18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the Minister for the Army been directed to press reports of a speech that was delivered by Lieutenant-General Sturdee, the Chief of the Australian General Staff, at a luncheon held in Melbourne yesterday by the Royal Empire Society? Does the Minister intend to obtain a copy of the text of the speech, in which, according to press reports, LieutenantGeneral Sturdee referred to war between Russia and the democracies as a foregone conclusion?
– I have seen a report in this morning’s Sydney Daily Telegraph that Lieutenant-General Sturdee had made the statement to which the honorable gentleman has referred. T know no. more than that. I shall cause inquiries to be made to ascertain whether the press report of the statement is a correct one. Recently Lieutenant-General Rowell stated that Australia’s defences have never been in a sounder condition than that in which they are at present. If Lieutenant-General Sturdee has made the statement to which reference has been made, the officer who will succeed him as Chief of the Australian General Staff next year is of the opinion that Australia is well prepared for war. We know that other countries are also prepared for war.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Defence been drawn to the statement by Lieutenant-General Sturdee, Chief of the General Staff, that an army could not be stopped by atomic bombs, and to the statements by Fleet Admiral King and General Bradley in the United States of America, that the next war will be fought much like the last war, with vast armies and navies? Even at this late hour will the Minister review his policy and make an attempt to obtain the man-power required for the defence of Australia by introducing compulsory military training so that the young manhood of this country may be fit to defend it?
– I have read three or four press reports of the statement thai is alleged to have been made by LieutenantGeneral Sturdee. A number of ideas were expressed in that statement. In the first place, according to the reports that I have read, Lieutenant-General Sturdee said that in his opinion war was inevitable. I take leave to disagree with him on that issue. He went on to say that a considerable number of years might elapse before war actually occurred. In that connexion he expressed an opinion somewhat similar to the view that I expressed in this House only a few days ago. Informed opinion throughout the world is that there is no danger of war breaking out during the next four or five years at any rate, and possibly even during the next ten years. My own opinion, which conflicts with what LieutenantGeneral Sturdee is reported to have said, is that, if there is no great danger of war within the next five or ten years, it is quite possible that within that time people living behind the Iron Curtain will come to the conclusion that it is against their best interests to make war against the rest of the world. That is not only my own opinion. It is also the fervent hope of millions of people the world over. I have never ‘believed that the development of the atomic bomb provided a means of ending war because, when a new weapon of that kind is discovered, it inevitably becomes known to every country. My belief that there is no likelihood of war during the next five or ten years is based, not upon the fact that the United States of America possesses large stocks of atomic bombs and that Russia has only just begun to manufacture them, but upon the fac.t that the industrial strength of the United States of America is so great in comparison with that of the Soviet that the people who rule Russia know perfectly well that Russia would not stand any chance against the United States in any war that might break out within the next few years. It is the industrial strength of nations that counts in modern warfare, not the num’ber of men that they can mass in their armies.
– Whilst I am prevented by parliamentary procedure from expressing any opinion -while asking a question of a Minister, I point out to the Prime Minister that primary producers and others who are dependent upon petrol supplies have been scared by recent statements made by the right honorable gentleman and other members of the Government. Because of the present acute shortage of petrol, primary producers may shortly be unable to obtain petrol to transport produce to market, mail contractors may not be able to get it to deliver mail, or builders. may not be able to get what they need to continue their work of erecting houses. I therefore ask the right honorable gentleman whether he can hold out any hope of improvement of the present unsatisfactory situation?
