20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.ni., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Eric JJ. Harrison) agreed to -
That tha House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– Reference has been made in the Souse recently by the honorable member for Wills and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory to the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, the effective benefit of compensation under which has been substantially reduced since 1949.. I think that this matter was taken up with the Treasurer by the late Mr. Chifley. Can the Prime Minister or the Treasurer inform the House whether it will be practicable, as honorable members of the Opposition have submitted^ to introduce legislation bb soon as possible in order to remedy the existing position?
– As a result of a reference that was made to this matter by the honorable member for Bendigo in this House I made inquiries in regard to the present position. The matter has been under consideration for some time and an investigation has been made of the effect of Victorian and NewSouth Wales legislation. The whole matter is under consideration and I have asked that the matter be expedited so that a bill may be introduced as soon as is practicable.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service agree that the failure of the Communistcontrolled Seamen’s Union to supply a crew for Aorangi is in no sense a part of’ an industrial dispute! Does he agree that it is a part of a plan to delay shipping in the South Pacific? Can he inform the House of the background of the dispute and of any steps that are contemplated to bring it to an end?
– The Government has decided on action to .be taken to enable Aorangi to be put to sea. With the concurrence of honorable members I shall make a statement on this subject in a little more detail at the conclusion of questions without notice.
– Is the Minister for Air aware that due to work that has been carried out under instructions from officers of the Department of Air a great loss in the production of milk and butter has occurred in the Williamtown area of New South Wales? Does the Minister know that drains have been made which are up to 5 feet deep and half a mile long for the purpose of running water in the wrong direction, so far as the local dairyfarmers are concerned? While these drains take water from the aerodrome they flood the property of many farmers. Is. >’ the Minister aware that this has resulted in some employees having been compelled to seek work in other industries? Does the Minister know that production has fallen by as much as 50 per cent, compared with what it waa three years ago on some farms? Is he aware that many cattle are dying from a disease known as “ flute “, which is probably caused by the continual wet conditions? In view of the fact that many unsuccessful attempts have been made during past months to have, thi* area inspected: and the positron1 rectified, will’ the Minister consider having an- inspection made- immediately at the conclusion- of this- sessional period’ by an- expert of his department with theobject of- affording some relief to- tho farmers concerned)
– I. was. riot aware of the existence of. the conditions which the honorable gentleman. has alleged exist at Williamtown. “Work is about- to begin on the construction of a new essential runway into the wind at that airfield, which- is- one of our most important airfields, and) may, in the event of emergency, be- one of out most important’ operational airfields. Many attempts have, been- made throughout history- to cause water to run the way that it does not want to run, but water has; an- inescapable determination to run the way that it’ wants to- run. There is. no need, to wait until-, the House rises to han the matter investigated. I. shall have- it investigated’, at once, by officers o£ the Department of Air and. of the Department of Works and Bousing. If. the conditions are as the honorable member has described! them, then of course something must be. done-, te- alter them in the interests of. the people, who earn their living, from primary production, in the vicinity of the airfield. In other word’s,, I shaLL have the matter investigated as quickly and. as effectively as possible.
– Will tha Minister arrange; for the honorable, member for Paterson, and! myself t’o> be- present, when the. matter is being investigated.?.
– I think feat as: th» matter- is- a technical one .that, would not be> warranted.
Ifr. JEFF’ BATE’.- Has the Minister for Commerce! and Agriculture seen the- April1 edition- of the Agricultural Quarterly Review-,, in which’ the wholesale price? of butter per lb. in various’ countries- is shown- as follows: - Australia, ls; lid., France, 7si 3£d., United: States of America,. 6s; 8½d., Belgium, 6s- 7d., and: Canada,. 6s. ? Does the Minister consider that those figures reveal that’, the price of butter in Australia- has beenunduly depressed; with a consequent-waste in consumption, hardships’ to- butter pro ducers, and loss to- the- dairying industry of personnel I What stage has been reached in the negotiations with the State Ministers who administer prices control to determine- a reasonable retail price, and with the Joint Dairy Industry Ad,visory Committee to ensure, that- an incentive price shall be paid to- producers ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member for Macarthur has referred”, but I know that the comparative prices of butter that lie has cited are approximately correct. Whether or not the price of butter in Australia has been- unduly depressed is a matter for judgment, but I say confidently that the dairying industry believes that the price that has been fixed for butter, when it is considered in relation to the price fixed for any other ‘ commodity in Australia, is unduly low, and presents, through the eyes of dairymen, a precarious prospect’ for their industry; I have discussed the matter- with Mr. Finnan, who is the chairman of the’ State Ministers who administer prices control, and I expect to- have negotiations- with all of them at am early date. I shall be obliged to point out to the Ministers, that, it is- impossible- to. continue- a plan of guaranteed prices to the: dairying industry when they decline to vary the price that was” fixed shout four years’ ago-, notwithstanding increasing costs’,,- and that some adjustment will be necessary if a continued plan of stabilization is to be applied to- the- dairying industry; I’ shall also point’ out to the State Ministers, and’, indeed, to the general public,, that, in the absence of such a plan,.’ thi? community will be; faced, not with a temporary shortage, but with a permanent shortage, of butter.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House of whether export’ prices for butter during the last two years have been, substantially in excess of home market prises f If that is so, has the excess margin, been placed iri. a stabilization fund for ultimate distribution to butter producers? If the answer to both these questions is’ in the affirmative, do these facts account for the’ export, by the Australian Dairy Produce Board? of Butter that was necessary to meet Australia’s own- requirements ?
-During the last two years the- export” value of butter has been very substantially in. excess of the home market price’, but not1 substantially in excess of the price that has been paid to dairymen. That distinction should be understood. The export value- of butter in’ the- previous financial year was very slightly in excess of the- return to dairyfarmers in- Australia. I believe that the excess was a matter of several shillings per cwt. In the terms of an arrangement that- was made by the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the excess- was- paid’ into a stabilization fund that was designed to be drawn, upon when the export realization of butter was lower than the return to dairyfarmers. During the current financial year, for- nine months’ the return for butter exported was quite substantially lower and the return for cheese- is- still substantially lower than the return to dairy-farmers. The stabilization fund will be drawn upon to make good the difference. However, after nine months of negotiation I was able to persuade the British Ministry of Food to increase the price for butter retrospectively for nine months. At present the export price for butter is about ls. 6d. per cwt. lower than the return to the dairy-farmers.
– Will the Minister for Social1 .Services review the. existing, proportion of an aged’ pensioner’s pension that is allocated, to State: authorities in cases in which a pensioner is- an inmate of a State institution? By way of explanation. I point out that in Queensland the State Governmentdemands’ only £i ls. for the support of an inmate., of such an institution who is not the recipient of an age pension, but has, some other income. However,, where the inmate’s only income is the age pension the contribution, required, by the State institution, is 32s.. 6d. a- week.
– -It is customary for my department- to pay 35- per cent, of the pensioner’s1 income, to- the pensioner and the remainder to the’ approved benevolent asylum in the- State.. That, procedure gives the pensioner 17s. 6d. a week and the: institution 32s. 6d. a week: The. 35 per cent, ratio has been in. force for at least, eight, years.. In. England’ only 5s. a. week, is left, to the pensioner.,, whereas in lias country,, as I have said, the amount left is> 1.7s. 6d. a- week. If- it. is the custom of a State to. allow people who; are- not pensioners to stay in such institutions- at a lower rate than pensioners must pay, then the point that, the honorable member has raised is: clearly one for State authorities to consider. The honorable member for- Blaxland,, only a week or so ago–
-Order-! The Minister must not trespass there. He is answering’ a question.
– In New South. Wales there is a provision by which people, other than pensioners, who enter these homes,, pay no fee at. all. The honorable member has; said, that the practice in Queensland is to charge, an inmate £1’ Is. a. week and it seems to- me that the. matter he has raised: is. one for the State authorities to decide.
– Will’ the Minister for Supply say whether itf is’ a fact that because a promise- that the Joint Cba-1 Board made in 1948 to subsidize the Cessnock ambulance service on a 60-40 basis has» not yet been honoured, and also- because the New. South. Wales Government; will: resume the Cessnock ambulance: station, within, the- next week or so) the mining industry in, that, area1 is> without an ambulance- serviced Could’ the Minister make* the- necessary money available-, immediately- on. the promised’ basis, in order to obviate what will probably be very serious complications- in the near future?
– I have no knowledge of the facts’ mentioned by the honorable member. . Indeed, the matter’ that he referred to does- not come within, the jurisdiction of the Department: of Supply. I believe that it is. rather, a matter for the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I shall’ have the matter referred to him and obtain an answer for- the honorable member.
– In view of the great importance that Australia attaches to Persian oil supplies, and because of press reports that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company intends to evacuate the oil-fields of Persia, can the Minister for External Affairs make available to the House a statement giving details or information that cannot be obtained from press reports ? «
– As I think I said on an earlier occasion, practically all the information available about the happenings in Persia is appearing in the newspapers. The United Kingdom Government is keeping the Australian Government informed day by day of the Persian oil position, but there is very little that we receive by way of information which does not appear within 24 hours in the press. I - shall ascertain whether it is possible to make a statement which might be useful and informative, but as I think honorable members realize, one must take extreme care to ensure that nothing shall be said by us in this Parliament that would further complicate an already very delicate and anxious situation. I doubt whether any statement could be made, other than one which would recount the history of this enterprise, but I shall ascertain what can be done.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. By way of explanation, I mention that the question relates to the recently increased prices charged for baby foods. The most recent increase of the price of a brand of baby food, which is recommended by clinic sisters in Canberra, is ls. 3d. for a 2£-lb. tin. That increase now makes the price 9s. 6d. for a 2^-lb. ton. As a tin of food of this size contains sufficient food for a baby for a period of only a week or ten days, and as mothers cannot economize in the use of baby foods, will the Minister consider recommending an increase of the subsidy payable on milk products so that mothers of young children will not be further penalized by recently increased prices?
– The fixing of the ]) rices of baby food and such other products as were referred to by the honorable member is carried out by a conference of State prices ministers with whom sits a representative of the Commonwealth whose business it is to consider price fixation in the Australian Capital Territory. That system is designed to ensure that prices in the Australian Capital Territory shall be kept in line with prices in the six States. To that extent the matter is not within the control of my department or of the Australian Government itself. The subsidy which the Australian Government is now paying in respect of dairy products is on the basis of commercial butter, which has to be related to the raw product for these baby foods, and it now represents more than half the return to the producer. There is no historical record of such an extensive subsidy of any other commodity by a central government.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services’ to say what the Government proposes to do with the area known as Walsh Estate at Albury which it acquired about three years ago. In view of the fact that over 70 ex-servicemen in Albury are anxious to avail themselves of the facilities afforded by the war service homes scheme, will it use that area for the establishment of a group scheme? Will the Minister arrange for an officer of his department to visit Albury in order to discuss this matter with local representatives of exservicemen’s organizations?
– Walsh Estate, at Albury, has been somewhat of a problem to my department. The department acquired that property but, so far, no compensation has been fixed. Until that is done we cannot determine the prices for subdivided blocks. For that delay, not my department, but the SurveyorGeneral has been responsible. In addition, we have had considerable difficulty with builders at Albury. They do not seem to be keen to undertake the construction of war service homes. I do not know the reason for their attitude because builders in Wagga and other towns are willing to tender for the construction of such houses. However, I shall be pleased to arrange for a senior officer of my department to visit Albury to discuss the war service homes group scheme with representatives of local ex-servicemen’s organizations.
– Is the Minister .for Commerce and Agriculture aware of the serious shortage of beef that exists in South Australia at present 1 Has the Government of that State asked the Australian Government to assist it to obtain supplies of beef from Queensland? Can he indicate whether supplies can be obtained from that State? If so, when can such supplies be made available in South Australia ?
– I am not aware that a serious shortage of beef exists in South Australia. However, the Prime Minister and I have had discussions with the Premier of South Australia and the representatives of other State governments about the proposal that this Government might assist financially in’ any plan that the State governments might wish to advance for the storage of sheep meats, probably in the summer and spring months, in order to meet anticipated shortages during the winter and for the transfer of beef from Queensland to the south during the killing season in that State. The Government has indicated that it is willing to co-operate financially and otherwise in any plan of that kind, but, so far as I am aware, no State government has advanced any specific proposal in that respect.
– I address a question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture with respect to the central authority that it is proposed to establish to control the wool marketing plan if the growers approve of the plan. I should like to know whether that authority will consist of the following ten members: - Two grower representatives and one government appointee from Australia, one grower representative and one government appointee from South Africa, one grower representative and one government appointee from New Zealand, and three consumer representatives from the United Kingdom. If that is correct, how can the Minister maintain that the pro posed plan will be grower-controlled when the constitution of the control authority will give a ratio of four grower representatives to six representatives of other interests ?
– The ratio of representation on the proposed central authority to control the wool plan that the honorable member has stated is purely the figment of some one’s imagination. The central authority will consist of ten directors, three of whom will be representatives of the United Kingdom Government. It is incorrect to describe those representatives as consumer representatives. Three of the directors will represent Australia. Two of those representatives will be chosen by the woolgrowers of Australia through the Australian wool organization, which, with a membership of ten, has on it seven growerelected representatives. The third Australian representative will be nominated by the Government. It has already been announced that the Government’s nominee will simply state the views of the Australian Government to the central authority and that he will not be instructed by the Government as to how he shall vote on any issue. As one of the three Australian representatives on the central authority, he will vote according to his own individual judgment. Only last week I spoke to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the South African Minister for Agriculture. The governments of those two dominions have not yet decided on what basis they will choose their two representatives on the central authority. Therefore, at this stage, it is incorrect to say that the representatives on the central authority of each of those countries will be one government representative and one grower representative. To the best of my knowledge, it is possible that there may be two grower representatives from each of those dominions.
– Owing to the decline of the price of wool by approximately 50 per cent., will the Treasurer favorably consider the withdrawal of the tax of 20 per cent, on the gross proceeds from the realization of wool?
– The honorable member’s question is based on a false premise because there is no tax of .the character that he has indicated. The deductions merely represent a prepayment of tax. That system will receive consideration as an element of the budget.
– Will the Treasurer inform me whether the Australian Loan Council has pegged the maximum rate of interest for municipal loans at £3 10s. per cent., with the result that local councils are finding it extremely difficult to raise money for various works? Will the right honorable gentleman endeavour to have the position reviewed in order that local government authorities may obtain the money that is required for their essential works programmes?
– Interest rates are fixed under a national security regulation, and are not pegged by the Australian Loan Council or any other authority. It is within the jurisdiction of the Loan Council to ask the Government to vary or abolish that regulation, but, so far, such a request has not been made.
– Does the Minister for Health intend to lay on the table or to distribute to honorable members details of the report of the expert committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council which inquired into the epidemic of poliomyelitis? I understand that the right honorable gentleman received the report about six months ago and later referred it to the State Ministers of Health for consideration. Have any concrete results eventuated from the committee’s investigations ? Did the committee extend its inquiry beyond the ambit of the orthodox methods of treatment recommended by medical science and, if not, will he ask it to do so and to give particular attention to the work of Kenny clinics and chiropractors? As Sister Kenny is now in Australia, will the Minister consider inviting her to cooperate with the committee in its investigations ?
– Honorable members who were present in the last Parliament will remember that I made a statement in this chamber in March on the report of the expert committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council. I said then that copies of the report had been distributed to the State authorities and that the response to it had been of such a nature that the carrying out of the suggestions made by the States would not involve the use of additional research scientists in accordance with the Australian Government’s wish. Consequently, the report was not followed up. However, I had a meeting soon afterwards with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s special. committee, which consists of Sir Macfarlane Burnet, Professor Dew, Professor Wright, Professor Ward, Professor Ford, Dr. Richards, and the Director-General of Health, and discussed with it the whole problem of poliomyelitis. The committee considers that investigations in Australia of the actual causes of poliomyelitis would not be very effective. The best place for such research, in its opinion, is the United States of America, which has an immense population in which many thousands of cases of poliomyelitis occur each year. A great deal of special research work is being done there. We know that poliomyelitis is caused by a virus that is carried through the nose throat or bowels, but the difficulty is that we have not yet found a drug that will attack the virus. It is upon that problem that the work is being done. It was considered that the best work that could be done in Australia was that of trying to ensure that other virus diseases resembling poliomyelitis properly differentiated. Teams are being established to examine every virus epidemic that occurs in this country. One of the most satisfactory results that has yet been achieved was the isolation, within a fortnight, of the cause of the recent encephalitis epidemic on the Murray river, due to the very skilful work of Sir Macfarlane Burnet and Dr. Anderson. The intention of the Government is to ensure that research teams shall be available to be put into the field when a virus epidemic occurs in order that we shall be able to ascertain quickly whether the disease is poliomyelitis or another disease that we have a reasonable chance of curing. Treatment is really a matter for the States. For a considerable time, the Royal North
Shore Hospital in Sydney maintained a clinic at which Sister Kenny’s treatment was administered to patients. That clinic has’ now been incorporated into the orthopaedic department of the’ hospital. I. shall ascertain what is being done at the present time in connexion with Sister Kenny’s ideas.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been directed to the fact that in extensive areas of the eastern States, especially on the New England tableland, there has been a partial or complete failure of the apple and pear crop, as a result of black spot caused by excessive rain? This crop failure has adversely affected the orchard industry. Will the honorable gentleman inform the House of the stage that has been reached in the investigation of the question of whether refunds can be made to fruit-growers who participated in previous fruit pools? When can growers expect some assistance from this source ?
-The honorable member has emphasized, to me the unfortunate and, in some instances,, disastrous crop failures that have occurred in certain areas, especially on the- New England tableland, and the urgency of the need’ for the payment to growers of whatever compensation they are entitled to from a war-time pool’ as the result of a High Court judgment. I shall confer to-day with senior officers of my department in order to ascertain, whether it will be possible to expedite the examination of growers’ accounts that will be necessary under the terms of the High Court judgment in order that a conclusion may be reached as early as possible upon the. entitlement of individual, growers and payments made to them.
– Is the- PostmasterGeneral aware that, since the 14th December, 1950, since negotiations were conducted between the Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union and the Public Service Board subsequent to a decision that was given by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court”, two rates of pay have- been applicable to women postal employees engaged in what are normally regarded as male jobs, and that the difference between the two rates is approximately fill a year ? Does the honorable gentleman agree that this is a possible cause of discontent that may impair the efficiency of the postal service?’ Is he prepared to investigate this matter and to consider resolving the problem in favour of female employees who have been engaged- since the 14th December, 1950?
– It is not the prerogative of the Postmaster-General to decide, matters of the type of that raised by the honorable member. The determination of the rates of pay and variations between male and female rates resides with the Public Service Board and the arbitration tribunals that have been set up for that purpose. I have had discussions with the Public Service Board and have received union representations on the subject, and consideration of the matter is proceeding.
– I address a. question to- you, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Government having gagged debate in this House on the motion “ That the House do now adjourn”, will you say when a private member may speak in the House inreference to his constituents ? Is- it necessary to obtain leave to make a statement ? If so, at what time should a member rise and ask for leave to make such a statement?
– That is a matter entirely for the Houses to decide. To-day would normally be private members’ day,, but it was unanimously agreed yesterday that the sitting should be devoted ta Government business.
– It was not agreed unanimously.
– There was no division.
– Honorable members protested.
– I do not know that that is so-. The only protest that I recognize is one that results from a division.
– by leave - Two days ago the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Andrews) asked me a question concerning the allocation of tinplate in Australia. ‘ I said then that supplies of tinplate were allocated not by the Government but by a private committee which consisted of members of the industry. That answer was correct in spirit but, technically, was not quite accurate. Tinplate is imported by private individuals, not by the Government. This private importation has continued under different governments for years. The import licences are granted by the Minister for Trade and Customs, who acts not on his own initiative but on my advice, as Minister for Supply. I, knowing nothing about the requirements of the people who need it, have to resort, as my predecessor did, to the advice of some committee in the industry. An advisory committee was set up by the previous Government for the purpose of advising the Minister of the people who should receive import licences and for what quantities they should receive them. The plan to which the Government has been working was drawn up in great detail some years ago and is based upon the quantity used in a base year, 1947. That plan has been in operation since it was introduced by the ‘ Labour Government, except in regard to one detail. It was found that the base year sometimes operated unfairly in respect of firms which had come into existence since 1947, and appeals were sometimes made to me to vary the plan to the extent of making more tinplate available to some individuals who it was alleged were being treated unfairly. Such additional allocations have occasionally been made but, generally, supplies are allocated only upon the advice of the advisory committee.
– by leave - At the conclusion of my statement I propose to table certain papers in connexion with the loss of Douglas aircraft type DC4, registered
VH-ANA, operated by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, which, on the 26th June, 1950, crashed into the ground in the vicinity of York, in the State of “Western Australia.
A large number of lives was lost in this accident, and in an effort to establish the cause exhaustive inquiries have been made, both by the Court of Inquiry in a main and a supplementary report, and by a departmental team which was especially qualified for the purpose. 3 regret to inform the House that these painstaking inquiries have failed to reveal the primary cause of the accident. The Amana, a four-engined Skymaster or’ DC4 aircraft, took off from Guildford aerodrome, Perth, on the night of tha 26th June, 1950. The aircraft carried, in addition to a crew of five, 24 passengers, including two infants in arms. The crew of the aircraft was properly qualified, the aircraft operated under a valid certificate of airworthiness and, although the court found a small inaccuracy in the preparation of the loading sheet, the total weight was well within the capacity of the aircraft to carry it. In the course of its deliberations, the court revealed two irregularities. The first was a failure to obey the appropriate air navigation order, which required the draining of the weatherheads of the fuel tanks of the aircraft at each refuelling. The weatherheads are for the purpose of trapping any water that settles out of the petrol in the aircraft fuel tanks. The water may then be drained and so an accumulation of water in the petrol is prevented. In the second case, it was established that the Amana carried 8,545 feet of photographic film in contravention of an order which limits the carriage of such material to 3,000 feet. Such disclosures highlight the importance of a meticulous observation by aircraft companies of the regulations promulgated by the Department of Civil Aviation to ensure the safety of flying. In the opinion of the court, however, it is not considered that the irregularity played any part in causing the Amana to crash. The aircraft’s final take-off was perfectly normal, and after becoming airborne it completed a circuit of the aerodrome, returning over it at 2,000 feet. Four minutes after the take-off, the Amana signalled that it was on course. Fourteen minutes later, th-3 aircraft crashed and all aboard, excepa Mr. Forward, were killed instantly. Mr. Forward survived his injuries for only a few days.
The findings of the Court of Inquiry presided over by Mr. Justice Simpson are contained in paragraphs 76 to 87 of the report, which I shall table, but those of importance are in paragraphs 84 and S5, which read as follows :-r-
The evidence does not justify me in finding either the cause of the sudden loss of height or the cause of all the engines of the aircraft simultaneously ceasing to deliver power.
There is no doubt that these two factors, irrespective of their order of happening, caused the accident.
Provided there is sufficient petrol available in the tanks, which was so in this instance, it is extremely difficult to explain a simultaneous loss of power in a fourengined aircraft. In an effort to do so, the court has given a great deal of study to the possible cause of contamination of the petrol by the presence of water. In fact, this question led to my predecessor, at the suggestion of Mr, Justice Simpson, requesting the re-opening of the inquiry, and the further sittings of the court during the early part of this month have produced the supplementary report to which I have referred. This study has evolved an interesting theory in regard to water in the petrol, but its only concern insofar as the il.7iw.7ia accident is concerned is that it confirms the opinion of the court that water was not the cause of the loss of power. The reason for the accident must therefore remain unknown.
I turn now to the court’s recommendations, which are three in number, and which, it will be noted, are designed to provide further safeguards against the presence of water in the petrol. The first recommendation is -
That the Oil Companies who supply petrol for aircraft purposes should be required to test each compartment of their tank wagons at least after each refill of the tank wagons and that such tests should be made by withdrawing petrol from each compartment into a transparent or glass container and an inspection made for the presence of water.
I am advised that even if we wished to go into such detail, we have no power to direct an oil company about how it should test its products. On the other hand, I have no doubt that any recommendation of that sort has only to be brought to the notice of the oil companies to be readily accepted, and that has been done.
The second recommendation is -
That the Department of Civil Aviation Air Navigation Order No. 105. 1.0.22 should be amended to require that the checks of the fuel from the weatherheads be made into transparent or glass containers.
Sometimes these checks are made in a metal vessel and it is not always possible to see whether water is present or not. The order as at present worded leaves it to the operating company, after having drained the weatherheads, to satisfy itself upon whether or not water is present. There can be no objection to .amending the order to require that the fuel shall bc drained into a colourless transparent vessel for this purpose, and the recommendation will be accepted.
The third recommendation is -
That the Department of Civil Aviation reconsider the appropriate Air Navigation Order (A.N.O.40) with a view to requiring all pilots to be periodically tested for asymmetric flight on each type of aircraft on which they regularly fly.
