generally speaking, any person can come to Australia provided that he or she will not be a charge on the public funds, and provided also of course that he or she is not a sufferer from some infectious or contagious disease. We are acting as humanely and generously as possible, and I can assure the honorable member that, we are doing our utmost to reunite displaced persons already in this country with the families that they left behind.
Statement by Mk. L. L. SHARKEY - Allegations by Me. T. C. McGillick.
– Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity over the week-end to study a published statement that was made by Mr. L. L. Sharkey, the general secretary of the Australian Communist party? In it Mr. Sharkey is reported to have said -
If Soviet forces, hi pursuit of aggressors, entered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them . . .
Is this statement on similar lines to statements published by Communist spokesmen in other parts of the world in the course of last week? Do those statements coincide with renewed activity in Communist propaganda and agitation in Asiatic countries? Has the Government any information in its possession that would suggest that these are a part of a concerted and Moscow-inspired plan? What action does the Government propose to take in relation to the reported statement by Mr. Sharkey? Will it consider referring to the newly-appointed DirectorGeneral of Security, Mr. Justice Reed, the question of the significance of these developments in Australia in relation to the international developments to which 1 have referred?
– I have not seen the full statement referred to by the honorable member, but my attention has been drawn to that portion of it in which Mr. Sharkey is reported to have said that if Soviet troops entered Australia in pursuit of an aggressor - I do not know precisely what that means - they would have the support of the Communist party. Of course I treat all newspaper reports with some suspicion because they are frequently not accurate. The Acting Attorney-General returned to Canberra to-day, and I have asked him to have the matter examined to see precisely what was said and whether anything said was treacherous or treasonable. In reply to the latter part of the honorable gentleman’s question, I have seen reports of statements made in other countries by Communist leaders. They seem to run along the same lines as the remarks alleged to have been made bv Mr. Sharkey. I am not able to vouch for the accuracy of the newspaper reports of statements made by Communist leaders in other countries, ‘but all the reports have similarity. I cannot say whether Mr. Sharkey’s statements were Moscowinspired, or, as the honorable member said, concerted. I would not be aware of that. I am not in the confidence of the authorities in Moscow on what may be inspired by them or otherwise.
– What about the local Communists?
– I am not in the confidence of the local Communists, either. That privilege seems to be reserved for Opposition members. I have asked the Acting Attorney-General to have the matter investigated.
– Will the Prime Minister authorize the security authorities to investigate the statement reported in the Melbourne press on the 1st March to have been made by Mr. T. C. McGillick, former member of the Communist party, that-
Under the cloak of Labour many Communists had entered the Parliaments of Australia and would be lined up with the Communist party when and if the time came for them to show their true colours.
Will the right honorable gentleman cause an investigation to be made in order to ascertain which members of the Australian Parliaments come within that category, and will he take immediate steps publicly to unmask their activities?
– Some irresponsible person has apparently made a statement, which has been seized upon by the press, in which it is suggested that some members of the Australian Labour party are members of the Communist party. I have pointed out in this House on numerous occasions that the constitution of the Australian Labour party prevents any member of any other political party from joining the Australian Labour party. I do not think that any one would question the effectiveness of the screening made by the Australian Labour party of persons who are selected to represent the Labour movement. I do not propose to cause an investigation to be made into such an irresponsible statement as that referred to by the honorable member.
– Some time ago 1 drew the attention of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to the fact that throughout Australia there are many post offices that give no indication whatever of the names under which they operate. This causes inconvenience to travellers and others. Did the Minister draw the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the desirability of having names affixed to such post offices, and, if so. what was the Minister’s reply ?
– I remember that the honorable gentleman raised this matter in the House and that I promised that I would refer his observations to the PostmasterGeneral and ask for a reply. If the honorable gentleman has not yet received a reply, I shall make a further inquiry and I assure him that he will get one on this occasion.
– I ask the Prime Minister what justification there was for the appointment of Mr. Dunphy, of the Western Australian Arbitration Court, as a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, thereby increasing its strength to five when the court, under the so-called streamlined arbitration system, no longer makes awards but deals only with points of law, standard hours and the basic wage. Is it expected that the new judge will be gainfully employed?
– The Government considered that there was ample justification for the appointment of an additional judge to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. As the honorable member is well aware, the chief judge of the court, Chief Judge Drake-Brockman, has been ill for a considerable time and is still very unwell. I hope that he will make a speedy recovery, but my hopes may not be realized. In addition, Mr. Justice Kirby is chairman of the Stevedoring Industry Commission, a position that naturally occupies a great deal of his time. He has a very involved and difficult task to perform in that capacity. The court is at present dealing with a basic wage case, and I do not know how long that will continue. Another matter which will probably have to be dealt with at a later stage is the determination of women’s minimum rates of pay, although I understand that an endeavour is being made to have it dealt with in conjunction with the basic wage case. Should one of the judges at present constituting the court fall ill or be absent for any other reason, it would not be possible for the Full Court to be constituted. There would not be enough judges available. In all the circumstances, and in view of the importance of preventing any delay in dealing with matters, such as the basic wage case, that require the attention of the Full Court, the Government considers that there was ample justification for the appointment of an additional judge.
– In the absence of the Attorney-General, I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I have here a protest signed by a large number of residents of the Balaclava electorate who claim, among other things, that, through extensive black marketing in flats and houses, such properties are being let or sold to foreigners of short residence in Australia while many children, including the families of ex-servicemen, have been born and brought up in crowded conditions in apartments of only one or two rooms., The parents see little prospect for the future welfare of such children and they ask for a fair and equal chance to lease or purchase flats and houses. The press has stated that the Director of the Commonwealth Legal Service Bureau is to conduct an inquiry into the letting of certain flats in Sydney as the result of a protest from the Air Force Association. Will the Prime Minister extend the scope of that inquiry to cover the matters complained of in the petition that I have received?
– I have not seen the press statement mentioned by the honorable member. As he knows, control of the sale of property and of rents has been passed over to the State authorities except that protection has been retained for ex-servicemen under Commonwealth regulations that were promulgated for that purpose. I assume that the honorable member’s question refers particularly to ex-servicemen and their families. I had thought that their rights were being adequately guarded by the existing regulations. However, there may be some abuses of those provisions. The Government made it clear to the State Premiers when it handed control of land sales and rents to them, that it considered that it had a special responsibility to exservicemen. We shall continue to exercise that jurisdiction. If the honorable member will provide me with details of the matter he has mentioned, I shall ask the Attorney-General to widen the scope of any investigation that is being made.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the striking graph published in the latest report of the Public Service Board, which shows the growth of the Commonwealth Public Service? In view of the great interest of the people generally in the percentages of population employed on farms, in industry, and so on, will the right honorable gentleman discuss with the Acting Commonwealth Statistician the preparation of a graph which will show this information at a glance ?
– I studied the report of the Public Service Board before I tabled it in the Parliament. I shall discuss with the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Carver, the possibility of producing a short pamphlet or an article along the lines of the Public Service Board’s report, which will contain the information desired by the right honorable gentleman.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture able to indicate when the 24,000 tons of plain wire and wire netting for which import licences have been issued, will arrive in Australia from Western Europe ? Will the wire be distributed on a State quota system in proportion to the present quota system?
– I am unable to state the date of the expected arrival of the wire and wire netting which has been ordered overseas by various importers. The date of arrival will be entirely dependent on the date on which orders were lodged and on the ability of the importers to obtain the requisite shipping space. I shall endeavour to obtain the information which the honorable gentleman seeks. In regard to the second part of the question, the Australian Government does not control the distribution of imported wire or wire netting. That is done by the importers. The Government co-operate3 with manufacturers in Australia ‘ to ensure that locally made wire is distributed equitably to the States.
– I address a question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture relative to the negotiations in Washington for the conclusion of an international wheat agreement. Did the Australian Wheat Growers Federation ask the Government to be permitted to send . a representative to Washington to accompany the Government negotiators? Is the honorable gentleman aware that the Canadian Farmers Federation and the United States National Farmers Union each has at Washington an observer and an adviser to assist the governmental delegations? In that way they hope to ensure that the interests of the wheatgrowers of Canada and the United States will be protected during the negotiations. Finally, after the Australian Government had refused to permit a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation to accompany the Australian delegation, did that body inform the Government that it was prepared to send a representative at its own expense? If so, was that offer refused ?
– The general secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, Mr. Stott, M.H.A., of South Australia, did ask the Government to approve of the federation sending a representative to the international wheat conference at Washington, but the Government would have had to hear all his expenses and accredit him as a member of the Australian delegation. On behalf of the Government I informed Mr. Stott that, since the conference was to be conducted on a government-to-government basis and the representatives of the various governments were the only delegates who would be able to speak with authority, as was the case at the last conference, this Government was not prepared to pay the expenses of a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. I point out that even had the Government acceded to that request, the subsequent course of proceedings at Washington has demonstrated that any person who attended as the representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, or any other organization, for that matter, would have been quite incapable of expounding the policy of the federation or of informing his executive from day to day of the trend of events and of taking instructions from it. In other words, he would have been confronted with the responsibility of speaking and voting without directions from the body which he represented. In those circumstances the attendance of a representative of the federation could have served no good purpose. The honorable member inquired whether a representative of Canadian Farmers -Federation was present at Washington. I understand that that was so; but the decision of the governments of other countries to permit representatives in an advisory capacity to their delegations, could not, of course, commit the Australian Government to follow a similar course. In reply to the third portion of the honorable member’s question, the Australian Wheat Growers Federation did not ask, and, therefore, was not refused, the right to send an advisory representative at the expense of that body.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether the Government has sold any of the 1948-49 wheat crop? Is the Government still awaiting the conclusion of negotiations for international wheat agreement? Does he consider that the large accumulation of wheat reported to be held in the United States of America and Canada will affect the price which Australia is likely to receive for its crop?
– Some of the 1948-49 crop has been sold by the Australian. Wheat Board and negotiations, which have been protracted, are taking place for the sale of additional quantities of that crop to the United Kingdom and India. The Government has sought the advice of the Australian Wheat Board concerning prices and conditions of sale, and has followed the advice tendered by the board. Decisions ultimately reached at the [international Wheat Conference may have some bearing on the negotiation with the United Kingdom and India.
– Recently, a brochure was issued by the Commonwealth Electoral Office setting out details of the Senate. system of voting under the system of proportional representation. Can the Minister for the Interior inform me whether that brochure is available for sale to the public? If not, will he consider making copies of it available in that way ?
– I asked the Chief Electoral Officer to prepare’ a brochure setting out the method of counting the
Senate vote under the proportional representation system, but I did not instruct him to make copies of it available for public sale. However, I shall consider the honorable member’s request, and inform him of my decision.
– Has the Prime Minister seen press reports to the effect that two mines in the northern coal-fields area are subject to heating, due to spontaneous combustion, and that thousands of tons of coal are likely to be lost ? This process of heating is characteristic of the Greta seam, and some parts of the GretaBranxton seam have been practically ruined. Does the right honorable gentleman consider that it is time the Joint Coal Board obtained the services of experts from overseas to report on way and means of controlling this grave danger, which may cause not only a loss of life but also the loss of assets worth millions of pounds? Will the Prime Minister inform me whether the Joint Coal Board itself has authority to bring experts to this country for the purpose that I have mentioned, or must the board obtain the Government’s permission before it may act?
– I take this opportunity, on behalf of the House, to welcome the honorable member for Hunter on his return to the Parliament after his long and serious illness. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel has informed me that the heating of seams in the northern coal-fields area has been examined on previous occasions, and is being examined even at the present time. The Joint Coal Board is not restricted, within reason, anyhow, in arranging to obtain such expert advice as it may consider necessary to carry out its functions. In accordance with the provisions of the Coal Industry Act, the only real authorities in the formulation of joint policy are the Premier of New South Wales and myself. I do not know whether the Joint Coal Board desires to bring experts to Australia in order to examine and advise on the causes of heating in certain mines, but I shall have inquiries made and inform the honorable member of the precise position.
Admission of Australians - Frank Loyal Weaver
– According to a press statement, an Australian serviceman, who recently returned from Japan, stated that he had married a Japanese woman and intended to return to Japan, irrespective pf whether he was granted a passport or not. Has the Minister for Immigration seen that report, and will he indicate the policy of his department in dealing with an application for a passport in such circumstances ?
– I have no objection to issuing a passport to any one who wants to leave Australia, and that statement applies to Australian soldiers who desire to live in Japan. The problem of a soldier who wants to go back to Japan in order to marry a Japanese woman, or live with a Japanese bride whom he has married in a Shinto temple, or to open a cafe, as some ex-servicemen claim to be desirous of doing, is a matter for General MacArthur to decide. No person may enter Japan unless General MacArthur permits him to do so. The problem of the Australian soldiers to whom the honorable member referred is not one for the Australian Government or the Australian people, but for General MacArthur. If I may digress at this stage, I should like to point out that this morning, I received a letter from an Australian soldier who said that he wanted to return to Japan and become a Japanese citizen. He has a girl friend in that country, whom he wants to marry, and has asked me to expedite his exit. I would not be averse to doing what he wants, .but General MacArthur stands in the way. Unless General MacArthur can be convinced of the advisability of allowing that Australian soldier to go to Japan, I cannot do any more about the matter.
– Has the Minister for the Army observed the announcement in the Sydney press last week that Mr. Weaver may present a petition to support his request to the Government that he be allowed to go back to Japan? In view of the fact that the Minister has shown certain courtesies to that gentleman, will he take the oppor tunity to make a statement to the House so that well-meaning people will not be deceived into believing that Weaver has a case when, if he did in Japan what he has done in Australia, he would be “ up “ on a very serious charge indeed ?
– I have read a report that Weaver is preparing a petition in Sydney and that he will endeavour to obtain 1,000,000 signatures to it. I advise the people of Sydney not to sign that petition. In view of the action Weaver is taking, and the suggestion made by the honorable member, I shall ask for the leave of the House later this week to make a statement in order to let the people of Australia know just what sort of a man Weaver is.
– I address to the Prime Minister a question relating to the dispute which originated in Sydney as the result of certain demands made on wool-growers and others by the Storemen and Packers Union. This dispute has caused the hold up of the export of Australian wool valued at £5,000,000 and threatens the employment of thousands of people in the leather, shoe, and bootmaking trades. Has the Prime Minister been asked to intervene in the dispute,, and if he has, does he intend to take that action? Will he say how far the Communist menace has intruded in the dispute, and to what degree the Communists are responsible for it? How much longer will the Government tolerate these hold ups of Australia’s export trade, and these threats to the employment of thousands of people, when the disputes which give rise to such a position are in direct defiance of the Government’s policy of conciliation and arbitration?
– The matter that the honorable member has mentioned is being dealt with by the appropriate tribunals.
– But they are not handling it.
– If the honorable member means that they have not yet reached a solution of the difficulty, that is correct.
– The matter is sub judice.
– If the honorable member raises that point I accept it, but I say that the matter is still the subject of negotiations. “With regard to the latter portion of the honorable member’s question, as I have said before, it is most regrettable that hold-ups causing delays to shipping should occur, particularly since in some instances they are without warrant. There is no justification for the present dispute extending as it has done. Certain persons have been appointed to arbitrate upon and seek to settle these disputes. The matter isin the hands of the court. I do not know what the honorable member means when he asks whether the Government will intervene, because both Federal and State tribunals have power to act in these matters. Everything possible is being done by the Minister for Labour and National Service to see whether a solution of this trouble can be reached.
– My question relates to a report that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of last Friday, concerning an aboriginal woman who has two half-caste children. According to the newspaper article, the woman was employed in a Sydney home as a domestic, and was very happy and contented. Her children were in an orphanage. The Department of the Interior intervened and compelled the woman to send her children back to Alice Springs, and gave her the option of either going with them or remaining in Sydney. She had saved £100–
-I thought that the honorable member desired to ask a question, not make a statement.
– I am merely outlining the circumstances of the matter, on which my question is based. When the department learned about her savings it made a demand upon her for the amount of her fare to Alice Springs. Will the Minister for the Interior inform the House whether the statements contained in the newspaper article are correct, and if so, what justification exists for the action that was taken by the department ?
– I welcome the honorable member’s question. There is not an atom of truth in the statements that were published in the Sydney. Morning Herald. When a reporter employed by that journal asked me to comment on this matter I told him that I definitely denied the allegation that had been made in the newspaper article.I said that the total fares of all aborigines and children who had been returned to Alice Springs had been paid by the Department of the Interior, that the officer in charge of Native Affairs had no knowledge of the bank account of the women mentioned or of any money having been withdrawn from her account by her, or anybody else, in order to pay her fare to Alice Springs. The Sydney Morning Herald did not have the courtesy to acknowledge or publish the reply which I gave to its allegations.
– Great inconvenience is experienced not only by business people but also by residents generally of Alice Springs because the causeway across the Todd River connecting the western part of the town with the new town to the east is not capable of carrying traffic after a storm. Will the Minister for the Interior confer with the Minister for Works and Housing with a view to providing a suitableviaduct, or bridge, across the ToddRiver to replace the existing causeway ?
– I know that the present ToddRiver crossing is by no means satisfactory. The Department of Works and Housing has already made a survey of the locality for the purpose of finding a more suitable site for a crossing. Provision for that purpose was made in the last Estimates. I shall confer with the Minister for Works and Housing on the subject, and inform the honorable member of the progress that has been made with that proposal.
RO AD-MAKING MACHINERY.
– I have received complaints from many shire councils throughout my electorate that they are at a serious disadvantage in repairing back roads owing to the lack of materials, labour and machinery, particularly large earth-moving machinery. The Northern Rivers Shires Association has asked me to submit to the Prime Minister a request that the Government reconsider its policy which is based on the scarcity of dollars, with respect to the importation of such machinery and spare parts from the United States of America. Will the right honorable gentleman give further consideration to the desirability of allowing the importation of machinery and spare parts which are vital to the construction and maintenance of roads in the various shires?