– I do not need to retrace the ground. I have intimated on previous occasions that, as the result of a decision of the High Court of Australia, all constitutional power to provide for the equitable distribution of petrol to different sections of the community, including those engaged in essential industries, has been taken from the Government. Immediately afterwards I placed the matter before the State Premiers. In the course of its judgment the members of the High Court intimated that while the State governments had complete power over the rationing of petrol, the Australian Government had complete power over the importation of petrol. As soon as the High Court determined the matter, I asked for a conference of State Premiers and placed before them the facts of the situation. I gave them not only the information that has since been made public, but also all other information that might be of assistance .to them, including confidential information received from the British Chancellor, in regard to the dollar position. I pointed out to the Premiers that some limitation would have to be placed on the importation of petrol because some of the imported petrol was entirely dollar petrol and some contained a large dollar content. In the meantime, my Government had maintained, as far as it was possible to- do so, the machinery for the administration of petrol ration ing because it considered that unless the distribution of petrol was controlled, many injustices would inevitably be suffered by petrol consumers, especially those engaged in essential services. The Premiers were not prepared, apparently, to make any move. Approximately 9.0 per cent, of the officers who had been administering petrol rationing while it was a Commonwealth function, were officers of the State governments. Those Governments had arranged for the officers to revert to the performance of the duties in those departments in which they had been employed before petrol rationing was originally introduced. Furthermore, most of the accommodation that had been provided by State governments for officers of the petrol rationing administration had, in the meantime, been utilized for other purposes. Later, when the matter was again brought to the attention of the Premiers, I again asked them to discuss the matter, and the Premier of New South Wales, as the head of the senior State, called a conference of State Premiers to consider the developments that had occurred, and which I had previously foreshadowed. That conference made a certain decision in Melbourne, and whilst I do not propose to go into all the details, the representatives of some States undertook to have legislation passed to authorize the Commonwealth to re-introduce rationing. However, I understand that none of the States concerned have yet passed the necessary legislation, although I have been informed by the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland that the governments of their respective States are prepared to refer to the Commonwealth power to re-introduce rationing. That reference had already been approved of by the parliaments of those two States, but the legislation could not be implemented without the authorization of the respective governments of those States. While my Government is awaiting the passage of the necessary legislation by the States, it has endeavoured, subject to the limiting physical factors involved, to re-assemble as quickly as possible, the organization that will be necessary to administer rationing. Legislation would also have to be passed by this Parliament. I have conferred with the representatives of the petrol distributing organizations of the several States and also with the Acting Chairman of the Public Service Board, and I believe that physically the earliest possible date on which petrol rationing can be re-introduced, subject, of course, to the necessary legislation being passed in the meantime, is the 15th November. In some States the legislation may not be brought in before the 1st November.
– “What is the prospect of obtaining petrol in the meantime?
– The Commonwealth has no power over the distribution of petrol to essential users. On many occasions I have dealt with the difficulties of the dollar situation relative to the importation of petrol. Australia is dependent upon the British Treasury to make up any deficiency in dollars, and, of course, the United Kingdom itself has great difficulty in obtaining its own requirements of dollars and maintaining a reserve. We are in great difficulty because we are not able to earn sufficient dollars to meet the commitments into which we have already entered, and, therefore, we are not in a position to engage in the expenditure of any additional dollars. Some attempts have been made to obtain petrol from soft currency areas, hut-
– Why does not the Government release some of the stocks of petrol that are now held in the country?
– Members of the Australian Country party, and certain motor organizations, contended for a long time that petrol rationing was unnecessary, and that when conditions settled down after the abolition of rationing, there would be plenty of petrol for everybody.
– There is plenty of petrol in Australia.
– I have always pointed out, when petrol rationing has been discussed, the great difficulty of securing the equitable distribution of supplies. Some honorable members opposite, and others, encouraged certain oil companies to engage in propaganda against petrol rationing, and, in doing so, they showed a complete lack of a sense of public responsibility regarding the sterling area’s pool of dollars.
– I ask thePrime Minister the following questions: - 1. Will the Government consider the establishment of a bureau of industrial design and merchandising to assist Australian secondary industries in international marketing, with particular attention to trade with dollar countries? 2. Will the Government consider the establishment of an advisory council consisting of industrial artists and designers, advertising agents, market research specialists, and manufacturers to supervise the work of such a bureau ? 3. Will the Government invite leading British and American experts to act as consultants to such a body? 4. Will the Government further consider the advisability of granting special facilities to Australian designers, market surveyors and sales representatives to travel abroad to study methods and conditions and to promote sales?