The court has submitted an explanation of the reason for this suggestion, and has stated that it is not justified in making a positive recommendation that the present order be altered. The Department of Civil Aviation now requires a pilot who seeks endorsement of his licence for aircraft of any particular type to carry out, in that type, all the necessary tests, including asymmetric flight _ test, before endorsement is approved. Tests which would occupy about half an hour’s flying, are required to be undertaken every six months for the renewal of a pilot’s licence. It is our view that the pilot having shown in his original endorsement teststhat he can handle aircraft -of the type concerned, it will he adequate for renewal purposes if the half-yearly tests are carried out in twin-engined aircraft.
The loss of one engine in a f our-engined aircraft means the loss of 25 per cent. of power, whilst the loss of one engine in the case of a twin-engined aircraft results in the loss of 50 per cent. of power. Because of that fact the maintenance of the latter in flight under those conditions ls more difficult than the maintenance in flight of the former. I consider that this ovder should not he altered.
In conclusion, I should like to express, on behalf of the Government and of the House, very sincere sympathy with the relatives of the victims of the accident.
I now lay on the table the following papers : -
Loss of airliner Amana, 26th June, 1950 - (1)Report of Air Court of Inquiry,
Supplementary Report, and
Ministerial Statement by the MinisterforCivil Aviation regarding the report. and move -
That the papersbe printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Drakeford) adjourned.
– by leave - Honorable members are, of course, aware that in recent weeks members of the Seamen’s Union of Australia have maintained a ban on the manning of the vessel Aorangi. The honorable member for Evans (Mr,. Osborne) earlier to-day asked me whether I would give some details of the background of this dispute, and also an indication of what action the Government was taking in the matter. I do not propose to go into any great detail about the motives behind the action of the union in imposing the ban, but I invite the attention of honorable members to the text of documents that were presented in evidence yesterday, which, I think, will give them some indication of the international ramifications of the action that the union has been pursuing.
– Is the case still proceeding?
– I am not going further than that. Aorangi had been the one remaining passenger ship operating between Australia and Canada. The break in the passenger servicethus caused, has, sincethe imposition of the ban,been viewed seriously by the Govemment, and consideration was , given in the early stages of this matter to the manning of the ship with naval personnel if the seamen still refused to offer for work. “We were naturallyreluctant for several reasons to take that course. We believe that most members of the Seamen’s Union, although they are led by Communists, are themselvesloyal to their country and desire to follow the recommendation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the supreme executive body of the trade union movement, that they offer for work. We had hoped that with the removal of the ban by other unions, the seamen would have followed the same course. We wished also to avoid the long interruption of the service activities of naval personnel which the voyage to Canada and the return would necessarily entail. Advice reaching the Government from New Zealand had indicated a probability that the meeting of the National Council of Seamen, to be held there on Tuesday of this week, would havedecided to remove the ban in that country, with the consequence of a speedy removal of the ban here. With this possibility before us, action to provide naval ratings was deferred. It now appears thatno such decision wasreached on Tuesday, and there is nothing before us to suggest that the ban will not be continued indefinitely. The Government has therefore given fresh consideration to the situation as it affects Aorangi, and I have been authorized to inform the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited that my colleague, the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. McBride), will make sufficient naval ratings available to man the ship to the extent required.
We hope that the members of maritime unions who would normally offer for engagement with Aorangi will now do so. Members of several other unions normally work on the vessel, and information which has reached the Government has strongly suggested that they have been preparedatalltimestoworkandtake theship to sea. Now that we have decided on this course of action we hope that they will play their part and carry out theirnormal functionson the vessel. Indeed,we also have reason to believe that the seamen members of the crew of Aorangi have themselves washed to work the ship. We have requested the company to make the ship ready to put to sea assoon as is practicable, and the company will no : doubt give notice to its passengers as to when they may expect to sail.
– I have to inform the House that I have this day issued writs for the election of members to serve for the Divisions of Balaclava and Macquarie. The dates fixed in connexion with the elections are those announced to the House on the 21st June.
Motions (by Mr.. Eric J. Harrison) - by leave - agreed to -
That, in accordance with the Commonwealth Public’ Works Committee Act 1913-1947, the following members be appointed members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, viz.: - Mr. Bird, Mr. Bowden, Mr. Cramer, Mr. McDonald, Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Watkins.
That a Standing Orders Committee be appointed, to consist of Mr. Speaker, The Prime Minister, the Chairman of Committees’, Mr. W. M. Bourke, Mr. Tom Burke, Mr. Clark, Mr. McDonald, Sir Earle Page and Mr. Rosevear.
That Dr. Evatt, Mr. McDonald, Mr. Clark, Mr. MeLeay, Mr. Swartz, Mr. Sheehan and Mr. Turnbullbe members of the Committee of Privileges; five to form a quorum.
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Beazley, Mr. Cremean, Mr. Downer, Mr. Drummond, Mr. Duthie and Mr. Wentworth be members of the Library Committee.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-50. .
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to salaries of certain . offices in the Public Service.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 20th June (vide page 137), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill before the House is consequent upon the uniform taxation scheme which was introduced duringthe last war. Honorable members who are now on theGovernment side were strong critics of the uniform taxation scheme when they sat in Opposition.
– Some of them.
– That is correct, some of them werestrong critics. Some of them extracted a large volume of propaganda out of their opposition to the scheme. However, the actions of those honorable members, since their parties have assumed power, have indicated that uniform taxation has come to stayin Australia. Not only the majority of the State governments and as well as the Australian Government, but also most of the Australian people, desire uniform taxation. They do not want to return to a system under which they were taxed according to two or more taxation acts with all the concomitant adjustments of dependants’ allowances and expenses. Previous Labour Governments, with the agreement of the States, established a formula under which an increasing return should bo allotted to the States. The amount of the return depended on the formula. From then on the amount returned to the States each year has increased. Year after year the State governments have discovered that the amounts allotted to them have been insufficient to meet their needs. Then has followed an undignified and unsatisfactory squabble between the States and the Commonwealth over the distribution of the taxation revenue. I believe that such a state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. It does not accord with the stature of the Australian nation, or of the States, that there should be yearly wrangles over the amount to be distributed to the States.
However, the States are hamstrung because they have no means of knowing in advance what their allocations will be. Some formula must be established whereby the State .governments will know exactly what they are to get and will consequently be able to plan their future financial policies. That would ensure that the .States would be able to carry out to the full development in those fields left open to them by the Constitution. That does not mean, of course, that the present alignment of powers of the Commonwealth and the States is necessarily permanent. I do not believe that it is. I think that either by evolution or by deliberate action increased powers will be granted to the National Parliament and that the Commonwealth will eventually take over the majority of governmental activities. However, for the time being we must get down to a basis whereby the States will be enabled to know with some degree of certainty what revenue will be returned to them annually and to plan their expenditure accordingly. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his second-reading speech, said -
After making a detailed review of the immediate situation with which each State government is confronted the Commonwealth Government has decided to propose an additional grant of £15.000,000 in 1950-51.
It would be of great assistance to the Parliament if the Treasurer could inform honorable members of the facts upon which the Government arrived at that decision. I do not suggest that we should be given details of the arguments that the States submitted. However, we are entitled to have presented to us a summary of the case that the States made out for increased reimbursements and upon which the Government made its final decision. I also suggest that such a summary should be presented to the House in conjunction with all measures of this kind that are introduced in the future. The Treasurer also said -
The present proposal will, therefore, increase the total payment for 1950-51 to approximately £90,400,000.
That is a very high figure, but, having regard to rising prices, I am confident that it will not be adequate to finance the States in their operations. It may be sufficient to meet their immediate needs but unless present inflationary trends are arrested the record reimbursement to be made to the States this year will have to be increased next year.
The Government should give special consideration to ways and means by which it can assist the States in respect of specific State activities. Over the years, the operations of State railways have largely determined the budgetary position of the States. In the main, .State budgets have been in deficit or in surplus according to the financial result of the operation of the State railways. For that reason, railways are the major activity of the States in respect of which the Government could assist the States. When Labour was in office it evolved plans for the standardization of railway gauges. This Government should direct its attention to that proposal and, short of standardization, it should endeavour to deal with the problem of rail transportation on a nation-wide basis. Each State government is now confronted with a costly programme for the rehabilitation of its railway system. That expenditure will severely tax the States’ resources. In spite of the development of more modern forms of transport, a modern railway system on a nation-wide basis is of vital importance in time of peace; and it is of even greater importance in time of war. Secondly, as I said earlier, the deficits, or surpluses, that result from the operation of the railways determine in themain the budgetary position of the States. Therefore, the Government should make an approach to the States in respect of this national problem and of rehabilitating our railways. Operational costs could be substantially lowered by the standardization of equipment, particularly rolling stock. In the interests of not only the States, but also the nation as a whole, the Government should cooperate with the States in tackling this problem.
The same observation applies with respect to other purely State activities. I refer to education. Governments of States like Western Australia, which has a large area but only a small population, are experiencing increasing difficulty in attracting sufficient teachers. They have not sufficient finance to enable them to cope with the expansion of modern educational systems. I urge the Government to co-operate with the States in that matter. One could mention a number of other important State activities in respect of which the Government should recognize its national responsibility. The Opposition is aware of the heavy demands that are now being made upon the Treasury, but, ultimately, the Government would effect considerable savings and derive handsome dividends for the. nation in the future if it were to assist the States in the manner that I have indicated.
At this period of the Jubilee year the Government could most appropriately approach the problem of constitutional reform. Almost every honorable member who has spoken in this chamber during the current sessional period has deplored the shortcomings of the Constitution. All the suggestions that have been made contain some merit and each of them should be carefully examined. However, I believe that the Government could act most effectively if it followed the example that the Labour Government set in 1944 when it called a convention for a similar purpose. That convention was not directly elected by the people. It consisted of the leaders of the Government and of the Opposition parties in this Parliament and in each of the State parliaments. It reached a large measure of agreement. Almost unanimously, it agreed that the most extensive heads of powers yet to be proposed should be granted to the National Parliament. That proposal was frustrated because of an adverse vote on the requisite complementary legislation in the upper house in one of the State parliaments. I recall that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer, who were then in Opposition, applauded the results that that convention achieved. It is on record that the Prime Minister stated that greater decentralization would not be achieved until greater powers were centralized in the National Parliament.
– I think that that is wrong.
– That opinion was expressed by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), the former Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Spender, and, in fact, nearly all the leading members of the present Government. A satisfactory arrangement of the powers of the Commonwealth and of the States must be made. Conferences on the Constitution seem to fail, and conventions do not appear to be the answer to the problem when there is an elected parliament which must decide the form that the convention shall take, and ultimately determine whether or not the decisions that are reached by it shall be given effect. I suggest, as a possible solution of the problem, with all its complexities and unsatisfactory facets, that the Government should summon such a conference as was held in 1944.
For the rest, we do not know whether the sum of £15,000,000 will be sufficient to meet the needs of the States. We are aware that the States, as a bargaining medium, are likely to ask for more money than they actually need, and that the Commonwealth, having many pressing demands upon its revenues, is liable to offer less than it is prepared to make available to them. Apparently, a compromise is reached during the negotiations
– This amount of money is a voluntary gift.
– I assume that the States asked the Commonwealth for additional financial assistance.
– The Commonwealth was under no obligation to make this amount of money available to them.
– I agree that the Commonwealth is not under a legal obligation, but it is under a national obligation to provide the money if the State governments are unable to carry on their ordinary services. .
– Especially if the States will not increase their charges.
– The States have the responsibility of deciding whether or not they should increase their charges.
-They wish that responsibility onto the Commonwealth.
– That is the view of the Treasurer at the present time. It was not his view when he was in Opposition.
– It was the view of the previous Prime Minister, the late Mr. Chifley.
– The States claim that they require an additional amount of money to enable them to carry on their services. I assume that the Treasurer like his predecessors, had to be satisfied that the States required an amount of £15,000,000 to enable them to carry on their services and function. Evidently, the Commonwealth has decided, first, that the States require additional assistance, and, secondly, that it cannot make more than £15,000,000 available to them on this occasion.
The financial assistance that is granted by the Commonwealth to the States is not a fixed sum. With rising costs, as evidenced by increases of the basic wage and other charges, the States will be obliged to approach the Commonwealth year after year, and perhaps more frequently than once a year, unless a satisfactory basis for the apportionment of tax revenues can be ascertained.
– Conferences are proceeding now upon the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States.
– Experience of such conferences in the past does not give much hope of success. Deadlocks frequently occurred, and they could not be resolved. The States will not voluntarily transfer powers to the Commonwealth. The problem of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States is a recurring one, but it must be solved somehow, in the interests of Australia, from the standpoint of its dignity and its future as a nation. Therefore, I suggest that the Government should summon a conference similar to that which was held in 1944.
.-The purpose of this bill is to provide financial assistance, amounting to £15,000,000, to the States. I agree with the interjection of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that it is a voluntary gift by the Commonwealth, but the States urgently require the money to enable them to meet higher expenditure resulting from the increase of the basic wage and other costs. Of the total payment of £15,000,000, Western Australia will receive only £1,000,000. I do not know whether or not that sum will completely meet the needs of the Government of that State at the present time, and like the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) I fear that further requests will be made by the States for assistance. The Western Australian Treasurer will probably be obliged to carry a deficit into the new financial year.
The uniform income tax, at the time of its introduction, was severely criticized by members of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party, and that system has been even more trenchantly criticized in later years, not because the States desire a return to the old dual system of taxation, but because they regard its continuance as a breach of faith on the part of the preceding Labour Government.
– That statement is not correct.
– The position is perfectly clear. The States agreed, as a wartime measure, that the Commonwealth should be the sole income taxing authority, and should reimburse the States to enable them to carry on their functions. Section 16 of the Income Tax (War-time Arrangements) Act 1942 provided that the uniform income tax should operate for the duration of the war and twelve months thereafter. However, the High Court of Australia ruled that the Commonwealth had priority in collecting income tax, and that decision, in effect, deprived the States of their right to impose income tax. But I emphasize that there was a definite understanding in 1942 that, at the conclusion of the war, the Commonwealth would return to the States their power to levy income tax. What happened is well known to all honorable members. The Commonwealth simply refused to return those powers to the States.
– I do not think -that the States want the Commonwealth to return the taxing power to them.
– That is not the point. The present constitutional difficulty has its origin in the breach of faith that was committed by the preceding Labour Government.
– That statement is not correct. The High Court ruled that the Commonwealth had priority in imposing income tax.
– Undoubtedly, the Commonwealth’s position in that respect was confirmed by the High Court, but the honorable member for Perth overlooks the issue which I mention. Honorable members speak now of a transference of powers by the States to the Commonwealth. In the light of the experience with the uniform income tax, can any honorable member expect the States to I ia ve confidence that the Commonwealth will honour its word to restore to them powers that they may transfer temporarily? That is the position.
– Do the States want the taxing power to be restored to them?
– I am not prepared to express an opinion on that point. Frankly, I believe that the present system is infinitely better than the dual system of taxation that was previously in operation.
Action must be taken to re-adjust the distribution of money to the States. The present formula should be examined carefully in the light of present-day and future conditions. Western Australia, when the uniform income tax system was introduced in 1942, was a favoured State. At that time its income tax was high, but the taxable earnings were not high. Since then, the position has changed. Income tax rates, as levied by the Commonwealth, remain high, and the taxable yields of the State have advanced to a sum much in excess of the figure nine years ago. Therefore, if the actual earnings of the population were taken into consideration, Western Australia would be entitled to a far greater proportion of the taxes that are collected than is made available to it under the present formula.
– And to a lesser proportion of State grants!
– Not necessarily! I shall reply to that interjection as I proceed. For the purpose of my argument, I shall give an actual illustration of the situation. At the time when the right to collect income tax was transferred entirely to the Commonwealth, Western Australia was levying a hospital tax which produced, on the taxable income of the people at that time, an annual return of £275,000. It was a straightout tax on the earnings. The total amount of income in the State that would be liable to that tax if it were still being collected to-day is ten times as great as it was then.’ Yet Western Australia still receives from the Commonwealth only £275,000 a year as compensation for having relinquished its right to levy that tax. If all such circumstances were taken into consideration, the State obviously should benefit very considerably even if the amount it received in reimbursement were based on the present formula.
I do not agree with the honorable member for Perth, who has claimed that greater powers must be given to the Commonwealth. But there must be a better definition of the respective powers of the States and’ the Commonwealth. Overlapping, which contributes very largely to the cost of government in Australia, must be eliminated. Both the Commonwealth and the States are exercising similar functions in many fields, with the result that some costs, which the people must bear, are doubled. The suggestion that more power must be given to the central government and that the States must operate on delegated powers is a negation of the principle of good government. The best governments are those that are closest to the people. The government which gives the greatest service at the lowest cost is the little local-governing authority which is in close touch with the people and their needs. The closer we bring government to the people the better and the more satisfactory will government be. As government is removed further from the people, its knowledge of the fundamental needs of the population decreases and discontent arises. The Commonwealth will be forced, by the need for national development in the interests of economic stability and sound defence, to undertake certain capital expenditure in the States almost regardless of the proposals that may be made by the States on their own account. This will force it to alter its financial relationships with the States.
I refer now to the recent conference which took place in Canberra between the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Treasurer and the State Premiers in relation to the reduction of loan expenditure by the States. I do not want the Treasurer to have any false idea that I am unco-operative or that I fail to appreciate the difficulties of the Commonwealth, which is being forced by circumstances to try to do too much with the resources at its command. However, the fact is that Western Australia now has the greatest opportunity that has ever been available to it to develop its territory. Goodness knows when a similar opportunity will occur again !
– All States are in the same position.
– I disagree with the honorable member. Western Australia is fundamentally a primary producing State, and Australia is enjoying its present prosperity because primary production is favouring the national economy. Nobody can say how long this situation will continue to exist, but we should be able to benefit substantially from it while it lasts. Western Australia’s sister States have become industrial States. They were encouraged to develop their industries during World War II,, whereas Western Australia, because of the circumstances of the war, was called upon, in the national interest, to restrict its development to the sphere of primary production. The facts are on record. Australia now lias a God-given, golden opportunity to take advantage of a buoyant export market for the purposes of development.
Western Australia is as loyal to Australia as is any other State and 1 fear that, because of this loyalty, it will be prepared to forego some of the loan expenditure which it has planned and so jeopardize its prospects of satisfactory development. This brings me to the subject of grants to the States. I appeal to the Treasurer to promise Western Australia that, whatever losses its developmental programme may suffer as the result of the restriction of loan expenditure on vital capital works, it will be compensated by means of additional grants so that it will be able to tn ke. advantage of the present opportunity to press on with development.
The Commonwealth will be forced to provide a bigger share of the capital expenditure in all States in the future. Already it has undertaken the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric project for New South Wales and Victoria. It will have to help other States in the same way. Much of the developmental programme of Western Australia is essential not only from the State point of view but also from the national point of view. We must remember that the nation cannot be stronger than its weakest State, for either defence or economic purposes. Many of the capital works that should be undertaken in Western Australia are now beyond the financial capacity of the State to accomplish, even on a loan programme, because borrowing at the outset would saddle the people with costs and charges which they cm not meet immediately, though they would be able to do so in the future. I should not object to an extension of the powers of the Commonwealth in order to enable it to undertake developmental works in the States according to their apparent needs. It should be enabled togo ahead with important projects in relation to water supply, power generation, and communication. [Quorum formed.] I think it would be necessary for the Commonwealth to have powers to undertake the provision of finance for capital works which may be necessary for economic or defence purposes but, ultimately, the operation of such works should be administered by the States.
The governments of some States have ceased to have a sense of national responsibility. Others have become inclined to be extremely modest in their claims upon tin; national exchequer. This may be said of Western Australia. I wish that I bacl the opportunity of being a State Premier. At the present time a State government has little responsibility in regard to finance. The Australian Government has to guarantee its expenditure because it could not allow any State to default. The State governments are in a position to undertake whatever works they wish and then tell the Australian Government, to foot the bill.
– Has the honorable member ever heard of the Loan Council?
M r. Clyde Cameron. - Does the honorable member know its functions?
– I say that it is not practicable for the Australian Government to allow any State to default. All Star,p governments could be fully irresponsible in this respect, but some of them are aware of their responsibilities, and they modify their requests in accordance with the national outlook. The financial relationships between the State governments and the Australian Government will have to be adjusted. The formula relating to the re-imbursement of the States of moneys collected under the uniform taxation system must be revised.
– In what way?
– Obviously, in the way that is more beneficial to the. States.
– What way is that?
– If the honorable member desires to have the benefit of discussing economics with me I am prepared to discuss the subject at any time outside of this chamber so that no stress will be’ placed on other honorable members. In the revision of financial relationships which must take place, the present circumstances of a State such as Western Australia which has added so considerably to its taxable income must be given consideration. Such a revision is necessary in order to put the States on a firmer financial footing and enable them to anticipate their revenue for each account ing period. The State governments must not be allowed to think that it will not matter if they do not obtain sufficient money to meet their costs because they can always obtain a special grant from the Australian Government. The States have relied on the Australian Government as though it were a good old uncle. Generous as the Treasurer may be, the harshest treatment in relation to financial matters is usually suffered by the State government which is modest in its requests. I was glad to hear the Treasurer announce that discussions were taking place between the representatives of the States and Australian Governments concerning the possibility of an adjustment of financial relationships. In order to make these discussions successful the Government will have to refrain, from saying to the States, “What I have I hold and you bow to my bidding “.
– Is that what the Government has said ?
– That is what Australian Governments did up till 1949. That attitude must be changed. The Government must be prepared to work in the national interest and see the point of view of the States. It must be prepared to trust the States and return to them a big measure of the responsibility that they previously had. As the result of such treatment the States would do a better job than they have been able to do since they have been denied their previous financial powers. If the reforms that I have suggested are made I am sure that requests for special grants will not arise and there will not be any necessity for this House to consider bills such as the one that is before it at the present time. I support the bill.
– I should like to clarify the subject of the use of income tax revenue by the Australian Government which was raised by the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie). The uniform taxation scheme arose out of the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers that was held in Melbourne in 1942. It had been suggested originally that the Commonwealth should take the taxation power only for a limited period. However, as the State governments would not agree to conditions that had been suggested, the Australian Government considered that it was morally free from any responsibility to return the power to the States after the war. That is now history. Honorable members must deal with the situation as it exists in 1951. The complexion of the whole problem has been altered by the position which income taxation now occupies in the federal budget. For many reasons, it is simpler to collect a single tax than to have separate taxes collected by each State. However, the various governments must set up satisfactory machinery to preserve the federal system and arrange a sensible distribution of resources. The sum of £15,000,000 which is now under discussion is only a part of the total amount that will be distributed to the States.
The seventeenth report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which deals with the year 194S-49, indicates in appendix No. 21 that in that year the total amount of grants made by the Commonwealth to the States was £106,000,000. In that year tax reimbursements amounted to only £53,000,000. This year, the total of federal tax re-imbursements to the States will amount to about £90,000,000. The total amount which it is anticipated will be required for Commonwealth grants to the States under section 96 is £15,000,000. This amount is paid to the States of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The total amount of grants to all States from all sources was £150,000,000 for the current financial year. That £150,000,000 represents a fairly considerable portion of the total revenues collected by the Australian Government. The total Commonwealth revenue for the current financial vear was approximately £500,000,000. In other words, approximately 30 per cent, of what the Commonwealth collected was re-distributed to the States. It seems to me that it is necessary to make a systematic approach to this problem instead of using the pragmatic method that has been adopted in the past. The States have increasing needs but their main source of additional revenue has been taken from them under the uniform taxation arrangements. The State governments and the
Australian Government are all members of a co-operative Commonwealth. The amount of money that is allocated to the States and the Commonwealth from income tax represents the greatest single item in the respective budgets of each of those governments. That amount i.= not merely represented by a figure of £150,000,000. It is represented by h figure which is 30 per cent, of the total revenue collected by the Commonwealth and over half of the States. The biggest single amount redistributed is that which is allocated under the tax reimbursement arrangement. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has suggested that this figure will be about £90.000,000 for the current financial year.
This year the Commonwealth has reached a crossroad at which it must depart from the dole method which has been adopted in. the past and attempt to conduct its finances on a more systematic basis. The States have a wide, variety of powers which require considerable finance for their implementation. But the main and the most equitable source of taxation has been ti:ken out of the hands of the States and vested in the Commonwealth, and thereby certain anomalies have been created in our financial system, which should now be examined and corrected. The’ most important of the functions that still reside in the States are, I suppose, education, health and various welfare services. 1 have had some connexion as a member of the Victorian Parliament with some of the State’s educational instrumentalities. I should imagine that what is going on in Victoria would be similar to what is happening in some of the other States. We are realizing, unfortunately, twenty or 30 years later than we should have clone, that such facilities as library and education services are necessary to the greater welfare and development of the community. In Victoria, only four or five years ago. we launched a service known as the free library service, which was controlled by a board. The problems 1 ;;1 at face that board are financial. The actual expenditure involved on the part of the State is a comparatively trivial amount compared with the federal budget. But the States have to hesitate over the expenditure of £50,000 or £60,000 at a time when we have a supplementary budget amounting to £40,000,000, which we are to pass in about half an hour.