– I shall examine the matter which the honorable member has raised, particularly the importation of spare parts for road-making machinery, because I realize the necessity to maintain in good order all of the roadmaking machinery at present available in this country. The Government, when allocating dollars, keeps in mind the amount of heavy industrial plant, including agricultural machinery, which can be imported from dollar and hard currency areas. The honorable member’s request will be considered.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Acting Attorney-General. Has he seen a statement by the Victorian Commissioner of Police, Mr. Duncan, that no request had been receivedby the Police Department of that State to inquire into the whereabouts of Mr. Ainslie St. Aubyn Kingsf ord ? If so, will the Minister take action, through the Commonwealth Investigation Service, to request the police authorities in the various States to institute inquiries? As a rumour has been circulated that Mr. Kingsford has been seen in New Zealand, I ask whether a report can be obtained from the New Zealand police on the matter?
– I have read a report about the disappearance of Mr. Kingsford. I understand that he went for a ferry trip to Manly, and has not been seen since. Several reports have been received by the police in New South Wales that somebody resembling him has been seen, but when inquiries were made, the reports were shown to be without foundation. J. gave a long reply last week to a question asked on this subject by a member of the Opposition. I understand that it is the practice of the police departments in the variousStates to keep in touch with one another about inquiries of this kind. If the police in New South Wales believed the matter to be of sufficient importance they would circulate a description of the man to the police in other States. The honorable member has suggested that an investigation might be made by the officers of the Commonwealth Investigation Service. I shall discuss the matter with the Acting Attorney-General in order to see whether it wouldbe practicable to adopt the honorable member’s suggestion.
– I have received from the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely-
The statement made by Mr. L. L. Sharkey on behalf of the Communist party of Australia as a declaration of allegiance to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, and its treasonable implications in relation to the defence security of this country.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
- Mr. L. L. Sharkey is Australia’s number one Communist. As such, he is the boss of the local Communist organization, but he is also the stooge of the overseas bosses, and it is his job to carry out the orders he receives from overseas. He did so last week. The Soviet Foreign Office launched an all-out offensive through the Cominform. It used its agents throughout the world.
Moscow regarded the directive as an ultimatum to the western world. In effect, it meant that if Russia became involved in war, the Communist party in every country opposed to Russia would embark on a programme of civil war. ‘11 Communists would have one aim only - to destroy, from within, the war machine of every country opposed to Russia. That, I say to the House and the country, is treason. It was a treasonable declaration in every country where communism is at present not in control.
In Australia, Sharkey made the declaration on behalf of the Communist party. The verbiage that he used does not matter. The real significance of his statement is that it synchronized with similar statements by Communist bosses in other countries. That was not coincidence. The -order came from the Cominform. The local bosses responded immediately. They bowed to r.heir josses overseas. The Kremlin regarded it as a test operation, designed to threaten western countries and also to alert Moscow’s subsidiaries abroad.
It was not what Sharkey said that should be considered, but what he meant. Sharkey meant exactly what every other Communist boss meant, when he carried out similar instructions and issued a declaration similar to those that were issued in Paris, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, London and Helsinki. The French Communist boss, Thorez, said that the French Communist party would do everything to make a war against Russia not only difficult, but impossible. The Italian Communist boss, Togliatti, said that it would be the duty of the Italian Communists to help the Soviet army if it chased an aggressor on to Italian soil. Britain’s Communist boss, Harry Pollitt, said that British Communists would cause strikes in industry in the event of war with Russia. In New York a similar statement was made by William Z. Foster. Similar statements came from Argentina, Cuba, Austria, Finland and every other country where the Communist party is permitted ro function. Sharkey’s statement was - [f Soviet forces, in pursuit of aggressors, filtered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them.
Sharkey thought he was being clever. But it is still sedition to welcome troops from another country, if this country happens to be at war with that country. It is treason.
Sharkey believed that he was sidestepping the law. He was quibbling with phrases, but his intent is perfectly clear. The Communists would term British troops defending Malaya “ aggressors “. If the Soviet army pursued British or American troops to this country, then the local Communists would welcome the Russians, .Sharkey said. He meant that in the event of war with Soviet Russia, the local Communists would fight on the side of Russia. Sharkey’s orders were to convey that impression throughout the world. The Communists broadcast Sharkey’s statement over Moscow radio for that purpose. Any country resisting Soviet imperialism is an aggressor nation, according to current Communist doctrine. So, to Sharkey, this country is an aggressor nation. What does this Government intend to do about Sharkey? I know what would happen to an Australian if he made a statement like that in Moscow.
This Government’s policy towards the Communists has been one of total appeasement. That is why Sharkey is game to make such a statement. The Communists hold the Australian Government in contempt. This Government extends its favours to Communists. It puts them on boards which govern key industries. The Communists operate within the law, because the law is the Government and the Government believes in a policy of absolute immunity for Communists. Is the Government afraid to take up .Sharkey’s challenge? Statements about referring the matter to the Crown Law authorities are all moonshine. If the law does not fit circumstances like this, then it is time the law was made . to fit them. It is this Parliament’s job to do that. Tt is not the duty of the Crown Law Office. Here we have evidence of the Australian Communist party’s open collaboration with other Communist organizations throughout the world in issuing threats of civil war against any government that resists the Soviet Union. The Communists threaten civil war. Yet we are told that communism is a harmless philosophy. It is not. It is a deadly formula of mass extermination and slavery for any free people who might fall into its clutches. “This country is one of the objectives. It 5s directly in the path of the Soviet land drive through South-East Asia. So Sharkey’s declaration must be dealt with on that basis. Dealing with Sharkey would not end the menace of communism in Australia. Much more than that is needed. Communism must be fought with nil the resources at the Government’s disposal. I challenge the Prime Minister to take action now. There is only one language that the Communists understand. That is to get tough. The Communist thrives on the present Government’s attitude of passive acceptance and conciliation. The statement by the South African Minister for Internal Affairs regarding the activities of the Soviet legation in that country, and of the courier service that is being maintained should be examined carefully. If we consider what has been exposed in Canada and the United States we might ask ourselves why this Government should believe that this country is immune just because it handles communism with kid gloves? There is only one possible course of action to be taken. We must declare war on the Communist party in Australia and use every existing means to’ stamp it out of existence. We should ban it and make consorting with members of the party illegal. We should rid every defence agency of the Communists. We should kick them out of key union positions. We should cut off their lines of communication.
Sharkey at present has freedom of access to telecommunications, telegraphic, telephonic and postal services. The Communist official organ carries thousands of words of cabled news each week, all of which get the benefit of special cheap press rates from this Government. In a recent issue of that organ, there were long special cables from Cuba, from Athens, from Vienna, from New Delhi and from Sofia as well as from Moscow, London and New York. Sharkey is thus in a position to know immediately how the Communists in other countries are operating. That explains the military precision with which Communist activities such as the current offensive are co-ordinated all over the world. The Communists are using machinery provided by this Government. This Government must answer to the people foi’ permitting this to be done. The Government is either with Sharkey or against him. It is either with the Communist party or against it. If it is against Sharkey and his party let it act. I have moved this motion in order to give the the Government an opportunity to indicate that it is going to act. There have been too many excuses, too many alibis. It may soon be too late to act. I hope that some action will be taken.
– The first country to suppress communism was the first country to become Communist. That country was Russia. Those are not my words; they are the words of Governor Dewey, leader of the Republican forces in the United States of America, and they were uttered in the course of a debate with Governor Stassen in Oregon. And, if there is one country that is the citadel of rugged individualism it is the United States of America. Yet not one political leader, in the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Wallace party or in the Dixiecrats - and they count for nothing, anyway - has gone on record as favouring the suppression of the Communist party.
– The President of the United States of America said that a member of the Communist party was a traitor.
– He may have called a certain man in the United States a traitor, but he did not call for legislation to ban the Communist party, and what the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) suggested in his attack upon Sharkey is that we should ban the Communist party.
– No; he asked what steps the Government was going to take?
– He said that we should ban the Communist party and that wa should declare war on it. I am referring to the honorable gentleman’s words. There is no nation in the western world, with the exception of Canada, that has declared the Communist party an illegal body: and, in Canada, when the Communist party was banned, the Communists promptly re-organized themselves and became the Progressive Labour party. When Fred Bose, a member of the Canadian House of Commons, was arrested as a spy, he was not nominally a member of the Communist party, he was arrested as a member of the Progressive Labour party. Yet all the time, he was a member of the Communist party. The mere declaration of the Communist party as illegal and the mere suppression of the Communists would not achieve the purposes that some people in this country believe that such actions will achieve. The Communist party has been in existence for many years in all countries. It is an international, united body. I believe- that the Cominform, in respect of directions from Moscow, does its work in international affairs in the interests of the people who control the Cominform. But suppression is almost as old as history as an idea for beating all other ideas. It has never yet achieved the purpose that those who use suppression would lead us to believe it does achieve. In Great Britain, Harry Pollitt said almost the same thing that Sharkey said in this country. When we heard of what Sharkey had said, the matter was referred to the Crown Law authorities for action. The Crown Law authorities were asked to see whether the statements were treasonable. If a prima facie case is made out, the Crown Law authorities will take appropriate action. When a man named Burns made a somewhat similar statement in Queensland some time ago, the Government prosecuted him, and he was convicted and sentenced. Mr. Holt. - Which Government?
– This Government. Burns, I understand has appealed to the High Court against his conviction. We believe in prosecuting people who break the law, whether they be Communist or non-Communist, rather than in suppressing parties. The suppression of parties, we believe, in the long run achieves nothing. Mr. Ernest Bevin. whose opinions will be accepted by all members of this House, went on record as recently as the 21st February last as saying -
There are no concentration camps in Britain, no imprisonment for views. Even the Communists can say whatever they like about us. We rely, not on secret police but on the common sense of the great democracy of out country.
If anybody in this Parliament disagrees with Mr. Ernest Bevin’s general policy, let him rise and say so. What Mr. Bevin has said, Mr. Attlee said only a few days ago in similar terms. In France, where the Communist party is a very large and influential political force, the Queuille Government has not taken the step of suppressing communism because of something that Maurice Thorez has said. In Italy the Italian Government has not suppressed the Communist party of Italy because of anything that Signer Togliatti has had to say. The governments of those countries believe that people should be prosecuted according to the law and that the security police should do their work in finding any treasonable elements in the community, if such there be, and in prosecuting them for the things that they do and say. The honorable member who submitted the motion now before the House waxed eloquent about the necessity for suppressing communism. Let him, or anybody else in this Parliament, tell me the name of one prominent church leader of any Christian denomination in this country who has ever advocated, or who advocates to-day, the suppression of the Communist party. No honorable member will say that the leaders of organized religion in Australia are not sensible of the dangers of communism.
– Did the Minister say that nothing could be gained by suppression ?
– I believe that in the long run suppression would produce worse results than will occur if the persons who preach subversive doctrines are permitted to function openly and are prosecuted for their actions against the law.
– If the honorable gentleman believes that, will he give us an assurance that there will be no suppression of this debate ?
– Neither this Government, nor the party which it represents, has ever appeased the Communist party. We have always been opposed to the philosophy, practices and doctrines of the Communist party, and we have declared over and over again that between the Labour party and the Communist party there is an unbridgeable gulf.
The Labour party, in opposing communism, also opposes capitalism, which produces communism and that foetid, corrupt by-product which is known in the political life of this country as Langism. Langism is merely a product of capitalism, but there was a day when the honorable member for Reid sat cheek by jowl with Communists. It was the Communists who surrounded Parliament House in Sydney, after Dooley had been defeated for leadership of the State Labour party, and demanded that no members of the caucus of that day should leave the building until a man named Lang had been elected. He sat side by side with Garden, who was a Communist candidate at one time. He did not disagree with Garden when Garden said of him that he was greater than Lenin, although perhaps he thought that he was twice as great as Lenin. In those days, Sharkey and Miles and all the people in the Communist party wanted Lang as the leader of the State Labour party in New South Wales. Only when he fell out with them did he become so violent and vitriolic. Let those who come into court at least have clean hands! Those of us who are in the Labour party to-day have never had any association with communism and we have no desire to be associated with it. Honorable members opposite, in the Liberal party at any rate, have only recently been converted to the doctrine that the Communist party must be suppressed. I could quote many speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in other days pleading for freedom of speech and saying that he did not believe in suppressing the Communist party. Of course, he would say, “ That was yesterday. Times are different. I now have a different view upon the matter “. He has a different view because he has a lot of weak-minded followers whom he has to lead, and they have decided upon a policy which, whether he likes it or not, he must advocate. I am perfectly satisfied that, if the Leader of the Opposition held a different view from that of all of his followers, he could still be right and they could still be wrong. I should like to hear from honorable members opposite who are going to speak upon this matter whether they stand with Governor Dewey, President Truman, Mr. Attlee and Mr. Bevin and whether they share the views of such a conservative newspaper as the Observer of London. On the 21st. March, 194S, the Observer had this to say -
To ban totalitarian movements in this country, at present, would probably do more practical harm than practical good. But where security secrets come in, further issues arise.
That newspaper had more to say on the question of the purge that the conservatives in Great Britain were advocating at that time. Nobody will claim that the Economist is any more radical than is the Ob/server. On the 20th March, 194S. the Economist stated -
Nothing in the Prime Minister’s statement warrants a general attack upon the Communists’ right to hold their views, to express them and to be employed in work for which they are competent and which has no bearing on national security.
The Economist held that the Communists had the right to express their views and to be engaged in government employment provided that they were not engaged upon work affecting national security.
All of those opinions mount up against the hysteria of the press of Australia and of members of the Opposition parties who think that, by carrying out a campaign against communism, they will be able to make up for their lack of statesmanship ; that, if they squeal enough about Communists, the people will forget that they have no policy upon anything but communism ; and that, if they cry out loud enough, the people will forget that there is more disunity in their ranks than there is trouble in the countries where the Communist party is strong. I refer them to a statement that was made on the 31st March last year by the Archbishop of Fork. Dr. Garbett. What he said tunes in with everything that any church leader who has spoken on the subject in Australia has said. This is what he said -
In ourown country we must set the example of avoiding panic or anything like hysteria.
There are necessary precautions the State must take for its own security, but there must be no “ spy mania “ nor “ witch-hunting “.
Honorable members opposite can offer no reasoned argument against such eminent people. They just scream out that Sharkey has made a certain statement and that therefore the Communist party must be suppressed and Communists must be rooted out of every occupation that they hold.
The way to defeat the idea of communism is to produce a better idea. There will be no Communists in the world, certainly not in Australia, when we get rid of monopoly capitalism. Most of the Communists who are in Australia to-day were produced during the depression years. They became Communists because anti-Labour governments asked men to live on starvation rates of pay and to sleep in all sorts of hovels. Many newspapers have expressed opinions upon this matter, and only last week the Murdoch press - the Melbourne Herald in the evening and the Sun NewsPictorial on the following morning - bitterly condemned the action of Melbourne city councillors who had refused to give permission to a man named John Rodgers to hold a meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall to express his views upon Russia. When I read the opinions expressed in the Herald and the Sun N ews-Pictorial I was amazed at the volte face which had occurred in the editorial views of those Murdoch newspapers. The Sun News-Pictorial went so far as to say that Voltaire had actually anticipated the leaderwriter of that newspaper when he said that he would fight to the death for the right of his opponent to express his view. Honorable members opposite, in cheering on their de facto leader as they are bound to do to prove that they are fellow travellers with him in his campaign against the Communist party are out of tune with their own press. But there is one newspaper in this country which, like all newspapers of its persuasion, has been vehement in its opposition to communism as a philosophy. I refer to the Catholic Worker, which, in April of last year stated -
It’s time we realized that the danger to Australia will be averted only by positive democracy rather than mere opposition to communism . . . the average Australian is not a Communist but in fact is wholeheartedly against communism.
The article expressed the view that the average Australian is apathetic, and continued -
The reason for the apathy may be put this way: that the Australian knows quite well what he is against but he doesn’t know what he’s for. He’s come to a full stop. He’s got everything that modern society can give and he’s had it. Compare the Communist. He is certainly against quite a lot of things. He’s against capitalism, he’s against nationalism, democracy, religion, and so on. But this is not the whole story - he’s for something, he’s for a completely new form of society based upon certain principles which he regards and reveres as dogmas. They are as false as his new society is barbaric, but at least they have been sufficient to inspire him to great enthusiasm, unrelenting industry and not a little self-sacrifice. In other words, he has faith.
The Labour party, too, has faith. It has faith that its policy and philosophy will give to the Australian people the things they need. It has faith that only by the triumph of democracy over capitalism can the country be saved from the evils of capitalism, communism, and the other false dogmas that are being preached as panaceas for the uplift and salvation of mankind.
– That is the Marxian theory itself.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) does not know anything about any theory. He is the biggest galah in this Parliament. He merely talks what is presented to him and what he is taught in Ashstreet from week to week. I know where he goes. There is a building in Ash-street which is owned or leased by the Liberal party. In the cellars, the Communist party is located. In the garret, the Liberal party holds out. That is why the honorable member gets his story mixed. No political party, organization or section of the community in Australia more completely and utterly rejects the beliefs and practices of the Communist party than do the Australian Labour party and the present Government. The whole history of the world has, unfortunately, been one of violence and bloodshed; but neither in the ancient past nor in recent years has there been very much evidence that force can succeed for long. The armies of Napoleon and Hitler marched across
Europe, but they did not survive. The days of the Roman Empire seemed long and, in fact, Rome held sway for many centuries over practically all of the then known world; but Rome fell into decay, and the Christians who had been suppressed by the Romans eventually triumphed over the false philosophy of Rome. Honorable members opposite know nothing but suppression; nothing but the use of force ; nothing but Hitlerian practices; and nothing but the barbaric and pagan methods of other days.
– Would the Minister regard the “gag” as a weapon of suppression?
– Not when it is applied to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies).
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) reminds me of an Irishman with whom I sat in the South Australian Parliament. He once accused another member of that legislature of having talked for an hour’ and a half around the subject without having touched it once. That is what the Minister has done in the last twenty minutes. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) made a specific motion relating to a treasonable utterance by a man whom he has designated the No. 1 Communist in Australia. The Minister did not mention that man or his alleged statement. He talked about Mr. Truman calling people traitors. I remember when, in one of the darkest hours of World War II., the then Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. John Curtin, called the coal miners traitors and worse, but nothing was done about it. Addressing the Labour party’s Easter conference last year, the Minister for Information said that the greatest menace to the workers was not communism but capitalism. The honorable gentleman did not say anything about that to-day. He dived off into history. Without embarking upon an historical discussion at present, let me tell him that his history is all haywire, and not only in relation to Communists. I shall give one illustration. The honorable gentleman referred to the spread of Christianity.