– The suggestions which the honorable member has made will require a lengthy examination. The possibility of encouraging exports to earn additional dollars has been closely studied by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the sub-committee of Cabinet that is dealing’ with the dollar problem. Some time ago, the Government decided to appoint an interdepartmental committee of experts to investigate various trade and economic matters. The Commonwealth Statistician, Dr. Roland Wilson, who is also economic adviser to the Government, is the chairman of that body. The Cabinet subcommittee hopes to receive next week a report from the inter-departmental committee on certain aspects of the possibility of earning additional dollars in America. The honorable member’s question deals with a variety of matters, and I shall arrange for his suggestions to he considered by the inter-departmental committee and the Cabinet sub-committee. Later, I shall endeavour to indicate to him. whether it will be possible to adopt any of his suggestions.
– Is the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction aware of the fact that the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, representing 9,000 employers, made application to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in June of this year for an extension of weekly working hours to 44 and for sharp reductions of wages and annual leave? Is he also aware that a somewhat similar application was made by the Metal Trades Employers Federation? Is he aware that Opposition party candidates are constantly attacking the shorter working week? In view of those facts and the influence exercised by the organizations that I have mentioned upon the policies of the Opposition parties, will the Minister make inquiries and ascertain whether or not pressure is to be brought to bear on the courts of this country by the present Opposition parties, if they are elected to power, to re-introduce the 44-hour week?
– I believe that it is true that certain employers’ organizations closely associated with Opposition parties have asked the court to extend the working week from 40 hours to 44 hours. This Government stands for arbitration. The Opposition parties associated with requests for an extension of the working week apparently believe that the court will give way to pressure by employers’ organizations. It would be most interesting-
– Order ! The Minister must not debate the issue.
– I believe that it would be of great interest to the public generally to know whether the Opposition actually wants to return to a week of 44 or 48 hours. I challenge the Opposition to state in this House whether it is in favour of a 44-hour working week.
Honorable members interjecting,
– There is far too much disorder while questions are being asked and answered. As Deputy Speaker, I receive a considerable number of complaints from radio listeners about interruptions during question time. The chief offender is the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), who sits close to a microphone, and interrupts during question time. Another persistent offender is the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale).
– I never said a word.
– The honorable member is committing a breach of the Standing Orders by interjecting now while I am addressing the House. I ask honorable members to observe the Standing Orders, and to allow Ministers to be heard in silence when they are answering questions.
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– No personal explanation is involved.
Mr. Beale. - You, sir, said that I had been interjecting.
– I said that the honorable member for Parramatta was one of the most persistent interrupters in the House, and I say it again. I warn him that if he does not behave in an orderly way he will be dealt with.
– Did the Minister for Immigration see a newspaper report last week that some thousands of White Russians had taken ship from Hong Kong, and ports along the coast of China, and that many of them, having escaped from the Communists, intended to take refuge in Australia? Can the Minister say whether the report is true? Many White Russians who escaped from the Bolsheviks in 1920 settled in Turkestan, where they engaged in cotton-growing. As the Communists advanced, they retreated into China, and now they have escaped from the eastern ports to that country. Will the Minister confer with the Immigration Advisory Council with a view to ascertaining the qualifications of any White Russians who come to Australia so that, if they are familiar with the growing of cotton and tobacco, they may be employed in growing those commodities in the far north of Australia, thus promoting an industry that is not taken seriously by our own people at present ?
– It is true that some White Russians have been allowed to enter Australia. About twelve months ago we sent a special mission to Shanghai to deal with applications for entry into Australia that had accumulated over a period of years. Applicants were medically examined, and screened by security officers. Eventually, 350 White Russians came to Australia in January of this year.
Before the fall of Shanghai to the Communists, practically all the White Russians were removed through the International Refugee Organization to Samar, in the Philippines. We sent a message to the Philippines, as the result of which another 400 White Russians were allowed to land in Australia. Other Russians on the same ship were not, for various reasons, permitted to land. They went on to other places, some of them to South America.
– Approximately 750 of them have come here?
– Yes. In addition, a number came here on landing permits,’ having been nominated by relatives and friends who mostly reside in Queensland. I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s question regarding the qualifications of these persons in order to ascertain whether we can utilize their services in the way that he has suggested, particularly during the period of two years for which they will ‘be under contract to the Australian Government.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether it is not a fact that British immigrants who come to Australia are not eligible for social services benefits such as age pensions until they have resided here for twenty years. As that fact militates against the migration of families from Britain, in that families will not migrate if the parents cannot, if they come to Australia, have the economic security that would be provided for an age pension, will the Minister confer with the Cabinet to see whether a method cannot be devised whereby British immigrants can transfer to this country the equity of their pension from Britain, where they have made contributions towards an age pension, or whether some other reciprocal arrangement such as operates between Australia and New Zealand can be made?