To develop library services the Victorian Government allowed for an increase of expenditure of £50,000 in the last two budget years. That is not a large amount, but there ought to be no doubt about the ability of a State to be able to expend such a sum on such a service. However, because the States are hard up for additional revenue, and because it is almost the end of the financial year before they know whether the Commonwealth will be generOUt to them, they cannot plan ahead for the development of these necessary services. As a consequence, the development of such State facilities is being delayed instead of being planned. Library services ure only one field of State developmental activities. There is also the field of adult education. The Council of Adult Education in Victoria has been taking drama,, art shows and musical performances to country towns where they have never been seen before. The people are entitled to those amenities, but they cost money. An example of State expenditure in the health field has already been mentioned several times in this House. 1 refer to the free distribution of milk to school children. In Victoria that scheme is held up because the State contends that it cannot afford the amount of £30,000 that would be needed to provide distribution facilities. Thirty thousand pounds is not much in comparison with a Commonwealth budget of £500,000,000, but it. is a great amount to States which are inhibited in their budgeting because they do not know until the end of the year what resources they are likely to have. At the moment, under the various Commonwealth grants, the States are being granted enough money to maintain their facilities at. the previous year’s level, but not enough to expand them. I suggest that there should be a more realistic approach to these matters. All Australians are citizens of the one country, and there should be no argument about the provision of financial resources for their welfare.
Another anomaly that exists is in relation to persons who receive State superannuation. We all know, of course, the change that has taken place in lire purchasing power of the £l, which has placed people on fixed incomes, in .a very difficult situation. In this connexion I shall again cite examples from Victoria, which is the State with which I am most familiar, although I do not think that the situation is essentially different in other States. Certain people in Victoria who receive superannuation pensions from the State Government received in the past £2 a week for the maintenance of man and wife. They were still eligible to receive the age pension also, if their circumstances complied with the conditions for the payment of that pension. But not everybody was in that category. Some people were dependent entirely on the superannuation payment from the State. As a result of strong agitation on the part of those concerned, the unit of superannuation in the State scheme was increased by 50 per cent., and the State government carried the increase. Tn other words, where the weekly payment was £2 it was increased to £3. But, because of the anomaly which exists in the financial relationships between the States and the Commonwealth, an absurd situation has developed in which, when the pension received by a State superannuitant has been increased to £3 he receives £1 a week less in age pension because of the increase of income involved. That is to say, financial responsibility of the State has increased whilst that of the Commonwealth, which is far more able to meet extra expenditure, has decreased. Ironically enough, the recipient of such a superannuation pension also becomes liable to pay Commonwealth social sei;-, vices contribution because his annual income has risen from £104 to £156. So the Commonwealth pays less because it decreases the age pension of the individual, the State pays more because of the increase in superannuation, and the Commonwealth levies on the individual another impost by means of social service contribution.
Those are some of the anomalies which exist because we have failed .to face up to this important problem of financial relationships between the States and the Commonwealth. Another anomaly exists in relation to the acquisition by the Australian Government of land in various places throughout the country. When the land is acquired by a federal instrumentality it ceases to be rateable by local government authorities. Those issues may seem comparatively small, but they are nevertheless indicative of the trappings that hang about the central problem. It is not a new problem. The reports of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which contain much, valuable information, take as a premise that in a federal system it is impossible to allocate the revenues and the responsibilities of the different authorities. There is no natural equality between, on the one hand, the resources available to each channel of government, and the responsibility that each is asked to undertake. It is held by some people to be a vicious principle that
One government should raise money that, has to be expended by another. That idea must be discarded, because it is inevitable in a federal system that there shall be a redistribution of the funds gathered by the federal government. The federal government must collect the money, which must then be redistributed to the States. The amount of money provided in the budget for redistribution to the States is £150,000,000 out of a total Commonwealth revenue of £500,000,000. It is the greatest single item in the budget, and the Commonwealth grants have become the biggest single item in the State budgets.
If we are to have sound instead of crazy fi nance we must get down to a realistic basis.
J have insufficient time available to me to suggest what that basis should be. It is not a simple problem and will not permit of a simple solution, but at least some attempt should be made in Australia, as has been made in two of the other great federal countries, the United States of America and Canada, to try to achieve a satisfactory formula. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) has suggested that perhaps the Commonwealth could take over certain items of State expenditure such as education and health, and establish a national standard, and that if the States wanted to increase that standard they could do so from their own sources of revenue. But at the moment it is increasingly difficult for a State Treasurer to find additional sources of revenue. Some of the sources of revenue for the State Treasurers are rather pernicious from a public point of view, and are certainly inequitable in their incidence on the taxpayers. The report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission contains a summary of the activities of the various States in the compilation of which the budget standards of three States are used in an effort to give equilibrium to the budgets of the remaining three States. This table constitutes a very comprehensive analysis of the sources of State revenue. These include motor taxes, stamp duties, land tax, liquor tax, racing taxes, lotteries and various licence-fees. For the most part, the States must rely on indirect taxes that are unfair because they are not levied, according to capacity to pay but according to the individual action. There might be some wisdom in some of these taxes, but nevertheless there are occasions when such taxes place a considerable drain on the pockets of persons who are least able to afford to pay. Moreover, persons who incur such liabilities want the pleasure of knowing that part of what they pay will be used to finance the activities of their own State.
The most important tax in any democratic community is the income tax. The problem is how to distribute through the various channels of government expenditure the money that is collected. That problem is not easy of solution, but the time is ripe for this Parliament, and State parliaments, to insist that all necessary steps should be taken to reach a satisfactory solution. There are voluminous sources of information in other countries which may be studied to advantage in seeking a solution.
Another matter that arises for consideration is whether grants should be made to States for specific purposes or whether the Commonwealth should pay certain sums to the States on the understanding that the States shall use their own discretion in applying the money. If the grants are conditional, the autonomy of the States will be lost. If they are unconditional then the position arises of the Commonwealth collecting revenue and having no say in its disposal.
In deciding upon the types of grants to be made, the Commonwealth is caught between two stools. Perhaps one way to meet the position would be to determine the items upon which money should be spent and to allocate money according toa national standard of development. This is a problem which a Parliament such as this should welcome.. Unless it is solved our governmental institutions will never be as satisfactory as they should be. It is not easy to decide upon a definite plan, and I make no suggestions. However, consideration should be given to this matter. If the problem is not solved the federal system will be in danger of destruction. It may be that unification will be ultimately inevitable, but that will not be for a long time. In the meantime, we must try to do something to save our system of government.
.- There is unusual unanimity in the House to-day about this bill. I also add my support to it. However, I regret the underlying circumstances that make such * a measure necessary. As one who comes from what is generally called a smaller State, I am naturally pleased to see an additional £800,000 being allocated to South Australia. But there is a change in this practice. It is very easy for the Australian Government to fall into the habit of dispensing revenue from time to time to State governments to cover the costs of State administration. In considering this measure we should recognize that it is simply a palliative and not a cure for a real and serious disease which is affecting the whole CommonwealthState relationship. No attempt has been’ made in this Parliament in recent years to face up to the basic problem which has caused the introduction of this bill. Several speakers have referred to uniform taxation, but whatever honorable members on both sides of the House feel, I think that we must be realistic and recognize that whether we like it or not, uniform taxation is here to stay. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth might well consider evacuating certain subsidiary revenue fields in favour of the States. In making that statement I refer, particularly to forms of indirect taxation such as entertainment taxes, sales taxes and other such imposts.
If we are really serious in our attempt to preserve the federal system of government we should attack the present practice of State governments spending revenue without having the responsibility of raising it. Such a practice strikes at the heart of responsible government as we know it in British countries. This morning the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) hinted that from the point of view of a State Treasurer. This system created a sense of irresponsibility because the Minister knows that ultimately whatever is spent by his State “will have to be provided by the Commonwealth, in order that Australia’s financial structure may be preserved. I think that he is right. The present system tends to give rise to some degree of extravagance on the part of State instrumentalities. Although I have had only a limited experience in this connexion, during the time that I was associated with State instrumentalities it was apparent that although they were controlled by men of the highest probity and with the best will in the world, there was a tendency to inflate estimates iii order to put as convincing a case as possible to the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Behind their attitude was the feeling that it did not matter what they spent because the Commonwealth would pay. No honorable member will agree that that spirit in public administration is salutary. I hope that the Government, during the life of this Parliament, will seriously address itself to the fundamentals of the whole matter of Commonwealth and State finance.
I was interested by the speech of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). He suggested that an inquiry should be initiated into the matter of Commonwealth and State finance during this jubilee year. I can think of no better way of celebrating a national jubilee than by trying to put Commonwealth and State relationships on a more satisfactory basis. The most effective way of doing so would be to summon a constitutional convention. The honorable member for Perth and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) stated certain objections to a constitutional convention which I believe are widely held ;:by honorable members opposite. It is perfectly true that it ultimately falls on .this . Parliament to decide what pro- -posed.., alterations shall be submitted to the , people, but the most effective way of deciding upon such alterations is to have . the Constitution examined by an outside body, consisting in part of persons nominated by this Parliament, in part of persons nominated by the respective State parliaments, and in part of persons elected by the people. Such a convention would have no legal authority to bring into; effect its recommendations, but it would have a very strong persuasive authority. .Moreover, it is more likely that an impartial and objective assessment of these most complex matters will be made by such a body rather than by even a joint parliamentary committee, appointed by this Parliament.
The States are gradually atrophying, and our- federal system is beingundermined. I myself, and I believe the majority of the members of this House, irrespective of what lias been said by leaders in years gone by, believe that we should do all that we can to preserve our federal system. In this jubilee year let us confirm that belief boldly and proudly. I hope that the Government will recognize the gravity of this problem and address itself to the solving of it before it is too late.
Sitting suspended from 1245 to 2.15 p.m.
.- The purpose of this bill is to authorize the payment of a sum of £15,000,000 to the States in addition to the grant of £5,000,000 that was made to them in November last. Originally, it was assumed that a total tax reimbursement of £70,400,000 would be sufficient to meet the needs of the States foi- the financial year that is now. about to end. Subsequently, the States found it necessary to ask for an additional grant and the Government made a further sum of £5,000,000 available to them. But costs rose so rapidly that the States were obliged again to ask the Government for still further assistance, and it is as the result of that request that it has introduced this measure under which the States will be granted an additional sum of £15,000,000 making a total payment to them for the current .financial year Of £90,400,000 by way of tax reimbursement and special grants. The sum that will now be made available will be allocated to the States as follows: - New South Wales, £6,250,000; Victoria, £4,750,000 ; Queensland, £2,000,000 ; Western Australia, £1,000,000; and South Australia, £800,000; whilst Tasmania, which, as usual, is at the bottom of the list, will receive £200,000. As honorable members are aware, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia, which are the weaker States financially, have received by way of annual grant on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, approximately, £12,000,000, of which sum Tasmania has received £1,004,000.
Much has been said in the course of this debate about uniform income tax. Recently Mr. K. J. Binns, M.A., B.Com., an officer of the Tasmanian Treasury, made a report to the State Government upon the financial relations between the States and the central Government in Canada and in Australia. On page 47 of his report Mr. Binns stated -
Under uniform taxation, the taxpayer is required to pay a single Commonwealth income tax in place of a Commonwealth’ tax, plus one or more State income taxes. Prior to the introduction, of uniform taxation in 1942, eleven separate taxes on incomes were levied by the six States. Individual taxpayers deriving income from more than one State were required to make separate income tax returns to each State from which income was derived if the income exceeded the taxable exemption allowed .by absentees. Companies trading in more than one State were required to keep separate records of the profits earned in each State for State income tax purposes. There was some reciprocity between States, but because of differences in State Assessment Acts, double taxation was common.
Mr. Binns came to the conclusion that so far as Tasmania was concerned the abolition of uniform income tax would involve the imposition of heavier taxation. He pointed out that for the last 30 years Tasmania had been receiving special financial assistance from the Commonwealth. His report continues -
If the Government were now imposing its own income tax, it would have required to raise in 1947-48 approximately fi, 650,000 in order to balance the budget, assuming no alteration’ in the special grant of £747,500 of that year, or £2,400,000 if there had been no special grant. To raise this revenue would have involved the imposition of State income taxation rates at least 10 per cent, and (50 per cent. respectively above those levied in 1941-42, the last year of State income taxation.
Those are sound arguments why from the viewpoint of the weaker financial States the present system of uniform income tax should be retained in spite of the fact that under such a system those States are obliged to approach the Commonwealth virtually as mendicants for financial assistance. Compared with the dual system, the advantages of uniform income tax can be stated briefly. First, it - reduces the cost of administration. Secondly, it is based on the principle of the strong helping the weak. The stronger. States financially do not come out on the credit side under uniform income tax. Thus, to some degree they are contributing to help the weaker States to develop. That is an excellent principle. Thirdly, under uniform income’ tax, taxation in the three weaker financial States is kept much lower than otherwise would be the case. If Tasmania, were obliged to revert to the old system it would have to tax thousands of workers who to-day are not obliged to pay income tax, whilst many who now pay relatively small tax would be more severely taxed. It is obvious that under the old system, Tasmania, unless it levied heavy taxation, could not raise the revenue that it requires for its development. Fourthly, the uniform income tax system has the effect of boosting our development on a national scale because under it the Commonwealth receives sufficient, revenue to enable it to initiate extensive projects like the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and. possibly, the Burdekin Valley scheme as well as extensive re-afforestation, irrigation, and soil erosion projects. Fifthly, under uniform income tax competition between the States in the taxation field is removed. I believe that all honorable members will admit that that is a good thing. Sixthly, the principle of uniform income tax conforms to our ideas of nationhood. Within 50 years this Commonwealth lias won a prominent place among the nations of the world, avid it would be fantastic if our national Government, owing to lack of adequate revenue, were unable to develop our national resources. Several supporters of the present Government, when they were in Opposition, applauded the introduction . of the uniform income tax system. in. 19 42,’; For instance, the Vice-President: .of . the’! Executive Council (Mr. Eric J.. Harrison), the honorable member, for Flinders (Mr. Ryan), and ‘the former.: honorable member for Warringah, Mr. Spender, commended Labour’s legislation in that respect. They prophesied that once the people had had experience of uniform income tax they would .never agree to revert to the system that it had supplanted.
I believe that Tasmania has ample justification for seeking further .financial assistance from the Commonwealth. Since 1934, when the late .Mr. , Albert Ogilvie, as Premier, rescued Tasmania from the depression ‘ more quickly than any other State emerged from that economic disaster, Tasmania, has progressed in every sphere. Mr. Ogilvie foresaw the potentialities of hydro-electric power in order to boost the State’s productivity, particularly in its secondary industries. Thanks to the hydro-electric projects that have been undertaken, over 90 per cent, of Tasmanian homes are now provided with electric light, whilst most of its farms are supplied with electric power. The development of hydro-electric power in Tasmania has involved the expenditure of millions of pounds since the end of the recent war. During that conflict a commencement was made on the Butler’s Gorge Dam in the southern part of the island, and that project has now been completed. It involved the erection of a concrete wall 200 feet in height and the dam impounds an expanse of water of an area of eleven square miles. A generating station is now nearing completion at the foot of that wall. That venture on the Derwent River is being undertaken to boost the Tarraleah Station which is also fed by a canal from the Derwent River. The Shannon River scheme was completed before the war. The Butler’s Gorge project is the fourth project in this- programme of hydro-electric development. The fifth project is the Nive River scheme in. the centre of the island. It was commenced two years ago. Under it the Nive River is being diverted through a canal ten miles in length to a site opposite Tarraleah and will be known as Tungatinah Station. The honorable memberfor Darwin (Mr. Luck) knows of the work that was involved in transporting prefabricated houses oyer the plateau to Bronte Park to house the workers and their families who are engaged on that scheme, which, incidentally, is estimated to cost £7,000,000. In connexion with that schemeastation will be built atTunga- tihah.Bronte Park township now has a population of 2,000, including 300 married couples. It is a United Nations in miniature. I congratulate the Hydro-electricity Commission of Tasmania for the work that it has done on that project, and . I recommended that Australians inspect that scheme if ever they have an opportunity to do so. It shows what can be done by brains and hard work on the part of men who have come to Australia from many countries overseas. I pay tribute to the work that those migrants have performed. They have shown themselves to be as expert as Australians who are skilled in the operation of bulldozers and heavy earth-moving machinery.
Another great scheme is being undertaken on the plateau in Tasmania in order to divert water into the Great Lake, in which the level fell to such a degree during the last few years that it became necessary this year to ration electric power. Under that scheme water will be diverted from the Ouse River into the Great Lake, which feeds the generating stations in the Waddamana and Shannon schemes. Another generating station is to be established at the foot of the Western Tiers, behind Cressy, whilst a further station possibly will be constructed on the King River on the west coast of Tasmania. In addition, work is proceeding on the Trevallyn scheme near Launceston. This will involve harnessing the waters of the South Esk River. The tunnelling involved in that scheme is being carried out by a French firm which, itself, has supplied most of the workmen required. Another project is designed to supply water for the aluminium project at Bell Bay over a distance of about 45 miles.
Tasmania’s health services compare favorably with those provided in any of the other States. As a part of an extensive development programme, the Government has erected new hospitals, nurses’ homes, staff quarters, and new homes for the aged. It has extended numerous maternity hospitals, whilst a mobile dental unit has proved of great benefit to school children and a mobile tuberculosis unit is doing a magnificent job. ‘ Tasmania’s educational system has been widely publicized, particularly through the activities of its 24 area schools. The State has extended its technical schools, and the adult education scheme, which has been widened, is operating most satisfactorily under three leaders in three sections of the island. Films that are produced by the State department, and others that are obtained on loan from Canberra, are helping to spread education. Assistance is being given to rural industries, such as the fruit, potato and dairying industries, by the State Department of Agriculture, and the possibility of establishing an agricultural college has been investigated. A committee’ has been obtaining evidence on the subject, and I believe that it will recommend that an agricultural college be established in the northern part of the State. Such an institution would not be so large as Dookie and Longeranong in Victoria, but would function on the same principles. Between 20 and 25 pupils would be accepted at a time to study for the highest degrees in agriculture.
The assistance that has been given to secondary industries is remarkable. We have tried to dovetail secondary industries with primary industries, although the effect upon the rural industries has been, to some degree, unfortunate. Some of the rural workers have been attracted to secondary industries that have been established in the cities or country towns. We recognize that we cannot have secondary industries without man-power, and that if labour for them has to be drawn from the rural section, such a transfer of population cannot be prevented. No man-power regulations are in existence that order people where they must work. Tasmania must take the risk of that kind of policy. The only way in which a possible danger can be offset is for the Commonwealth to boost the immigration of rural workers from other countries to assist our primary producers, whose children have obtained employment in secondary industries. More dollars should be made available for the purchase of agricultural machinery from the United States of America, which manufactures the most suitable machinery for our purposes. Mechanization is another answer to the problem that arises from the removal of rural workers to secondary industries.
Tasmania has adopted a system of subsidizing firms that wish to establish industries on the island. If such firms are unable to finance their initial operations, the State government builds and equips the factories, and leases the factory to them. By that means, more than 300 new industries have been established on the island since the end of World War I.I. They have been attracted by the cheap power from hydro-electric sources. Unfortunately, especially with the demands of the Boyer paper mills in the south, the shortage of hydro-electric power, caused by lack of rain, has prevented industrial expansion in accordance with the plan for this year. Three dry winters have greatly reduced our water storage. Secondary industries have helped to boost the island in many ways, and I believe that they will be of a definite advantage to Tasmania in the future.
I proposed to refer to the shipping problem at some length, but lack of time compels me to be brief. All honorable senators and members of the House of Representatives who represent Tasmania waited on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) in the cabinet room last week, and emphasized to them the serious plight of Tasmania at the present time, when seven cargo ships and our only passenger vessel, Taroona, have been withdrawn, from the service for overhaul. People who do not travel by aircraft have only one moa lis of reaching or leaving the island, and that is by rowing boat! I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister for Shipping and Transport upon the way in which they have responded to our representations. Their prompt response shows what can be accomplished by combined action in an emergency. Wanganella has already been assigned to Tasmania to collect passen- gers and cargo, and possibly it will make at least two trips in the next four months. That service will be of great assistance to us, because Taroona will be in dock for approximately four months. The cargo vessels Daylesford and Dubbo have been made available to transport ‘ wheat to Launceston and Hobart, and 4,000,000 super, feet of timber will have been moved from Beauty Point and Burnie by the end of July. The provision of those services is the direct result of our combined representations to the Prime Minister and theMinister for Shipping and Transport.
.- The gravamen of the charge that has been made by the honorable member for Wilmot’. (Mr. Duthie) seems to be that there is a suggestion the Government may repeal the uniform income tax laws. He appears to be at variance, or certainly to be arguing inconistently with the honorablemember for Melbourne Ports (Mr, Crean), who ‘ has complained that adjustments of Commonwealth grants to the States are not made sufficiently rapidly. The honorable member for Wilmot obviously does not understand the frame of mind of the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) or the state of mind of the present Government, because so far as private members on this side of the House arc aware, the Government has no intention of repealing the uniform tax laws. I speak now of the Income Tax Assessment Act and of the administration of the Income Tax Acts. The honorable member for Wilmot also made statements I hardly expected from the representative of a. State that conies cap-in-hand to the Commonwealth at frequent intervals for special grants-in-aid, and other financi.il assistance. If we took any notice of his story about the prosperity of Tasmania and the activities of the State government, in developing the island, other States would bc perfectly justified in saying to the Treasurer, “What are yon doing now? You appear to be giving Tasmania all the benefits .”, and the Treasurer would be entitled to divert at least some of the assistance from Tasmania, to the other States. It is the function of the National Security Resources Board to allocate resources between the States in an. equitable manner, and I do not think- he has rendered the Government of Tasmania a service by emphasizing that the island is receiving much more from the Commonwealth than it deserves to receive.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports referred to the difficulties that are being experienced by the State governments in planning ahead when they do not know how much they will receive from the Commonwealth under the tax reimbursement formula. I point out to him that, in ordinary circumstances, when we were not experiencing inflation, making preparations for war, or fighting the Communist menace, the formula would permit them to plan ahead. I wish, during the major portion of my speech, to deal with that problem in greater detail, but I say to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that, if he had read the bill carefully, he would not have jumped to his all-too-hasty conclusion. “We all know that, in times of inflation, it is not possible to forecaswith accuracy, and under the present conditions the best estimates all too often “ gang agley “. The original aci of 1942, as later amended, and the act of 1946, which related to the uniform income tax, were brought down by a Labour government. I know of no real argument against the scientific accuracy of the formula although others could be used.
Under section 51 placitum (ii) of the Constitution, the Commonwealth has power to legislate with respect to taxation, provided it does not discriminate between the States. Section 104 of the Constitution deals with inconsistency between Commonwealth and State laws, and provides that Commonwealth laws shall be paramount over State laws. The nett effect of those two provisions of the Constitution in respect of taxation - and f. generalize on this matter - is that the Commonwealth is in a position to drive the States out of the field of taxation. It does’ not mean that the States do not possess power to impose income tax at the present time. They certainly have power to levy taxes, but the Commonwealth can put itself into a position in which it can tax so heavily that the States can not enter the field. But if they wished to do so, they could enact their own income tax assessments acts and income tax acts. I think that the Menzies Government originally decided in 1941 that, in order to save man-power in war-time, the Commonwealth and State taxation authorities should be combined, and that instead of having taxation offices scattered throughout Australia there should be one authority to administer the law, to make out the assessments, and to do all the work that was necessary to an efficient taxation system. The States, knowing that the great mass of the people wished to maintain the federal system of government, asked the Commonwealth to enter into an arrangement that would ensure that they would be reimbursed in return for vacating the field of taxation. In 1942, the then Treasurer, the late Mr. Chifley, introduced the States Grants (Income Tax Reimbursement) Bill and the States Grants (Entertainments Tax Reimbursement) Bill, and again in 1946, he introduced the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Bill. The main provision of the later legislation was to provide a formula under which the States could anticipate the amount of reimbursement that they would receive from the Commonwealth during a financial year.
I shall not say much about the formula, because it is most complicated and technical, but I point out that, roughly, it establishes 1947 as the base year and says, in effect, “Let us regard £45,000,000 as the base amount. You divide the population in 194:7 into that base amount. You multiply it by the adjusted population of each of the States, and then you multiply it again by the percentage by which the average wages throughout Australia have risen ‘”. That is a most complicated and difficult proposition. I would not ask the average honorable member to carry it out, but it is well within the competence of public accountants. This is the way in which the aggregate amount of tax reimbursement that was to be made to the various States was established. In addition to that, the distribution of the aggregate amount to the various States must be considered. Again, there is a complicated formula, which is based upon figures that are set out in the First Schedule to the act… and which also takes into consideration the population of each State. The procedure is complicated, but it was designed by the Treasurer of the day to permit the States to make fairly accurate estimates, under normal circumstances, of the amount of reimbursement that they were entitled to receive from the Commonwealth. The provisions of that act have often been debated in this House, and I have listened to them with great respect. I think the House is agreed that the people want a federal system of government, but I do not believe that anybody in Australia would argue that they want to give up the great benefits of the uniform tax system, with one income tax assessment law. The first discussion of the subject I heard in this House wa.= ti speech by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), who said that the Australian Government should have the first right to tax and that the States should than bc allowed to levy tax on the amounts of assessable income determined by the Commonwealth. In effect, he declared that the Australian Government should have priority and that the States should then be allowed secondary rights to tax incomes if they wanted to do so. However, he made the important, reservation that nothing should be done to interfere with the power of the Commonwealth in time of war or preparation for defence. The system that he proposed is worthy of commendation, and it deserves the earnest consideration of this House. This morning the honorable member for- Angas (Mr. Downer) suggested that the Commonwealth might vacate some sections of the field of indirect taxation. That suggestion also is worthy of serious consideration. Surely, from the combined wisdom of this House, we should be able to evolve a plan which will protect the federal system and, at the same time, be fair to all, whilst ensuring that the Commonwealth shall not be deprived of the sole taxing right in time of war.