I ask him what happened to the Christian civilizations in Asia and Africa when the Islamic armies struck. There was no compromise. The Christians went down because of the exercise of the very thing in which the Communist believes - force. The Communists believe in the supremacy of the minority. They have no moral principles such as we have. They believe that anything they do to attain their objective is right. They are permitted by weak-kneed governments of the type that the Australian people are now keeping in power under the name of Labour - I could use another term - to advocate treachery, sabotage and the downfall of lawfully constituted authority. All that the Minister can say is that an old bogy has been brought forward by the honorable member for Reid, who at one time was more or less closely associated with Mr. Garden. Probably, like another prominent member of the Labour party, he has long, and perhaps more successfully, repented that association.
Before long, this country must face the fact that we cannot deal with the Communists by argument. They do not know what argument is. The only weapon they understand is force. One has only to read the history of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgana, Roumania, Austria and any other country that the Communists have penetrated to know that the rights of the people as individuals, or in the mass, do not matter in the slightest to the Communists. I warn the Minister that if Mr. Sharkey and his henchmen were able to take over the administration of this, country tomorrow morning, the Minister in all probability would be one of the first to be hanged to the nearest lamp-post or tree. His faith in freedom of speech and the presentation of a perfectly reasoned case against communism would not matter the moment they got, not the numbers, but the power. Our democracy rests upon the rule of the majority. The Communist idea is dictatorship by the minority.’ They believe that the majorities are there only to be dictated to and to be trodden on just as majorities have been trodden on in every country that the Communist forces have infiltrated. The Minister has offered no answer at all to the honorable member for Reid. He can talk about the de facto leader of the Opposition and so on, but I remind him that he himself is not the quietest of men under a leader of whom he does not approve. This House has had very definite evidence of that. He would do well to keep off that particular little bit of ground. The memories of some of us are not so short that we have forgotten that already.
Mr.Calwell. - Keep going !
– I saw the honorable gentleman push his way into the Ministry like a bull at a gate, but, having got there, he does not know what to do. He was given a portfolio–
– Order ! The honorable member for Barker must deal with the terms of the motion before the Chair.
– I am sticking to them much more closely than did the Minister for Information. He did not deal with Sharkey. He did not say whether or not the Government would take any action against Sharkey. He did not say what the Government proposed to do about this latest published statement of Sharkey. He did not say whether the Government would take any positive action against this man who has talked treason in the community by saying that in the event of Australia being invaded by Russian forces, he would advise the working men of this country to welcome them. I advise the Minister to look up recent history and see how the women of Berlin and Vienna were treated by the so-called liberating forces of the Red Army. It is one of the dirtiest and rottenest pages in the history of mankind. Frightful things were perpetrated by the Russians, who were called our allies during the last four years of the war. These are the forces that Sharkey proposes to welcome to Australia. Any man who says one word in favour of welcoming the Russian forces to Australia should be tarred and feathered and hounded out of the country. The Government, however, is not prepared to take a stand one way or another against this man, who pleads for support for and toleration of an army of the type which marched into civilized central Europe. It is a shame that there is in occupancy of the treasury bench in this
National Parliament a Government which is not prepared to deal with the human vermin who make up the Communist party. The members of that party should be hounded out of the country. The Minister for Information talks about his opposition to the Communist party, and says that the Government may have to do this, that or the other thing. If, when he returns to his hotel to-night, he finds a death adder in his bedroom will he argue with it about its rights, or will he get a stick and kill it? It is possible, of course, that he will take the thing to bed with him. I do not know. . The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has just handed me a press cutting relating to a statement made by a Mr. T. C. McGillick, another gentleman who has apparently seen the light. Mr. McGillick was the head of the Communist party in Adelaide prior to the depression.
– He is now working for the Constitutional League.
– He, like Kravchenko, was a “ died-in-the-wool “ Communist, as was also the somewhat famous lady who jumped out of a window in her anxiety not to go back to Russia. Apparently an increasing number of Communists are seeing the light. Another matter that the Minister for Immigration and Sharkey and his cohorts have to explain is why there is a constant flow of deserters from the Red Army in central Europe, to the American, British and French zones. These deserters have seen the results of the so-called democratic system of government followed in Russia, under which no regard whatsoever is paid to the rights of man and to which men count for nothing. I read a book recently about the invasion of Estonia by the Red Army. Another book has been written about the invasion of Lithuania. Both tell the same story of suppression. Any person in Australia who says one word’ in favour of the Red Army should be dealt with summarily. If no law has been passed which will enable the Government to deal with such a person, the Government should rectify the position. If there is no Commonwealth court in which such a person can be tried, such a court should be constituted. The final test of the sincerity of Government members when they talk about not suppressing the Communist party will be seen within the next ten or fifteen minutes when no doubt it will suppress this debate.
.- In the first place I unhesitatingly say that I have nothing but condemnation for the remarks made by Sharkey. He was in this country during the period that the Russians were regarded as our allies and if there is any sincerity in the man it is a wonder that he did not take the opportunity on that occasion to join the forces against aggression. However, f refuse to be stampeded by inspired remarks of the kind that are always featured in the popular press so that the majority of people who read them or hear of them shall become alarmed. I wonder whether the statement attributed to Sharkey has been checked and investigated. I do not say that Sharkey did not make the statement to which attention has been drawn. I merely say that the manner of its presentation is familiar. There are two ways of dealing with the “ Sharkeys “ in the community. The Government view is that we cannot combat communism by suppressing the Communist party and that Communists can be dealt with by the ordinary processes of the law when they break the law. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has already said that an investigation of these statements is being made with a view to legal action being taken. A prosecution was launched in respect of certain statements made by Mr. Burns, in Queensland. There is no great difference of opinion among the members of this House in regard to communism but there is a vast difference of opinion about how the menace of communism should be tackled. There is the outright suppression as newly advocated by honorable members opposite and acceptance of the Commu- nist party under democratic control as supported by honorable members on this side of the House. It was only to be expected that Sharkey’s statement would be seized upon by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang). The honorable member is looking for cues at the moment because of a by-election in which a butcher is running in his interests. We shall probably be listening to the butcher to-night. So far we have heard from the block. This motion is a pre-arranged business and there is very little honesty behind the whole thing. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) spoke of the activities of Communists throughout the world and of the democratic approach made to communism by the Governments of Great Britain and the United States of America. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who has been interjecting fiercely during this debate, recently took part as the main speaker in a welcome extended to Mr. Anthony Eden. In Sydney he was referred to as “ The voice that breathed o’er Eden “. Reporting Mr. Anthony Eden’s views on the threat of communism the Sydney Sun of the 26th February said -
When lie arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, Mr. Anthony Eden said at his press conference that communism was no longer on the upgrade. Its decline, coupled with co-operation between Britain, America and the Western European democracies made war with Russia less likely than a year ago.
The point I emphasize is that Mr. Anthony Eden takes the view held by the Australian Government and democracies of the United States and Western Europe that the best way to deal with communism is to watch it and not drive it underground. We can gain nothing by driving Communists underground where they will work through subterranean channels.
– Mr. Anthony Eden did not say that.
– That was the view very strongly held by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) for many years Although the right honorable gentleman recently decided to advocate the banning of the Communist party, I do not for one moment think that he believes in such a policy. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who always talks a little too much, has just interjected. Let us see what he had to say about the Communists. The Melbourne Argus of the 25th August, 1948, contains a report of a meeting of the Victorian Liberal Party Council. He dealt with the Communists in a very expansive way - he was not knocking them for “ a row of sixes “ but was being very plain and liberal. The Argus report reads -
Mr. Gullett, M.P., told the council that it was useless and mischievous to attack waterside workers, miners, or unionists, because communism would flourish as long as people were crowded together and educated in slums, ill-fed, and without land or pastimes.
– That does not mean that I would not deal with the Communists.
– The honorable member for Reid made a great play about the menace of communism in short, sharp, nervous sentences which are manufactured for him by a script-writer in Sydney and sent to Canberra by air mail. I have heard of adding machines, but the honorable member is the only talking machine I have heard of in this House. If the record does not arrive we do not hear a speech from him. The honorable member’s book, Communism in Australia, is printed in Sydney at the office of the Land newspaper. That office is a 48-hour shop which employs non-union labour; but that, of course, does not matter to the honorable member for Reid. Although the honorable member has to-day dilated on the menace of the Communists, whose breath is supposedly so hot on our necks, and has told us how extremely dangerous Sharkey is to Australia, I remind the honorable gentleman that in his book dealing with the Communists he stated -
They contested 17 scats in the Commonwealth. They lost their deposits in 15. Out nf a total Commonwealth roll of 4,480,050, the Communists polled an aggregate of 62,420. Many of these would be protest votes, rather than Communist votes. Yet, despite this sorry showing . . . the Communist leader L. L. Sharkey polled 3,301 votes in Dalley, against 37,015 polled by Speaker Rosevear.
I suggest to the House, therefore, that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has already dealt adequately with the Communist leader, Mr. Sharkey. The book continues -
General Secretary J. B. Miles, could only muster 2,324 in North Sydney against W. M. Hughes, and lost his deposit.
Apparently the old warhorse was able to take care of communism in. North Sydney. By arousing the fear of the masses that the Communists were likely, the very next morning, to sweep away everything, the old octogenarian was able to worst his opponent by a huge majority. The honorable member’s book continues -
Adam Ogston polled less than 10 per cent, of the votes registered for Dan Mulcahy in Lang. J. K. Hughes of the then State Labour party lost his deposit in Reid, as did Evans in Robertson. Even though the Communists attempted to win over service votes by endorsing members of the armed forces, they failed to -make any impression on the electorates.
Those facts, which, I remind the House, are stressed by the honorable member, indicate that he does not believe communism to be a very great menace in this country. If I might be permitted to proceed from the ridiculous to the sublime, I shall quote the views of the British Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, as reported in the Melbourne Herald of the 25th February. The report states -
The Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, rejected a. suggestion in the House of Commons to-day tha-t he should introduce anti-Communist legislation on lines of that in India and France. He said lie did not think such a move either necessary or desirable.
Of course, the sincerity of the honorable member comes into question in this chamber from time to time. Whilst there is no real divergence of opinion amongst the people as to the usefulness or otherwise of the communists, the slogan “ ban the Communists “ is undoubtedly a useful political tactic to employ, particularly when there are no other grounds on which to attack the .present Government. In advocating the immediate suppression of the Communists, the honorable member is obviously not concerned with the operation of the ordinary democratic processes of law. In effect, he says : “ Do not trouble to inquire why an individual is agitating ; put him in jail “. Obviously, the dictatorial and antidemocratic character of that proposal would not commend it to any truly Australian administration. Of course, the real point is that nobody is seriously worried about Mr. Sharkey and the other so-called Communist leaders. After all, they are not Australians. Although we hear plenty of talk about recalcitrant mineworkers, and much harsh criticism of industrial workers generally, I remind honorable members that whether we like it or not we must admit that the entire Australian community is riding on the back of the workers, who are the only real producers of wealth in the community. Without them the community could not exist and we should not be required here. That is selfevident and is not mere Marxian twaddle. To return to Mr. Sharkey, I point out that he is a European, who was born in England, Scotland, Ireland, or some other European country. He is certainly not an Australian. Millions of Australians have demonstrated–
– Under the Nationality and Citizenship Act, which was recently passed by this House, he has become an Australian citizen.
– I said that Mr. Sharkey was born outside Australia. However, I am concerned with the serious doubt which honorable members must feel of the sincerity of the honorable member for Reid in this matter. He is playing a double game in this House, and likes to raise matters such as the subject of the present motion. He thinks : “ I can get them on that question “. Of course he can. What reply could any administration make to the demands that have been made by the honorable member and his friends other than that it was considering the legal aspects of Mr. Sharkey’s alleged utterance in order to ascertain whether a prosecution should be launched? The honorable member seeks to convey the impression that the Communists can be swept aside by a mere process of banning. The real danger lies in driving them underground. I remind honorable members that instead of banning the Communists in Japan, the Ear Eastern Commission and the democratic government of the United States of America permitted Communist candidates to stand at the Japanese elections.
– And the number of Communists in Japan is increasing every day in consequence.
– There are methods of dealing with them, of course. However, I was pointing out that in a d emocracy- -
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) does not know what he is pointing out.
– If the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) were a democrat - and I have always doubted that he is - he would realize that certain democratic rights, including that of free expression, cannot be submerged altogether. Even if the numbers and influence of Communists in this country had increased to such a degree as to constitute something in the nature of a menace, which is not the case, it is ridiculous to pretend that they cannot be properly dealt with by democratic means.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question be now put -
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker-Mr. J.J. Clark.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the House donow adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr, Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Desman) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
Debate resumed from the 4th March (vide page 1037), on motion by Mr. Dedman -
That the hill be now read a second time.
.- It gives me great pleasure to support this bill, and I am sure that all the people in this country who remember the sale of. the Australian Commonwealth line of steamers by the Bruce-Page Government will be jubilant when it becomes law. The objects of the bill are to establish an adequate and efficient mercantile marine in Australian waters, maintain and foster the shipbuilding industry in. Australia, and set up a Commonwealth shipping line. The aim of the Government is to repair the damage that was done to this nation when the Bruce-Page Government disposed of that great national undertaking, the Australian Commonwealth line of steamers, because the sale of those ships has impeded the growth of our country. The bill before the House provides machinery whereby the three objectives to which I have referred will be achieved. There shall be established the Australian Shipping Board, consisting of five members, to which will be transferred all of the assets of the present shipping board that was established in 1941 under the National Security Regulations, and which has performed splendid work not only during the war period but also since the cessation of hostilities. There are in existence a considerable number of ships belonging to the Commonwealth. These will be transferred to the control of the new board, which will be obliged to carry out the functions specified in this legislation, and to bring to life again the great shipping line that the people of this country once knew. Although the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), when addressing the House on this subject in his usual brilliant style, regaled honorable members with that eloquence, charm of manner and let them feel that animal magnetism for which he is said to be noted, he did not advance one clear, definite argument against this measure. I should have thought that all of those who were acquainted with Australia’s part in World War II. would readily have appreciated the great necessity that exists for the Commonwealth to run its own line of steamers, to foster the shipbuilding industry in this country, and to see that henceforth Australia shall have a stalwart, healthy mercantile marine. Most honorable members will recollect the difficulties that were experienced by Australia during the war years when trying to find sufficient ships to carry on the civilian trade and to assist our fighting forces. The people of this country, by virtue of its long coast line, have a great interest in shipping matters. Our people have an inherent love of the sea, and there is no logical reason why we should not become a great mercantile nation. As honorable members know, Great Britain became great because it built ships and sent them to all of the seas of the world. British ships are found in every harbour of the world. In this Government are men of vision, who look forward to the day when Australia, also, will be one of the great nations of the world, when its ships will sail the seven seas and be found in all of the harbours of the world. We are making tremendous progress, and the Government should be congratulated on the efficiency and vision that it has displayed by the introduction of this measure.
– Oh, yes !
– I am glad that my remarks are endorsed by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), the gentleman who reminds me of the scriptural references to the *’ voice of the turtle “. The Government must ensure that the shipbuilding industry of Australia shall never again be allowed to decay and fall away as it did following the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. When the full impact of the recent war was felt it was found that the ships sailing on the Australian coast were barely able to meet the civilian requirements. When it became necessary for us to find additional ships to assist the fighting forces we were in great difficulties. It was then that the shipbuilding industry in this country was resuscitated. To-day there are in existence important shipbuilding yards at Maryborough, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne, Whyalla and other places in this country. When the shipbuilding yards are working at full capacity, countless other industries benefit, because shipbuilding is a component of the heavy industries.
Although the establishment of efficient shipbuilding yards in this country is necessary in peace-time, I point out that the Government is actuated primarily by considerations of defence, and in pursuance of its policy of full employment. Let us consider the history of the shipping industry in Australia, and why honorable members opposite are resisting this measure. On Friday last the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) addressed the House on this subject-
– The honorable member made a good speech.
– People have different opinions about what is good or bad. I should not be disposed to agree with the honorable member who has just interjected that it was a good speech. I also heard the speech delivered by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) on this measure. If the Opposition did not have this prejudice against State enterprise I am sure that there would be no antagonism to this measure. The whole theory, policy, and theme of the Opposition is to “let private enterprise do the job “.
– What about Mr. Sharkey’s statement?
– There is no reference to Mr. Sharkey in the bill before the House.
– -It would be impossible for private enterprise to foster the shipbuilding industry, establish a line of ships, and strengthen the mercantile marine as is provided for in this bill. Of course, private enterprise is all right in its way. I am not attacking it. Like State enterprise, private enterprise is good or bad according to the support that it gets, and its management: Although private enterprise has become a fetish with the Opposition, my opinion is that. State enterprise has come to stay. It is to be found in many avenues affecting the daily lives of the people of this country, and it is good or bad according to the backing of the Government and the management of the particular undertaking.
– It is mostly bad.
– State enterprise is permeating the whole of the community.
That this will be another State enterprise is the only reason for the antagonism of the Opposition. I remind honorable members that State enterprise has received the support, not only of Labour governments, but also of Liberal governments in this country. I refer to the great electricity undertaking in Victoria, and other State enterprises in South Australia. The argument advanced by the honorable member for Parramatta in his vicious speech was that all State enterprise must necessarily fail, and therefore we should not pass this legislation. That argument is ridiculous. We expect the Opposition to be able to advance something better than that. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) established the Australian Commonwealth Line nf Steamers. When he was in London in 1916, he purchased fifteen cargo vessels which formed the nucleus of the line. Those vessels helped to combat the high freights that were being charged by the shipping combine. They were used to transport Australia’s exports of primary products at reasonable rates. Freights in 1 916 were shockingly high. Vessels which were purchased for £7,000 before World War I. were disposed of at prices exceeding £40,000. In one instance the freight on a cargo valued at £18,000 amounted to £50,000, or more than 260 per cent, of the value of the cargo itself. That was typical of the extortionate charges imposed by the shipping combine at that time, and such conditions influenced the right honorable member for NorthSydney to establish the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers-
– The high rates charged at that time were due mainly to war risks.