– -The Government is attempting to arrange a reciprocal agreement with the British Government on the lines suggested by the honorable member and it has been negotiating with the British Government for a very considerable time about that matter. As the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services has just reminded me. British migrants are eligible the moment they arrive in this country to receive every other social security benefit obtainable by Australians except the age pension. This is on the same lines as is provided for in the agreement with New Zealand. The only benefit outstanding at the moment is the benefit of age pensions. The benefit involved in transferring the equity in age pensions will, of course, be a one-way benefit, because no Australians are emigrating to Great Britain.
– They cannot transfer their equity.
– I appreciate what the honorable gentleman has said about transferring the equity, which is the very subject of discussion at the moment with the British Government. We are hopeful of a successful outcome from the talks.
– Until recently, rates of pay equal to the male rates were paid to female members of the Public Service in classifications such as those covered by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Officers Association and equal to 90 per cent, of those covered by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Assistants Association and other associations, and the regulations under which those rates were prescribed were declared invalid on the 6th June last. I ask the Prime Minister whether the High Council of Public Service Organizations approached him after that date, and whether he then stated that no change would be made in the existing rates at least not before the end of the year, and that if it were intended to depart from the rates prescribed by the Women’s Employment Board adequate notice would be given to the organizations concerned ? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that circulars have been issued which stated that in future female appointees are to be engaged at the female rates that existed before the Women’s Employment Board made its determination, and that female employees who may be transferred to new positions are to revert to the old rate? Is the right honorable gentleman also aware that the organizations to which I have referred have been notified that the Public Service Board intends to place all staff previously covered by the Women’s Employment Board’s determinations on the old female rates by withholding from them all increments and cost of living allowances for a period of four, or five, years until the difference between the male and the former female rates hitherto received by them has been absorbed?
– I suggest that the honorable member might conclude her question.
– If what I have said is correct, will the Prime Minister give the matter his special attention and prevent such a backward step from being taken ?
– The questions that the honorable member has asked cover a very wide field. They have been the subject of discussion with representatives of the organizations concerned. At present, certain claims are pending before the Public Service Arbitrator with respect to rates and conditions. Those claims are being advanced by the High Council that represents the various organizations with the exception of employees of the Postal Department, whose organization is not affiliated with the council, although it participates in all conferences of that body regarding rates of pay and conditions. Some features of the questions that the honorable member has asked would involve a fairly lengthy reply. I shall discuss those matters with the Acting Chairman of the Public Service Board and endeavour to give a detailed reply to the honorable member. In addition, I assure her that I shall look into the position personally.
– As it has been decided to introduce an acquisition scheme in respect of fruit crops in Tasmania, I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether, when that proposal is placed before fruit-growers in that State, an opportunity will be given to them to decide by ballot whether their fruit should he marketed by a Commonwealth or State instrumentality? Further, when an agreement is made for the sale of apples and pears to the United Kingdom will an export quota be allotted to Western Australia and Tasmania as was done in connexion with the last acquisition scheme, or will it be allotted in respect of the Commonwealth as a whole?
– First, I make it clear that there will be no acquisition by the Commonwealth. If the Tasmanian Government accepts the Australian Government’s proposals, it will require,, under a contract between it and the fruitgrowers, that SO per cent, of the fruit available in the State shall be made available to it. Secondly, the fruitgrowers may have the alternative, if the Tasmanian Government -so desires, of a scheme similar to that applying in Western Australia, where the State Government acquires the fruit and then enters into a contract with the Australian Government. As the Australian Government’s war-time powers have diminished almost to the point of disappearance, it will not be practicable to give the whole United Kingdom order to the States of Western Australia and Tasmania, but it is expected that, owing to the high purchasing power and full employment of the people, the fruit-growers of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland will have all their fruit absorbed in the local market. Indeed, some fruit may be needed from Western Australia and Tasmania. Therefore, the whole United Kingdom order will practically automatically go to the fruit-growers of Western Australia and Tasmania.