The present system is capable of being abused and I believe that the New South Wales Government and, to a less degree, the Victorian Government are prepared to abuse it. Authorities which are not responsible for the collection of taxes and which do not suffer the odium of having to establish income tax rates do not care a hoot about how irresponsibly tax revenue is expended. I point the finger of accusation at the Government of New South Wales because it embarks upon its spending programmes without any consideration for the national welfare and without caring how irresponsibly the funds may be frittered away. “ He who controls the purse controls the government “, and “ taxation, in fact, is government “. Those are two wellworn and well-known maxims in relation to taxation. There is much to be said in favour of the arguments that have been advanced by the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Angas, who consider that the States should be given some taxing rights. The Government is giving consideration to such a proposal already. I remind the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that the Treasurer pointed out in his budget speech last year that he had already initiated a plan at a conference with the Premiers and hoped to convene a special conference of Premiers at a later date to discuss the matter further. Subsequently, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) also announced that he had discussed the subject with the Premiers and that he hoped sooner or later to come to a conclusion. I was informed earlier to-day that negotiations were continuing and that plans were being prepared for discussion either at the conference of State Ministers that will be held during the next few months or at a conference specially convened- for the purpose.
I hesitate to make forecasts about politics but I believe that, when the day for action comes, the Premiers will blow hot and cold on the scheme to refer taxing rights back to them. For political purposes they will probably say, “ Give us back our taxing powers but when they are called upon to accept the responsibility for levying taxes and maintaining sound and reliable administration, 1 am sure that not one of them will be prepared to undertake the task of collecting taxes and ensuring that, they shall be properly disbursed. This is not the only legislation that provides for the reimbursement of the
States. LI lider the States grants legislation the Commonwealth would normally allot £70,000,000 to the States this year under the formula. But there is also the Commonwealth aid roads grant. The Estimates provide for a distribution of £11.1,000,000 to the States from various funds. If we adel to that amount the sum of £5,000,000 which was granted in November and the sum of £15,000,000 which it is now proposed to grant, wo find that a total of approximately £130,000,000 is to be handed to the States by the Commonwealth this year. Honorable members on this side of the House are acutely conscious of the fact that the present method of distributing Commonwealth funds to the States can be abused. That is why the Treasurer has initiated the proposals for the reimbursement of the. States on thi 3 occasion on the basis of the Common wealth determining the amounts to be allocated. I consider that the bill is an essential measure. It has received the most detailed and careful consideration of the Government, and 1 commend it to the House.
– The consideration of a hill of this character brings into the limelight again those principles that were established in .1942 when the uniform tax system was instituted. Members of this Parliament, and of the State parliaments also, must pay regard to the impact of uniform taxation on the financial status of the Commonwealth and the States. As the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) said earlier, the welfare of the people should bc placed above all other considerations in dealing with the subject of uniform taxation. I lias astonished to hear the honorable member for Lowe (“Mr. McMahon) launch an attack on State governments in general and the Government of New South Wales in particular J.I.e declared that the New South Wales Government expended the moneys that were allocated to it under the formula without regard’ for the national interest.
– That is true.
– Is the eastern suburbs railway in Sydney not in the national interest?
M r . H a arn .ton . - No .
– Such an expression of opinion by a member of the Australian Country party is very interesting. Are the other great national works, including water reticulation schemes, which are now in progress inNew South Wales also opposed to the national interests? The truth is that undertakings which will benefit the nation as a whole have been commenced throughout New South Wales. They even include water schemes which will assist members of the Australian Country party and their followers in the northern coastal region of the State.
The introduction of the uniform taxation system had for its purpose the gearin” of the nation for war. It is unfortunate that, as soon as peace returned, the system should, have been used chiefly for the benefit of the Commonwealth to the detriment of the States and localgoverning authorities. I remind members of the Australian Country party of their pledge to the electors to endeavour, in the interests of the people, to secure greater financial responsibility for municipalities and shires. Those localgoverning bodies are being starved under the present system of distribution of funds. Roads are falling into, disrepair throughout the country, and nothing effective can be done about the situation under present conditions. There is not a municipality or State authority anywhere in New South Wales, as the honorable member for Lowe should know from experience in his own electorate, which has not fallen into a state that will require millions of pounds of expenditure to rectify unless prompt action is taken. Members of the Australian Country party should honour their pledge to the electors instead of joining the honorable member for Lowe in his attack upon a. govern ment which is doing all that is physically possible with the miserable amounts that are allotted to it. Does this Government suggest that the Government of New South Wales knew in advance that it would have heavy additional liabilities heaped upon it as a result of the floods that have occurred during the last two yea rs ?
Motion (by Mr. Swartz) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– I desire to speak on a matter of privilege.
– Does the honorable member propose to submit a motion?
– The honorable member must do so if he wishes to speak on a matter of privilege.
– Then may I make a personal explanation?
– The honorable member is entitled to make a personal explanation if he has been misrepresented.
– The following report was published in the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial to-day concerning the proceedings of this House yesterday: -
WhenMrPollard… interjected. ” Bushrangers “, theSpeaker said, “I will not permitsuch language here, even fromaVictorian.’’
I deny that I made the interjection “ bushranger “ or that you, Mr. Speaker, rebuked me. In the circumstances, I consider that I am entitled to some form of redress from the Melbourne Sun NewsPictorial. Whenever I am guilty of an interjection or indiscretion I have taken my medicine uncomplainingly.
– I remember the incident. I have been correctly reported, but the honorable member has not. I believe that like Saint Paul, we both take pleasure in our infirmities.
Debate resumed from the 27th June (vide page 509), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the bill be now read a. second time.
– I move -
That all words after “ That “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be referred to a select committee! of this House appointed to inquire into and report as a matter of urgency upon the proposed imposition of these heavy increases incharges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level “.
There is merit in referring to a committee of this House a measure which seeks to impose additional burdensupon tho users of telephone, telegram and postal facilities that are provided by that great government enterprise, the Postal Department. Honorable members who support the Government have themselves seen merit in the idea of an inquiry into the Government’s proposals for making that department solvent. I am indebted to that great organ of public opinion, the Canberra Times of the 27th June, for the information that a joint committee of the Government parties was appointed last week to inquire into this measure. Apparently the committee approved of the Government’s proposals. The members of that committee will answer to their electors in due course for their recommendation. I shall put their names on record in order that they may be able to prepare their defence. The members of the committee, according to the Canberra ‘rimes, were the honorable member foi1 Petrie (Mr. Hulme), the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar), the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), the honorable member for Lowe (Mr. McMahon), Senator Maher of Queensland, and Senator Gorton, of Victoria. I do not know whether these gentlemen did recommend that the Government’s bill should be introduced or whether they expressed dissent. The Government, however, has decided to bring the measure before the House.
The Parliament has been very improperly placed in an extraordinary position by the Government. The bill was introduced in this chamber and read a second time only last evening. Within 24 hours the Opposition has been required to continue the debate on the bill. In addition, honorable members must make their contribution to the debate before mid-day tomorrow because, at that stage, the Government intends to use its technique of applying the gag and forcing the bill through all stages. Hitler could not have improved on the practices of the Government in regard to this and other legislation. If there is to be any democracy in this Parliament, if there is to be a discussion by honorable members of the merits of a hill, they should not be compelled to dispose of such an important measure as this in the short space of 24 hours and that only 24 hours after the bill has been first read. Honorable members of the Opposition have not had very much time in which to consider the full implications of the measure. When I compare the way in which this Government has treated honorable members with the treatment that was accorded to them by the Chifley Government in 1949 in relation to a similar piece of legislation. I arn amazed at the audacity of the Government in pursuing its present course. I introduced, a. similar measure in this House on the 21st June, 1949, and it passed through all its stages on the 7th July following. There was at least adequate time for the debate, in which many honorable members took part. I am glad that they did so.
I am glad, also, that those honorable members on the Government ‘side of the House who were members of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Parliaments arc hero now to listen to their views being repeated to thorn. The bill that was introduced in 194!) for the purpose of putting the finances of the Postal Department on a satisfactory basis provided for an increase of various charges which amounted to £5,000,000 a year. In this bill it is proposed to increase charges to the amount of £12,000,000 a year in addition to the £8,000,000 of additional charges imposed under the bill introduced in November of last year. This Government, in the course of its short history, has increased charges to users of postal facilities to the amount pf £20.000,00.0 a , year. As a result of further increases of the cost of living it is likely that another bill will be introduced either in the series.. of budget bills or later the next financial year, in order to put further burdens on people who need to post letters, send postcards, post newspapers, use telephones or send telegrams. It seems that the PostmasterGeneral must have been reading the advice of Machiavelli to the Prince. Machiavelli is reported to have told the Prince that if he wanted to distribute favours he should give them gradually but. if he intended to do a harsh thing he should do it quickly. Knowing that the public will resent these charges, the Government, has proposed the imposition of a maximum charge now in the hope that when the general election is held in two or three years’ time the memory of the misdeed will have lapsed.
When the Chifley Government introduced a similar bill in 1949 it did not provide for any increase of postage rates. It made no increase of telephone call rates. “But this Government has proposed that the existing postage rate shall be increased from 3d. to 3£d. an ounce, although last year it increased the rate from 2id. to 3d. an ounce. The rate for lettercards and postcards, it is proposed, shall be treated similarly. “With an audacity that I admire, the PostmasterGeneral stated, in the course of his speech, that postal rates have been increased by 40 per cent, during the last ten years. The truth of the matter is that postage rates have been increased by 40 per cent, during the last eighteen months. That is the way in which this Government proposes to put value into the £1. That is the way in which the Government proposes to help the people to balance their budgets. The Minister might at least have presented his statement factually. He certainly should not refer to a rate of increase in respect of the last ten years in order to try to associate the Labour party with the acts of his government. He said that, in some respects, increases have amounted to 100 per cent. He also said that the cost of printing telephone directories had increased by 300 per cent, because of the higher price of newsprint. It is true that there have been substantial increases of postal . charges but most of them have occurred during the last eighteen months. Most of the increases that the people are being asked to bear, not only in respect of postal services, but also in respect of other services, are a. result of the failure of this Government to stop inflation. “When the, Postmaster-General introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1950, last year, he stated that increased wages of postal employees as a result of arbitration awards, the 40-hour week, higher prices of materials and a sharp rise of the cost. of the carriage of mails had to be taken into consideration in favour of the passage of the bill. As I have said, that bill placed an additional burden of £8,000,000 upon the people who have to use postal facilities. It is noteworthy that the bill was introduced on the 26th October and that the basic wage increase of £1 a week had been announced by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court on the 12th October, a fortnight earlier. The Minister made no provision in the bill hist year to cover the effect of the basic wage increase. Nor did he make any provision for the expected increase of costs that would result from cost of living adjustments, because inflation was rising continuously at that time.
– And the Government then thought that the general election was just round the corner.
– As the honorable member has anticipated me by saying, it, seems that, having in mind that there might be a general election soon, the Government did not make adequate provision at that time to balance the finances of the Postal Department, because it knew that if it had to increase charges to cover the increase of costs resultant on cost of living adjustments and also to cover the £1 a week increase of the basic wage, it would place itself at an electoral disadvantage. So the finances of the Postal Department were allowed to drift. The Minister said, when he introduced that bill, that as a result of the basic wage increase an additional £4,000,000 for the department’s annual expenditure on operational and maintenance staff would be involved. But he did nothing about the matter. He also said that the capital costs of the department would be increased by £2,500,000 as a result of the basic wage judgment. So he admitted then, that the annual cost to the Postal Department of the basic wage increase, for maintenance, operational and capital works costs, would be £6,500,000. Now we are faced, at the end of the financial year* with the fact that this Government has run the Postal Department at a deficit of £5,000.000 which will have to be met, out. of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Of course, that deficit will be met, because the Government has provided for an expenditure of £50,000,000 on the stockpiling of certain defence goods. A vast proportion of that money has not been expended, so the Government will be able to cover up the Postal Department’ deficit of £5,000,000 for this year with the unexpended portion of the money that this Parliament voted for other purposes. In that way it will disguise to the public just how bad the position is. The Postal Department needs many of the goods that were supposed to be covered in that special appropriation for the stockpiling of defence goods. It needs rubber, copra, tyres, and a lot of other things.
– It needs a new PostmasterGeneral.
– That may also be true, and that will come in due course because these things always happen in due course. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, were a Postmaster-General for a brief five months, and there have been other: after you and there will be more to follow. But this Government, which could have purchased rubber, which the Postal Department needs, for 2s. 2d. per lb. in June -if last year, had to pay 7s. 7d. per lb. for it in January of this year.
– That is not true.
– I threw the bait and the Minister has responded. My authority for my statement about the price of rubber is no less a person than the managing director of Dunlop Rubber Australia Limited, who said that the rubber industry had advised the Government, and the Government had taken no notice of it. No wonder the costs of the Postal Department have been swollen by the neglect of the Government.
– It is still not true.
– In that respect, and in many other respects, inflation is galloping, or so we have been told for a long time. My personal belief is that it is past the galloping stage and is now travelling faster than sound. We shall need s.*»me supersonic tests, and if we apply them I do not know how the finances of the Postal Department will eventually bt- described. The bill makes no provision to cover future cost-of-living adjustments. Everybody knows that there will be another increase of the basic wage next August or thereabouts. The .Government is hoping that the increase will be not more than 5s. a week which will represent the addition of Mother £1,000.000 to the costs of the Postal Department, because, as the Minister explained to us last night and as I explained in 1949, every increase of the basic wage by ls. means an addition of £200,000 a year to the Postal Department’s administrative and maintenance costs alone. There was no mention in the Minister’s speech of what is going to be done about the huge losses of the Australian Broadcasting Commission; which are the responsibility of the Postal Department.
The Minister has mentioned-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting right outside the scope of the bill.
Mi-. CALWELL. - I thought that I might be; but, having directed attention to ‘ the huge loss, I return .now to the bill. The lists of the various proposed increases which the Minister has circulated make most interesting reading. Not only are his arguments delightfully vague in places, but they also have the effect of misrepresenting the position for sonic of the reasons that I have given,’ and for others that will be given later. The Minister has said that an inquiry is being made into the Postal Department. When honorable members opposite were in Opposition they wanted the most stringent inquiries to be made. One of the delightful phrases that the Minister used, which is designed to disarm criticism and camouflage the real position, was this -
Although certain measures for trying to find improvements in thi: administration of thu Pot Office-
Those are his exact words - are being pursued with vigour by well-equipped officers, there is no prospect of all economies or improvements that arise being sufficient to reduce appreciably the wide margin between earnings and expenditure.
I believe that the officers of the Postal Department are very capable people who render excellent service, and that whatever shortcomings there might be in the Postal Department are due to ministerial incompetence and ineptitude, and not to administrative inefficiency.- But I should like some explanation from somebody on the Government side about precisely what is meant by the choice phrase that these measures “ are being pursued with vigour bv well-equipped officers “. That phrase conjures up all sorts of possibilities. It can mean something or it can mean nothing. I think that it is intended to mean nothing. But at least it calls to mind the 1949 promises of the parties now in office to institute economies in the Public Service, to reduce the great army of public servants, which, of course, includes postal employees, and to reduce taxation on the general public. This bill proposes no economies in the Postal Department or anywhere else and no reduction of staff. Instead of proposing a reduction of the burden of the postal charges it propose- very substantial increases, some of which .[ shall state. The ordinary letter rate is to rise from 3d. to 3-Jd. We kept the postage rate rate at 2-i-d. from the beginning of the war against Japan when the previous Government imposed a A. surcharge as a war measure, until we were defeated in December, 1949. When this measure has become law this Government will have increased letter rates from 2½d. to 3-^d. and postage on postcards from 2d. to 3d. which, I interpolate, is a 50 per cent, increase. It will have increased the charges on commercial papers, patterns, samples of merchandise, all forms of printed matter and all sorts of registered newspapers. It will even increase the rate of postage on Hansard, which I regard as a very retrograde step. We increased the basie rate for telegrams to ls. 3d. This Government increased the rate last year to ls. 9d. and now the public is to bear a further imposition. Not only is the basic telegram rate to be 2s. 3d. but also the minimum number of words is to be cut down from fourteen to twelve. The public is expected to observe that old Latin motto multum in parvo. The rate for each additional word is to be raised from 1-Jd. to 2d., so that, in effect, the Government is telling the people that they must not waste words or else it will cost them a lot. The rates for press telegrams are to be increased, not that that matters to me, because the newspaper proprietors can look after themselves, from ls. 6d. for 30 words to 2s. for 24 words. This is a further increase on that which was made last year. But there is nothing in this statement to-day about any increase of teleprinter charges. We shall be told, of course, that that will follow under the regulations. Last year we sought some indication from the
Government about whether newspaper offices had to pay higher rent for their teleprinters. I suppose there will be some increase of those charges, but I guarantee that it will be nothing like the increases to bc imposed under this bill on ordinary postal facility users. Then there is the rather bizarre situation that whereas charges for private telephones are to be increased not only in regard to rent but also in regard to calls, there is to be no increase of the charge to be paid by a person who uses a public telephone booth. The reason for that, of course, has to do with physical and mechanical difficulties. But it will almost pay a telephone subscriber to surrender his telephone and make his calls from the corner telephone box, because the rate for public telephone calls is to remain at 2d. whilst that for calls from private telephones is to be raised to 3d., rents for private telephones also being increased to an extraordinary extent.
– But it will be harder to ring up from a corner booth than from a private telephone.
– That may be so. But I should like to hear what people in the big electorates in the country will have to say about this, in view of what, members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament had to say about rental charges ‘being too high for the nian on the land when the Chifley Government was in office. Rental charges for a two-point party line are to go up from £6 10s. to £9. Will all the members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament vote for these increases? If they do, how will they reconcile that action with their vigorous protestations of two years ago against any increase of charges to telephone subscribers in country districts?
– That is a city system.
– The particular system that I am citing is a city system, but for a subscriber who has access to a number of lines from 1 to 300 the increase is from £2 10s. to £3 10s. I suggest that that is a wicked increase. If the Labour party had introduced a proposal similar to that two years ago nobody would have been fiercer in his denunciation of it than the very eloquent honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). On the present occasion he will not have anything to say against the proposal, nor will any of his colleagues. While the users of such telephones have to pay an increase of two or three times the existing rate, country subscribers who have access to only about 300 other people by telephone will have to pay an additional -ki. on 2d. for the right to use the service. It will be of interest to you, Mr. Speaker, and to other honorable members on the Government side to have brought to their attention some of the speeches made about the 1949 legislation of the Chifley Government in connexion with the Postal Department. In 1949 the honorable member who is now Postmaster-General said -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. 1 resent them particularly on behalf of country people, who will stiffer most.
Yet, in the fullness of time, and having become Postmaster-General, he is the author of this legislation that will impose on country people a. burden four times as great as the burden cast on them by the Chifley Government legislation. He has introduced measures to increase the burden on the users of postal facilities by £20,000,000, whereas the Chifley Governments legislation against, which he so strongly protested was designed to increase charges by only £5,000,000. The Postmaster-General, speaking as an Opposition member in 1949, continued -
Because of the fact that this monopoly bus no competition the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences.
But the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who probably stood over the PostmasterGeneral and said to him, “ You will have to do these things if I am to balance my budget “, in the full flight of his eloquent indignation, said -
A brow-beaten Labour caucus apparently has no qualms about taxing the farmer and the worker even more heavily than they arc taxed to-day because surely even the most rabid labourite in the House no longer regards telephones or telegrams as a luxury.
Now that the right honorable gentleman is Treasurer, he taxes the workers and farmers through their telegrams, telephones and postal services, with a complete and almost brutal disregard for their ever-increasing struggle to make ends meet. He has placed on the people a burden four times as heavy as the burden about which he waxed so indignant two years ago. You, Mr. Speaker, also had something to say about the Chifley Government’s legislation. You said -
The Postmaster-General is the luckiest man in the Cabinet and can do all his work in two hours a day.
Apparently you found that even that time hung heavily on your hands when you administered the Postal Department. Not only did you run the department, but you took time off to suppress a radio station in the course of your two hours work a day. I suggest that the present PostmasterGeneral will have to do more than two hours’ work a day in trying to .explain these increased charges to those of our citizens who will have to bear the burden. Quite a number of people are already protesting against this legislation. I shall read a telegram that I received about this matter and which I can assure the honorable member is quite genuine. The telegram reads -
Members Australian monthly newspapers association using posting facilities almost exclusively for distribution desire me on their behalf to express their alarm at proposed 100 per cent, increase in bulk postage rates for newspapers. With due regard for departmental viewpoint modification of (his steep sectional impost respectfully requested. Letter following. T. G. Allen, President Australian Monthly Newspapers Association, 300 Swanstonstreet, Melbourne.
If the way in which the Government is dealing with the matter at present is any indication of its future attitude the rates will be up 200 per cent, before this year is ended.
– How much would that telegram cost at the new rates?
– I have not worked that out, but I do not think that this association will be able to send telegrams at the new rates unless it increases the subscription of its members, which in turn will put up the price of its productions. In 1949, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Adermann), said - ! hu extra charges should be met out of Consolidated Revenue-
I wonder whether the Treasurer, who is a member of your party, will agree now in 1951 with your 1949 suggestion. You went on to say - because 1 consider that the increases proposed under the bill are an extra tax which will hamper the people who produce our real wealth. I sun opposed to the measure.
But this measure will impose burdens four times as heavy as the burdens imposed by the bill that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were speaking about in 1949. The 1949 bill provided for an increase of £5,000,000 and you and other members of your party who will vote for the 1951 increase opposed any increases in 1949.
– Why not go back further?
– I do not intend to go back to the days when Roland Hill introduced Id. postage in Great Britain. I am referring to what happened less than two years ago. I am going back to 1950, when the Government parties completed a turn about on the whole subject of government finance. They forgot their election promises and decided to increase taxation of various kinds, and did not carry out their promise to reduce taxation.
– Fadden finance is essentially inflation finance.
– Everybody knows that inflation will continue for some time yet. The Postmaster-General is not being candid when he tells us that this measure will provide for all increases that will occur during the next twelve- months. He almost said that there will be no more increases. But anybody who knows anything about the price rises that have occurred knows that there will have to be another similar bill to increase charges further at the end of this year. That is why the Opposition wants an inquiry at this stage into the whole of the finances of the Postal Department. We are not prepared to accept the word of the Government when a bill like this is thrown on the table and we are told that it will be forced through in 48 hours. That is not the way to a.=k the Parliament to discuss a measure of major importance. For the reasons that 1 hp ve advanced, supported and sustained by the arguments of honorable members of the Government parties, advanced when they were in Opposition in 1949, I submit the amendment to the con sideration of the House and I assure honorable members on the Government side that they will oppose it at their sure electoral peril.
.- Every honorable member of this House regrets the necessity to increase postal charges. However, we all must recognize our responsibility to maintain and expand this service for the welfare of the people. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is undoubtedly living in the past. He fails to appreciate Australia’s problems and has made many sweeping statements that cannot be supported by facts. For instance, he said that the Labour party, when in office, made no such increases as are envisaged in this bill. Admittedly that is substantially correct. The Labour Government increased postal charges in .1949, but whilst the increases were not very large that Government certainly did nothing to improve the Postal Department’s services. Under this Government’s administration in the last eighteen months, particularly in the last twelve months, more has been done to develop postal facilities than was done for many years before that time. In 1948-49, the last twelve months of the Chifley Government’s regime, there were only 64,000 telephones installed in Australia. In the first year of office of this Government that number increased to 100,000. Moreover, a considerable improvement has been made through the installation of extra equipment such as underground cables, switchboards, and so on. All that has contributed to the greater efficiency of our postal services. A marked improvement has been made by this Government in the Postal Department. Throughout our history postal facilities have taken a secondary place in our developmental works. A definite forward movement is now necessary and this Government is trying to initiate such a movement. Whilst we all regret having to increase the charges, we could not continue to give the people an expanding service without obliging them to pay more for it.