– I should say that the shipping combine simply took advantage of the war at that time to increase the freight rates. The right honorable member for North Sydney, being a practical man, had every justification for establishing the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The original fleet made steady progress until 1923, when the Bruce-Page Government, which assumed office in that year, prepared a financial statement of the operations of the line. The balance-sheet submitted on that occasion showed a loss on the operation’ of the line, and it caused considerable controversy. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, took the opportunity thus presented to him to turn the line over to a shipping board. But he made the board give to the Government debentures over the vessels, those debentures amounting to approximately £5,000,000. As the result of that arrangement, the board was extremely handicapped by high overhead costs. From that date the rot set in. The board commenced to sell the vessels right and left. Some one has compared that sale to a bargain basement sale. The vessels were sold to interests throughout the world until, shortly afterwards, only the “ Bay “ liners and a few other ships remained of the original fleet. As the board found it difficult to meet the interest due on the debentures it had given to the Government, it recommended that, in view of the high overhead costs thereby involved, the line he sold. The matter was referred to the Public Accounts Committee, but that committee recommended that in the interests of Australia the line should be retained. However, that recommendation did not suit the then Prime Minister, who invited the committee to hear further evidence on the subject. That evidence was heard in camera, and the people of this country have never been able to ascertain what the nature of it was. Subsequently, the committee, in a majority report, recommended that the line be sold. The vessels were sold to the White Star Line, which later was unable to meet its liabilities and went into liquidation when it still owed the Australian Government approximately £400,000 in respect of those vessels it had purchased. The Government has never been paid that sum. Honorable members opposite have contended that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers failed because of mismanagement. That point was stressed by the eminent would-be King’s counsel, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale). I should like him to explain, whether the White Star Line also failed because of mismanagement. It is clear that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers did not fail because qf mismanagement. In 1927, when the depression was approaching, the line was being sabotaged not only by the government of the day but also by the press of this country. Lord Inchcape” had formed what was known as the Shipping Conference and the private shipping companies concentrated all their efforts upon putting the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers out of business. What happened subsequently? In this House in 1927, the leader of the Labour Opposition submitted a motion of want of confidence in the Bruce-Page Government because of its announced intention to dispose of the line. On that occasion the right honorable member for North Sydney, who had been succeeded by Mr. Bruce as leader of the Nationalists, as Labour’s opponents then called themselves, strongly protested against the proposal to sell the line. He said -
The line is my progeny, and whether it he unique or a monstrosity, I, like most parents, am Hill attached to the poor thing.
He disclosed to the House very significant information which the government of the day had failed to make public during the course of that debate. The Prime Minister had been asked whether he had any information to offer about communications that had passed between the Shipping Conference and the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board. When the Prime Minister prevaricated and offered no reply to that question, the right honorable member for North Sydney read to the House certain cablegrams which shocked the country at that time. He said -
I quote from a cablegram dated London, the 7th December, 1925, which reads: - “It is proposed to increase outward freight rates (i.e., from the United Kingdom to Australia), subject to merchants’ consent as per agreement on the following basis: - £5 measurement, to £5 10s., £3 15s. to £4. Lower measurement rates by half-a-crown, objectionable cargoes £1, leaving iron and steel rates, paper and most weight rates untouched.”
That was a cablegram which was sent by the Shipping Conference to the Shipping Board. The board replied as follows: -
Outward freight rates. Board of Directors has decided at meeting to-<lay cannot agree to any increase rates, considering such course fatal to interests of Line as being opposed to purpose for which it exists.
The freights were not increased. Later, the private shipowners came back again and the Australian Commonwealth Ship- ping Board despatched the following cablegram to the Shipping Conference : -
Result of recent strike clearly indicates enormous excess tonnage on Australian berth, as notwithstanding large numbers ships idle, no serious congestion experienced. We are agreeable to await result of conference with merchants, but cannot agree to pledge ourselves support increase.
Some time later, the following cable was received : -
In view of coal position, Conference propose immediately advance outward freights by approximately 15 per cent. Foreigners agree. It is proposed to exclude items such as rough weights.
The board’s reply was as follows : -
Consider it would be equally impolitic from both British owners and our point of view. To refrain from advancing rates may encourage reduction berth tonnage, which is desirable. In any case oil-burning tonnage could not justify.
At that time, as the right honorable member said, the increase was not made. The Shipping Conference, headed by Lord Inchcape, pressed the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board to increase freights, but it steadfastly refused. The next move was to bring great pressure to bear on the government of the day to sell the ships on the ground that the line was losing £500,000 a year. As the right honorable member pointed out, that was a small loss compared to the tremendous saving to the primary producers in freight charges on their exports. In .1921, the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) read the following cable in the House : -
Prospects of shipping all over the world for several- years to come are extremely bad.
The cable went on to say that the Shipping Conference wanted to buy out the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, or, alternatively, to sell its own ships to the Australian Government. Thus, from 1921 onwards, the men directing the Shipping Conference, or the shipping combine as we know it, was trying to put the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers out of business. It was taking the bread out of their mouths, something which they could not tolerate. Being active, successful and intelligent business men, it was part of their technique to do away with opposition, and one cannot blame them. Eventually, they succeeded. Having a willing government in Australia acting as their tool, they succeeded in getting rid of our ships. All this talk from the Opposition about the failure of State enterprises is without justification. The Leader of the Opposition in another place said that 70 per cent, of State enterprises had failed. On Friday morning last, Opposition members drew attention to the alleged failure of the New South Wales State brick works, thus obviously showing that they had not studied the subject. It is very important that the people of Australia should be reminded that the right honorable member for North Sydney, a former Prime Minister, and Mr. W. A. Holman, a former Premier of New South Wales, very strongly opposed the disposal of State enterprises, the right honorable member for North Sydney protesting against the disposal of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and Mr. Holman objecting to the disposal of the New South Wales State brick works, the State metal quarries and the Monier pipe works. As the right honorable member for North Sydney spoke, a cry of pain must have echoed round Australia when it was known that the Government intended to dispose of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Mr. Holman and Mr. Arthur Griffith protested when they heard that the Stevens Government in New South Wales proposed to sell the State metal quarries, which had been established in 1910, and which, according to the reports of the Auditor-General, had carried on for many years making large profits. This is what they said -
There i3 no question of political principle involved in this question. One of the undersigned is an active supporter of the present Government, the other an opponent. We agree, however, in feeling that the figures and reasons set forth by the Premier are imperfect and dangerously misleading, and as members of the Government responsible for the establishment of these works which have had the approval and support of other Governments of every shade of political opinion during a period amounting to 22 years, we ask that full public inquiry be made as to the result obtained by the works before any final step be taken for their abandonment or disposal. Tn conclusion, we would point out that the public has a right to expect that any Government elected by it, no matter of what political colour, will protect its properties and not permit them to be wrecked in the interests of private moneymaking concerns.
A royal commission was appointed tu inquire into the matter, and the sale was deferred until after the death of Mr. Holman in 1935. Members of the Opposition have based most of their objections to this bill on the alleged failure of State enterprises in Australia, anc! I am endeavouring to show that those premises are false. I propose now to refer to what took place before the royal commission. The royal commissioner said -
Time and time again during the course of the hearing I pointed out that my enquiry had nothing to do with the wisdom or otherwise of the policy adopted and pursued. The papers make it abundantly clear - and Mr. Spooner emphasized this in his evidence - that ae a matter of policy the Government were determined to “get out of business” and not to continue to compete with private enterprise.
Mr. Spooner was the Minister in charge of those matters. As the royal commissioner said, the Government was determined to get out of business, and that is why those valuable State shipyards, brickworks, pipeworks and metal quarries were disposed of. Those enterprises were sold after the death of the former Premier of New South Wales, Mr. W. A. Holman. Had Mr. Holman survived, it is not difficult to imagine what his feelings would have been to know that the interests that bought those valuable undertakings were the bis? combines themselves. At the time that the sales occurred, the newspaper Truth said -
On the face of things (as disclosed in the latest departmental reports) certain wealthy corporations are being made a present of £344,1 !)0, but the actual amount would probably be nearer half a million sterling - possibly a great deal more . . .
The whole transaction is clouded with associations which directly contradict the suggestion that the. Government is anxious to rid itself of an incubus. The answer to that is that the accumulated profits amounted to £300,000 at June 30, 1034. All three concerns were money-spinners. Astute brickmakers, quarry -owners, gravel and sand sellers don’t buy “dud” industrials for the fun of investing their surplus cash, and saving the Government from the folly of its predecessors.
I hope that no further speakers on the opposite side of the House will stand up and say that State enterprise has failed.
– The honorable member will hear one very soon.
– I could refer to many other State enterprises that were sabotaged and deliberately mismanaged, and, by .being defrauded of contracts, were weakened by a government that was opposed to State enterprise. When the last war started we found ourselves with only one shipyard operating - Cockatoo Island Dockyard. In 1941, fortunately for this country, the McKell Government, a Labour government, was elected to office in New South Wales and at once resuscitated, revitalized and expanded the State dockyard at Newcastle.
– It also sold the Coalcliff colliery.
– The Newcastle dockyard was scandalously abandoned by anti-Labour administrations that preceded the McKell Government. Some of its costly plant and machinery was sold to private enterprise at bargain prices, and the remainder was left to rust and rot. The McKell administration decided to re-establish the dockyards, which to-day occupy 24 acres. The State government’s 15,000-ton floating dock is an asset to the Port of Newcastle. It has an overall length of 630 feet and a width of 82 feet. The dockyard area includes a number -of large buildings, and large numbers of people are employed there. One wonders what would happen to this great undertaking in Newcastle if the Government neglected the shipbuilding industry. I say that, if this Government did not pursue its policy of fostering the Australian shipbuilding industry, very soon that great undertaking at Newcastle would be closed down. The Evans Deakin shipyard at Brisbane also would be closed down, as would other shipbuilding yards throughout the Commonwealth.
– All our steel works are closed down because of indusi rial troubles.
– It would be nothing short of criminal for this Government to neglect its duty by not proceeding with the present measure.
– It closed down the Glen Davis shale oil project.
– It is unrealistic, un-Australian and unpatriotic of honorable members opposite to oppose the present measure. The Government would not dare to go to the people at the next general elections without having put this measure into effect. The people of Australia have waited patiently for this Labour Government to re-establish a Commonwealth line of ships, thus, as I said in my opening remarks, repairing the damage done by an anti-Labour government. If we neglected this responsibility we should not deserve the support of the people. We do not blame the shipping companies for their efforts to make their businesses prosper and earn money for their shareholders. The Government would be foolish if it did not take steps to protect the people. Australia is a long way from the markets of the world. We must get our goods to market, and for that reason, a mercantile marine is of the first importance to the primary producers of Australia. The Government owes to the primary producer the duty of protecting him and ensuring that ships will be available to take his products to the other side of the world at reasonable freight rates.
– Is that why the Government has provided in the bill for a 200-ton minimum?
– So far, we have constructed a great number of ships in shipyards that were developed during the war and have been fostered since then by the Government. Great cargo vessels have been built, but so far we have not constructed any passenger ships. I notice, however, that in a magazine entitled Shipbuilding there is a picture of a fine model of the vessel Dongarra, which is the first passenger ship ordered by the Australian Shipbuilding Board and which is now being built at the State dockyard. It is a remarkable model, made by Mr. P. E. Andreas, of Sydney. Not only have we, in Australia, first-rate skilled workers, including engineers, for shipbuilding yards, but we have also a firstrate ship modeller, who, according to the magazine that I have mentioned, has no superior anywhere in the world. The people of Australia, especially those on the east coast, have a great interest in ships. They will be very pleased indeed to know that the Government is fostering the shipbuilding industry and intends to have the shipyards of Australia working to full capacity. It is of great importance that this measure provides that no ship of more than 24 years of age shall be permitted to trade in Australian waters.
– Has the honorable member examined Lloyd’s Register ?
– We intend to wipe out the old vessels and so develop the capacity and efficiency of the Australian mercantile marine. Thereby we shall provide a great service to the people of Australia, and to the crews of vessels, comfort and safety and protection of their health. We intend to do at sea what we have already done in the air in the establishment of TransAustralia Airlines. Honorable gentlemen opposite must he very hard pressed to find arguments against this measure when they even attack the establishment of Trans-Australia Airlines. Most arguments advanced against this bill by honorable gentlemen opposite centre on the establishment of State enterprises of any description by the Australian Government or State governments. But we will go on. We owe a duty to the people of Australia to keep the shipbuilding and shipping industries in a flourishing state. We have a duty to the workers to provide them with appropriate employment. The measure is a fine one, and I am indeed proud to support it. I hope that it will have a. speedy passage through this House.
Mr MCDONALD (Corangamite) 5.42]. - I congratulate the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) on having entered into the spirit of the debate on shipping because, within two or three minutes he demonstrated that he was all at sea. Before the war, he said, ships trading on the Australian coast had been barely sufficient to meet requirements. Let me tell him that the Australian people were served more efficiently by our coastal shipping then than they have been served since the war. Then supplies could be shipped interstate at a reasonable cost and quickly, whereas, today, it is not unusual to wait two or three months before goods can be shipped from one Australian port to another. I remind the honorable member that when he and I were members of a parliamentary delega tion that recently toured Queensland, we saw the spectacle of one crop of sugar still remaining in store when the new crop was coming in. In Victoria, at least, and, I understand, in Tasmania also people could then buy not more than 2 lb. of sugar at a time.
The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman, in submitting this hill, with that second sight that is peculiar to his race, foresaw that the Opposition would charge the Government with an underhand attempt to introduce nationalization. He was at great pains to make that clear. He did not say it only once. He said it twice. He said, “ We have no intention to nationalize the shipbuilding industry “. I carefully read his speech to ascertain whether he said it a third time, because I thought I heard the cock crow when he said it the second time. We are accustomed to assurances of that kind from the Minister for Defence. Almost every time he introduces a bill or supports a bill introduced by one of his colleagues, he gives us certain assurances. But those assurances are not worth a pinch of salt. I remind honorable members of the assurance that he gave when we were debating the Banking Bill 1945. He said then -
I say quite frankly that the present proposals of the Government in no sense mean socialization or nationalization of the banking system. I turn now to what I consider ought to be the structure of the banking system in this country. I consider that it ought to have at its apex a central bank, under which there should be functioning the various bunks that undertake trading activities. The alternative would be, of course, to have only one bank undertaking the activities of the central hunk and monopolizing the whole field of trading banks as well. That could perhaps be described as nationalization or socialization of the hanking system. The Government has not selected that system, but proposes an alternative which it thinks is better fitted to this country.
So I repeat that the assurance given by him about this bill is not worth a pinch of salt. The assurance was given for the purpose of deluding the people of Australia. Election time is approaching, and, after the very unhappy experience that the Government had over the nationalization of banking, it is not game to come out into the open and disclose its intention to nationalize the shipping industry.
– The Constitution will not allow the Government to nationalize the shipping industry.
– The Government’s own physical constitution would not stand it. The Government could not take another drubbing like that which it received on the banking issue.
– .Order ! The honorable member must come back to the subject of shipping.
– I shall be delighted to do so. It was not I, but the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) who introduced the subject of nationalization. He anticipated that the cry of “ Nationalization ! “ would be raised. Doubtless, he had a guilty conscience. He assumed that it would be competent for the Government, under this bill, to nationalize shipping by subtle and sinister methods. It will be able to accomplish its objective of nationalization without the expenditure of money in compensation. Therefore, the Minister’s assurances leave me cold. My study of the bill leads me to believe that it contains machinery that will enable the Government to freeze out private shipping companies and .establish a monopoly. Honorable members opposite have referred to our criticism of the establishment of governmental undertakings like Trans-Australia Airlines. The honorable member for Robertson referred to that undertaking in his closing remarks. I remind him that, very soon after TransAustralia Airlines was established, the Australian National Airlines Commission was a party to an increase of fares. It even attempted to dragoon Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited into raising its fares by 20 per cent. Honorable members have lively recollections of the attempt to make that company increase its fare for the journey from Melbourne to Canberra. When it found that certain honorable members like me with Scotch instincts preferred to patronize the cheaper service, the Government immediately issued instructions that honorable members had to travel on Trans-Australia Airlines’ aircraft to qualify for free air transport. That converted us all overnight to passengers of Trans-Australia Airlines. I cite the example of Trans-
Australia Airlines to show that governmental instrumentalities do not mean cheaper freights and fares. On the contrary, it was demonstrated by TransAustralia Airlines, immediately it began to operate at a colossal loss, that its policy was to force up fares to such a level that ordinary people, who pay for the nationalization schemes, could not avail themselves of its services because they did not have enough money to do so.
– Order ! The honorable member has been up in the air long enough. I ask him to come back to the sea.
– The bill deals with transport, and, with all respect to the Chair, I claim that one cannot debate the subject of sea transport without referring to all classes of transport, by rail, road, sea and air. I suggest, most respectfully, that a comparison like that which I have been making is necessary.
– Order! The Chair thinks quite differently.
– In deference to you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I shall return to the bill, which was almost entirely ignored by the honorable member for Robertson, who devoted most of his time to an attempt to prove that the former Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers that was established in 1916 had rendered very good service to the Commonwealth despite the fact that it had incurred heavy financial losses. I understand that a representative of the Australian Country party who will speak after I have concluded my speech, will tell the true story of that line, and for that reason I shall not deal with the subject.
– It will be an interesting story if it is the true one.
– I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to listen to the truth and benefit thereby. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Defence said -
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 . .