– My question relates to the diplomatic cadet’s course that is conducted by the Department for External Affairs at the Canberra University College. I direct the attention of the Minister for External Affairs to the fact that a very great part of the course is an undergraduate course, which is appropriate to a large number of students who undertake the course on the leaving certificate standard. I also direct the right honorable gentleman’s attention to the fact that most of the students are honours graduates. Has any critical examination been made of the course to see whether it is still appropriate ? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the students, who are honours graduates or better, are repeating a lot of the under- graduate course and that two years of such work, without a high allowance, is a deterrent to men entering the profession? Could the course be revised to make it appropriate to the new standard of students?
– The honorable member has drawn attention to a very important stage reached in the development of the diplomatic cadet service, which was established six or seven years ago. At the beginning, one primary object was to give preference to ex-servicemen who were then abroad. It was intended to make sure that they should get benefit through cadetship and not be put to any disability through a break in education. Therefore, a great deal of attention was given to work which, in a normal period, such as the present, is not needed to the same degree. I have been concerned at the fact that we should be giving increasing attention to the higher field of activity in connexion with the training system, especially in connexion with languages, in which field we need all the assistance that we can possibly obtain for posts abroad, and, of course, in Canberra, too, in dealing with the representatives of other countries. I shall look at the matter afresh in the light of the observations1 of the honorable member for Fremantle and seek the assistance of those who have been advising us. Of course, we have had very distinguished lecturers in connexion with diplomatic work, including, very prominently, Sir Frederic Eggleston. The points made by the honorable member will receive close attention.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, as the Government has assured the dairying industry that returns to the producers in that industry would be based on the cost of production, and as that assurance was repeated in the recent budget speech, he will ensure that the undertaking is honoured by way of providing an increase of the amount of Commonwealth subsidy on butter and cheese ?
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will answer the question.
– I have repeatedly stated in this House that the Government has accepted the report of the Joint
Dairy Industry Advisory Committee; but, due to the fact that this Government has been robbed of its war-time powers to fix prices, the States are the only authorities that have the right ,to pass cost of production on to the consumers. The Australian Government, I repeat, is not able to pass cost of production on to consumers by way of an increased price.
– That is incorrect !
– Perhaps the honorable member for Richmond would like to answer the question himself.
-Order! The honorable member for Richmond is committing a breach of the Standing Orders by speaking while the Minister is addressing the House.
– I was about to say that this matter has been placed before the respective State Premiers for their consideration. I understand that the appropriate State Ministers and the State prices commissioners have conferred several times, but up to date they have not conveyed to the Prime Minister or to the Australian Government or to any of its Ministers any intimation regarding any decision that they may have reached. When they have conveyed their decision to this Government it will decide upon the course of action that might be necessary.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Meat Export Control Act - Fourteenth Annual Report of the Australian Heat Board, for year 1948-49, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
In addition to continuing its assistance to cattle-raisers of the Northern Territory by arranging further trial loadings of cattle by road transport train, it is noted that the board is sponsoring and financing research into many aspects of the meat industry. An interesting aspect of research is that of adopting the practice of advancing two-year-old steers from improved pastures to special pastures and then topping off for a final four weeks on hay and concentrates. This research is of national significance in view of the undoubted improvement in the quality of beef raised in this manner.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Wine Overseas Marketing Act - Twenty-first Annual Report of the Australian Wine Board, for year 1948-49, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
The 1949 production of wine, including distillation wine, is estimated at approximately 34,000,000 gallons, which is slightly in excess of the record vintage of 33,600,000 gallons last year. I emphasize the word “record”.
Overseas shipments fell during the year under review to 1,879,722 gallons as against 2,695,028 gallons in 1948. This reduction was largely due to a falling off in exports to the United Kingdom where there has been a serious contraction in the demand. I am pleased to report, however, a substantial increase in both wine and brandy shipments to Canada. The withdrawals of fortified wine from bond during the year for Australian consumption have been maintained at over 10,000,000 gallons.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Egg Export Control Act - Second Annual Report of the Australian Egg Board, for year 1948-49, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
The activities of the board during the period under review have been very extensive. Special attention has been given to a programme of experimental work with the object of effecting further improvements in the preparation and quality of Australian eggs and egg products intended for export. It is gratifying to note that exports to the United Kingdom show an increase over the previous year equivalent to 4,000,000 dozen eggs.