The honorable member for Melbourne refuses to face the facts. In order to refute the statements that he made and to enable the people to realize fully the problem that confronts the Government in this matter mainly as a result, of the socialistic policy that was implemented by the Labour Government during the war, I shall refer to certain passages of the second-reading speech of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony). When he announced that it was estimated that the department would incur a loss of approximately £5,000,000 this year, the honorable member for Melbourne asked why the Government had not acted twelve months ago when it must have been obvious that operating costs would increase as a result of the application of the higher basic wage. In effect, the honorable member criticized the Government for increasing postal, telephone and telegraph rates at this juncture, yet, at the same time, he is of the opinion that it should have increased them twelve months ago ! It is to the Government’s credit that it postponed the imposition of additional charges for as long as it possibly could do so. Now, the facts that the PostmasterGeneral has presented leave no room for doubt and the Government has no alternative but to face up to the problem and ensure that the department’s finances shall be kept solvent and that it shall be enabled to progress. The Postmaster-General said i’> his second-reading speech -
Let us consider wages, for example. Thu basic wage judgment which operated from December last, and cost-of-living adjustments made since November, have increased the department’s annual wages bill by about £8,000,0 JJ, whilst consequential rises of tint pr’.ccs nf materials, freights and incidental items have added at least f 2,500,000 to its yearly working expenses. Tt is probable that expenditure for 1051-52 will be increased by something like £4,000,000 as a result of further rises of wages and costs of materials which may occur during the next twelve months.
The increased expenditure that the department is now called upon to meet has arisen largely as a result of the socialistic policy of the previous Labour administration. However, such expenditure is inescapable; and if adequate provision were not made to meet it the department’s deficit this year would probably exceed £12,000,000. In addition, regard must bo paid to the increased costs that have-arisen as a result of the development that has taken place in the country during recent years.
The Postmaster-General gave details of ibc increased cost of equipment. Because of the fact that most of the equipment that the department requires is not manufactured on a competitive basis in Australia, the department has no alternative but to purchase it at certain fixed costs. In addition, it must pay for equipment that it obtains from overseas at worldwide prices. I. shall cite -a few examples in that respect. During recent years the cost of automatic exchanges has risen by 114 per cent., underground cable by 200 per cent., trunk aerial wire by 200 per cent., telephone instruments by 174 per cent., postmen’s uniforms by 141 per cent., letter receivers by 230 per cent, and paper that is used in the manufacture of telephone directories by 300 per cent.
I realize, of course, that in approaching this matter the first responsibility of the Government is to explore avenues in which economies might be effected. The PostmasterGeneral in common with every honorable member on this side of the House has given careful consideration to that aspect. Whilst room exists for the making of certain economies, substantial savings cannot be effected if we pay regard to the more important consideration of ensuring that the department shall maintain all its services at the maximum efficiency. I .=hall now refer to the departmental administration. I make it a practice to call frequently at every post office, large or small, in my electorate. On such occasions I have a chat with the postmaster,- or with the officer in charge, in order to ascertain how matters are going and to see whether there is anything that, I can do to bring about an improvement of existing facilities. As a result, of that experience I have como to the conclusion that the employees of the department are doing an excellent job. That observation can be applied to the employees of the department throughout Australia. In this respect room may exist for an examination of the activities of the department’s outdoor staffs but, as a general rule, members of those staffs are not, permanent officers. In many instances the department has no alternative but to enlist the labour that is offering, if it is to make any headway at all. Otherwise, the expansion of the facilities provided by the department would come to a standstill. I can speak at. first hand of the progress that lias been made in my electorate, where the extension and improvement of facilities has bosn substantial. Although, generally, we still have a long way to go in this respect I believe that the people recognize that the department is making substantial progress particularly in rural areas. However, in spite of the implementation of more liberal conditions in respect of the installation of services in rural areas, many districts are still badly served. 1 emphasize the importance of providing these facilities as a. part of the Government’s policy of maintaining an adequate population in the country. It should take every opportunity to provide facilities and amenities with the object of making rural life more congenial. Those engaged in primary industries have every claim for the most generous treatment at the hands of the department. On that point, perhaps, I cannot do better than quote the following extract from a letter that I received from a constituent who resides in the Macksville district, the residents of which were recently informed that the area was too remote to enable the department to provide telephone facilities for them without some cash contribution. The letter reads -
I would like to toll you, there is practically nothing in this district that the people haven’t helped to do. if it has not been beyond their means to do it. You can easily verify the following. They have put up a school building, maintained a subsidised teacher, until tin: Education Department provided a teacher. They have improved the building recently, and provided a wireless for the benefit of the teacher and children. They are now painting (.lie building and constructing a playing area. There are only a few- residents to do thi*. 1 would also like to tell you that from March until May most of the nien in the district worked on the road gravelling it.
That statement reflects the conditions under which many rural communities are obliged to carry on. Unfortunately, oven under the liberal conditions that the Government recently announced, the people in that district are unable to obtain adequate telephone services unless they contribute a substantial proportion >f the cost of providing such facilities. The people in the country are doing a magnificent job in the production of food.stuffs and they are entitled to the most generous assistance from the department.
Therefore, I trust that the department will not reduce in any way its present programme of expansion.
As a result of the cessation of building during the war the department is now confronted with the problem of making up a considerable leeway. I am pleased to note that at the first opportunity it evolved a scheme for the training of staff to undertake the work that inevitably would have to be done. Due largely to that policy considerable progress has already been made with the installation of telephone exchange equipment in rural areas. At the same time, however, it is only fair to admit that even in normal times the department was stinted the finance that it required for the construction of new post offices and the improvement of existing ones.
-Order! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the bill before the Chair. He is getting a little away from the subject.
– The point that I make is that the department will not be. able to keep down its charges, or to obtain fair value for the money that it expends, unless it is able to house its staff and equipment in modern buildings. Unfortunately, most of its buildings are now completely out of date. In many instances modern equipment has been installed under conditions under which the staff cannot be expected to give efficient service. Therefore, it should be one of the primary objectives of the department to get on with its building programme. The Commonwealth Bank, during the last ten or twenty years, has been able to erect many fine buildings.
-Order! The honorable gentleman’s remarks are not related to the subject-matter of the bill.
– I am endeavouring to emphasize the necessity for bringing Post Office buildings up to date, so that efficiency will be increased, and the Government will obtain value for the money that it expends upon postal and telegraph services. All honorable members regret the necessity to increase charges for services of any kind. The honorable member for Melbourne severely criticized the proposal of the Government to increase postal and telegraph rates, yet the McGirr Labour Government in New South Wales has substantially increased tram fares, ‘bus fares and rail fares and freights- by a much greater percentage than the proposed increase of postal and telegraph rates. The Government wishes to keep the Postal Department pro- gressive, solvent and efficient. The proposed increases have been carefully examined, and the additional revenue that will be obtained will enable the department to carry on its functions efficiently. I am confident that, as soon as the position improves, either as the result of economies, or changing economic conditions, the charges will be revised. The main consideration is to provide an efficient service. The Government has already demonstrated in the cities and in country areas that it is able, through the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, to improve the service, but that entails additional expenditure. I ara sure that people prefer to pay a reasonable charge for service, and receive it, than pay less and receive no service. I support the bill.
.- The purpose of this bill is to increase postal and telegraphic rates, although the Government introduced similar legislation last year and extracted an- additional £S, 000,000. from persons who use postal and telegraphic facilities. The Government estimates that, under this bill, tho Postmaster-General’s Department will receive an additional £12,000,000 per annum, so that, in approximately two years, the increased charges for postal and telegraphic services will yield approximately £20,000,000. Another impost is being placed upon the people in the form of indirect taxation, which will bear heavily upon the residents of country districts who use postal and telegraphic facilities extensively. Those people are being treated most unjustly by this Government. This bill is jus another example of the Government’s inability to’ deal with current inflationary trends, and unless action is taken promptly to combat them, the Parliament will be frequently asked in future to increase postal and telegraphic rates, and the charges for other services. But the Government has fallen down hopelessly on the job of combating inflation. Even with the enormous revenues of the
Postmaster-General’s Department, it is not providing an adequate service for the public. Its general policy is to dampdown on essential activities. I am informed that instructions have been sent to departmental officers in country districts to connect telephone services only to existing structures, and practically no major works or building extensions are being undertaken. Many people who applied years ago for telephones are still waiting for them.
When the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) moved the second reading of this bill, he pointed out that the estimated loss of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department on its operations for the current financial year would be approximately £5,000,000, yet under this legislation the Government proposes to raise approximately £12,000,000. What is the reason for that? Such an amount is more than sufficient to meet two years’ deficits in the accounts of the department on the present basis. The charge lias been made that the Government wishes to raise in one year the amount that it will require over two years to meet the financial leeway. An election for the Senate will be held about two years hence. That appears to be the logical answer to my question. Such a practice, if it is being adopted by the Government, is most unjust and unfair, because revenue should be raised by taxation only in respect of the year in which the expenditure is to be incurred. The Government should not attempt to collect additional revenue to tide it over the embarrassment of a Senate election. The whole position is most unfortunate.
The people are asking in vain for improved postal and telephonic facilities. The policy of the Government in dampingdown on extensions to existing buildings and on other improvements to . the postal and telegraphic services is one of false economy. The staff is not receiving adequate rates of remuneration in many centres, as a result of which the department is losing efficient officers who find, employment in better paid jobs. Temporary, less experienced staff is then engaged, and the economy of the department is seriously affected thereby. The Government is not getting value for its money. The service would be more efficient if the staff were paid higher wages and ‘ were granted better conditions. In Broken Hill, which is situated in my electorate, the cost of board and maintenance is extremely high, and many members of the staff of the Postal Department’ who have been stationed in that centre have found employment elsewhere, because they were not able to make ends meet with the salaries that they received from the department. They are replaced by less experienced temporary staff. Doubtless other centres have a similar experience.
The department is not constructing new telephone lines as rapidly as it should do. 1. have received complaints from persons throughout the length and breadth of my electorate who have applied to the department for improved telephone facilities. Their requests have been refused on the ground that the present economy campaign does not warrant such expenditure. That policy is most unjust. The Government should review it, and, with some of the substantial funds that are now available, should provide telephone services for persons who live in the outback areas.
The proposed new charges for telegrams that are sent between offices not more than fifteen miles apart is excessive, as indeed, are all the proposed new rates. The rate for telegrams which are sent over that short distance is to be increased from ls. 9d. to 2s. 3d., and that will impose a burden upon country people. Telephone charges are to be increased by approximately 25 per cent. The PostmasterGeneral, when he was in opposition, complained that the Labour Government did not grant special privileges to telephone subscribers .in country districts, yet this bill, which he has introduced, will place the country telephone subscriber upon exactly the same footing as a subscriber in more populous centres. The concessional rates from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m., a period during which country people use the telephone frequently to make long-distance calls for business purposes, are to be increased to the rate that applies during normal business hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Bates for calls between centres ten miles apart and even 50 miles apart are to be increased by 25 per cent. That will be an unjust imposition upon country people.
I have made repeated representations to the Postmaster-General to provide radio-telephone facilities foi1 people who live in out-back areas. When the-Labour Government was in office, an experimental station was established at Broken Hil], and was connected with out-lying areas. Operational difficulties were experienced at the outset, but the department has advised me that tests reveal that such difficulties have been eliminated sufficiently to enable it to proceed with its plans to extend the system to the premises of subscribers as well as to establish similar networks in other parts of the Commonwealth. I thought that the department would proceed to install radio telephone facilities, but it has advised me as follows : -
It is evident, however, that under presentday conditions a considerable time will elapse before equipment can be secured from, the manufacturers to enable radio telephone services to be provided generally to subscribers.
Many applications have been received from persons who live in the sparsely populated areas for radio telephone services, but no substantial effort is being made by the department to provide them. I have been astonished to discover, when I have been travelling in New South Wales in the last twelve months, thai, the Public Works Department, the Forestry Commission, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority and other governmental activities have established two-way radio telephone communication with their staffs, and are able to make good contact over a radius of 250 miles. Yet the Postmaster-General’s Department puts forward the stupid plea that it is unable to obtain essential equipment to provide a radio telephone service for persons who live in out-back areas. If the various instrumentalities that I have named are able to provide two-way radio telephone communication, there is no reason or excuse why the PostmasterGeneral’s Department cannot obtain the equipment and provide the service. The equipment must be available to the department if it is available to other authorities. The Government’s excuse is not acceptable, and I ask that the department take immediate action to secure the necessary equipment and establish radio telephone services for the residents of isolated areas.
On the 29th June, 1949, the present Postmaster-General, who was then a member of the Opposition, attacked a measure that had been introduced by the Labour Government for the purpose of increasing post and telegraph charges. He said -
I submit that if thu shareholders of anyprivate company had a statement presented to them similar to that which this Government has presented to the shareholders of the Postal Department, who aic the people of Australia, they would probably seek the replacement of the board of directors responsible for such a result.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who is now Minister for the Army, then interjected -
So will the shareholders of the Postal Department.
I believe that the Postmaster-General has been so embarrassed by the unfortunate contradiction in the speech that he made on that occasion of the excuses that he has offered for the presentation of this bill, which provides for substantial increases of post and telegraph charges, that the Government has seen fit to send him for a trip to New Zealand so that he will be out of the way while the debate is in progress.
– The members of his own political party have embarrassed him.
– That is true. They probably read to him extracts from the speech from which I have already quoted. On that occasion, the present Minister also said-
– The honorable member lives too much in the past.
– I am just telling you-
-Order ! The honorable gentleman will address me, please. That is the sole reason why I am here.
– I have often entertained other opinions about that, Mr. Speaker. However, in his speech on the 29th June, 1949, the present Postmaster-General said -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. I resent thom particularly on behalf of country people, who will sutler most. A great deal of the mail matter goes out into the country, and it is the country people who must ultimately bear a great part of the cost involved in the increase of parcel postage rates. No one can deny that country people will bear most of the increased charges for long distance telephone calls. In the cities, newspapers and. periodicals are either delivered to the door, or are bought over the counter, but country people receive their newspapers by post. Therefore, the increased postage rate will bear most heavily upon them.
In concluding his protest against the increases that were then proposed, the honorable gentleman made what must, now be proving to be the most embarrassing statement of his speech. It has probably prompted him to leave for New Zealand at this time. He said -
However, because of the dictatorial powers exercised by this Government and the fact that this monopoly has no competition, the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences.
This Government now exercises absolute dictatorial powers, both in this House and in the Senate, and it has submitted the measure to us in a “ take it or leave it “ fashion. It will use the weight of its numbers to force the legislation through the Parliament to the utter embarrassment of the Postmaster-General. When the people fully appreciate the degree of hardship that will be caused to many country residents by the extra charges for parcels, letters, telephone and telegraph services, and many other facilities that are provided by the Postal Department, they will decide that the inflationary policy of this Government, which has caused the decision to introduce this measure, must be reviewed at the first opportunity.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) referred to many matters in the course of his speech on this measure and J propose to reply to three of his assertions before I proceed with the main part of my speech. He said that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) had endeavoured to give the impression that the increases of post and telegraph charges during the last ten years, and including the increases now proposed, represented an overall rise of only 40 per cent. This is another example of the indecent habit of members of the Labour party of removing statements and figures from their context in order to distort the facts. So that the situation may be clarified, I quote the following extract from the Postmaster-General’s second-reading speech on this measure : -
I need not emphasize that it is clearly impossible for an undertaking to pay its way with a rise of charges, representing 35 per cent. over a period of ten years, which is so much below the increase of costs of giving service. Although the new tariffs proposed represent a substantial increase of the present rates in some cases, I point out to honorable members that the overall effect of the 1949, 1950 and present adjustments will be to increase the department’s tariffs by a little less than 73 per cent.
There was no ambiguity in that statement. The ambiguity was in the statement that was made by the honorable member for Melbourne. The honorable gentleman ‘also complained that notice of the basic wage adjustment at the end of last year had been received before the 1950 bill had been passed by the Parliament. I do not know whether the honorable gentleman, when he was a Minister, was accustomed merely to hand over the job of drafting bills to public servants, but I should have thought that he would understand that a bill is always prepared some time in advance of its presentation to the House. He should appreciate also that, had the 1950 measure included provision for increases sufficient to cover the basic wage increase, the department would have been receiving the consequent extra revenue for an unnecessarily long period. The honorable gentleman also said that it was obvious that another hill would be introduced before the end of this year - I presume that he meant before the 30th June, 1952 -in order to cover additional costs which would be incurred between now and then. It should not be expected of any Minister that he should be more than reasonably careful and diligent in the performance of his duty, and the Postmaster-General has assured me that he has taken into consideration theprospect of what may be regarded as reasonable increases of the basic wage and other costs between now and the 30th June, 1952. Therefore, it is most improbable that another bill of this nature will be presented to the Parliament during that period.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) adopted a very strange attitude in relation to the bill. He said that, the deficit for the financial year which has almost expired would be £5,000,000 and that the increased revenue which would result from the measure should cover only that amount. He declared that it was entirely wrong to prepare a bill at this stage for the purpose of raising additional revenue to cover an. anticipated deficit of £12,000,000 next year. He said that the money should be collected in the year in which it was to be expended. All reasonable people must be aware that this bill relates to revenue for the year which will end on the 30th June, 1952, which is the year in which the anticipated expenditure will be incurred by the Postal Department. The honorable member also said that the department’s staff was being underpaid. Most citizens to-day realize that the Liberal party believes in arbitration, and they know that employees of the Postal Department are paid according to the awards of an arbitrator. There would be a general complaint from the community if the department were to pay rates higher than those specified in the appropriate awards, because this would make a further increase of revenue necessary. The honorable member for Melbourne said that several members on this side of the House had formed a committee in order to investigate this bill. He mentioned my name. I have no hesitation in saying that I conceived it to be my duty, and a responsibility to the electors who returned me to this Parliament, to seek additional information about the measure as soon as I became aware of its existence. Therefore, I made some investigations concerning the activities of the Postal Department so that, as a result, I should be in a better position to decide whether I should support the bill or not. I make no apology to my electors for having adopted that attitude. I am amazed that the honorable gentleman should consider such an approach to be wrong in any way.
I shall deal now with the broad overall picture of Postal Department finance. The figures which I shall cite are not revealed in budget statements because budgets do not show the profit and loss accounts of the Postal Department. The total earnings of the department in 1949 amounted to £33,200,000. The expenses, excluding interest and exchange thereon and depreciation, totalled £33,600,000.
That, subject to a comment I shall make presently, left a deficit of £1,720,000. In 1950, earnings increased by approximately £7,000,000, bringing the total revenue to £40,230,000. Expenses amounted to £40,100,000, which left, after adjustments, a deficit of £1,150,000. It is estimated that the total revenue for 1950-51, which has almost ended, will be £46,130,000 and that expenses will amount to £49,850,000, which, subject to my previous remark, will leave an estimated deficit of £5,000,000. Without the proposed increases, the revenue for 1951-52 would be approximately £51,230,000, according to reliable estimates. The estimate of expenditure is £60,450,000, which would leave a deficit of £11,500,000, or £12,000,000. Honorable members may notice that the differences between the amounts of revenue and expenditure for the years that I have reviewed are not identical with the amounts that I have stated as deficits, but I point out that I have taken into consideration expenses which are not normally included in the statements of the department’s activities, such as depreciation, interest and exchange charges, which are, in each year, approximately £1,300,000. The estimated deficit of about £12,000,000 for 1951-52 will be covered by means of the application of the increased charges for which this bill provides. The deficit for the current year will be paid from Consolidated Revenue.
There are three possible methods of meeting the increased costs of administration in the Postal Department. The deficit could be allowed to accumulateand could be paid from Consolidated Revenue; economies could be effected in the working of the department; or charges could be increased. The amendment which was moved by the honors able member for Melbourne suggests that the deficit should be met from Consolidated Revenue. In respect of the current year, approximately £30,000,000 of capital expenditure in respect of the Postal Department is to be met from Consolidated Revenue. On a previous occasion I have offered some criticism in this House in relation to this principle. I consider that capital expenditure should be charged against loan moneys rather than against revenue. A sinking fund should be provided from revenue that, would be sufficient to cover the loan money that had been used. At present it must be accepted that capital expenditure on behalf of the Postal Department has been charged against Consolidated Revenue and should continue to be so charged for the time being. It is wrong for this Parliament to load additional charges on. to the taxpayers by making heavy withdrawals from Consolidated Revenue. Those who use services should pay for them. A lot of people would like to havea telephone, but they consider they, cannot afford the expense and so they go without it. If the Government adopted the principle of charging deficits of the Postal Department to Consolidated Revenue, it would force those people to pay. not for their own phone, but also for those of other people. That would be a. very wrong principle. I think that honorable members should disregard the suggestion of the honorable member for Melbourne that the deficit should be carried by Consolidated Revenue.
I am very doubtful whether it is possible to provide the additional money required for the administration of the Postal Department by effecting internal economies. I say this as a result of investigations that I have made. I doubt whether it is possible to effect economies in all sections of the Postal Department. Statistics have been kept relating to telephonists, telegraphists and mail staff. The Postal Department has ascertained, over a long period, that a telephonist can handle approximately 225 calls per hour. The number of calls received at exchanges each hour of the day have been recorded in respect of every day of the year. The total number of calls has been divided by 225 in order to establish the number of persons who must be present at the exchange as telephonists. I have seen a graph which the Postal Department uses in relation to this matter, and I think that it must be accepted that the statistics that are kept by the department guarantee that everything is in order in relation to certain of its sections.
I cannot say that I have complete confidence in the state of affairs that exists in the administrative, clerical and outdoor sections. There may be room for economies in these sections. But if thi introduction of such economies is left to departmental officers and sectional heads they will not he implemented. That is the case not only in the Postal Department, but also in all’ departments of the Commonwealth Service. To a large degree, theofficer in charge of a section gains his seniority from the number of staff under his control. It is his ambition that his staff should be as large as possible. Economies can be effected in this and other government departments only by the. Minister and Director-General issuing very definite instructions. I believe it would be possible to effect at least some economy within the Postal Department. If the Government does not introduce such, economies, it must be prepared to meet a charge of inefficient “administration. However, I believe it is impossible immediately to effect economies in order to cover a deficit of £12,000,000 which will be in existence as from the 1st July.
I believe that the deficit of the Postal Department can only be met by increasing charges. Investigations should be made concerning the possibility of achieving economies, but I do not think that there is any alternative to the immediate increases in charges that have been proposed in order to meet the serious position that has arisen. If the increases which the Government has proposed are approved of, postal charges will have risen by 75 per cent, since 1949. The Government has decided that various sections of the community should carry an equitable proportion of increased expenses. Honorable members of the Opposition may point out that while the Government has increased one charge by a sixth it has increased another by 50 per cent. I think it must bc accepted that some concessional charges which have operated over a long period have been quite unprofitable to the Postal Department. The Government considers that these concessions should be reduced and more substantial charges made. Let us compare present actual charges for telephone and postal services with those which have been made in the past. To pay the annual rental for a telephone service ten years’ ago, a man who was working in the country for the basic wage would have had to work for three and three quarter days; it is now only necessary for him to work for one and a half days in order to pay this rental ; and to pay the proposed rental he vill have to work for two and a half days. Even after the proposed increases have been made he will have to work for a lesser period than he did ten years ago in order to pay his telephone rental. Ten years ago a man who was earning . the basic wage in Sydney or Melbourne would have had to pay the equivalent of. six days’ wages for a residential service; at the existing rental he would only have to pay the equivalent of four and a quarter days’ wages; at the proposed rental he would have to pay the equivalent of six days’ wages. In other words, the proposed fee is, in effect, merely equal to that which was charged ten years ago. Ten years ago a man who earned the basic wage would have had to work for three days in order to pay for the posting of 200 domestic letters; at present, he has only to work one and a half days; at the proposed rate he will have to work one and three quarter days. Consequently, there is no criticism that can be justly levelled by honorable members of the Opposition against this bill.
I think that most people assume that a telephone installation comprises only the wiring from the main in the street to the house and the installation of the telephone set. Such an impression should be speedily removed. The maintenance of the telephone exchange has to be paid for. Telephone girls must be employed on manual exchanges and the services of technicians are required on automatic switches. There is also the cost of maintenance in the form of labour and materials to . be met both inside the exchange and on the lines outside. For eery telephone in a suburban area there must be adequate trunk line facilities. So the expense of maintaining a telephone service is not limited to the cost of the local installation. I admit that the cost of telephone equipment is charged to capital expenditure. But the amount paid for it must affect the taxpayer. Atihe end of ,1941 a hand set cost £2 9s. 3d. ; in 1951 it costs £6 14s. Sd., an increase of 174 per cent. An automatic exchange switch cost £11 in 1941 ; it costs £23 10s. at present, an increase of 114 per cent. In 1941, underground cable cost £273 a mile for 100 pairs; in 1951, Australian cable cost £730 per mile, an increase of I fiS per cent., and cable from the United Kingdom, where it has been necessary to buy it, costs £969 a mile, an increase of 254 per cent. One could give many other examples of increases in the cost of equipment used by the Postal Department, the greatest increase being in the cost of paper for telephone directories for which 311 per cent, more has to be paid now than in 1941.