Apparently the Minister will not he concerned about the needs of the companies which will be prepared to pay for the ships. He will first decide whether their requirements should be fulfilled. After that there will be a chance that ships will be delivered to them. In framing this bill, the Government has followed the very bad principle which it has employed in other measures - that of giving a Minister the power of veto. In this instance, the Minister for Shipping and Fuel will be allowed to have the final decision as to whether ships shall be built, notwithstanding any facts that may be adduced by the companies that will require ships. The Minister for Defence stated that the method of providing financial assistance for shipbuilding would have a degree of flexibility. The only flexibility that I can foresee in a scheme of that kind will be that which will enable the Minister to exercise the very extensive power that will be reposed in him to do as he thinks fit, irrespective of the wishes of the companies.
– They will not need to go to the Minister. They will be able to go direct to the shipbuilders if they want to do so.
– But they will not be able to operate their ships unless they first obtain a permit to do so from the Minister. If that statement is incorrect, I hope that the Minister will point out the facts. The Minister stated in his second-reading speech that the proposed shipping board would be able to borrow money on overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank and secure advances from the Treasurer, but that no other borrowing would be permitted except with the consent of the Treasurer. Then he added -
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.
That is laughable. We have very vivid recollections of a report by the AuditorGeneral containing detailed criticism of certain government undertakings. When it was debated in this House, we had the spectacle of Ministers suggesting that the Auditor-General had not taken a fair view of the matter. The fact that the Auditor-General will have super vision of the financial aspects of the shipbuilding operations that will be authorized by this bill does not mean a thing. It will not prevent the squandering of money, and rf we protest in this House, our objections will be stifled just as the Government stifled a debate that took place earlier this afternoon. The Minister also said during his second-reading speech -
I -mention in particular the assistance which has been given by the Commonwealth-owned 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 . . .
The honorable gentleman could not have chosen a more unhappy illustration than that of the loading of sugar at Queensland ports, because he resides in a city where people still queue up to buy sugar from their grocers in 2-lb. lots, only to be met time and again with this statement - “ There is no white sugar available, but you can have 2 lb. of brown sugar”. Incidentally, they are charged the same price for brown sugar as for white sugar.
– That shows that they have the brown sugar.
– It shows that they can purchase only 2 lb. of brown sugar at one time, at the price that is charged for white sugar. It is no comfort to the housewives of Australia to he able to buy sugar only in 2-lb. lots at the height of the fruit season, when they normally preserve supplies for winter.
– The shortage is due to lack of capacity in the sugar refining plants, not to shipping difficulties.
– The shortage is due to the bungling on the waterside. The refusal of waterside workers to load cargoes has caused ships to leave ports with empty, holds. At this time, when we are discussing the necessity for building bigger and better ships, and when prices for our primary products are at the highest levels ever known in our history, ships are being forced to leave our ports only partly loaded, although cargo is lying on the wharfs, because men refuse to work. If the Government sincerely desires that cargoes should be shipped to overseas ports as quickly as possible, surely to goodness it should make some move to ensure that the waterside workers either do their work efficiently or leave the scene and allow people who can do the work properly to do so. Lack of shipping is not the cause of the tardy shipment of food to Great Britain. The trouble lies in the slow turn-round of ships and the irresponsibility of union officials who incite workers to strike and disruption on the most feeble pretexts. The Government has allowed this state of affairs on the waterfront to continue for two or three years without exercising its power and saying to the waterside workers and others, “ Under the law you have your industrial awards. If you are not satisfied with your wages and conditions you should approach the Arbitration Court “. I can understand strikes occurring in countries where there is no arbitration system, but the waterside workers are playing with a double-headed penny. “ Heads “ they win, and “ tails “ they win again. Yet the Government sits idly by and declares that cargoes are not being moved expeditiously because shipbuilding was not encouraged in the past.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the following statement emanate from the Minister : -
It way 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 rising to an unduly high level.
Those words might well have been taken from the policy of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party.For an avowed Socialist to say that this bill will not nationalize the shipping industry, and that government operations will give a stimulus to shipping and prevent freight rates and fares from rising, is almost incredible. However, accepting the Minister’s statement at its face value, and assuming that government-operated shipping lines will prevent fares and freight from rising, why not apply the same argument to shipbuilding? Why place an embargo upon the operation of British vessels in the Australian trade? Would the use of British ships not give a healthy stimulus to the Australian shipbuilding industry and enable shipbuilding costs to be kept down? We should not forget how much we are indebted to Great Britain for the shipping facilities that the Old Country made available to us during the war when we had huge quantities of primary products awaiting export and few ships to carry them. Our produce was carried largely by British vessels, and for that we owe the people of Great Britain a debt of gratitude which we could repay in a tangible way by permitting British-built ships to be used in the Australian trade at least until the present lag of shipping has been overtaken. It is essential that our primary products should reach overseas markets’ as quickly as possible. The world is crying out for food. Australian primary producers, although decreasing in number, have been able to keep up supplies wonderfully well,but I felt some alarm when I read recently a statement by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) that, with a relatively small increase of our population,the Australian community will require all the food produced in this country and none will be available for export. That may be so, but I still believe that because Great Britain is our main market for primary products, we should be prepared to give to the people of the United Kingdom reciprocal treatment by accepting British-built ships. If Britain is prepared to take our foodstuffs at the high prices now prevailing, we should be prepared to permit British ships to participate in the Australian shipping trade.
– The Australian Country party does not believe that present prices are high.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) has not heard any member of the Australian Country party or of the Liberal party complain about the prices at present being received for our primary products. He may, however, haveheard some complaint, and with very good reason, about his action in entering into a contract to sell Australian wheat to New Zealand for five years at 5s. 9d. a bushel when world parity was 14s.6d. a bushel.
– That is an unfair statement.
– It is a true statement, but I understand that the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) spends most of his time in caucus and possibly he is not accustomed to true statements. The powers with which the Minister will be clothed when this measure becomes law will be equal to those exercised so unfairly by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture when he sold an Australian primary product at a price considerably below its market value to a neighbouring country. The explanation given when the deal was made was that we would get something in return-
– Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the wheat of which T speak must be taken to New Zealand in ships. It cannot be flown to New Zealand. If anything is sea cargo surely wheat is. Government supporters who complain about the insufficiency of shipping in the Australian trade at present overlook the fact that during the war years British shipping suffered enormous losses. According to figures cited bv the honorable member for Martin the United Kingdom entered the war with 20,000,00 tons of shipping, and lost 12,000,000 tons or 60 per cent, of it in the course of the conflict. The replacement of that tonnage will necessarily take some years. That is an added reason why in the next year or two we should encourage the United Kingdom to build ships for the Australian trade. If that were done we might he able to catch up with the lag much more quickly. It would also be to our credit if we were prepared to say to the people of the United Kingdom from whom we have extracted so much money for our primary products, “ We are prepared to give you a fair share of our shipping trade “. The blunt fact is that overseas shipping companies are loath to send their vessels to Australia. The voyage is long, and the owners realize that their vessels may have to spend lengthy periods in Australian ports. As I said earlier, in the last few weeks we have seen the sorry spectacle of overseas ships leaving our coast without the cargoes for which they came here. Approximately £4,000,000 worth of freight is awaiting shipment from Sydney. Those goods include a large quantity of wool that has been bought and paid for. The Parliament, and the Government have fallen down on their job by failing to ensure that existing facilities shall bc employed to the utmost to shift at least a substantial proportion of this cargo.
In the concluding stage of his speech, the Minister for Defence said -
The shipping companies also will he 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.
I remind the Minister that the mere placing of orders with the Australian Shipbuilding Board will not ensure an adequate supply of vessels. I know of a man who applied for a telephone a fewdays ago, and was informed that he could have one but that he might have to wail for a week or tcn years. That is what is happening under a government monopoly, and I have no doubt that similar answers will be given to companies which are anxious to enter the shipping trade, but are debarred from purchasing ships overseas.
It is argued that honorable members on this side of the chamber are opposed to the building of ships in Australia, bunothing could be further from the truth. The honorable member for Martin made a slip in his speech. When he said that the Australian Shipbuilding Board was set up in March, 1941, he was asked what government was in power at that time, but he had a convenient lapse of memory. To refresh his memory I now inform him that the parties now on this side of the chamber were responsible for that move. Moreover, in March, 1941, when war difficulties were great, the then government offered every facility for the construction of ships in this country, and gave every encouragement to that enterprise. There is no reason why this Government should not do likewise. Then; is no need for an embargo on United Kingdom shipping. I remind the honorable member for Martin that the action of the Menzies Government was taken in March, 1941, three months before the present Minister for Defence made his infamous statement in this House that he was not in favour of compulsory military training for home defence.
– What happened to the Menzies Government?
– We might well ask what will happen to the present Government. The ships built by the Menzies Government are still afloat. The honorable member for Martin has endeavoured to take kudos for the work done by the Menzies Government. If we rely solely on the efforts of Australian shipbuilders there will be an acute shortage of shipping for some years. For that reason the Government should agree to the lifting of the embargo on United Kingdom shipping and make such shipping available for the carrying of cargoes which are so urgently needed at present.
– The Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) introduced this bill into the Senate on the 9th December last. The main points he made were that the objectives of the Government were to maintain the Australian mercantile marine, maintain the shipbuilding industry in Australia, and establish a Commonwealth line of steamers. These propositions are clear and simple and are well understood. The Minister also said that there was no provision in the bill for the nationalization of the shipping industry. All the observations of honorable members opposite, with their suspicious minds, cannot read anything into the legislation to justify the statement they have made in contradiction of the clear observation of the measure. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel also said -
The mercantile marine is, in fact, an arm of the fighting services, and the existence of an adequate mercantile marine cannot he left to the accidents of commercial chance.
He indicated that during the war the need for an adequate mercantile fleet became apparent. He also indicated that in 1939 the merchant fleet was most inadequate as it consisted of only 225 vessels totalling about 450,000 gross tons, and that of these, 82 vessels of 107,000 gross tons were more than twenty years old while an additional 50 vessels totalling 102,000 gross tons were between sixteen and twenty years old. In other words, we had a lot of old tubs floating around the coasts. The Minister also indicated that the Government, having no alternative, was operating interstate “ River “ class vessels which werebuilt to its order for overseas trading, and eighteen British ships, also of the larger overseas types, which it had chartered. He stated that those vessels’ were suitable for bulk cargoes but wereneither suitable, nor economical, for the general coastal work in which they were at present engaged. In other words,, the Minister indicated that we should make a modern approach to this matter of sea transport. It has been remarked during this debate that nearly 90 per cent, of interstate transport in Australia is carried by sea. To endeavour to carry on such transport with obsolete vessels is so absurd that no honorable member having the interests of his country at heart can do anything but welcome the introduction of this legislation, designed as it is, to serve the best interests of the Australian people. The legislation contains a provision that ships may not be licenced if they are more than 24 years old. That provision is designed to ensure that we shall have a reasonably modern and efficient fleet for the purposes of peace or war. Can any legitimate argument be advanced against having a modern fleet or against telling the owners of obsolete vessels that they must replace them ? We do not allow obsolete motor cars to use our roads or obsolete locomotives to operate on our railways, if we can possibly replace them. The history of shipbuilding and of the Australian mercantile marine in this country has been most disappointing. It would be a tragedy if we followed the same bad example that we followed after World War I. and allowed the shipbuilding industry to languish. The provision requiring the replacement of vessels which have been in service for 24 years will ensure a permanent market for Australian-built ships as also will the proposed ban on the use of nonAustralian ships on the coastal trade. We need modern ships just as much as we need modern dockyards. When World War II. broke out Australia did not have a modern dockyard. After the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore the nearest dock capable of repairing British and Australian vessels and units of the American fleet serving in the Pacific, was at Simonstown, South Africa. This Government pushed ahead with the building of the Captain Cook Dock-
– The Labour party opposed the commencement of the dock.
– Order !
– The Labour Government completed the dock in record time.
– And at record cost.
– That may be true. The Labour Government arranged for the working of three shifts on the dock. While the rest of Sydney was blacked out the lights were shining on the dock area so that there might be available in the South-West Pacific at least one dock capable of accommodating a modern battleship.
Mr. Spender interjecting,
-Order! The honorable member for Warringah must cease his interjections.
– The Minister for Shipping and Fuel also indicated that the tariff protection for the Australian shipbuilding industry had in the past proved to be ineffective. He stated that under the legislation now before us the Australian Shipping Board would provide Australian-built ships for private shipping- companies, reselling such ships at prices approximating those of similar ships built in British shipyards, with a notable and proper proviso that the difference shall not exceed 25 per cent, of the Australian cost. We do not want trafficking in these ships by speculators in the shipping industry. Australian shipbuilding costs are already lower than those of many countries and will improve still further as Australian’ workers and those in charge of our shipyards gain more experience.
– The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who says, “ Nonsense “, should be a good judge of what is nonsense, for I have not heard any man talk so much nonsense in such a short space of time as the honorable member does. The ships which used to ply between the United States and Australia, Mariposa and Monterey, are off the run to-day because they cannot he repaired for less than 20,000,000 dollars each. That shows the excessive cost of repairing ships in the United States of America. It is estimated that the cost of converting these ships to their peace-time glory would be £A. 6,000, 000 each. Our costs are considerably lower than those that operate in the American yards, and they are not at a very great disadvantage by comparison with costs in British yards. I have visited British shipbuilding yards and have seen the work that is going on. I examined Orcades while it was in course of construction,, and I viewed Himalaya in an adjoining slipway. I probably know more about the British shipbuilding industry and what it has done since the war than do member of the Opposition. When World War II. began 20,000,000 tons of British shipping was operating, but when the war ended that tonnage had declined to 7,500,000. Very little has been done yet in Great Britain to overtake the leeway. Only one new vessel has been built in British shipyards for the United KingdomAustralia traffic that is actually operating in that trade, and that is Orcades. Its sister ship, Oronsay, will require two years for completion. Himalaya, which is being constructed for the Australian trade by the Peninsular and Oriental Line, will, perhaps, come into service in six months’ time. Apart from those vessels, no others have been built or are in prospect for the Australian trade. The principal work done in British shipyards since the war has been to convert vessels that were used as troopships during the war. It is proper, therefore, that we should establish in Australia a shipbuilding industry that will be ancillary to the British industry. If we are to become truly a commonwealth of nations, and if all the units of that commonwealth are to be united in peace, as they were in war, then it is essential that the shipbuilding programme of this country should he expedited. We should certainly not adopt the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and get out of shipbuilding altogether, leaving it to Great Britain to build all our vessels.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! There is far too much interruption. I do not wish to name any honorable members, but I shall do so if they persist in interjecting.
– Order ! The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has been one of the most frequent interjectors.
– Nonsense! Nonsense!
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Moreton to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it, sir. I am not disorderly.
– I shall continue to tell the story as best I can against the larrikin behaviour of members of the Opposition. There are more larrikins on the Opposition benches this evening than I have seen for a long time. The Leader of the Opposition stated that Great Britain, which is striving to recover from the effects of war, would be struck a severe blow by the imposition by the Australian Government of a complete embargo on the importation of British ships. He said, in effect, “ Do not build ships in Australia; buy them from British shipyards”. That is the interpretation to be placed on his remarks. Of course, the argument advanced by the Leader of the Opposition could be used against the continued development of any industry in this country. Substantially it is the argument of the “ free traders “, those advocates of a certain fiscal policy which has been dead in this country for many years. Its adoption would not help the people of Great Britain. As I am reminded by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), if the contention that we should destroy our present shipbuilding industry were sound, we should, to be consistent, go further and destroy cur steel industry. We might make a beginning by destroying the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Then we ought to destroy all our other industries in order to assist the recovery of similar industries in Great Britain. That contention needs only to be stated to demonstrate its falsity. In considering not only the shipbuilding, but all other existing industries in this country, we should bear in mind the paramount claims of national development which cannot, and must not, be permitted to be impeded. That development must continue without check, if necessary, at some financial loss, so that more and more people can be employed in Australia and the resources of the nation properly developed. If we try to set back the hands of the clock by asserting that Australia should continue to import its ships from the United Kingdom, we shall ignore the lessons of the ‘seventies of last century, when the establishment of German shipyards first challenged the supremacy of British maritime shipping. The development of the American maritime industry followed, and later the Japanese merchant marine was established. It is essential in the interests of this country in peace as well as in war that we should possess a properly developed shipbuilding industry, and that can only be achieved, as the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), who introduced the measure in this House, said in the course of hie secondreading speech, by consolidating the present industry and ensuring its continued development according to plan.
As the Minister for Shipping and Fuel pointed out in the Senate, the Government’s third objective in introducing the measure is to establish a national line of steamers. Of course, at one time we had a Commonwealth line of steamers, and it was a very good line. That enterprise was established by the Fisher Administration in 1914. On the 8th October, 1914, the speech delivered by the Governor-General to the Parliament, which then sat in Melbourne, contained the following announcement: -
My advisers are in favour of the establishment of a Commonwealth line of steamers, and steps towards that end will be taken as early as practicable.
Within two years of that announcement, the line had been established and it had become a flourishing entity. The Commonwealth became the owner of a large, efficient mercantile fleet, which remained in existence until it was destroyed by the Bruce-Page Government. “Whatever might be said about the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) concerning his changes of opinion on conscription and a number of other issues, it is historically true to say that while he was Prime Minister he did not attempt to destroy any of the government enterprises which the Australian Labour party had established when he was a member of that party. The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was on of the foremost of those enterprises. The infamous BrucePage Government, which left behind a monument of ineptitude, incompetence and slavish subservience to the demands of monopolistic capital, set about the destruction of enterprises which Labour had established and which the right honorable member for North Sydney had permitted to continue. Of course, the members of nhat Government did not attempt to do so immediately they attained office; they waited until they had dropped the pilot, or, if I might vary the metaphor, until they had made the right honorable gentleman, who then represented the electorate of Bendigo, walk the plank. What did the Bruce-Page Administration do with the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers? It gave it away. It also sold the former Commonwealth woollen mills to a group of people, some of whom were related to members of the Nationalist party from which the members of the government of that time was chosen. It destroyed the Commonwealth harness factory, and, worst crime of all, it sabotaged the Commonwealth Bank. By its profligate expenditure of public money, it contributed substantially to the onset of the economic depression which so nearly wrecked Australia. That Administration did all those things, and it stands condemned in the estimation of all decent Australians for its crimes against the people.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Why is it that honorable members opposite are always on the defensive when, we remind them that they sabotaged the Commonwealth Bank? Why are they always on the defensive when the complete story of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth
Line of Steamers is told ? That story has probably been told already by Government supporters during this debate, but it needs re-telling, as it cannot be told too often. The Australian Commonwealth Line of ‘Steamers, established by the Fisher Government, consisted of five “ Bay “ liners and two “ Dale “ class freight steamers. They were constructed at a cost of £7,500,000; they were given away for £1,900,000. Of course, they were nominally sold. I notice that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) is leaving the chamber. He is retreating because I am recounting the facts of that transaction. Those ships were given away for £1,900,000 to a gentleman named Lord Kylsant, who was the chairman of eighteen shipping companies and a director of ten others. As the chairman, the managing director, a director or a shareholder, Lord Kylsant held a controlling interest in shipping companies with an aggregate capital of £86,453,000.