– I present the report of the Public Works Committee on the following subject:- -
Proposed construction of a wharf at Darwin, Northern Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
Additions, New Works, and Other Services involving Capital Expenditure.
In Commitee of Supply. Consideration resumed from the 13th October (vide page 1452).
Part II. - Business Undertakings.
Proposed vote, £14,440,000.
Part III - Territories of the Commonwealth.
Proposed vote, £2,899,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I take this opportunity to direct the attention of the committee and of the people to a matter that has been raised in this chamber before, but in respect of which the Government has made every attempt to smother discussion. I refer to the select committee which was appointed by the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory some time ago to investigate the shortage of medical staff, ways and means of reducing waiting time for out-patients at hospitals, and sanitary conveniences in the territory. I remind honorable members that, some time ago, I asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), who administers the Northern Territory, a question on this matter and received an evasive reply. Later, I asked the honorable gentleman another question about the committee’s report. In effect, the Minister refused to give the information that I sought. He refused also to lay the report on the table of the House. Again I remind honorable members that the select committee was appointed by the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, a body set up under a statute of this Parliament, and therefore within the province of the Minister for the Interior. Ultimately, as the result of intervention by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), with, I think, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), the report of the select committee was laid on the table of the Library. References to the report have been made in the press, but this, I believe, is the first time that honorable members have had an opportunity to discuss the select committee and its recommendations. I have stated that the terms of reference of the committee were limited. They were confined to the shortage of medical staff, ways and means of reducing waiting time for outpatients, and sanitary conveniences in the territory. However, I think that it will be found that the committee’s findings are completely condemnatory of the Government’s administration. That committee consisted of government members as well as of private elected members of the council. The nominee members who had been appointed by this Government were in the majority, and the elected members who were permitted to serve under statute were in the minority. Notwithstanding that fact, the findings of the committee were unanimous. I propose to refer to them. As part of its findings the committee reported in the first place that there was a chronic shortage of doctors at Darwin. The significance of that statement and of some other statements in the report to which I shall refer arises from the fact that Australia is being invited to embark on a form of nationalized medicine. What the committee had to say about nationalized medicine in practice in Darwin is therefore of considerable significance. First, the committee reported that there was a chronic shortage of doctors in Darwin, notwithstanding the fact that the Government had invited medical practitioners to go there, and was supposed to provide them with facilities, not for private practice, because that does not exist there, but for practice under the Government’s scheme. The committee pointed out that at Katherine River and Alice Springs, which are both important centres, there is also a chronic shortage of doctors, and that in many instances no quarters were provided for doctors who were invited by the Government to go to the Northern Territory. That is the position that exists in the Northern Territory in which the Government has decreed that the field of practising medicine shall be a regimented governmental field. Doctors were invited to go to the Northern Territory as government servants, but according to the committee’s report, when they got there no quarters were available for them. The committee also stated that there are insufficient inducements to doctors to stay in the territory. If the Government intended to show the world what conditions would be like under its grandiose scheme of nationalized medicine one would have imagined that it would have made an attempt to establish decent conditions in the Northern Territory, but according to the report of this committee, on which Government nominees predominate, insufficient inducements are offered to get doctors to stay there. When I asked a question in this chamber on this subject a few days ago I was told that during the last two years eight doctors had gone to and had left the territory. One of them, Dr. Webster, had been sacked. Some had resigned and others in addition to the eight had been transferred elsewhere. I remind the committee of the circumstances of Dr. Webster’s discharge. He had criticized the Government’s administration in the Northern Territory, and he was promptly discharged, ostensibly on the ground that he was a temporary officer. That piece of humbug did not deceive anybody. He was discharged solely because he had the courage to criticize the Administration.
– Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the subject before the Chair.