An honorable member of the Opposition yesterday interjected that, as this was not the first year of operation of a 40-hour week, the 40-hour week was not the prime cause of the financial position of the Postal Department. In reply to that honorable member, I ask whether our expenses would he as great as they are at present if ils employees worked a 44-hour week. As I have said already, the department calculates that a switch-girl can handle 225 calls an hour. Will the honorable member suggest that that number could be increased from 225 to 250 because of the existence of a 40-hour week? That is what it will mean if we are to get the same production from the 40-hour week as we got from the 44-hour week. We have to accept that. It does not matter when the 40-hour week was introduced. The important fact is that the 40-hour week is a continuing cause of increased costs in the Postal Department. The Labour party wanted a. 40-hour week. Its members were tho champions of reduced working hours. But when those reduced hours were gained they meant increased costs to users of services and consumers of commodities, and the Labour party suddenly became the champion of the users and consumers. Yet Labour party supporters in this Parliament in 1949 did exactly what we are seeking to do through this bill, because they were faced with exactly the same problems as we face now. Their present attitude is arrant humbug. Since people now have to pay more than they paid before for every commodity that they use there cannot be an exception in relation to what they pay for the services of a government business undertaking. Labour party supporters said before the
Commonwealth Arbitration Court pronounced its judgment that if a 40-hour week were introduced production would increase. I remind them of comments that their late leader made not so very long ago when he appealed to the working community for increased production. Did he believe that it was possible, or did he believe that it was impossible, to get increased production?
To-day we are learning that the decreased production that resulted from the introduction of the 40-hour week has proved very expensive. The Opposition realizes it is expensive, but instead of admitting the fact that the 40-hour week has been in a large part responsible for the present position, they are trying to make scapegoats of the Government and of the nation’s employers. If the Labour party would assist in the encouragement of greater production which would lead to a. reduction of costs, they would really be doing a service to the community that they pretend to represent. What has been the effect of the £1 a week increase of the basic wage so far as the Postal Department is concerned ? That increase, and the cost of living adjustments, has cost the Postal Department £5,000,000. Other increases that the department has had to face have been as follows: - Reclassifications following the basic wage increases £1,200,000; additional staff and staff increments £1,750,000; increased overtime penalty rates, superannuation liability, &c, £S00,000; extra cost of mail services £400,000; and higher prices for material for maintenance £600,000. Those items total £9,750,000. I accept the verdict of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in relation to both the 40-hour week and the basic wage, but I have very little patience with the Opposition which shouts for joy when increases of wages are made and then moans that they have to be paid for.
Now I turn to what I consider to be the principle problem that affects the Postmaster-General’s Department which is the continuing inability of the rates charged to meet actual costs. I believe that the department’s problem to-day is the same as that which faces other sections of the community. It is the problem of inflation, which grips the community, and which must be tackled. I am prepared to admit that the tackling of it is a matter not for the Government alone, but also for every person and every section of the community. That fact however, does not relieve the Government, of its share of the responsibility. I say quite definitely that it is time that this Government gave urgent attention to that problem. I believe that as soon as we really get down to fighting inflation we shall, at least to some degree, overcome the difficulty of financing government departments. However, I am afraid that the Opposition will perhaps not appreciate it, but if we are going to do something
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– This bill to increase postal rates is the first major piece of legislation that the Government has introduced. The first thing that strikes me about it is that the Government admits that this great government enterprise is to offset its own deficit by a 75 per cent, increase of its charges. I have listened to the speeches very carefully so far, and have wondered whether at some stage the Communist party will be blamed for the present inflationary trend in this country-
– That is about the limit of the honorable gentleman’s intelligence.
– Order ! Honorable members must not reflect on one another.
– I say in respect of an interjection of that character, that I consider that this is the first measure, for a long time, connected with increased costs that has not .been used as a medium by Government supporters to blame the Communists for all the trouble. I believe that if the Government is prepared to face this problem squarely as a national, non-political problem we can discuss the measure without any heat or bitterness about Communists or anything else. If this bill represents the methods that the Government is adopting to combat inflation then , the Opposition might well be excused for saying that the Government has no answer to the inflationary trend. I shall give my reasons for that view. I listened very carefully to the well-reasoned contribution to the debate made by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme). His speech was obviously well prepared. The first thing he said was that the excuse - not the reason - for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) not having made some reference to these intended increases when the last such bill was before this chamber in November last year, was that the bill was printed before the measure actually came before the House, and in consequence future events in relation to costs had not been taken into account. In making that statement the honorable member indulged in political hypocrisy. At the very time that the PostmasterGeneral was framing last year’s bill the Government was awaiting the opportunity for a general election so as to give itself another lease of life before it got caught up entirely in the coils of inflation.
– Order ! The subject of elections does not come within the scope of this bill. This is a matter concerned with an increase of postal rates. I do not wish to be too restrictive, but I think that honorable members had bettor not wander over the political world.
– The honorable member for Petrie said that the Liberal party believes in the arbitration system, and that the public would challenge the propriety of the Postal Department paying its employees a rate higher than the rate that the arbitration authorities had decided upon. It would not be so bad if the whole matter started and finished there. If the financial interests of this country were as loyal to the arbitration system as the honorable member for Petrie professes to be, there would not be such great competition as there now is for labour. Competition among financial interests is one of the causes of the high rate of overtime and the shortage of staff that have been mentioned in this debate. The honorable member went further, and said that he had no apologies to offer for being associated with a certain committee established within his party to analyse this matter before the bill came before the House. I suggest that if he was honest in making that statement then he will surely support the amendment now before us.
– He will also press the Government to accept it.
– In case there is any doubt on the part of any honorable member about where we stand on the question of political hypocrisy it might be as well to keep in mind the kind of amendment that the Treasurer (.Sir Arthur Fadden) moved to our similar measure in 1949. It asked that - . . the bill be referred to a select committee of this House appointed to inquire into and report upon the deterioration in the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department which has resulted in the imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.
– What did the Chifley Government say to that?
Mr.’E. JAMES HARRISON.- It said that it believed that the department had worked out a figure that was not unreasonably in accord with all the circumstances. It should be borne in mind that the Chifley Government believed in holding things in check and not letting them race away wildly as inflation is now* racing under this Government. The honorable member for Petrie proceeded to analyse three ways in which the present position might be met. He said that it was wrong in his view to meet the additional costs of the Postal Department from Consolidated Revenue because it was quite possible that some person requiring a telephone and unable to pay for it would be calling upon some other person to contribute a share towards these added expenses and that it was wrong to ask such a person to contribute. If he believes that, then surely he will support the amendment and support what I am saying. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) also had something to say on this subject when the 1949 bill was before the House, and it is interesting to see what the honorable gentleman said then. According to Hansard, of the 28th June, 1949. volume 203. at page 1599, he Said -
Che Postal Department is not only our largest government undertaking; it is also the largest undertaking, government or private, in the Commonwealth. It is a matter for serious concern when such a large undertaking increases the charges for its services instead of meeting the additional cost out of surplus revenue. We might well ask if the same principle is to be applied to other government ventures, such us Trans-Australia Airlines which, I understand, will again show a loss on its operations for the current financial year. Will ‘the losses of that and other government undertakings be met by an indirect tax on the working man? If so, having regard to the number and variety of expensive government socialistic ventures that this Government is operating, the people cannot expect any real taxation relief while it remains in office.
Later, he said -
I urge the Government to consider financing its departmental deficits from surplus revenue collections instead of from increased charges for services, when these charges will be an indirect impost upon the people.
That is one of the reasons then advanced by the honorable member for the submission of the amendment to which I have referred. I remind honorable members again that that amendment was submitted by the right honorable gentleman who is now Treasurer. I appreciate what you, Mr. Speaker, said about elections, but as this measure has been brought down so soon in the life of this new Parliament the people are entitled to a reminder of the policy Government at the time of the election. When the last general election was held, the Government must have been fully aware that the Postal Department was facing a £5,000,000 deficit. The Government must also have made certain plans to deal with that deficit. Yet the Prime Minister told the electors during the last general election campaign that his policy then was exactly the same as the policy that he announced prior to the 1949 general election. How can it be said that the Government is sincere when one of its first actions upon re-election to office is to make an enormous increase in what is virtually indirect taxation. I have not been a member of this House very long, but I am wondering how long such political hypocrasy can continue.
– It will continue as long as the Government continues.
– That may be so, but there must be some stability in government policy on matters such as this. At first I was impressed by the apparent sympathy of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) for the people who will have to pay these increased charges. Later during his speech I perceived that he failed to understand that the imposition of these charges will give a further impetus to the inflationary spiral. No defence has been made by the honorable members on the Government side to the accusations of the Opposition, other than a feeble attempt to explain them away. The ultimate effect of the overnment’s action has not been dealt with by any honorable member on the Government side, and until the Government is prepared to face up to the fact that this measure will inevitably affect the inflationary spiral it cannot expect people to attempt to deal with their own private inflationary problems. By this action the Government is inviting private enterprise to increase the charges of all the services which it renders to the people. Surely the Government should give a lead to private enterprise by reducing its charges or making sure that its services will work efficiently, before it can expect the country to co-operate with it in an attack upon inflation. A great proportion of the increased charges will come from business people, who will pass the charges on to the consumers plus an added percentage for profit.
– And also an added percentage for costs of administration.
– That is so. I had hoped that when this Government obtained a majority in both Houses the businessman, the worker and even the girl in the hostel would be given a lead in some sort of action to reduce the cost of living. But the only thing that the Government has done is to give a further twist to the tail of the inflationary tiger. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) attempted to lay the blame for inflation upon the 40-hour week. It is common knowledge among those who know anything at all about arbitration that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration announced its decision in the 40-hour week case after a minute examination of the existing state of industry. The 40-hour week was not awarded according, to a possible future state of industry; it was awarded on evidence of the state of industry existing at the time.
I gave evidence in that case, and I know that it was shown in evidence that between the time of the previous examination of working hours and that examination, the earning capacity of Australian workers had reached a stage when the 40-hour week would be no more costly than the 44-hour week was upon its introduction.
– The honorable member cannot support his statements with facts.
– The figures support my statements, and I invite the honorable member for Lyne to look at the evidence given in the 40-hour week case. It is quite patent that he has never considered that evidence. His attitude is an example of the attitude of many honorable members who have spoken about the 40-hour week case but who have not taken the trouble to read even the newspaper reports of the evidence and judgments. The honorable member for Petrie tried to tell us that the Postal Department switch-girl who did 230 switches in an hour could not do 250 to make up for the hours lost through her 40-hour working week. At one stage of his speech, I thought that he knew something of the operations of the Postal Department, but I was finally convinced that the matter which had been prepared for him had been prepared by somebody who knows nothing about the Postal Department. Switch-girls in the Postal Department, like some other types of . employees, have never worked 40 hours. Their working week is 34 hours, and has been for years. That gives an indication that -many honorable members opposite talk of things about which they know very little. Moreover, they are not prepared to study the subjects that they talk about in order to give a lead to the people that they are supposed to represent. I advise honorable members opposite to read the debates on the Chifley Government’s 1949 proposals in connexion with the Postal Department. Let us accept what has been said by honorable members on the Government side about the so-called socialist party when it was in power in this country. Then let us look at what the Postmaster-General said when he was in opposition in 1949. At that time he supported an amendment to the bill before the House that was in almost the same terms as the amendment now being considered. During the course of that 1949 speech the honorable gentleman said -
It will como into force if it is passed by the Parliament - and there does not seem to bv any power to prevent its passage - on the 1st July. It is a kind of new financial year’s greeting to the people of Australia. It is interesting to note that the tax cuts that are proposed by the Government will also become effective on the 1st July. On one side of the ledger wit ure to have tax cuts, and on the other side new taxes to balance the cuts. Postal, telegraph and telephone charges are, of course, an indirect tax-
I invite the honorable member for Lyne to examine carefully that statement. The present Postmaster-General then said that it was an indirect tax - because every one in the community, in some way or other, will be compelled to pay the increased charges. It is a strange paradox in the life of the Chifley Government that the more it tries to reduce taxes and relieve the taxpayers of their burden the heavier their burdon becomes.
Then he went on to deal with the “ golden age “. He said -
The “ golden age “ of the Chifley Government seems to be going all wrong, somehow, and as people become alert to the true road along which labour policy is leading this country they will have good reason to wonder how far the Government is leading us, not into a Golden Age” but into the shadows of depression.
And how true i3 that statement if it be applied to the .present Government. The honorable gentleman went further in 1949 and said -
The difference to be bridged in the last two years, therefore, is about £12,000,000 - that is to say, a profit of about £6,000,000 last year and an estimated loss of approximately the same amount this year - unless the increases are imposed. I submit that if the shareholders of any private company had a statement presented to them similar to that which this Government has presented to the shareholders of the Postal Department, who are the people of Australia, they would probably seek the replacement of the Board of Directors responsible for such a result.
– They did.
– Yes, and they got more than they bargained for. The honorable gentleman proceeded as follows: -
If the Government cannot put up a better case for imposing, through the Postal Department, additional charges amounting to £(i.000,000 a year, the time has come for the holding of some sort of inquiry to determine whether the charges are justified.
I remind honorable members that we are asking the House to do exactly the same thing now. He continued -
David Jones Limited, the Myer .Emporium Limited, or any other great trading concom would have to submit to an inquiry by the prices authorities before they would bc permitted to raise their prices. However, because of the dictatorial powers exercised by this Government and the fact that this monopoly has no competition, the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences. I only hope that they will not have to suffer them for more than another six months.
All that we are submitting now is au amendment seeking a complete inquiry into the finances of the Postal Department. Let us admit that we might have been wrong in 1949, and that all that the honorable members then said against us was correct. Then let us deal with the matter courageously. There is no need to hasten this legislation. The suggested £5,000,000 budget surplus could be used to carry on the postal services at the present rates while the inquiry is being held. Instead of still twisting the tail of the inflationary tiger, let us have an inquiry so that we can determine what to do to give a lead to all the people in an attempt to halt inflation in Australia.
– I rise mainly because this subject is of great interest to the people. I share with every honorable member in this House, and with the Government itself, a feeling of disappointment that such a bill should be necessary. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), commenced his speech by saying that the honorable members who have spoken from this side of the House were wrong in blaming communism for increased costs. A little later he said that the financial interests were to blame and later still he said that honorable members on this side of the chamber were hypocritical. It seems to me that the honorable member’s contention that the Government was not justified in ascribing the necessity to Increase there rates to increased costs, taken with his other statement in which he blamed financial interests, was the height of hypocrisy. Honorable members opposite talk with their tongue in their cheek because they know full well that this is a practical matter that can be approached with the utmost simplicity and be easily explained to the people. ]3nt the Opposition prefers to try to confuse the public mind in the hope of gaining, some party political advantage. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) made an interesting speech but lie failed to tell the House that in 1949, when he was a Minister in the Chifley Government, he introduced a measure in this chamber under which the Postal Department’s charges were increased by 36 per cent. That honorable member urged the Government to appoint a select committee to inquire into the proposals contained in this bill. I thought that the Opposition had had enough of asking for the appointment of select committees because it’s experience in that respect recently would not seem to justify any hope on their part that good would thereby come to them. As though they were divulging a great secret, honorable members opposite referred to the fact that a committee of members of the Government parties had examined these proposals. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has given the facts about that committee. I was not a member of it, but all members of the Government parties were informed of the result of its investigation. I am sure that the public’s reaction to the formation of that committee will be that a proper investigation into this matter was conducted by members of the Parliament who can be trusted to act in the public interests. That committee examined these proposals thoroughly. But that is nothing about which supporters of the Government need feel ashamed. It is evidence of the fact that the Government does not put forward matters idly and does not attempt in any way to deceive the public.
The Postmaster - General (Mr. Anthony), in his second-reading speech, presented an irrefutable case for the proposals contained in the bill. Briefly, he said that the issue was whether the Parliament wished the Postal Department to incur a substantial deficit in its operations during the ensuing twelve months and to that degree place a heavier burden upon the taxpayers, or whether it preferred that the people who actually use the department’s services should be required to meet the cost of them. That is a logical approach to the matter and I am sure that the people themselves would want to know where they actually stood in this matter rather than that they be deceived as they would be if the Government approached the problem in the manner suggested by the Opposition. Is it not better- that the people should know the actual cost of the services rather than that users should be required to pay only a proportion of that cost and that the balance should be made up from income tax collections? The mealy mouthed opposition that has been expressed to these proposals is sickening to the majority of the people. Let us be practical and face the facts squarely.
Like other honorable members, I regret that it has become necessary to increase the cost of these services. The increases will impose hardship upon certain sections of the community, particularly elderly or retired people with telephones who can ill-afford to meet them. Unfortunately, the times are such that people on fixed incomes and who have been enjoying certain amenities to which they have looked forward over the years must now be deprived to a degree of the opportunity to use those amenities. That is due to a new set of conditions that has arisen not only in Australia but also throughout the world. I trust that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) will examine this aspect of the matter with a view to affording some measure cf relief to persons on fixed incomes who may not be able to avail themselves of telephonic facilities to the degree that they would like to do.
The action that the Government proposes to take under this measure is not peculiar to it or to any one department. I wonder what explanation members of the Opposition would give for the extraordinary increases of charges that have been imposed by public transport services in Sydney. Those charges have been increased in recent years by from 100 to 150 per cent., and they cannot be laid at the door of a Liberal government because a Labour government is in office in New South Wales. As the PostmasterGeneral has explained, these increased charges must be imposed in order to cover certain specific increased costs, which, I should say, have arisen mainly as one effect of the introduction of the 40-hour week. The honorable member for Blaxland waxed indignant when the honorable member for Petrie dealt with that aspect of the matter and retorted that some female employees of the department worked only 36 hours a week. But the honorable member for Petrie stressed the effect of the 40-hour week on the cost of production of materials that are required by the Postal Department. No one can deny that the greatest single factor in our internal economy that has caused prices to rise is the operation of the 40-hour week, particularly as it was introduced in such an arbitrary manner and, virtually, in defiance of the arbitration system. All honorable members are aware that people throughout Australia are crying out for the provision of increased services by the Postal Department. Indeed, the greatest proportion of correspondence that honorable members receive relates to requests for the provision of telephones and other departmental facilities. We are also aware that during the recent war it was not possible for the department to make provision for the facilities that are now required by the public. However, even allowing for that fact, very little was done by the Labour Government from 1945 to 1949 to increase those facilities, and it was only after the present Government assumed office that any worthwhile progress was made in that direction.
Tt> am a member of the Public Works Committee and with my colleagues on that body,, including several honorable members opposite, I have had the opportunity during the last eighteen months to investigate conditions at post offices in country districts, particularly at Lismore, which is in the electorate that the PostmasterGeneral represents, and at Bathurst, which is in the electorate that was represented by the late lamented Leader of the Opposition. All members of that committee will agree that conditions at those centres call for the expenditure of large sums of money in order not only to provide better service for the public but also to do justice to the employees concerned. The conditions under which we saw girls working in the telephone exchange at Lismore were deplorable, whilst the conditions at Bathurst were not much better. Those conditions have arisen mainly because tindepartment could not take remedial action during the war and also because in the interim the traffic has increased to a very great degree. In those circumstances there is very little sense or justice in the Opposition’s attempt to lay the blame for them at the door of this Government. The fact is that until recently many materials have been either in short supply or unobtainable and, consequently, the department now has a tremendous leeway to make up. That programme must inevitably involve the expenditure of large sums of money. Members of the Public Works Committee in their investigations were informed that during the last two years building costs have increased by from 100 to 150 per cent. Indeed, the Postmaster ^General cited an instance in which the cost of certain materials required by the department had increased by as much as 300 per cent. In this respect, however, as I said earlier, we are living in a unique age.
Responsibility for higher costs cannot be laid at the door of the Government. I am not foolish enough to blame Labour governments for the whole of those increases, but it is fair to say that many of the actions that those governments took conduced to the high costs that we now have to meet. Those governments were mainly concerned to give effect to Labour’s long-dreamed-of policy of socialization. They were not concerned about the needs of the moment. Honorable members opposite, when they were in office, prated about the 40-hour week, full employment and social services benefits and other amenities that they intended to give to the people. They tried to persuade the people to believe that Labour would make their lives in the future one grand heaven in which they could live practically free of charge and without having to work at all. To-day, we must face the cold hard fact that only by hard work can the needs of the people be met. Until the people of this country and of other countries appreciate that fact, standards of living will not be lifted. Yet the policy of the socialists is to try to make the people believe that they can obtain a higher standard of living without having to produce. Production is at the root of the whole matter.
I have the greatest confidence in the efficiency of the present PostmasterGeneral. He not only is most conscientious in his work, but also is appreciative of the effect of his department upon the public. He, no more than any of us, wants to increase postal and telegraphic charges, but the department must meet its higher costs in the some way as other departments have done, and that is by increasing its charges. Electricity undertakings and gas companies have increased their charges by a greater percentage than the proposed increase of postal and telegraphic rates. Whilst I regret the necessity to increase those rates, I am afraid that there is no alternative. Honorable members may talk, they may criticize and even tear one another to pieces about the matter, but the fact remains that the cost of giving the service has increased by a big percentage during the last few years, and the proposed charges are to meet those additional costs. How Opposition members can argue their way out of that I do not know.
They may say, “ Let us have greater efficiency “. It is my considered opinion, that the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department who work indoors are, on the whole, most efficient. But 1 fear that many of the employees of the department who are engaged on external jobs in which they come into contact with the general attitude that is permeating the community, are not so efficient.
– That statement is a great slander on those employees, who are doing a magnificent job.
– I know about those matters. I come up against them every day.
– Who is the honorable member having a shot at ?
– The statement by thu honorable member for Bennelong is a great slander upon the line staff, who are most efficient.
– That may be so. 1 have not referred particularly to the line staff. My remarks were directed towards the external staff who undertake the works upon which capital expenditure is incurred. There is much inefficiency and considerable waste in that section.
However, that condition of affairs is COWmon to every similar occupation at thu present time. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral is fully aware of the difficulties and that he has taken steps, wherever possible, to tighten up. As the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has stated, nothing can be done at this stage from that standpoint which would justify delay in increasing postal an,. telegraphic rates. I just cannot understand why the Postmaster-General’s Department is integrated with the Treasury to the degree that it is. If I had my way, I think I would alter it.
-Order 1 The honorable member’s remarks are hardly relevant to postal and telegraphic rates.
– The position with which I ani dealing affects the charges. It is my firm opinion that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should stand upon its own ground, as it were, and that its revenue should not be applied in the way in which it has been applied, in certain instances, to capital expenditure. Howover, it is futile to talk about that aspect to-day. I think that you, Mr. Speaker, who were the Postmaster-General some years ago, know better than any other honorable member what has happened in the past to the great surpluses amounting to millions of pounds that have been earned by the department. They have been taken by the Treasurer. To-day, the position is different. The costs of the department are exceeding its revenues, and consequently, nothing can be done about the matter at this stage. But that situation should be examined as a matter of proper economics in the future, because I feel that this public utility should be segregated fromthe Treasury, and should stand upon its own economic feet. In that way better results would ultimately be obtained from the service itself and the Parliament would have a clearer picture of the departmental charges.
As much as I regret it, I see no alternative to increasing these charges, as recommended by the Postmaster-General. Opinions to the contrary that are expressed by Opposition speakers are utter nonsense. Honorable gentlemen opposite are speaking with their tongues in their cheeks. I have not yet heard them make one constructive suggestion to avoid an increase of the charges. All that I have heard is mere criticism for criticism’s sake, on a political level. I realize that many people will be rather sore about the higher postal and telegraphic rates, but I believe that, when the situation has been properly explained to the members of the public, it will be found that they are good judges in such matters. They will recognize that the higher charges are inevitable, and they will accept them in the proper way. They can be assured on this occasion that they will get the utmost honesty from this Government, and that everything possible will be done to ensure that the service will be run efficiently and economically in their interests.
.- I would not be too deeply concerned about this proposal to increase postal and telegraphic charges if I thought that .the people who are most entitled to consideration in the matter would receive the real benefit. I refer, of course, to the employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department, who have helped it to become the great institution that it is to-day; and to the customers, who provide the revenue. The department would not exist if it were not for those two sections. But I cannot be sure that either of them will really benefit from the increased charges. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), in his second-reading speech, indicated the way in which the increased revenue would be absorbed. He said -
In examining Post Office finances, it is useful to look back over the last ten years and to compare the level of costs then and now. During this period, costs of every item of equipment used by the Postal Department have increased very greatly. Here are some typical examples. Automatic exchange equipment has increased in price by 114 per cent.; underground cable has gone up bv 200 per cent.; trunk aerial wire has increased by 200 per cent. The cost of telephone instruments has increased by 174 per cent.; .postmen’s uniforms by 114 per cent.; letter receivers toy 238 per cent.; and paper for the telephone directories .by 300 per cent. The newspaper industry will appreciate that item. Concurrently, wage rates have been more than doubled. For instance, a postal officer whose maximum salary was £200 in 1941, now receives £572. A telephonist’s salary has risen from a maximum of £205 to £463, a telegraphists’ from £328 to £<598, and a lineman’s from £200 to £002.
I point out that although the salaries and wages of the employees of the Postal Department have risen by approximately 100 per cent., the cost of the facilities and equipment which are supplied from outside sources has risen by between 200 and 300 per cent. Therefore, it is clear that the persons who will derive a benefit from the increased charges will be not the customers or the staff, but the manufacturers who profit from the lucrative contracts let by the department. The employees of the Postal Department have been notoriously underpaid for many years, and they will continue to be underpaid, because provision is not made in this bill to give them a fair deal. It is almost traditional that the staff of the Postal Department shall be poorly paid.