– That is Communist propaganda.
-Order! I warn the honorable member for Warringah for the last time. If you interrupt again, I will name you.
– I have only spoken twice.
– Order ! If you speak again, you are out.
– Lord Kylsant paid £1,900,000 for ships that had cost £7,000,000. After he had paid about £1,250,000 off the purchase price, it was discovered that he was manipulating the balance-sheets of his company, and ultimately he was sent to gaol. From the moment he went to gaol Australia ceased to receive any further payments for those ships. That is the story of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. It was such a disgraceful story that the right honorable member for North Sydney opposed the bill that had been introduced to ratify the sale of the vessels. The right honorable gentleman is not in his place to-night to vote against the bill now under consideration. He is so ashamed of the attitude of his colleagues upon this subject that he has deliberately absented: himself from the House; he refuses to associate himself with the disgraceful opposition to the bill.
– The right honorable member for NorthSydney is on his way to Canberra, and will be here to-morrow.
– Order ! Some honorable members will be outside in a minute if they do not take care.
– Many honorable members opposite are on their way out. In his speech on the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, the right honorable member for North Sydney asked the following question: -
For what reason does the Government propose to sell the line?
The Government to which he was referring was, of course, the Bruce-Page Government. He examined the whole of the balance-sheets, told the whole story, and dealt with the arguments that those who wanted to destroy the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers had advanced. He answered them, and the words that he used on that occasion may be used with equal force to-night to answer those who use similar arguments against this bill. I quote the following words of the righ honorable gentleman as taken from Hansard of November, 1927-
It is late in the day for Australians, especially in this building, to declaim against government - enterprise. Here, in Canberra, one cannot walk a yard without meeting a government servant, nor travel, save in government trains; here everything is Tun by the Government. Furthermore, whenever any one in this country, however he may have denounced government enterprise, strikes a bad patch,he arranges a deputation to ask for government assistance.
Twenty-two years afterwards, honorable members opposite, in parrot-like fashion, talk about government enterprises failing, and not being entitled to receive support. Honorable members opposite have strange views about government enterprises and the expenditure of government money. They have not the slightest objection in war-timeto the Government subsidizing private enterprise right to the limit, and paying out large sums on the most flimsy pretexts, but when the war has ended and peace has returned, they violently express their ideas against any form of government enterprise. They say that they do not want a government monopoly. What they actually want is a monopoly so long as it operates in the interests of big business. They have no objection to monopolies, provided those monopolies are controlled by high finance. They talk about competition but, in fact, they do not want any competition, even between private undertakings. They favour cartels, trusts, combines and monopolies, and the bigger those monopolies are the better honorable members opposite like them. When the Government proposes to establish a line of steamers to compete with private enterprise, honorable members opposite want none of it. They do not want the competition that a Commonwealth line will provide, although, they say, on other occasions, that competition is the lifeblood of trade. They do not favour the kind of competition that reduces freights. They know that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers effectively controlled freights and protected Australian primary producers. In April, 1928, the then Prime Minister. Mr. Bruce, gave some interesting figures about the operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers–
– From what book is the Minister quoting?
– Is it a Communist book?
– Order !
– Will the Minister tell me the name of the book from which he is quoting? That is a fair question.
– Order ! The honorable member for Indi must remain silent. The Minister has the floor, and there must be no interruption.
– I have asked a fair question.
-Order! You must not ask any more questions. If you interject again, I will name you.
- Mr. Bruce had been asked a question relative to the savings that had been effected by a reduction of freight rates announced by the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers in July, 1926. He showed that in the year ended the 30th September, 1927, the following savings had been made in freights :- £37,900 on apples, £105,000 on beef, mutton and lamb, £337,900 on wool, £2,150 on oranges, £26,800 on butter and lard, £1,916 on cheese, £59,750 on hides and skins and £4,572 on rabbits, a total of £575, 9S8. According to Hansard of the 10th July, 1923, Mr. Bruce said-
Shortly after the line was established it was carrying Australian wheat to London at £7 10s. ])er ton, at a time when British shipowners were charging £13 and more, and foreign charters were as high as £15 per ton. The Commonwealth line’s rates were a considerable benefit to the Australian farmer at that time.
That position prevailed for years, until big interests overseas decided to destroy the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, and their subservient minions in this Parliament obliged them by taking the necessary action.’
– Then the right honorable member fdr Cowper was knighted.
– Order !
– In 1923, the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers twice refused requests by British and foreign interests to join in a general increase of freights. In 1925 the Commonwealth line was asked to increase freight by 10 per cent., but, again, it declined to do so. In November, 1926, it was asked to agree to increase freights by 15 per cent, on nearly all cargo from the United Kingdom to Australia, but it rejected the proposal. After the line had been destroyed, the shipping companies immediately increased freights and the Australian farmers paid for it.
– That is a lie.
– I object to that remark.
– Order 1 I ask the right honorable member for Cowper to withdraw that remark and apologize.
– I withdraw and apologize.
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman must stand in his place when he withdraws a remark, and apologizes.
– In deference to the Chair. I withdraw the remark, and apologize.
– I rise to order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister is quoting from a public document, and, if he is, will you ascertain whether he proposes to lay it on the table ?
– I do not propose to try to educate the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), because that would be impossible.
– I rise to order. Whether the booklet from which the Minister is quoting is a public document or not does not matter. I direct attention to Standing Order 317, which reads as follows: -
A document relating to public affairs quoted from by a Minister of the Crown unless stated to be of a confidential nature or such as should more properly be obtained by Address, may be called for and made a public document.
I point out that it does not matter whether it is a public document or not. Obviously, the Minister is quoting from a document relating to a public affair. I call for the document, in view of the fact that it has been alleged that the Minister is quoting from a Communist document.
– Does the Minister say that the document is confidential ?
– No, but I ask that the suggestion that I am quoting from a Communist document, to which I take strong objection, be withdrawn.
– If the Minister claims that he is quoting from a confidential document he need not table that document ; if not, he must do so.
– I am quite prepared to table the document. In any case, it can be obtained in the Library. It is Labor’s Campaign Manual of 1928.
Sir Earle Page interjecting,
– I have already warned the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). If he interrupts again I shall name him.
– I quoted from a document which contains extracts from the Hansard report of the proceedings of this Parliament. In 1926, the then Prime Minister defended the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers and in a statement to the Parliament said that the estimated saving it would make to the primary producers of Australia that year would be £523,000. It is no wonder that, as reported in Hansard of the 9th November, 1927, at page 1116, the right honorable member for North Sydney said -
From the day that the Commonwealth line was purchased, the Conference Lines have not spared any effort to destroy it . . . The Commonwealth Line has always been recognized as a powerful and dominant factor in the Australian trade, and the Conference Lines, realizing it could not be crushed, have sought to buy it, or by some means to remove it from- their path.
Those words are as true now as they were then, and any opposition that is expressed to this measure in the interests of private enterprise by members of the Opposition in this Parliament is met in advance by the words of the former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, the right honorable member for North Sydney. I could quote a good deal more of what that right honorable gentleman said in the course of a long speech, every word of which was pregnant with meaning, and a justification of the action that was taken by the Fisher Government during World War I. The ships of the Commonwealth served this country, and subsequently, private enterprise, very well. During World War II. some of them were still in service. One was Jervis Bay, which was sunk in the Arctic Circle, whilst performing duty as an auxiliary cruiser. Esperance Bay and Moreton Bay have since traded between Australia and the United Kingdom, and around the Pacific Islands. They were good, well-made ships, and should not have been sacrificed in the manner that they were sacrificed.
It appeared to me that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) was conscripted to make his speech on this subject, because his heart was not really in it. He spoke about sugar and shipping and people not being able to get all the sugar that they wanted at the present time. That is not the fault of the Australian Shipbuilding Board. The trouble is attributable to the lack of labour in the refineries of Australia. Work in the refineries is not a very congenial occupation and many men in this country prefer to carry out other types of work much more beneficial to them financially and otherwise. As many honorable members are aware, a record crop of 915,000 tons of sugar was harvested in Queensland this year, most of which has been sent away. It was sold for a record price of about £27 a ton and the sugar farmers of Queensland have benefited by about £23,000,000 or £24,000,000. Of that total production, 300,000 tons was shipped overseas, 350,000 tons was dealt with in Australian refineries, and about 265,000 tons is in stock at mills and ports. That sugar is being shipped and will all be moved before the new season starts, so that the position now is much better than the position that obtained last year. It cannot be said, therefore, that any sugar shortages around the Australian coast are due to a lack of shipping, or to inefficiency upon the part of those who control and manage our shipping. What I have said about sugar is true, also, of steel. Of 60,000 tons of steel that has been lying at Newcastle for some time and about 20,000 tons of which was for Victoria, most of it was moved in the course of a few weeks. In every way possible the transportation of the products of Australian farms and Australian mills to the people of Australia and to overseas consumers is being expedited. It is not in the best interests of Australia that the efforts of those who are doing a magnificent job should be attacked in this Parliament. It is tragic that there are more “ knockers “ and more people prepared to decry their fellows in Australia than anywhere else in the world. That sort of thing should be stopped. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) and some other honorable members sitting in Opposition who jeer continually are amongst the worst offenders. Whilst we have need for more and more shipping, more and more is being provided and will continue to be provided. When the honorable member for Corangamite referred to the availability of shipping during the war he forgot the views of his present colleague in the Liberal party, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) - although I do not know how much longer he will be privileged to sit in this House.
When the honorable member for Barker was Minister for Commerce, he said, on the 8th May, 1940-
Our trouble to-day is not in regard to what we can grow or even what we can sell, but as to what we can ship.
That was the cry of the Opposition then. Of course we have improved the position very considerably, not only in respect of shipping but also in respect of everything else. The Bruce-Page Government that sold the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers had a great deal to say at one time in defence of the line. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, said to the shipping companies -
The Commonwealth Government line is there. You can fight it. Wipe it off the seas if you are fit to do it.
The newspaper report from which I take those words added that Mr. Bruce said -
He could talk at great length of the Commonwealth line, of its great activities in the past and its glorious future.
Vet, a few years later, Mr. Bruce helped to destroy that line. . If honorable members opposite are interested in the manner in which succeeding parliaments have followed the fate of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers they should consult the Ilansard report of the 18th May, 1938. On that occasion, Mr. Wilson, the then member for Wimmera, asked Mr. Casey, who was then Treasurer, what was the position of the shipping line and was informed that the line which cost £7,000,000 had been sold for £1,900,000, of which sum, £681,000, including interest to the date of the liquidation cif the White Star Line, was still owing. It was an old capitalist device. The White Star Line went into liquidation and the Commonwealth was not paid in full. On previous occasions I have told the story of the noble Lord Kylsant going to gaol. On the 13th. October, 1944, Senator Lamp asked the late Senator Keane, who was then Minister for Trade and Customs, a somewhat similar question, and the Minister’s reply on that occasion showed what a treacherous blow was struck at the Australian people by the action of the Bruce-Page Government in disposing of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. Within two years of that action the Bruce-Page Go vernment went down in one of the most conspicuous and complete electoral defeats in the history of the National Parliament. The destruction of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, the sabotage of the Commonwealth Bank and the giving away of the Commonwealth woollen mills and the Commonwealth harness factory made the people revolt against those acts of treachery on the part of their representatives in this Parliament at that time. Now, this Government intends to re-establish a government shipping line and it will be well run. The line is not to be bought, but is in existence now, and having served Australia well during the war it will serve the nation well at this period too. “When the necessary legislative and administrative machinery is set up the line will do even better, because its ships will he used in the way they can best serve the economy of Australia. The Australian Government will help the shipping companies, if they desire such help, in respect of the sale of some of the ships which the Shipping Board will construct.
I am glad that the establishment of Trans-Australia Airlines has been mentioned in this debate. The honorable member for Corangamite either did not know, or conveniently forgot, that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, which has competed with TransAustralia Airlines, is almost entirely owned by shipping companies, many of which are not registered in Australia. All of the latter companies draw tribute from the operations of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and expend that money outside this country. This Government has served Australia well in all its concepts and in all the provisions of legislation that it has put before the Parliament. It has only one interest to serve, which is not the interest of big business, but that of the mass of the people and, above all, the interest of the primary producers of Australia who have been dependent for so long upon “ rings “ which have operated on the other side of the world and have exploited the Australian farmers mercilessly, ruthlessly and relentlessly. The Government will win the support of the great mass of the people, be they the little people in the towns or the little people in the country : and it will win the support of the Australian electorates in the same way as President Truman won the support of the little people of the United States of America.
.- “We have just heard a speech from the “ prince of knockers “ in this Parliament. I confess that I was most disappointed by the effort of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) because he seems to have drifted back to the days before World War I. Like the Bourbons, he has learnt nothing and remembered nothing. What has happened in the last 30 years has meant nothing at all to him. I am absolutely opposed to this measure, but I welcome its introduction because it provides an. opportunity to place on record, not a lot of tarradiddles from Labour’s Campaign Manual, but many absolute truths which can be verified from official reports published by both Labour and non-Labour Governments with regard to the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I propose to show that from the beginning the Bruce-Page Government did all in its power to make the line a success; but one reason for its failure was that Labour, because of its inertness, or stupidity, stood by just as Saul stood by when Stephen was stoned. It allowed the line to be sabotaged. That is why the line went down. It is too late now, some twenty years later, for any government to come along with tarradiddles when we know that at the general election in 1925, at which the issue was the British seamen’s strike, and at the general election in 1928, when the issue was the wharf labourers’ strike, the people having those, matters fresh in their minds decisively rejected the story which again has been advanced on behalf of the Government in this debate. In 1925, the Labour party challenged the Bruce-Page Government to go to the country on the former issue, and when that Government did so. Labour won only 22 seats out of a total of 75 seats. Again, at the general election in 1928, Labour won only 29 seats out of a total of 75 seats in this Parliament. Although Labour was able to get into office on the false issue that the BrucePage Government was trying to destroy the Arbitration Court, when all we were endeavouring to do was to simplify the arbitration system by establishing one court in place of a number of courts which were working in conflict with each other, it is a fact that later still in 1931, Labour won only 23 seats out of the total of 75 seats. The people of Australia know that’ the story told on behalf of the Government in this matter is absolutely false. They know that it was the Labour party that did most to destroy the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers because it had neither the courage nor the skill to fight the Communist element in 1925, or in 1928, when it caused the industrial troubles to which I have referred. Many honorable members will recall a cartoon that was exhibited during the general election campaign of 1925. It was entitled “The Threelegged Race “ and showed Mr. Bruce and myself racing ahead of Mr. Charlton, then Leader of the Labour party, and a moujik making a hopeless effort to catch up with us. The Labour party will find itself in a similar position at the next general election. No matter how honorable members opposite may try to avoid the real issues, they cannot get away from, the facts.
What is the position to-day in respect of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers? For many years the Bruce-Page Government did all in its power to make the line efficient and to help it to succeed. To-night we have heard a lot of lies concerning the amount that is still owing to the Australian Government in respect of the sale. Yesterday, I was furnished by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury with particulars of the present financial position in respect of the contract of sale. They show that the line was sold for £1,900,000, and that, despite the statements by honorable members opposite that the Government had received nothing, the amount outstanding to-day is only £309.265 in respect of the principal and £104,486 in respect of interest. Those details also show that the Australian Government holds 23.920 “ B “ shares of £1 each fully paid, in Ocean Steam Navigation Realization Company Limited. In August, 1947, a first distribution of £5 10s. a share was received on those shares, the amount of payment being £131,560 sterling, which has to be set off against the actual debt. Those facts completely refute one of the main lies told by honorable members opposite about the sale of the line. It is worth while reviewing the history of the line from its establishment. If the Government stays in office for another few years, which would be a misfortune for Australia, it will be compelled to do with the new shipping line what the Bruce-Page Government had to do with the old one. It will have to try to put the line on a proper footing, and if it fails, as it will, the Government will then have to get rid of the ships. The Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was established during “World War I. with some captured enemy ships. It was not brought into being by the Fisher Government, as we have been told, but by Mr. Hughes. In order to ensure that our produce would be transported overseas, Mr. Hughes bought several ships of the “ Austral “ type. Gradually, a fairly substantial fleet was acquired, but during the war, despite what we have heard from honorable members opposite, the freights charged by the line were exactly the same as those charged by private shipping companies. Freights kept on going up, just as they have kept on going up during and since the last war. T do not blame the Government for that. We know that within the last few years freights between Melbourne and Sydney have been trebled, and those between Sydney and Fremantle have been doubled. Such increases were inevitable in view of working conditions on the ships and on the wharfs.
During the first world war, practically all freights increased by 300 per cent., except for wool, upon which the increase was only 75 per cent. When the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was then Prime Minister, was asked whether the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers could be used to bring freights down, he replied that the only way a shipping line could be run was on a commercial basis. If goods were to be carried for less than the proper commercial rate, Parliament would have to legislate to subsidize freights, so that it could be done openly and in the sight of the people. Up to the end of the war, the line had just about broken even financially. There was a credit of about £200,000 on its transactions, but in 1922 the line lost £1,200,000 and in the following year it lost £1,600,000. Yet honorable members opposite talk about the ships being sacrificed. At the time they were sold, an agreement was made that the modern “Bay” and “Dale” ships should stay on the Australian run. They were taken over by the Aberdeen and Commonwealth line, and some of them are still in service. Jervis Bay, as honorable members will recall, came to a glorious end in battle with a German raider. The present Australian Shipping Board controls 125 ships, of which 26 belong to the Commonwealth, 15 are chartered, and 84 are privately owned. Practically all of them are old and out of date, except those recently built for special purposes, but they, as the Minister has said, are not suitable for general trade, and must be got rid of. The Bruce-Page Government decided that the only chance to make the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers profitable was to obtain modern ships. We decided to dispose of the old ships, and to write down the cost of the line from £12,800,000 to £4,700,000.