– Another finding of the committee was that there is strong dissatisfaction with the whole of the administration of the Northern Territory medical service. I should imagine that there would be, because it was also stated in the committee’s report that out-patients who seek medical attention at the Darwin Hospital have still to wait for periods up to five hours for attention. The committee also pointed out that there is an absence of essential hospital equipment. People who have to live in those parts of the world expect to be provided with hospitalization and good medical attention, particularly when such facilities are under the sole control of the Government. One would have imagined that a little matter like hospitalization would have been adequately dealt with there ; but that is not so. The committee strongly condemned the Government for the absence of essential hospital equipment and referred to the outrageous length of time that out-patients were required to wait before receiving attention at Darwin hospital. What would happen to a private practitioner who frequently made his patients wait for five hours before he attended to them? In Darwin, citizens must attend the government hospital for treatment because there are no private practitioners to whom they can go. It is scandalous that persons in Darwin should ever have been compelled to wait for periods up to five hours before receiving medical attention. It is also scandalous that it should have been left to a select committee appointed ‘by the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory to direct attention to that matter. Somebody in the department concerned, either the first time that it occurred or before it was permitted to occur, should have taken steps to ensure that ordinary citizens in this socialized part of the Commonwealth received better treatment than they had received.
The committee has also referred in its report to the serious defects in the health and the sanitary services. It is all very well for the Government to say that the territory is in the process of development, that we are suffering from the effects of the war and that we cannot do everything at once. I am not impervious to arguments of that kind, which are, in many respects, reasonable, but they have no application to a government medical service. Before the scheme was put into operation, enough imagination should have been exercised to ensure that it would be adequate to meet the needs of the population. It is extraordinary that, although public dissatisfaction with and resentment of the scheme steadily increased, it was left to the Legislative Council, the majority of the members of which are government nominees, to make an official protest. It is common knowledge that, although these matters were referred to Canberra again and again, nothing happened. It was because nothing was done in Canberra that the select committee had to take the action that it did take. When the committee had taken that action and presented its report, we witnessed the disgraceful spectacle of the Minister for the Interior trying to smother the report. The honorable gentleman first refused to table it, hut eventually he dis- closed it under pressure from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), who asked a question of the Prime Minister about it. I shudder to think what would have happened if the terms of reference of the select committee had been wider and the committee had been empowered to inquire into conditions in the territory generally. As I have said, its terms of reference were extremely narrow.
I shall now refer to another matter that seems to me to be of even more significance in the long run than the existence of a grossly incompetent medical service. Paragraph 39 of the report reads . as follows : -
It is impossible to pass over a circular memorandum, dated the 22nd December, 1948, which has been issued by Dr. G. A. Murray as the Senior Commonwealth Medical Officer of the Northern Territory which reads as follows : -
” SELECT COMMITTEE.
I am instructed to bring to the notice of all members of the staff of the Northern Territory Medical Service that they are not to attend, furnish information or produce documents at meetings of Select Committee, established by the Legislative Council, without the specific approval of the Director-General of Health, Canberra.
Would you kindly bring this notice to the attention of all members of ‘the staff under your direction.”
In paragraph 40 of the report, the committee stated -
This instruction would appear to this Committee to go beyond the powers possessed by any Government official. In the case of permanent officers of the Public Service, such an instruction might be considered as within the limits of lawful authority, but even here it is at least arguable that Regulation 34 of the Public Service Regulations would give permanent officers residing in the Northern Territory the right to attend, give evidence and offer comment at their own wish at meetings of Select Committees. There would appear to be no more than six such officers in the Northern Territory Medical Service, which employs a staff of approximately 200 individuals, and the Committee oan see no lawful basis for this instruction as applied to those non-permanent officers. This Committee regards the instruction in question as an illfounded attempt to interfere with fundamental rights as citizens possessed by the staff of the Northern Territory Medical Service.
It was utterly disgraceful for a government official in Canberra, doubtless acting as the mouthpiece of the Government, to seek to stop the mouths of medical officers in the Northern Territory.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must confine his remarks to the Works Estimates.
– The whole of the report of the committee is a condemnation of the Government. The action of Dr. Murray in seeking to stop the mouths of prospective witnesses is a public scandal that should be ventilated throughout the Commonwealth.