-Order! I remind the honorable member for Reid that the bill deals, not with the employees of the Postal Department, but solely with postal and telegraphic rates.
– In discussing the pay of the employees of the department
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in discussing their rates of pay. He must deal with postal and telegraphic rates.
– The efficiency of the service that is rendered by the Postal Department is mentioned in the secondreading speech of the Postmaster-General, and I submit that the proposed new rates will not improve the efficiency of the staff. The loyalty and patriotism of the employees of the department have been a byword in the past, but the staff who give the service and the customers who use it, will not derive the benefits to which they are entitled in return for the payment of the increased charges. The low rate of remuneration, compared with the payment offered in private industry has undermined the service rendered by the department. Members of the staff of the department have no inducement to remain in the service.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to postal and telegraphic rates.
– The principal aim of the Government in increasing those rates should be to ensure that a better service will be given to the community. I am directing my remarks to that aspect. Many efficient workers have been driven away from the department-
– Order ! If the honorable member is endeavouring to defy my ruling, he may as well resume his seat. He must relate his remarks to postal and telegraphic rates.
– I rise to order. May [ suggest, Mr. Speaker, that such matters as the 40-hour week in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and rates of pay, have been referred to at length by Government supporters. It appears that the Opposition needs to defend the Public Service.
– The honorable member for Reid will be in order in dealing with the effect of the 40-hour week on the proposed new postal and telegraphic rates, but I shall not allow the debate to develop into a discussion of postal services. I have refused to permit previous speakers to deal with such matters, and I cannot allow the honorable member for Reid this diversion.
– I have covered that ground sufficiently. The second-reading speech of the Postmaster-General has left many points unexplained. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) stated that many millions of pounds, representing profits earned by the department in the past, were absorbed in the Consolidated Revenue Fund. A private business, when it is making handsome profits, sets aside a reserve fund to provide for lean times. Any prudent firm would take that precaution. The Canberra Times touched on that subject to-day in its leading article, in which it stated -
There was a time when the post office could be relied on to contribute handsomely to balancing the national budget. It is not surprising, therefore, that a situation in ‘ which the post office might run at Uo loss is not to the relish either of the Postmaster-General or the Treasurer.
That aspect should be considered before we accept the Government’s proposals. A select committee could investigate the handsome profits that the department made in the past and advise the Government upon the wisest course to follow. Surely those millions of pounds of profits should be taken into account before such steep imposts as are proposed are levied on the public! The extra charges, in the main, will affect the best customers of the department. The average private letter writer and members of the business community will bear most of the burden, whereas others, such as the senders of second-class mail matter and casual telegrains, who even now do not pay enough for the services that they receive, will be let off lightly. The Postmaster-Genera! has admitted that letter writers will carry most of the burden.- In his secondreading speech, he said -
About 1(10,000,000 articles are posted annually in bulk and the number is growing rapidly. Of those articles only approximately 25,000,000 ure daily newspapers.
The extent of the existing concession will bapparent when it is realized that on the average the revenue from 1 lb. weight of letters is 7s. at the current rates, whereas the same weight of registered publications posted in bulk returns only -2id., or 3 per cent, of the amount derived from letters. The cost of handling a newspaper or periodical is greater, than that of handling a letter, and it will bc obvious that the continuance of the present unusually low charge is not justified.
The Government proposes to make some small increases for newspapers and periodicals, but they will be. much lower than the increases for ordinary mails. The Postmaster-General continued -
The new rate of 2Jd. for 8 ox. will still involve the department in heavy financial loss in respect of bulk postings, but the Government desires to maintain a concession :n order to stimulate and encourage the wi<“.j dissemination of news and to prevent the imposition of hardship on the large and widespread number nf people who avail themselves so freely of the special tariff. inquiries should be made in order to determine whether those who will bear tho main impact of the increased charges ante be treated fairly by comparison with those who make use of the bulk postal facilities of the department.
An even more important aspect of the Government’s proposals deals with an intangible consideration which is not readily assessable in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. I refer to the educational and cultural side of postal services and the human factor. The maintenance of contacts by means of written communications is essential to our form of civilization. The activities of the Postal Department, therefore, should not be governed merely by the profit motive, which seems to be the prime consideration in the minds of supporters of the Government. If some of those honorable gentlemen could have their way, judging by their speeches, they would convert the Postal Department into a profit-making institution and would then hand it over to private enterprise. It was the importance of mail services to cultural and educational development which made the originator of the “ penny post “, Roland Hill, famous as one of the world’s greatest reformers. His name is revered, not because he made any great contribution in the field of economics, but because he facilitated human progress in the field of education. The “ penny post “ brought people in the far-flung corners of the world together, not only as individuals, but also as nations. In other words, it promoted a great advance in human brotherhood: The tradition of the “ penny post “ should be maintained. At least let us hang on to the “ threepenny post “. Unless we do so, letter writing will be discouraged and we shall slip back towards the conditions of the dark ages. The Government should not regard this as a matter of cold-blooded economics. Living costs and other ordinary expenses are rising steadily and, if postal charges are increased too steeply, many people will have to consider seriously whether they will be able to afford to maintain communication with friends and relatives. Our old pioneers, the pensioners, and parents whose children have left home, not to mention the many young individuals who have pen friends in various parts of the world and thus help to improve international relationships, and even lovers, both young and old, will be severely handicapped by the proposed charges. Such considerations should not be swept aside by the Government as being of no account. “We do not want Australia to become a. regimented community forced to rely upon some syndicated system of communication, such as the “ comic cuts “, “ form guides “ and crime reports. The pen is still mightier than the sword, and any Government action that will interfere with postal communication because of its economic effect upon the people will be a retrograde step.
The supporters of the Government have stressed the business aspect of this proposal. Let us consider the numerous unremunerative services that are rendered in the public interest by the Postal Department. The Canberra Times dealt with this subject in the article from which I have already quoted. It stated -
One aspect of postal charges that deserves to he considered is the question of whether the Post Office is adequately remunerated by the Commonwealth administration generally for the very many administrative services that it perforins for other Commonwealth Departments. Indeed, the Post Office is more than its name implies. It is in each centre the administrative centre of almost every Commonwealth Department. This is an economical and logical arrangement but the public is not aware of the extent to which Post Office costs are increased and its profits reduced by the services chargeable to other departments but not necessarily assessed on an adequate scale.
These activities of the department could be investigated by a select committee, which could determine the extent of the extra services which the Postal Department provides. Perhaps some of the other departments which use those services should bear a larger share of postal costs. In its 4:0th annual report, for the year 1949-50, the Postal Department listed the following special services that it provides for the benefit of other departments and the public generally: -
Payment of war pensions.
Payment of age and invalid pensions.
Payment of widows’ pensions.
Payment of military, naval and air force allotments.’
Sale of entertainment tax tickets.
Sale of beer duty stamps.
Sale of. State duty stamps and promissory notes.
Sale of taxation stamps.
Receipt of subscriptions for Commonwealth loans.
Collection of war service homes and repatriation advances.
Transaction of Commonwealth Savings Bank business.
– Order! This has nothing to do with the bill.
– I submit that it has a great deal to do with the bill.
– I rule to the contrary
– Very well, Mr. Speaker. I urge that a searching inquiry be made into all activities of the Postal Department in order to ascertain whether certain costs should be charged to other departments.
Various sections of the community are entitled to special consideration. As I have said, some departments are granted concessions, but there are thousands of individuals in needy circumstances on whom great hardships will be placed ii the proposed charges are levied upon them. Age and invalid pensioners, for instance, will not be able to afford to write many letters, and therefore will be cut off to a great degree from their legitimate interests. Telephones are of almost vital importance to invalids and blind persons. Even the present charges for telephone services place too severe a strain upon the financial resources of such people and I raised this matter with the PostmasterGeneral recently with the object of obtaining relief for them. For such persons, the telephone provides the only means of communication with the outside, world. There is a man in the electorate that I represent who is both invalid and blind. He cannot leave his home because there is nobody to take him out. Already he is having difficulty in paying his telephone charges, and hisplight will be sorry indeed if the rental is increased to £10 or £11 a year. Taking into account the cost of calls at the proposed high rates, his telephone expenses will probably amount to 10s. a week. He and others in similar difficulties may be forced to have their telephones disconnected. Such disabilities should be carefully investigated on behalf of the Government, and a select committee would be the most efficient body to undertake such inquiries. We should be very wary about the Postmaster-General’s assurances that the proposed charges are warranted. I recall to mind a statement that was made by Mr. Casey-
– Order 1 The honorable member must not refer to another honorable member of this House by name.
– Just prior to the last election campaign, the present Minister for” External Affairs (Mr. Casey) stated in a speech that was broadcast to the people that the retiring Government had considered many proposals of national importance which had not seen the light of day because of the presence of a majority in the Senate that was hostile to the Government. Why did he not bring those proposals to the light of day then? Was the Government afraid to take the people into its confidence? lt seems to me that Mr. Casey has let the cat out of the bag-
-Order! The honorable gentleman may not refer to another honorable member by name.
– I beg your pardon Mr. Speaker. But, of course, this took place before the election. The right honorable gentleman let the cat out of” the bag when he disclosed that the Government had considered proposals aboutwhich it was not prepared to inform the people. The Government has misled thepeople many times. For example, it promised originally that taxes would not bes increased. Now it proposes to levy a further indirect tax on the community in; general in the form of increased postal charges. We should scrutinize with greatcare these and other proposals which aire;, not in conformity with the Government’s election pledges.
Silling suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.– Mr. Speaker, so many red herrings have been drawn across the track during this debate, particularly by honorable members of the Opposition, that I think it would be wise to direct the attention of the House to the fact that the measure being debated is one for an increase of certain postal charges. An amendment has been put forward by the Opposition for the express purpose of delaying for some months the implementation of the provisions of the bill. The honorable member for Reid- (Mr. Morgan) remarked that other departments which use the services of the Postal Department are not shown as contributing towards tinsincome of that department. I remind the honorable gentleman that during an earlier debate in this House the Postmaster - General (Mr. Anthony) pointed out that allowance was made by the Treasury for work done by the Postal Department for other departments. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said that the people were not told that further increases were likely when the previous bill for increased postal charges was introduced. He insinuated that the Government deliberately withheld any suggestion that increases were contemplated. He said that the people were led to believe, when the Parliament passed the previous measure, t~:at postal charges would not be further increased. That suggestion was made by the honorable member for Reid also. The Postmaster-General stated definitely during his secondreading speech x in October, 1950, that the additional cost that had resulted from the basic wage increase would be ascertained and that, when the department was in a position to know what those additional costs were, it was quite possible that a review of postal charges would have to be made.
Reference to the Ilansard report of that debate leaves no doubt that the facts were plainly put before the House, and honorable members who were present on that occasion will recollect that the PostmasterGeneral stated that the increases that were made at that time were considered to be of a temporary nature and would be subject to review when the effects of the increase of the basic wage which had then only recently been granted were fully known. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and other honorable members have attempted to divert consideration from this bill to matters of inflation. They have endeavoured to direct the attention of honorable members to extraneous subjects which do not necessarily have an immediate bearing on the subject of the bill. The postal costs which have to bo met are not new. The thirty-ninth annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the year 1948-49 shows that the department’s earnings during the financial year .1943-44 were £27,000,000; for the financial year 1944- 45 they were £28,000,000; for’ the financial year 1945-46, £29,000,000; for the financial year 1946-47, £30,000,000 ; for the financial year 1947-4S, £32,000,000; and for the financial year 1945- 49, £33,000,000. Honorable members will notice that there was a relatively steady increase of earnings from 1943-44 to 1948-49. The expenses of the department for the financial year 1943-44 amounted to £19,000,000; they rose to £20,000,000 in 1944-45 to £21,000,000 in 1945-46, to £24,000,000 in 1946-47, to £29,000,000 in 1947-48; and then to £33,000,000 in 1948-49. The surplus of £S,000,000 earned in 1943-44 was reduced in the following financial years to £7,000,000, £6,000,000 and £3,000,000 until, in the year 1G4S-49, there was a deficit of £422,000. These figures do not take into account interest and exchange charges which, if debited, make the result a deficit of £1,700,000 for the financial year 1948-49 compared with a surplus of £1,800,000 in the previous year. The rot had set in long before this Government came to power. It commenced in 1943-44 although most of it took place during 1947-4S and 1948-49. This trend was partly, but directly, attributed by the honorable member for Melbourne, as the. Minister who represented the PostmasterGeneral in this House, to the introduction of the 40-hour week and other associated causes. I believe that the 40-hour week is still causing the cost of items other than wages to increase. On the 21st June, 1949, when the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was before the House the honorable member for Melbourne said -
Since the beginning of 1947 the increase in direct labour costs immediately attributable to the cost of living rises and the upward movement of wages, coupled with the 40-hour week, have advanced the department’s annual wages bill by more than £7,000,000, apart altogether from wages of new staff.
The honorable member then proceeded to mention the rising costs of the department which had resulted in its having a deficit, lie cited copper, lead, cable, switch gear, instruments, paper and other items the prices of which had increased up to that time by from 100 to 250 per cent. The assertion of the honorable member for Melbourne that this sudden depreciation of the finances of the Postal Department had been brought about by the present Government is not supported by his own statement of an earlier date and cannot be substantiated by honorable members of the Opposition in view of the figures that I have just cited. The honorable member for Melbourne went on to say that at a time such as this, when the Government’s finances were so sound, it should not increase postal charges; but increases were made by the Chifley Government during its “ Golden Age “ when the coffers of the Treasury were supposed to be overflowing. There was then supposed to be £120,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund and it was rumoured that the blue print for the Snowy Mountains scheme showed the estimated cost to be £700,000,000. Either those statements were not true or that was not an appropriate time to increase charges. The very factors which caused the Labour Government to increase postal charges in June of 1949 are still operative. I do not suggest that the increases that were made then were not justified. I consider that the present, proposed increases are amply justified.
In 3949 the Government told honorable members that unless more revenue was obtained chaos would ensue in the Postal Department and expenditure would have to be curtailed by reducing services. I believe that the honorable member for Melbourne inferred that the present Government should have reduced the staff of the Postal Department. Does the honorable member seriously suggest that the Government should dispense with members of the staff when postal services seem to be expanding at such a rate that it may become necessary to increase the staff? The Government has had to increase the staff of the Postal Department because of the introduction of the 40-hour week. If the number of hours worked by any staff every week is reduced then that staff must be increased if it is to maintain the same volume of work. Another aspect of this matter was raised by the Auditor-General in his report. I do not necessarily support the AuditorGeneral’s statement but I shall quote it because I think that it should be considered. Reporting on the Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for the year 1948-49 the AuditorGeneral said -
These excesses ure generally investigated by the department in order to ascertain the underlying causes and whilst in many cases the excess cost is attributable to various factors which are explainable and which perhaps could not be foreseen or avoided, it seems clear that one of the greatest contributing causes of the high cost is the lower rate of production per man hour.
He went on to say -
This low production rate may to some extent be due to the shortage of labour and to the necessity to employ men who are inexperienced and unskilled for the particular tasks for which they have been engaged.
Honorable members will recollect the circumstances of some time ago when, because of the higher wages available in some industries, there was a shortage of labour in the lower-paid industries. Thatmust be taken into consideration. TheAuditorGeneral continued -
On the other hand it is probably only another instance of the modern trend towards i educed output which is evident in many other branches of industry.
Since I was a child there has been a mode of working known as the “ government stroke “ and I am sorry to say that, it has become a feature of many occupations under the control of government: departments. I do not think there is anything new about it, and possibly that waswhat the Auditor-General was referring; to in his very caustic comment.
– What government branch did he imply was guilty of that?
– He did not imply any particular branch. He went on to say -
The department is undoubtedly in a serious situation, and in the interests of public economy every effort should be made to find ways and means of increasing man-hour production.
As I have said, I do not wish to point the bone and say that this is the only cause of trouble within the department. 1. arn a country man, and, like most country people who associate with members of the postal stall” not only in their work but also in their social activities, T have a very high regard for the services that they give; but I believe that there are always people in any industry who give the. industry a bad name. The only good that might come from the honorable member for Melbourne’s suggestion that we reduce staff would be to dismiss these undesirables.
In bringing down this bill the PostmasterGeneral repeated what had been said by former Postmasters-General, namely, that if the department is not to continue to carry on its vital services at a loss, postal rates must be increased or the deficit will have to be met from Consolidated Revenue. Now the Opposition has advanced another proposal for overcoming the problem. It wishes to defer this bill and submit it to a select committee.
– The honorable meinour’s party did exactly the same thing last .year.
– The people who would give evidence before that select committee would 1 be those who provided the Postmaster-General with the evidence that he has used in this debate.
– The honorable member’s party did the same thing.
– The adoption of the Opposition’s proposal would defer the operation of this bill for three months, at a cost of £1,000,000 a month. Perhaps it considers that amount to be a mere bagatelle. Possible even at the end of three months no solution would have been reached because, as I have said, the evidence- that would be presented to the committee would come from the departmental chiefs and would be on all fours with the evidence that they have already submitted to the Postmaster-General in justification of the proposed increases of rates. Does the Opposition suggest that even if a solution were achieved, it would be possible to implement it immediately? in. the meantime the Postal Department would continue to lose £1,000,000 a month on the present figures. Therefore the Opposition’s proposal can be discounted and regarded in the light of what it is worth. It is only party political humbug and propaganda ( contrived to destroy this bill which aims to maintain the postal services at their present high level.
Honorable members are no doubt familiar with the tradition in the postal service that His Majesty’s mails must go through. They have been going through for many years because men have taken up contracts in remote country districts and have gone through floods and droughts to ensure that the mails would reach their destination. They are operating under contracts which they entered into some years ago and which are now unprofitable for them to continue to work under. They are suffering considerable hardships today, but the department’s answer to their representations is that it is not able, and in fact .is not allowed under the act, to improve their contract conditions. However, the department has made a generous suggestion, which is that the contracts might be cancelled in order to allow those people to enter into new ones. Yet the Opposition, which we are always told represents the downtrodden worker, would deny the Government the revenue that would enable it to do such things as draw up fresh contracts for country mail contractors at a rate that would give them a reasonable return on their capital outlay and for the work involved. In common with other honorable members I have come in contact with people who say that they cannot continue their contracts because of present costs. I had one such case last week. There are people who were in charge of non-official post offices who were not able to carry on at the present contract prices, which were arrived at some years ago, and, willy nilly had to relinquish them. It might be asked now whether the non-official post office and telephone exchange is on the way out.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman must get back to the subject of rates. We are not discussing anything else.
– I was merely trying to point out that only an increase of rates and more buoyant postal revenue will enable the Postal Department to maintain the present services.
-Order! That may be true, but it does not come under this bill. The title of the bill does not permit discussion on it.
– I am rather disturbed by your ruling, Mr. Speaker, because the rates have to be increased, as the PostmasterGeneral stated, owing to the increased costs that must be borne by the department. Much of the increase is due to the high prices that now rule for underground telephone cables, telephone instruments, and so on. The increased prices of that equipment mainly affect people in country districts. For instance, I received an application recently for an extension of a telephone line in a country district. The department said thai it could not extend the line-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is attempting to get round my ruling. He must confine himself to the bill.
– I was not trying to evade your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but was about to say that in order to have a line run out to their properties some intending telephone subscribers were prepared to erect it themselves. Country districts need telephone services urgently, and unless the Postal Department is in a sound financial position the necessary lines will not be erected. The Opposition has said that the extension of telephone lines in the country would only be an imposition on the country people through the resultant increase of the department’s charges. Consider the telephone amenities that are enjoyed by city people. For a nominal charge of 3d. a person in the city will be able to speak for an indefinite period to any one of the 200,000 people connected to an exchange.
– Not all at once.
– No doubt the honorable member would be capable of speaking to them all at once, to judge by the way he goes on. Country telephone exchanges are usually open to not later than 10 o’clock at night, whilst some of them are open only in ordinary business hours. A subscriber connected to these exchanges who wishes to call other than a local number has to pay trunk line charges.
– And an opening fee also, if the call is made after hours.
– That is so. In fact, most of the business in the country that is conducted by telephone is done at night. Among the other things that this measure will enable us to do will be the expansion of automatic telephone services in the country, so that rural subscribers may enjoy some of the benefits that are available to metropolitan telephone subscribers. Even if there were no other reason for the proposed increases, that would be a good reason in itself. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that you did not allow me to develop my argument about rural telephone services, because the very essence of the Postal Department’s policy in respect of telephone services is the extension of the whole system right throughout the country, which is vitally neces sary. Businessmen in country towns suffer disabilities compared with city businessmen. A country businessman who wishes to discuss anything by telephone with a person outside must do so in business’ hours, when perhaps the person to whom he wishes to speak is not readily available, or else he must pay an extra fee to make his call after hours. It is to improve the telephone services that we wish to have the Postal Department in a healthy financial state.
We have three alternatives. One is to let the Postal Department go - to stop the mails running, leave the telephone lag as it is by buying no more new instruments and let the telephone wires rust away. Is it suggested that we should go back to where we were 50 years ago? Of course not ! Another alternative is to place an impost on the incomes of all the people of Australia by means of income tax, which would mean that when a workman collected his pay a levy for . the Postal Department would have already been extracted from it. Is it suggested that that should be done? It has been claimed here that the Opposition’s main consideration is the working man. But honorable members opposite have complained that the rate for public telephone” calls is not to be increased. Yet, public telephones are, in the majority of cases, the only ones that working people can afford to use. Probably the rate for public telephone calls will be increased as time goes on. There is no complaint on that score.
– It will be increased to 3d., I suppose, when the necessary slot equipment has been installed.
– Threepence for a public telephone call would be right out of proportion to other costs nowadays. Nobody has ever complained that people are paying through the nose for the use of public telephones. We do not intend to defray these new charges out of general taxation. The Postal Department made millions of pounds profit over some years in the past. We do not query now why that profit was not put aside for use to-day. It was expended by various governments. The Government’s only desire is to get this bill through so as to halt the mounting losses in the Postal
Department. The Opposition’s amendment if agreed to would only postpone the day when the hill would come into operation, and would not produce any good results.
.- The honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) and his colleagues have convinced themselves that the increases proposed in the postal charges are warranted. He mentioned that certain servants of the Postal Department are underpaid. If he has convinced himself of the necessity for the proposed increases, I venture to ask what his objection is to the proposal made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), when he was in Opposition, and increased rates for the services of the Postal Department were being discussed, that the matter of increased charges should he made the subject of an inquiry by a select committee. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that the Australian people, who are proud of their Postal Department, have been greatly shocked, upon their recovery from having been slugged last November, by being sandbagged behind the ear again on this occasion.
– They were also shocked when the 40-hour week was introduced.
– There is a difference of opinion in the Parliament about this matter, and I am sure that the people desire that controversy be ended. The only way in which it can be ended, and the people can be assured that increased charges are necessary, is to have the whole matter ventilated before a select committee and the report of that committee presented to the Parliament. The Liberal party and Australian Country party members claim that they came to office to correct the errors of the Chifley Government. One of the errors that they claim the. Chifley Government made was its failure to appoint a select committee to inquire into a matter which was identical with the matter now before the House. hi this debate they have failed to give any evidence of sincerity in 1949 in asking for the appointment of a committee, because they refuse to appoint .one now. The people have considered the postal charges to be one of the few charges that would remain constant. In a world of rising prices for sugar, butter, meat, and so on, the postal charges had remained fairly constant. The people hoped that that constancy would be maintained. However, only last November, this Government increased the charges, and now it proposes to increase them further and to a greater extent than on the first occasion. Only last November postage stamps were sold for 2-i-d. The price was increased to 3d., and will now rise to 3-kl. Last November, telephone rents were increased from £3 5s. to £5 5s., and now they will rise to £7 5s. Before November, 1950. the people could send a fourteen-word telegram for ls. 3d. The Government then increased tb<:! charge to ls. 9d. and now it proposes to increase it to 2s. 3d. and to reduce the number of words to twelve. Once a 1-lb. parcel could be posted for 9d. Then the charge was increased to ls., and now it is proposed to increase it to ls. 6d. The people thought that the increases of November last would be final. They did not look for further increases, and they are certainly shocked to find now that greater increases than ever arc proposed. The only way to convince the people that the Government’s action is reasonable is for the Government to appoint a select committee to inquire into the finances of the Postal Department.
– We know the facts now.
– If that is so, I should be glad if the honorable member would refer them to a select committee because the Postal Department is an honoured institution in Australia. The village postman or postmistress, the mail contractor and other servants of the Postal Department are trusted institutions in Australia. The people have a high regard for their Postal Department and are proud of the modern miracle performed by that department every Christmas when, in a very short space of time, a veritable avalanche of parcels is correctly and speedily delivered. If this increase is warranted, the people will accept it and cheerfully pay it. But They must be convinced that the increase is necessary. The Australian people, particularly the country people, are entitled to ask that before these increases become operative some investigation, other than by departmental officials, shall be made.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! There is too much noise in the House.