If the line was to have any chance of commercial success such action was inevitable. Some instances of the manner in which this writing down took place are shown by the depreciation of the Australian Line, each ship of which had cost roughly £150,000 to purchase and the book value of which, at disposal or transfer to the Board, was approximately £60,000 each. Those ships were handed over to the Board at an average value of £20,000 each. This price was approximately realized. The ships were hopelessly inefficient and were disposed of.
The “D” and “E” class ships, which had been built in Australia between 1919 and 1922; the “Bay” ships, which had been bought in 1921-22; and Fordsdale and Ferndale, which were being built at Cockatoo Island Dock, were handed over to the Shipping Board to run, if possible, at a profit. In order to give the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers a chance these “ D “ ships, which had cost just on £200,000 each and the book value of which at the time of transfer to the Board was £130,000 each, were handed over to the Board at £32,500 each, which was a very substantial reduction. The “ E “ line ships, which had cost from £200,000 to £250,000 each, and the hook value of which at the time of transfer varied between . £160,000 and £250,000 each, were handed over to the Board at a value of £38,500 each. The “ Bay “ liners, Moreton Bay, Hobson Bay, Jervis Bay, Largs Bay and Esperance Bay, which had cost roughly £1,250,000 each and the book value of which at the time of transfer to the Board was about £1,100,000 each, were handed over at a value of £600,000 each. Fordsdale and Ferndale, which were being built and were actually completed in 1924 at a cost of about £800,000 each, the book value of which at the time of transfer to the Board was that figure, were handed to the Board at a value of £200,000 each. Everyone must admit that this was very considerate treatment, and indicated the desire of the Government that the line should succeed.
The Commonwealth Shipping Board was appointed under a special act. The chairman was appointed for a period of five years at an annual salary of £3,500, which ws probably the best salary in the Government service at that time, to secure the best possible man. The Board decided to dispose of useless tonnage that could not earn ordinary voyage expenses, to say nothing of the interest on transfer value, depreciation and cost of administration. It therefore sold the “ D “ and “ E “ lines for approximately, in total, the value at which they had been transferred. After that, the only ships left in possession of the line were the five “ Bay “ ships and two “ Dale “ ships. At that time, we were building two “Dale” ships at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. Honorable members opposite speak as if no one but the present Government had ever been interested in shipbuilding in Australia. As a matter of fact, ships have been built here for more than a hundred years. Wooden ships have been built on the river Clarence for a great many years past, and a good number of them are still in commission. Although those new ships -Ferndale and Fordsdale - cost £800,000 each to build, they were placed in the books of the board at only £200,000 each. Could any shipping venture be treated better than that? Then, in order to make certain that we had the best management for the line, we employed Mr. Larkin as manager at £3,500 a year for a five-year term. That, as honorable members know, was worth £10,000 to-day. It was a bigger salary than was paid to any member of the Public Service, or to High Court justices. Mr. Larkin found that the line could not even pay out of freights and fares the expenses of a voyage, let alone interest, depreciation and management costs. The Government examined the situation carefully. The operations of the line were examined twice by the Public Accounts Committee, once on its own initiative and again on reference from the Government. The committee recommended by a majority of seven to three that the line should be disposed of. Even those who voted against that decision said that the line could not be carried on unless £10,000,000 or £15,000.000 was spent on getting new ships. The line was advertised for sale in 1926, a condition of the sale being that the ships had to be maintained on the Australian run. We could not get one tender in the whole world. Nobody would look at the proposal. We ran the line for another two years or so and lost £600,000 or £700,000 a year. Mr. Frank Anstey, who was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Opposition at that time, and represented the Opposition on one of the commissions set up under the Navigation Act, recognized that there should be a reduction of freights or fares by the private owners, but the private lines said to him, “ How can you ask for such a thing when you are showing such a loss on your Commonwealth shipping line ? “. He said that there would not be any reductions until the line could make a profit. Ultimately the line was sold by open tender called throughout the world. Three tenders were received. One of them was for £1,800,000 which we managed to have increased to £1,900,000. Another was for £1,000,000, but the tenderer in that instance would not comply with the conditions of sale, which were that the vessels should be retained on the British register; that tha purchasers must maintain a service equivalent to that being given by the “ Bay M and “Dale” steamers; and that preference would he given to a tenderer who submitted proposals to safeguard shippers to and from Australia and made definite proposals for extension of the service. After a tender had been accepted and the line had been sold, a great debacle occurred throughout the world and shipping and everything else went to pieces. Because we had a debenture on our ships, we were able to ensure that they did not “go down the drain”. Instead, they were taken over by the Aberdeen and Commonwealth line and we were gradually able to get almost all of our money back as well as maintain the service of eighteen voyages a year to Australia. One of the great jobs that was done in the war was the job done by the former Commonwealth liner Moreton Bay as a merchant cruiser and also by Jervis Bay, which so gallantly met its end fighting the enemy. Those ships continued as virtually Australian ships by reason of the fact that we made such an extraordinarily good deal. That occurred in 1.929 at the beginning of the depression that this stupid Minister says was caused by the Bruce-Page Government’s extravagance. He implies that it caused the depression all over the world. Even the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has given that old story up. He might have thought it was a convincing story in 1929 or 1931, and perhaps even in 1940 or 1943, but seven years in the Treasury have convinced the Prime Minister that the Australian Government is not responsible for the financial affairs of the world. He knows now that what ultimately determines the prosperity of Australia is, as the Australian Country party has been saying for years, the prosperity of the primary industries of this country. When the primary producers get high prices for their goods overseas, Australia is prosperous and there is a good balance of trade. When primary producers get low prices for their goods overseas, Australia is in a had mess. Some such recession of overseas prices for our products was evidently expected, hence these threats about putting up fares and freights. That is a great old Labour party way of doing things. When a
La’bour government gets in a mess it puts up fares and freights, just as is now happening in the State railways. If there is any one thing more than another that is causing the cost of living to rise at present, it is the stupid decision of the Prime Minister to insist on every State raising rail freights by 25 per cent. He admits that indirect taxes were the worst way of keeping prices up, yet he insisted on an increase of rail freights. A suggestion for an increase of freights was made to Mr. Bruce when he was Prime Minister and he refused to consider it. It was pointed out to us that an alteration of section 7 of the Australian Industries Preservation Act would enable freights to be kept down and would possibly lead to a reduction of them by securing combination of action by the shipping firms. In the interim the Bruce-Page Government was defeated. The new Labour Prime Minister, Mr. Scullin, realized the advantage to be gained from amending that act. Although Mr. Scullin was a Labour Prime Minister, he did not believe that everything that was government-run is right, and he gave an undertaking to the private shipping companies, which he carried out, that he would amend section 7 of the act to permit of such combination. That was done with the result that in 1933 the succeeding Government was able to obtain a reduction of freights amounting to about £500,000. We got another £250,000 reduction in 1934 and a similar reduction in 1937. All those reductions were cumulative. So one of the results of our action was not only to stop freights from rising, but also to get a reduction of £1,000,000 a year. Then those miserable people opposite, who conceal the truth that every farmer in Australia knows, come along and say that the Bruce-Page Government lost £100,000 or £200,000 on the Commonwealth Shipping Line. They, themselves, have lost £10,000,000 in the last few years. I am glad that this debate has arisen to-night to enable the Opposition to deal with this matter and to put, to the country, facts that are beyond controversy.
It is said that suggestions were made to some people that freights could have been, put up by 15 per cent, if the Commonwealth shipping line disappeared. The historical truth is that freights were brought down by roughly £1,000,000 a year. The Australian Overseas Transport Association came into existence and is still helping to keep the freights lower than they would otherwise be. That is a result of the” constructive action taken when the Commonwealth line was sold over twenty years ago.
– It was given away.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) is like Rip Van Winkle, and has been asleep, or else he has been out of the chamber while I have dealt with this particular matter. Turning to the bill, it seems to me that an attempt is being made to put another “ Chifley blight “, another miasma, over the whole continent of Australia. The “Chifley blight” is something that restricts every activity, raises the cost of living, and slows down production. That is what has happened in a number of instances. One instance was the Prime Minister’s yielding to the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, in the matter of the 40-hour week, which has resulted in a serious shortage of building materials and a drop in all production. The Government Statistician says that production has fallen by not less than 6 per cent, as a result of the introduction of the 40-hour week in Australia. At the present time Sydney is blacked out one day in seven. I am lucky to live in a block in Sydney which contains a hospital, and am only . blacked out occasionally. The “Chifley blight” consists of high taxation, including high indirect taxation, of forcing the States to do this, that and the other, and now it includes even trying to gaol doctors.
One asks why the Government considers it so urgent to bring down the present measure and rush it through at the tailend of the sessional period. I do not know when the axe will fall on the debate, although the Minister at the table, the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) looks very serious at the moment. Surely in all matters of this importance there ought to be a preliminary inquiry. The Tariff Board Act provides for a
Tariff Board inquiry and a preliminary survey to decide what is best. It is all a tarradiddle to say that the Labour Government is the only government that has done anything to foster the shipbuilding industry in Australia. In the ‘twenties, the Bruce-Page Government built Fordsdale and Ferndale ships of over 10,000 tons at Cockatoo Island. It will be remembered, too, that the cruiser Adelaide was assembled at Cockatoo Island dockyard. Before the war, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride), as Minister for Munitions, was responsible for the laying of the keels of the “ River “ class vessels as well asbuilding many naval vessels. The keels of nearly all the twelve vessels of that class were laid before he left office. Instead of conducting an inquiry through the Tariff Board into the necessity to establish a State-owned shipbuilding industry in Australia, the Government has on this occasion done as it always does with important legislation. It has just flung a bill before honorable members, who are never given time to digest legislation before enacting it. Then, suddenly, in the depth of the night, just after the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) had spoken, an important amendment was circulated. That reminds me of what happened when the banking legislation was under consideration. On that occasion, a whole chapter of clauses was struck out. Other clauses were amended piecemeal. It is also like what happened when the stevedoring industry legislation was brought down. Before the secondreading debate concluded, important amendments were circulated. Some Ministers would not vote in support of that bill. They ran out because they regarded it as ill-considered legislation . for the conscription of labour. Legislation for the provision of free medicine was rushed through the chamber in the middle of the night six years ago, but it has not yet been implemented.
– Order !
– Similarly, we once had two Constitution alteration bills before us at the same time and a third proposal before a constitution convention when the Parliament was in recess. Always the
Government mulishly refuses to accept amendments proposed from this side. That attitude results from the fact that, instead of being the leader of the caucus, the Government is its slave. It dares not do anything inside the House lest the caucus should kick it to death outside. I am not generally given to prophesying but I venture to predict that every piece of socialistic legislation written into the statute-book by this Government will soon perish, as the whole of the legislation passed by the Scullin Government has perished.
My second comment is that the bill proposes an absolute embargo on the importation of ships. I am amazed at the effrontery of the Minister for Defence in bringing down a bill to impose an embargo when, as Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, he introduced the International Trade Agreement Bill and supported it with the remark that it was worthwhile to reduce tariffs and smash British preference in the interests of freer international trade. In the face of that claim, he has come along with this proposal, the meaning of which is that the Government is not concerned with reduced tariffs and stands for an embargo. When I was a boy, I was taught that an embargo was a higher tariff than any other, that it was the “ whole shooting match “. An embargo is an unscalable brick wall not merely a hurdle. During the debate on the Internationa] Trade Agreement, the Minister, who, by means of this shipping legislation, will place an embargo on the importation of ships, said that, as Australia was an island, its trade both internal and international depended on shipping. Yet we shall not even be able to import ships from Great Britain. Other honorable members on this, side have dealt with that aspect much more capably than I could hope to do. Then, going a step farther, the Minister said that it was intended to standardize ships. He foreshadowed a fleet of 125 vessels engaged in the Australian coastal trade to replace the existing ships. Twenty years will pass before we shall see the 125th vessel enter the trade. We all know what happens when standardization and mass production occur in shipbuilding. We saw the result in the Liberty ships that were built during the “war. We want in our ships all modern devices. I have always opposed the policy that road-users must be penalized because the State owns the railways and have urged that we should be able to use freely modern inventions, even though we had a government asset in competition. Now the State is to own the ships. God help us! The State owns a bit of the air, too. It seems that we shall soon have to crawl underground like worms unless the atomic bomb smashes us. The inevitable result of the nationalization of the shipping industry must be bumped-up fares and freights. People will have to pay more taxes to make up the losses that always occur in socialistic enterprises and, at the sametime, more for commodities carried on-. the sea. It is plain that the provisions- in clauses 29, 30 and 31 for the licensing; of ships are unconstitutional. The amendment proposed to clause 29 to link theshipbuilding industry with the defencepowers of the Commonwealth will not suffice to destroy the unconstitutionality of the provisions. How could a socialized shipbuilding and shipping industry help more in the defence of Australia than private shipbuilding. When war broke out we got the utmost help from the men in control of privately owned ships not only on the Australian coast but throughout the British Empire. The deeds of the mercantile marine during the war were heroic. Words are inadequate to chronicle the heroism of the men that sailed merchant vessels to Murmansk. Few British ships failed to get their cargoes to their destinations. A great debt is owed to the private shipping companies. It is a subterfuge for the Government to claim that it needs to establish a socialized shipbuilding industry in the interests of defence. What it is interested in is not defence but the establishment of a communistic shipping line that will be a home away from home, indeed a pleasure resort, for the wharf labourers and the seamen whose union bosses are avowedly Communists. The provisions relating to licensing are the most serious part of the bill. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel will have discretion to issue a licence for the construction of a vessel. Men with courage to invest in the building of ships may, if these provisions are carried into law, have their plans set at nought by the whim of whoever happens to be Minister for Shipping and Fuel. The Minister may say to an applicant for a licence to build a ship, “ Not on your life ! I do not like the colour of your hair “. The penalty prescribed for offences under clause 30 is £1,000 for each day during which the offence continues. That penalty reminds me of the penalties prescribed in the Black Marketing Act; they were so savage that no magistrate would convict people of offences under that act until the penalties were modified. Then the owner of the ship, having paid his money and secured a licence for the building of the ship, cannot engage in trade unless another licence is issued by the Minister. The trading licence, if granted, will be operative only for four years or less. It might easily take him two or three years to build up goodwill for his trade. He could scarcely expect to develop profitable connexions in less than four years. Furthermore, owners who seek to engage in trade in our coastal waters and along our rivers, the sort of men whom we want to encourage, often have to build their own wharfs and make their own arrangements for handling cargo, in addition to engaging efficient staffs under competent managers. Of what use would a licence valid for only four years be to such people ? How could they manage to persuade competent men to accept employment as managers if they could not offer them an assurance of continuity of employment for more than four years ? The Minister might refuse to issue a new licence. In that event, the owner could not sell his ship to anybody not resident in Australia, mortgage it to any such person, or transfer registration of the vessel from any Australian port of registry to a port of registry in another country without becoming subject to the terrible penalties that I have mentioned. Consider the situation that could arise.
It is said that a shipping “ring” operates in Australia, and everybody says that we need more competition in the industry. In fact, that is what the Minister for Defence has said that the bill will accomplish. Yet prospective operators will be deterred from buying ships and engaging in trade lest their throats should be cut by the refusal of the Minister to renew licences. Finally, owners will not be able to use their ships in Australia after they have been in service for 24 years. Most of the ships included in the list of 125 Australian vessels that I have from the Minister for Shipping and Fuel are over 24 years old and are still operating efficiently. The Commonwealth chartered some of them when I was Minister for Commerce ten or twelve years ago and they looked old even then. Yet they gave valuable service to Australia during the war. At present it appears that an owner will be forced to scrap his vessels after they become 24 years old. He will not be able to sell them outside Australia, and he will not be able to use them in Australian waters. I think that the Government will be obliged, either now or at some later stage, to amend the legislation to remove that dead-end anomaly. The bill will place shipowners who buy or build their vessels completely at the mercy of the Minister, particularly as their trading licences will not be of more than four year, duration. Competitors may even be able to prevent an owner from securing financial aid within Australia and, of course, the bill will prevent him from obtaining funds by mortgaging his ships outside Australia. The bill should have its title changed. It ought to be described as “ a bill to destroy the shipping industry”. Obviously it is a ruse to enable the Government to establish a socialistic shipping line, which ultimately will provide the Commonwealth with a monopoly of shipping services through its absolute licensing control over coastal ships. The Minister has also said that he hopes ultimately that the Government will control overseas shipping as well. That statement bespeaks a triumph of hope over experience. The trouble that we had with a government shipping line in the twenties may be one reason why my hair is becoming grey now.
This is a bad measure. The linking of the Government’s proposals with defence is thoroughly unworthy. Shipbuilding in Australia has never been, and never will be, dependent upon a measure of this nature. Already shipping in Australia is protected by the
Navigation Act. Yet that act is mentioned only once in the bill, in a provision that will enable its terms to be broken. The only attention paid to it is designed to evade its provisions. Ships of all sizes have been built in Australia since the first white settlement. Wooden ships were built by our forefathers and are still being built and used. Forty-years’ old wooden vessels of 800 and 900 tons are still in service. During World War I., steamships were built in many parts of Australia. We have six or seven well decentralized shipping yards at present. [ refer, for instance to the yards of Walkers Limited, at Maryborough, in Queensland, the establishment at Newcastle and two others in Sydney. Twelve “ £ “ class ships of about 4,000 tons, six “ D “ class ships of between 3,000 and 4,000 tons, Fordsdale and Ferndale, each of 12,500 tons, and the cruiser Adelaide were built at Cockatoo Island Dockyard prior to World War II. Many ships have been built at Walsh Island. Before World War IL; broke out, Australian shipbuilding activity was resumed and steamers of the “River” class were put under construction. During the war, the Captain Cook Dock at Sydney was completed. That undertaking was proposed by Mr. H. V. C. Thorby, and the work was undertaken by the Menzies Government before the Labour party came into office. The Queensland Government dock was also constructed during the war. The list of ships built in Australia for war and mercantile service is an imposing one. The shipbuilding industry was put on it3 feet by non-Labour governments, as was the case with the munitions and aircraft industries. Those industries were just swinging into full momentum when the Labour party came into power and took to itself the credit for everything that had been done before its election.