– There is one matter that I desire to mention, largely in order to obtain some information about it. As honorable members know, the original plan for Canberra provided for a sheet of water in the form of the lakes scheme. I have always believed the implementation of that scheme to he of great significance to Canberra, because I do not know of any notable city in the world that is not on water. The completion of the lakes scheme would invest this city with a character that it otherwise could not possess. Like many other honorable members, I have always hoped that some day circumstances will permit of the lakes scheme being brought to completion, hut I heard recently that there has been some modification of the scheme. I should like to know very much whether that is so, and, if it is, whether the modification has been made as the result of an expert investigation and whether the Parliament will be given an opportunity to discuss the modification, if any, before it is finally agreed to. I have heard that the lakes scheme below what I call the low level bridge is to he abandoned. In my opinion, it would be a great pity if that were done. I believe that Canberra will assume its full character as a city only when some scheme such as the lakes scheme has been completed.
– I do not know of any decision by the National Capital Planning and Development Committee to modify the lakes scheme. Like the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), I sincerely hope that it will not be modified. I believe that Canberra will not become a real city until the full scheme has been implemented and the Canberra schools have their fours and eights on the lakes, which could also he used by yachtsmen. When those facilities are provided the southern side of Canberra will be joined to the northern side. The present geographical separation is detrimental to the interests of Canberra. I recently arranged for the Public Service Board to appoint a research engineer to my department in connexion with the development of Canberra. Whilst the Griffin plan provides for a lakes scheme, and the contour lines of the proposed lakes are shown on the map, a great deal of engineering research will be needed to ascertain the quantities of water required for the proposed lakes. The scheme will also involve examining the depth of the Molonglo River and calculating the probable flow of water in the future.
It would obviously be disadvantageous to proceed with the proposed scheme if a sufficient flow of water could not be obtained, because a back seepage of water might occur. I have therefore arranged for the appointment of an engineer to examine all aspects of the matter, and the National Capital Planning and Development Committee will not make any decision until proper consideration has been given to the matter.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Lemmon) agreed to-
That, including the sum already voted for such services, there he granted to His Majesty for the service of the year 1949-50, for the purposes of Additions, New Works, and Other Services involving Capital Expenditure, a sum not exceeding £68,293,000.
Resolution reported and adopted.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Mr. Lemmon) agreed to -
That, towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for Additions. New Works, and Other Services involving Capital Expenditure for the year 1949-50, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum not exceeding £54,599,000.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. Lemmon and Mr. Scully do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Lemmon, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Disposals Commission - Fifth and Final Report, for period ended 31st July, 1949.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
Ordinances - 1949 -
No. 8 - Adoption of Children.
No. 9 - Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders.
No. 10 - Instruments.
No. 11 - Machinery.
Regulations - 1949 - No. 9 (Education Ordinance ) .
House adjourned at 11.37 a.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
No. 8 Squadron - Far East.
No. 21 Squadron - Far East.
No. 3 Squadron - Middle East.
Air Ambulance Unit - Middle East.
No. 10 Squadron - United Kingdom.
No. 11 Squadron - Port Moresby.
No. 20 Squadron - Port Moresby.
No. 24 Squadron - Townsville.
No. 2 Sauadron - Darwin.
No. 12 Squadron - Darwin.
No. 13 Squadron - Darwin.
No. 14 Squadron - Pearce.
y. - On the 27th September the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) asked me questions relating to a statement alleged to have been made at a press conference in San Francisco by the Australian Ambassador to the United States, to the effect that “ Industrial disturbances in Australia in recent years have been negligible and there is no heavy Communist influence in most unions “. I undertook to have a reply prepared for the honorable member. Accordingly I now desire to inform him that Mr. Makin has informed me of the text of speeches he made at. Los Angeles early in August. These speeches contained no statement such as alleged. He subsequently visited San Francisco, where he made speeches in which he referred, as he had previously done, to Australia’s strong economic position, balanced budget, reduced taxation, social security provisions and increased sterling credits, as well as shipping and the part played by Australia in settling displaced persons from Europe. He further informed me that after a luncheon at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, on the 19th August, three local press reporters sought to interrogate him regarding the speeches he made in San Francisco and he was asked a question regarding Communist influence in waterside unionism. Mr. Makin replied that there was a degree of such influence in the executives but that he was confident this would be changed in the months ahead. On certain other questions the Ambassador had no comment to offer.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19491014_reps_18_205/>.