The Government’s method of approaching the problems of the shipbuilding industry will not get new ships for us quickly. It will involve the coastal trade in continual difficulties and will drive off the private shipping lines whose competition would help to keep freights down «s the Patrick Steamship Line did. The result will be an enormous increase of the cost of carrying produce, because 90 per cent, of our total interstate trade is carried on by sea. The cost of living will increase because prices of food and raw materials will mount. That result can be foreseen from the fact that most of our sugar, potatoes, butter, fruit, timber, lead and zinc is carried by sea. The right way to establish a shipbuilding industry and to build up a healthy mercantile marine is to give builders and owners confidence and security for a long period. That can be achieved only by the establishment of a bounty similar to the sulphur bounty, which this Parliament approved nearly 30 years ago in order to ensure the firm establishment of the superphosphate industry. The sulphur bounty of £2 a ton has been renewed three times. It is paid subject to the provision that manufacturers must not draw more than 10 per cent, profit from the sale of their product. As the result, their confidence in the industry is secure, continual improvements are being made, and superphosphate is being sold more che’aply to our primary producers.
Before proceeding further with this legislation, the Government should secure the advice of one of the most useful bodies that has ever been established in any country. I refer to the Australian Tariff Board. The Government should take full advantage of the wide experience of the Tariff Board before committing itself to an adventure of the nature envisaged in the bill. The Tariff Board could examine its proposals from the point of view of Australian industry, and estimate its probable repercussions on British and American trade. The Government has a responsibility to enable the Tariff Board to analyse the situation thoroughly before enacting this measure. I urge that course upon the Government, because the introduction of an amendment at this late stage of the debate indicates clearly that the Government is very uncertain of its position. It should take the bold and courageous course, withdraw the bill, allow the Tariff Board to examine its proposals, and determine what can be done to make the scheme acceptable to every member of this Parliament, hecause every honorable member wants Australia to have a strong shipbuilding industry and an efficient mercantile marine. It would obtain good results by doing as I suggest. In conclusion, I refer to the growth of the mercantile marine.From my long experience in this Parliament, and especially as an administrator, I fear that the real obstacle to the expansion of a government shipping line will not be the things that we have talked about in this debate.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehy). - Order! The right honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Lazzarini) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Dedman, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill before the House has a single purpose - to improve the structure and organization of the instrumentality set up by this Parliament in 1926 to undertake scientific research. Honorable members will recall that when certain matters relating to the work of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research were debatedin this House during the last sessional period, I said that for some time I had had under consideration the desirability of making certain changes in the structure and administration of that organization. Under the progressive policy of this Government, the civil research activities of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have increased enormously during the past eight years. Indeed, there have been so many extensions of its work and consequential additions to its scientific and technical staffs as to change very materially the whole atmosphere in which it works. Perhaps the following figures best express the expansion that we have achieved : -
That is approximately a six-fold increase in ten years.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has now reached a scale of operations which requires that many major decisions of policy and administration be made almost daily if the excellence of its work, for which it has been noted over the years, is not tobe diminished. The need for a review of’ the administrative structure of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research did not dawn suddenly on Ministers between last September and November, as certain sections of the press would have it appear. It is a problem which I have discussed with leaders of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with my ministerial colleagues, and with visiting scientists on several occasions over the past two and a half years. In July and August last year, the Prime Minister and I put before our colleagues the suggestion that we seek advice on an overall reconstruction of the arrangements of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, including the separation from it of any of its interests in the field of defence research. In August, 1948, the Government asked the Chairman of the Public Service Board and the Director-General of Post-war Reconstruction to look into this matter in consultation with the heads of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and to tender advice to the Government. We also spent a good deal of time in consultation with visiting scientists such as Sir Henry Tizard and Professor Marcus Oliphant on the future of scientific research in Australia. During two visits of the DirectorGeneral of Post-war Reconstruction, Dr. Coombs, overseas last year, he was able to examine British governmental scientific arrangements and the administrative structure associated with them. Meanwhile, in Australia, this Government, in collaboration with the British Government, was developing for the first time in our history an extensive defence research programme. A series of consultations between defence experts and Ministers, both here and in Britain over the past three years, had brought us to the conclusion that theCouncil for Scientific and Industrial Research should not be given the task of undertaking scientific research related to defence. Consequently, a year ago the Department of Supply and Development was reconstituted and its functions now include the co-ordination and administrative control of defence research and research having security significance. In conformity with this policy, the work of the Aeronautics Division of the Council for Scientific and industrial Research has been transferred to the control of the Department of Supply and Development.
Having, in response to the needs of. primary and secondary industry, expanded the activities df the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to the point where some 3,000 scientists, technicians and administrative staff now come within its charge, the Government has faced the problem of overhauling the organization of the council. This bill is the’ outcome of the Government’s work on the problem. Its principal provisions can be quite shortly explained. At the outset, I point out that we have made a change in terminology. In future, the organization will be known as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or “ C.S.I.R.O.”, firstly, because it is thought desirable to stress the fact that this is a Commonwealth instrumentality, and secondly, because with the proposed change in the administrative structure of the research organization, the word “ council “ in the descriptive title would be misleading. It is true that under the original act the institution was officially referred to as the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, but in normal usage the “ Commonwealth “ has disappeared and the body was simply known as the “ council “ - a term which begged entirely the question of its precise status.
Now to pass to matters of substance. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be administered by an executive consisting of a chairman, and foUr other members who shall be appointed by the GovernorGeneral in Council on the recommendation of the Minister. At least three members of the executive shall be persons with scientific qualifications. The chairman and two other members of the execu tive will hold full-time appointments. This still leaves flexibility as regards the remaining two members of the executive, who may be men with scientific, industrial, business, financial, administrative or other appropriate experience. In this executive, subject to the Minister, will in future lie all responsibility for policy decision and administration.
There will be in addition to the executive an advisory council, the members of which will be appointed by the Minister in much the same manner as are members of the existing council. The executive will be ex officio members of the advisory council. There will continue to be State committees associated with the organization in an advisory capacity.
At this point, I pay tribute to those men who, over the years, have given time, thought, and energy to the work of the council and the State committees as we have known them to date. They have made great contributions to the advancement of Australian science and industry and the people of Australia will always be grateful to them for the work they have done in developing this great institution. I hope that they and their successors will continue to assist us in this way on the advisory council and State committees; but the fact remains that the scale of operations of the organization is now such that it is desirable that full administrative and policy powers should pass, as in practice they have been passing increasingly, to the smaller executive.
The bill also provides for changes in control of staff establishments and appointments. I have long been dissatisfied with the present arrangement whereby the Minister has to shoulder responsibility for all appointments to the staff of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the bill, accordingly, places the responsibility on the executive of the new organization except in respect of certain senior positions with maximum salaries over £1,500 per annum, for which the Minister’s authority will be necessary. To ensure some measure of uniformity between positions under the Commonwealth Scientific and industrial Research Organization and positions within the Public Service, the executive, in creating salary ranges for particular classes of positions, must obtain the approval of the Public Service Board. Approval of the Public Service Board will also be necessary for conditions of employment of officers and employees of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and for levels of establishment for its clerical and administrative staff. These changes do not mean that the officers of the organization are “ being brought under the Public Service Board “ in the sense in which that is true of departmental officers. The act expressly says that they are not being so treated. Officers and employees of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be required to take an oath of allegiance and will be subject to the same security screening as are public servants under the Public Service Act. In the main researches and investigations will be initiated by the executive itself and its divisional chiefs, and, as always, the suggestions and requests of primary and secondary industry will be welcome and will receive all the attention which the organization’s resources of trained scientists will allow. A power is reserved to the Minister to direct the initiation of particular projects. It may be found that facilities in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization are to some degree paralleled by those in certain government departments, such as the research laboratories of the Department of Supply and Development, but we are taking steps to ensure that such duplication shall be kept to a minimum by regular consultation and suitable working arrangements between the authorities. Other developments in the work and welfare of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will be fostered but no reference to them is made in the bill because they are essentially matters for administrative management. We have in mind the encouragement of the mobility of scientific staffs between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the universities and other institutions and we believe that the provision of an alternative superannuation system similar to the federated superannuation scheme for universities would make this freedom of movement easier with stimulating benefits to all the officers and institutions concerned. Similarly we believe that stimulus to good work will come from a very positive exercise by the executive of its powers of encouraging and sponsoring publication of worthwhile work by its officers. Again, whilst there is considerable devolution within the present council’s scientific organization, and heads of divisions are given substantial freedom, we consider that, since the scope of the council’s work has so increased recently, a further extension of this principle of devolution would produce corresponding benefits. We have in mind some possibilities in this direction which should encourage the individual insight, enterprise and initiative from which scientific research stands to gain. These will require further discussion before final decisions can be made on them. The measure before the House is a necessary and desirable step forward at this stage in the development of scientific research in this country. The care, thought and consultation with the heads of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and with scientists at home and abroad that have gone into the drafting of this bill should be a further reassurance to all who have the development of this country at heart. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Commerce and Agriculture - R. A. Sherwin.
Postmaster-General - P. I. Cox, A. D. Goode, R. E. Hartkopf, L. G. Hoyle, B. P. Hunter, A. W. B. Quinn, A. E. Richardson, W. R. B. Waterworth. Works and Housing -D. P. St. GeorgeGrambauer.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations -
Order - Inventions and designs.
High Commissioner Act - Regulations -
Statutory Rules 1949, No. 11.
Hospital Benefits Act-Regulations - Statutory Rules 1949, No. 12.
War Service Homes Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1949, No. 13.
House adjourned at 9.54 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Oil from Coal.
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I have read a report in a Queensland newspaper that a pilot plant to extract oil from coal may be erected at Callide if the Commonwealth Government is prepared to grant the project seven years’ exemption from taxation.
However, I wish to inform the honorable member that no proposal of the nature referred to in his question has yet reached the Commonwealth Government from Mr. L. G. Neill.
g asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The charterer’s technical staff have regularly checked both vessels and have found boatagestandards of cleanliness, food and character of the ships’ personnel all that could be asked for. Any criticism of the kind quoted by the honorable member for Reid, which may have been levelled against other vessels which fly the Panamanian flag, cannot be applied to the two vessels on this register, which are chartered by the International Refugee Organization for the carriage of displaced persons to Australia. 7 and 8. Arrangements for the allocation and operation of the eight exclusively migrant ships carrying free and assisted passage British migrants from the United Kingdom to Australia are made by the United Kingdom Government with the owners concerned. The Australian Government does not directly charter them or control their operation, but it has undertaken to meet the cost of migrants’ passages on the ships provided, less the contributions of the United Kingdom Government and the migrants themselves towards such passages. British migrants from the United Kingdom are also carried on vessels owned by established reputable shipping companies engaged regularly in the United KingdomAustralia trade. A general supervision is exercised over all such vessels by Commonwealth officers, and migrants would not be placed on vessels at any time where conditions were not satisfactory. In regard to the carriage of displaced persons by ships which are chartered and controlled under the International Refugee Organization arrangements, they are inspected by immigration officers. Naturally, if the standard of any of these ships fell below that which is considered necessary for the carriage of displaced persons in safety and reasonable comfort, the Australian Government would take the matter up with that organization. The International Refugee Organization have always been most cooperative in matters of shipping and are most anxious to maintain the present standard;:.
n asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following information : -
In connexion with the State news service from national broadcasting stations in Western Australia during February, 1949, the Australian Broadcasting Commission has advised me that publicity was not given to Communist party activities in Perth, but, as part of the normal news service, brief reports were broadcast giving the facts about certain happenings relating to the screening in Perth of the film The Iron Curtain. A brief factual reference was also made to an admission by the secretary of the Eureka Youth League, Miss Julie Marks, that members of her organization had been responsible for the demonstrations. The commission has also stated that one reference was broadcast in Perth to some points made by the General Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, Mr. Healy, in an address to a public meeting in Perth on Sunday afternoon, the 13th February, in connexion with claims for an increased basic wage, but again there waB no reference to communism or Communist party activities. In the circumstances, it is not considered necessary to lay on the table of the House the scripts of the particular news item>. The delay in supplying the information sought by the honorable member is regretted.
n asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
In how many years since federation has the General Post Office operated at a loss and in which years?
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following information : -
The financial year 1012-13 was the first year in respect of which the accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department were prepared on commercial lines to ascertain whether the department was being operated at a profit or at a loss. From and including that year there have been ten years in which the department operated at a loss, namely - 1912-13. 1913-14, 1914-15, 1915-16, 1916-17, 1924-25. 1925-26, 1926-27, 1927-28, 1930-31.
Taxation : Disclosure of Information.
Mr.Chifley. - On the 15th February, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) asked whether I had received from the Associated Chambers of Manufactures a protest against what was described as -
The continued and expanding practice of information submitted confidentially to a government department for a specific purpose being made available by that department to others, namely, taxation returns and documents in relation to the control of prices.
I indicated in my reply that I had heard no suggestion that information confidentially supplied to either the Commissioner of Taxation or the Prices Commissioner had been improperly disclosed. I desire to state now that I have not received from the Associated Chambers of Manufactures any protest as suggested by the honorable member. On the 2nd December, 1948, however, Mr. L. Withall, the director of that organization, wrote to me in connexion with a resolution adopted by the annual convention suggesting that all confidential documents that have been submitted to the Prices Commissioner be destroyed. In reply, I advised Mr. Withall, on the 31st December, 1948, that it was considered necessary for the successful continuation of price control that the Commonwealth should make available to the State prices control authorities information in its possession prior to the transfer of control to the States. It was pointed out that the secrecy provisions of the Commonwealth Prices Regulations had been enacted in all the State acts and also that no information obtained by the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner from the Taxation Department would be communicated to the State authorities. It might be added that the National Security (Prices) Regulations were amended by Statutory Rule No. 122 of 1948 to authorize the communication of information to State prices control authorities, provided the Minister for Trade and Customs was satisfied that the State law made adequate provision for the preservation of secrecy of information so communicated. With regard to the information furnished to the Commissioner of Taxation, the income tax and social services contribution legislation contains provisions which are designed to ensure that the strictest secrecy shall be preserved by officials regarding the affairs of every taxpayer. The law requires that an official, except in the performance of his official duty, shall not divulge or communicate any information which has been obtained by him in his official capacity. Heavy penalties are prescribed for any breach of these secrecy provisions, the penalties being imprisonment for a period up to twelve months or a fine up to £250. Provisions of this nature have been included in the Commonwealth income tax law since its inception in 1915. From time to time, however, it has been found advisable by various governments to provide that information obtained by the Commissioner of Taxation may be communicated by him to other governmental authorities. It should be noted that any person to whom the Commissioner may communicate information is under the same obligations and liabilities regarding secrecy as is the Commissioner himself. It should not be overlooked that the communication of information by the Commissioner is authorized only in the interests of governmental administration, for example, to avoid duplication of inquiries by two different government departments and to protect public funds. But the power given to the Commissioner to communicate information does not mean that any one, other than the Commissioner and his officers, has access to the departmental papers relating to taxpayers. Information is given by the Commissioner only on request in writing from a responsible officer of the governmental authority seeking the information and only such information is communicated as is essential for the performance of the official functions of that authority.
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1. (a) To examine the effects of general economic policies on the rural economy; (b) to prepare regular economic outlook statements for each major industry; (c) to assist in special commissions of inquiry; (d) to undertake economic research into the wool industry as specified in the Wool Use Promotion Act; (e) to examine and measure the earnings and costs of farms with special reference to the various factors affecting economic efficiency ; (f) to assist the Director, War Service Land Settlement Division, as requested, including the examination of land settlement projects as to suitability and estimates of economic opportunities for settlement; (g) to carry out special investigations as required.
Function ( b ) .
Economic outlook statements for the following rural industries have been completed or are in course of preparation : -
Functions (c) and(g).
Advisory Committee. More details of the work carriedout for this committee are given under function, (e).
At the request of the North Australia Development Committee -
Function(f). (1)Up to 31st December, 1948, the division had investigated or reported upon over 1,200 properties (involving about 7,500,000 acres) submitted by the States for war service land settlement.
Technical advice has been given to the Commonwealth Director of War Service Land Settlement on the general suitability of these properties for settlement with particular reference to one or more of the following:-
y. - On the 8th March, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The information is being obtained and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
– On the 24th February, the honorable member for Wentworth. (Mr. Harrison) asked me a question regarding the question of the Commonwealth Government sharing in the ceeds of the sale of the Burma-Siam railway. Further to my oralreply on the 24th February, I now wish to state that in 1946 the. Governments of the United Kingdom, Malaya, Burma and the Netherlands East Indies, when faced with the problem of dismantling’ the BurmaSiam railway, with a view to recovering from it railway equipment looted from their territories reached the conclusion that, dismantled, the railway would be worthless. In these circumstances the governments agreed to sell that portion of the railway in Siam to the Govern- meat of Siam for the sum of £1,250,000. Of this sum the Government of Malaya received £656,400, the Government of Burma £51,-250, and the Government of the Netherlands East Indies £187,350, all in respect of looted railway equipment. The balance-£350,000-of the purchase price, it was agreed, should be paid into the general Japanese reparations pool. Australia has received no part of the price paidfor the railway nor has any Allied government taken the view that it should claim some portion of the proceeds in respect of the labour of its subjects employed as prisoners of war by the Japanese in theconstruction of the railway. Any such claim canbe taken into account when the question of disposing of the general Japanese reparations pool arises.
Defence Contracts: High Court Action againstr.e. Fitzpatrick.
Mr.Rankin asked the Minister representing the Acting Attorney-General, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 March 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19490308_reps_18_201/>.