– The people have confidence in the Postal Department, and it is essential that that confidence be retained. The two increases of postal charges within one year have profoundly shocked people, who know that in 3 93S-39 with a revenue of £.17,000.000 the Postal Department made, a profit of £6,674,000. It should be remarked that in 1951 on an estimated revenue of £42,000,000 a deficit of many millions of pounds has occurred.
– What has happened in the meantime?
– That is what the people want to know, and surely they are entitled to an explanation of that deficit. In 1945-46 the Postal Department made a great profit, and therefore the present huge deficit must give rise to grave concern and certainly warrants examination by a parliamentary committee of the type that has been proposed. I suppose that the devil can quote scripture for his own purposes and I accordingly refer to an editorial which appeared in to-day’s Sun News-Pictorial. The editorial reads -
Three years ago Sir Arthur Fadden demanded such an inquiry as we now suggest-
– Order ! The honorable member must not refer to other honorable members by their personal sanies.
– I apologize. I should have said the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The article continues - but now that post office finances have gone from bad to very much worse he remains unaccountably silent.
The Treasurer is a member of the Australian Country party. Country people will be hit harder than other people as a result of these proposed increases. In the city an average person makes a certain number of telephone calls, and posts a certain number of letters each year mainly for personal reasons, but in the country postal facilities are essential to both life and business. I wonder why the Treasurer, as the Sun News-Pictorial said, is “ unaccountably silent “ in the face of these increases. It is significant that many honorable members of the Australian Country party have tried to alibi themselves by speaking to this bill. I believe that there is a solution of the problem other than that of slugging the country user of postal services to the degree proposed. The Australian Country party surely should have adopted the attitude that country people are entitled to postal services at the same rate as that at which they are available to what may be called “ commercial users “. The Australian Country party should have stated that there are hundreds of telephone lines in the country area, which are not bringing in sufficient revenue to meet their costs. The establishment of the exchanges asked for at question time so frequently by honorable members of the Australian Country party is necessary, and the Postal Department should be treated as a public utility that is dedicated to the development and progress of the country. The money required to build country exchanges should come from Consolidated Revenue. The country user ould then get a cheaper service and the Postal Department would be able to exhibit a more favorable balance-sheet. Ve cannot find in the accounts presented to us anything about, say, a telephone line to Onkaparinga, where there are two or three subscribers. There is no reference to the mail contractor who has to take two or three articles to some outback settlement. All such matters should be submitted to the Parliament when it is asked to consider the imposition of increased charges. All those matters should have been dealt with by the Australian Country party if it had been doing its duty to the people it claims to represent. The Australian Country party should have been happy to have an inquiry held which could consider, the matter of non-paying services in remote areas, nd the meeting of the deficit through Consolidated Revenue bo that ‘country sub- t.c rivers could be placed in the same position as commercial users. The present proposal will mean that country subscribers will have to pay a part of the cost of providing telephone lines and mail services which are not profitable. If the Australian Country party will not support the Opposition’s proposal now, I suggest that later it should approach the Government to have Postal Department accounts placed on a proper commercial basis, so that developmental services may lie operated for the good of the country as a whole. The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in 1946, when referring to the Postmaster-General’s position during a debate on a measure to increase the number of Ministers in the Chifley Government - - . . but I have yet to learn that to be Postmaster-General is a heavy job because on the whole I think thu Postal Department could best bc run by a Postmaster-General who was deaf an. I dumb. The Postal Department in this country is a business concern, which fortunately Cor us has -been most admirably managed by most able men for a long time. The POStmasterGeneral ‘inn be regarded as a sinecure.
Honorable members on this side of the House are certainly entitled to ash whether (he present Postmaster-General was selected by the right honorable gentleman on the principle that he then outlined.
– -The PostmasterGeneral is also the Minister for Civil Aviation.
– As far as I know the Prime Minister in making the appointments of the other Ministers, did not apply himself to the principles that he has voiced. As I have already said the Prime Minister said-
– Order ! The honorable member must now return to the rn tes.
– The proposal to increase the postal rates makes the Labour party feel that it is entitled to ask for an independent inquiry by a select committee. Another thing that the committee could inquire into is the probable increase or decrease of the revenue of the Postal Department. After all, there is the principle of diminishing returns, and if the charges are increased according to this proposal people may find them too high and revenue may fall. In 19io- 46 the number of telegrams handled by the department increased by 496,000, whilst by 1948-49 the increase was over 1,000,000. However, in 1949-50, when the effect of the first increase of the telegram rate was felt, the number decreased by 162,000. I admit that the expansion of air-mail services may have contributed to that decrease.
– The volume of the protests that were sent to the Labour Government against bank nationalization may have had something to do with the high figure recorded in 1948-49.
– If that were so. the number of telegrams handled should have increased still further in 1949-50, because it, was in that, year that the private banks were most vociferous in their protests in their attempts to intimidate the Parliament with respect to that matter. The point that I raise is whether, by increasing these rates and charges, the Government will not defeat its own ends, and the figures that I have cited in respect of telegraph traffic indicates that that, is very probable. Undoubtedly, persons who six months ago did not hesitate to send a fourteen-word telegram for ls. 3d. will not be so keen to pay 2s. 3d. for the despatch of a twelveword telegram, and, therefore, will not use that service to the same degree as they did formerly. For the same reason, persons who are now accustomed to sending birthday and. Christmas greetings by telegram will in future use that service to a. much less degree, lt would be just as well for the Government to remember that the post office itself was founded on the principle of penny postage, and that while that, rate operated the Postal Department was called upon to handle millions of articles, and did so at a. profit. To-day, however, the Government appears to be going in the reverse direction. The proposed increases, instead of bringing in the revenue that the Government hopes to derive, might have the reverse effect.
– And they might also have the effect of saving expenditure by the department.
– Some saving might be effected for that reason. But could not matters of this kind be appropriately investigated by a select committee such as the Opposition says should be set up for that purpose? For instance, the AuditorGeneral appears to take a view different from that which the Postmaster-General takes about the practicability of effecting economies in the various branches of the Postal Department. If a. select committee were appointed to inquire into this subject the Auditor-General might be able to give interesting evidence in respect of various points to which he referred in his last report. In any event, all the arguments that members of the Australian Country party have advanced in support of the bill and the general controversy that has arisen about these proposals surely warrant us in saying that within a. very short period these rates and charges will have to be increased still further. As the people are primarily affected by these increases, the Government should reassure them that it is not using the revenue of the Postal Department as a means of balancing the budget, and that the department is being managed efficiently. For those reasons, surely it is reasonable to ask the Government to appoint a select committee as the Opposition proposes that it should. No substantial decrease has yet taken place in the number of telephone calls handled by the department as a result of the previous increase of telephone charges. However, the figures supplied in the annual report of the Postmaster-General in that connexion are somewhat deceptive, having regard to the fact that the method of charging for trunk line calls has been altered. At the same time, the number of new telephones that are being installed would appear to indicate that the increases of charges made previously are beginning to have some effect. In any event the increase of the telephone rent charge from £3 5s. to £7 15s. and the increase of the rate for each call to 3d., as well as the proposed increases in respect of trunk line calls, must make people less keen to use those services than they were previously. In the the case of telephone services which provide half the revenue of the Postal Department, the Government, by increasing the rates, might well be cutting off its nose to spite its face. In view of the obligations that the Postal Department has undertaken for the installation of additional telephones and telephone exchanges, the Government should hesitate before it runs that risk. In spite of the opinions that the Treasurer and the PostmasterGeneral have expressed, if the people are not -prepared to use those facilities, what will happen about all the new projects that are now under way and the millions of pounds worth of work that is being undertaken as well as the expenditure that is being incurred in the purchase of new telephone exchanges and equipment from overseas? I am afraid that as a result of these increases, the department will fine] itself in a sorrier position than it is in to-day. That is another matter that might well be referred to a select committee for investigation.
I have mentioned telegraph and telephone traffic which together account for 60 per cent, of the revenue of the’ Postal Department. Another significant branch of the department’s activities is the registered post. The Postmaster-General in his last report revealed that as a result of the increases of registered post rates that were made on a previous occasion the number of articles sent by registered post has decreased by 1,500,000. One must examine the significance of those decreases. It may be that they can be satisfactorily explained. If so, the Parliament and the people are entitled to have that explanation instead of being obliged to rely upon what the PostmasterGeneral may say in a speech on the floor of this chamber in circumstances in which his statements cannot be thoroughly examined and, therefore, cannot be disputed. On the other hand, the appointment of a select committee would provide an opportunity to experts attached to the department and. perhaps, other persons who may have expert knowledge of the problem, to give evidence on oath.
Finally, I come to the basic point that the Postmaster-General made in his second-reading speech. He claimed that the proposed increases were made inevitable as a result of the increase of the basic wage. I ask the Treasurer, who. at the moment is in charge of the House, whether he can see any light at the end of the tunnel. Can he indicate how the Government proposes to stop the continuous spiralling of the basic wage?
– The light is not even on the hill.
– I am glad to have that confession by the Treasurer. Unless the Government can do something about that problem I have no doubt that these rates will have to be still further increased within the next twelve months. We have been told that every increase of the basic wage by one shilling increases the wages bill of the Postal Department by £200,000 a year. The price of every item that is included in the cost-of living regimen, such as, meat, sugar, butter and the other necessaries of life, is continuing to rise at an increasingly faster rate. That being so. the Treasurer or the Postmaster-General cannot say that this bill represents the last word with respect to Postal Department charges. I should have thought that we would have had some indication from the Government of how it proposes to relieve the department of its burden, which the Government contends is increased by every increase of the basic wage. So far as we can .judge and, indeed, on the Treasurer’s own admission, those increases will have to go on and on. When shall we see the end of increases of these charges? Business firms will undoubtedly pass them on in the prices of their articles. They will say that as they are obliged to pay higher charges for telephone services and for postage on letters and parcels they have no alternative but to increase the prices of their goods. Consequently, the prices of all the necessaries of life will rise correspondingly. If every increase of the basic wage by ls. represents an increase of the department’s annual deficit by £200,000, it is useless for the Government merely to increase rates to meet that added cost. Any government worthy of the name should, when ever it proposed to increase these rates, bring down a programme to combat the increases. It may be a far call from the sheep’s back to the letter box, but it is significant that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) admitted that the increase of the price of wool had the effect of depleting the labour pool in the dairying industry.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill, the title of which clearly explains its purpose.
– Back to the Australian Country party.
– I can only hope that the Australian Country party will return to the principles that it once espoused. In an endeavour to justify these proposed increases the Postmaster-General and every other member of that party told us that unfortunately the increase of the basic wage had compelled the Government to introduce them, but not one of those honorable members gave any indication of how they intended to stop the spiralling of the basic wage.
– What does the honorable member suggest should be done?
– I should suggest, first, of course,’ that the people should return a Labour government. In any event, the Treasurer and the Postmaster-General, when considering the finances of the Postal Department, might take into account their responsibility to do something about the spiralling of the basic wage and the increasing cost of living. If the Government fails to take action in that direction it will inevitably be obliged six months hence to increase these charges still further or to finance the department’s deficit out of Consolidated Revenue. However, members of the Australian Country party have remained silent on this matter. Probably the reason for the silence of the Postmaster-General is that when he was in Opposition and a bill to increase postal and telephone rates was before the House on the loth November, 1949, he moved that the bill be referred to a select committee to inquire into and report upon the general finances of the Postal Department. Although members of the Australian Country party strongly pressed for such an inquiry to be held in 1949, as the Opposition has proposed should be done on this occasion, those so-called representatives of the rural community have tamely accepted these increases, despite the fact that the Government could take alternative action along the lines that I have suggested. T.t could provide funds from other sources to finance non-payable services in country districts. Ignoring the effect that, these proposed increases will have upon the general traffic of the department, members of the Australian Country party have run away from the proposal that they themselves made in 1949, that increases of this kind should be investigated by a select committee. I believe that their reason for doing that is that they are afraid that if a select committee were appointed it would noi only inquire into the. proposed char; and whether the cost of providing services in country areas should be charged against Consolidated Revenue but would also direct its attention to the PostmasterGeneral’s speech and examine his attempts to justify these increases by contending that the increase of the basic wage had added to the cost of the goods and services that the department must purchase, and, consequently, might attempt to find out what the Government is going to do about the spiralling of the basic wage. The members of the Australian Country party, who misrepresent the farming community in the Parliament, are afraid that if the committee did that they might, have to submit to a little government control. For that reason, they now opposthe Opposition’s suggestion that a select committee be appointed to investigate these increases.
-Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Since the commencement of this debate, I have waited to hear an Opposition member refer to the Id. post, and I am pleased that the honorable member for Yarra (Air. Keon) has not failed me. It seems to me that Opposition members live forever in the past, and invariably fail to look either at the present or to the future.
– There is no future in these increased rates.
– There is no future for the Labour party. The fact that the honorable member for Yarra has referred to the days of the Id. post suits my case admirably. Honorable members, if they will look at files of the newspapers of those days, as I have done, will find that letters could bc posted for Id., a serge suit of the best quality could bc purchased for £1 5s., three rooms of a house could be furnished for £10, eighteen handkerchiefs could bc bought for ls., and the wife could be dressed for £2. Labour governments must bear a large part of the responsibility for the increase of thu prices of the various articles that we require in our everyday life. The proposed increase of postal and telegraph rates is proportionately much smaller than the increase of the cost of many articles that we use from day to day. The proposed new rates, which the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), in his wisdom, has advised the Parliament to approve in order to offset the higher costs of the Postal Department, are not large in comparison with increases of postal and telegraph rates in other countries. The Opposition should not lose sight of that fact.
I was also pleased to note the admission of the honorable member for Yarra that the Chifley Government had made an error in 1949 in refusing to adopt the request by the Opposition of the day to appoint a select committee to inquire into the operations of the Postal Department. I agree that the Australian people “ missed out badly “ on that occasion, because from my experience as a private citizen at that time, I consider that a select committee would have found that the then Labour Administration was the meanest, most cheese-paring government that the Postal Department had ever experienced. The Chifley Government starved the Postmaster-General’s Department of funds.
– That statement is nonsense, as reference to previous budgets will show.
– I noted the crocodile tears that the honorable gentleman shed over the plight of the country people wlm will be required to pay increased postal and telegraph charges. Those people find themselves in strange company when the labour party speaks on their behalf.
Had the select committee been appointed in 1949, it would have found that the Chifley Government had no sympathy with them in their plight. If they were unable to drive their motor cars through flooded creeks, it was “ just too bad “ for them. The Chifley Government did not shed any tears when they were cut off from all means of communication.
– Order ! I ask the honorable gentleman to address his remarks to the subject of postal and telegraph rates.
– I wish to correct a statement that was made by the honorable member for Yarra. He said’ quite plainly that the people thought that the increase of postal and telegraph rates in 1950 would be the last. Whether that statement was made deliberately, I shall not say, but it is untrue. The PostmasterGeneral, when he introduced the bill last year to authorize the increase of charges, made it perfectly plain that another bill would be introduced later to offset the effect of the increase of the basic wage by fi a week that had just been granted by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I realize that the statement of the honorable member for Yarra is a part of the party-political propaganda, in which members of the Labour party indulge. They utter untruths in the hope that Government supporters will not bother to refute them, because they recognize that such statements are untrue. For the information of the Australian people. I place on record the fact that the statement by the honorable member for Yarra was not correct.
I am also most concerned that the honorable member for Yarra saw fit to insinuate that the proposed select committee would discover evidence of dishonesty in the Postmaster-General’s Department. Such a reflection is unjust.
– When did I suggest that?
– The insinuation of the honorable gentleman was in poor taste, and ill-became him. He made another insinuation to the effect that officials in the principal sections of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department were overcome with laziness, and that a select committee would find that they were not businesslike in their methods. Such a thread of unwarranted criticism has run through the speeches of most Opposition members on this bill. Their contributions to this debate have been destructive and negative. They have seized this opportunity to vent spite, and to let loose a stream of words in an effort to confuse the issue.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) may have had one of three possible reasons for moving his amendment for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the operations of the Postal Department. I have not been able to make up my mind about which of the three he had in view. Possibly he submitted it through ignorance. Perhaps he considered that such a move would have propaganda value, so that in the next general election campaign, supporters of the Labour party would be able to tell the people that they had shed tears over their plight. Perhaps the honorable gentleman read, in a section of the press, a report of dissension among Government supporters over the proposal to increase postal and telegraph rates, and said to himself, “I may as well give this amendment a go. Wo may win some of them to our side “. I believe that Opposition members have not been honest and sincere in this debate. The Government has been elected for a term of three years, at the expiration of which honorable members must submit themselves to their masters. Cabinet takes that fact into consideration when determining its policy, and the proposed increase of postal and telegraph rates was adopted, after most careful consideration, by, virtually, a select committee that was appointed by the people in 1949, and re-appointed last April, to administer the affairs of Australia, including the operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Opposition members fail to realize that the Postal Department is not a taxing machine, but a trading concern, and all their references to indirect taxation arc so much humbug. The suggestion that the department’s deficit should be financed from Consolidated Revenue is absurd. Such assistance would not be granted to any other trading organization. It. would be required to stand upon its own feet.
So must the Postal Department. It must he run on businesslike lines. Opposition members would be the first to criticize the Government if the deficits of the Postal Department were financed from Consolidated Revenue year after year. The Opposition, when the newspaper proprietors increased the price from 2d. to 3d. and then to 4d. a copy, did not suggest that a select committee should be appointed to investigate those rises, or advocate that the price should remain at 2d., and that the deficits of the newspapers should be financed from Consolidated Revenue. Newpsapers, like the Postal Department, are only trading concerns. Commerce and industry are facing the same ra~’ rise of costs as the Postmaster-General’s Department is experiencing. Every thinking member of the community must expect that such a department, in meeting its commitments, must suffer as a result of the present, state of the national economy. When I referred to “ every thinking member of the community “ I did not have Opposition members in mind, because their speeches in this debate place them in a different class.
The Postmaster-General has gone to some pains to give the House information about the increased wages bill of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The basic wage judgment, which operated from last December, and cost-of-living adjustments that have been made since last November, have increased the annual wages bill of the department by £8,000,000, and the consequential increase of the cost of materials and of incidental expenditure has added at least £2,500,000 to its annual working expenses. The honorable member for Yarra has pointed out that a:i increase of the basic wage by ls. mean? that the costs of the department are increased by approximately £200,000 in direct wages, whilst the effect upon the cost of materials is an added burden. When we walk into a post office building, we see telephones and telephone cabinets and stacks of forms. I suppose thai other honorable members have made a? many applications to the PostmasterGeneral as I have for the installation of public telephone cabinets in our electorates. Few of us take into consideration the variety of the materials and equip ment that are used by the department, the cost of which has risen rapidly.
I have some knowledge of those matters. Immediately after World War II, a block of registration slips, such as we see on the counter of a post office, cost, at the contract rate, about l-£d. or 2d., whereas the cost at the present time is probably 9d. or lOd. The explanation is that the cost of newsprint in Australia has risen tremendously. In the early years of World War II, the business with which I was associated was able to import newsprint for £17 a ton. Before the end of this year, newsprint, if it can be obtained, will cost approximately £120 a ton. Freight charges have increased also. The department uses railway services throughout Australia for the carriage of mails and large quantities of materials. Those are expensive activities of which the public generally is not aware. The Government of Queensland, of course, cannot manage its railway services efficiently. It has not done anything about rail services for the last 30 years, except to authorize the construction of 2 miles of extra tracks. Freight charges in that State have increased vastly, and the extra costs incurred by the Postal Department in consequence for the carriage of all sorts of articles to post offices all over the countryside must be borne by the people. We all see, but probably take little notice of, the large numbers of motor vehicles that are used to transport workmen, mails and materials in towns and cities throughout Australia. Everybody who has bought a motor car recently knows how rapidly vehicle prices have increased. The Postal Department also suffers as a result of those increases. Prior to World War II., telegrams were delivered by boys with bicycles, but to-day the department is obliged to employ as messengers men who receive a full adult wage and who ride motor cycles. Even the cost of the bicycles has increased by at Ieas! 150 per cent., as anybody who has bought a bicycle recently must be aware. The department still has thousands of bicycles in constant use, in addition to its motor cycles. Even the increased cost of horse feed had an effect on the department, strange though that may seem in this modern age.
Wherever we go behind the scenes we find that increased charges have to be met by the Postal Department.
– Why does not the Government deal with rising prices?
– Order !
– The increases are due partly to the introduction of the 40-hour week.
Members of the Opposition interjecting,
– Order ! I propose to enforce the Standing Orders, and Standing Order 54 states -
When a member is speaking, no member shall converse aloud or make any noise or disturbance to interrupt him.
I warn the House that I have had enough of interruptions.
– The 40-hour week has had a tremendous impact upon the economy of the Postal Department, both directly and indirectly. Its effect has been as strongly pronounced in the department as it has been in private trading organizations. Additional nien have had to be engaged, and therefore extra wages must be paid. The increase of the basic wage has added to that burden. Every trading organization in the community has the same problems. lt would be stupid for the Government to say, “ We might as well compensate every business organization that is faced with these problems by granting financial aid from Consolidated Revenue “. But that would bc the logical conclusion of the proposals that have been made by honorable members opposite. Alternative courses of action that have been suggested by their speeches are to increase the weekly hours of work or to peg wages. According to my recollection and a note that I made at the time, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) said that he was opposed to further increases of the basic wage. I am pleased to learn that at least one member of the Opposition has the honesty to declare openly that we ought to have wage pegging as well as prices control, f know that wage pegging is in the minds of all the socialists who sit on the opposite side of the House. The Government, of course, unhesitatingly rejects those suggestions. The only remaining course of action in the circumstances would be to curtail the . services of the Postal Department. That, too, is impossible to contemplate seriously. Those services should be extended in order to meet the needs of the people. The primary object of the department is to serve the people.
Prior to that great and eventful day in December, 1949, when joy and happiness sprang into the hearts of the people, the Labour Administration woefully neglected the Postal Department. The Postmaster-General of that era, if he was not deaf and dumb, might well have been so because his government would not give bini the wherewithal to carry on the development of the department. We can still see, in and about the respective electorates that wc represent, ample evidence that the Labour party did virtually nothing to extend the services of the Postal Department during the eight and a half years of its reign.
– Order! The honoraide member must refer to post and telegraph rates. The bill does not deal with an extension of postal services.
– Post and telegraph rates must be increased because we cannot continue to allow the Postal Department to operate at a. loss which places a tremendous burden upon the people. The department should earn profits again and its services should be extended, because only by means of an increased turnover of business on small margins of profit ecn the organization serve the people adequately. Wc must, endeavour to induce more and more people to seek the advantages of the numerous services that are provided by the department.
I am not satisfied that the Postal Department and other branches of the Public Service are 100 per cent, efficient. I do not consider that employees of the Postal Department are lazy or dishonest, as was suggested by a previous speaker on the opposite side of the House. However, I believe that the expenses of this rapidly expanded organization have become swollen partly because a considerable period of time has elapsed since its administrative methods were overhauled. The Government should appoint a body of efficiency experts for the purpose of introducing modern business methods in the Postal Department and other branches of the Public Service.
Considerable economies could be effected by this means. However, such an overhaul could have no effect upon the immediate need to eliminate the operating losses of the department. No private enterprise could continue in business under the conditions that now apply in the Postal Department. It would rapidly become bankrupt. We who live in the forgotten north of Australia must have the services of an efficient Postal Department. Therefore, it is imperative that the Parliament pass this bill and enable adequate charges to be levied for services w hich still cost less in Australia than they cost in. any other country.
I compliment the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) upon the quiet, logical and well-turned speech that he delivered earlier t.u-day. It was outstanding in contrast to the negative, destructive criticism of members of the Opposition. Honorable members should realize that, in order to obviate the necessity for further increases within the next few years, this Parliament must do its duty to the people. We must realize the danger that threatens us as a nation and get down to good hard work so that our people” will produce the goods and services that we need, not only for the defence of the nation, but also for the promotion of happiness. We must encourage production and convince the people, of the necessity to work for their country as well as for themselves. We must forget the golden hey-day of happiness and get down to solid, productive work for the sake of the country. If wc do so, there will be no need in the future for further increases of the nature of those for which this bill provides.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. On two occasions during his speech, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) said that I had alleged, during my speech, that employees of the Postal Department were dishonest and lazy and also that I had advocated wage-pegging. I am sure that, if the honorable member will consult his colleagues, they will inform him that I said nothing about postal employees being lazy or dishonest or about wage-pegging. No doubt the honorable gentleman will make appropriate amends when the occasion arises.
.- I support the amendment that has been proloosed by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). I remind honorable members that in 1949 the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a broadcast to the people of Australia in which he said, “ Our greatest task is to get value back into the £1 ; that is, to get prices down. Let us to our task “. The people of Australia, of course, are still waiting for the right honorable gentleman t.-. put those words into effect. On Wednesday, the 20th June last, great consternation prevailed at a joint meeting of the Government parties at which feeling was so strong concerning the proposal to increase all postal, telegraph and telephone charges that Mr. Menzies intervened and the discussion was postponed.
– Order 1 The honorable member must not refer to the Prime Minister by his personal name.
– To-day I witnessed the pathetic attempts of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) and the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) to convince the people that they must be pleased because the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) ‘ has had the courage to decide to increase charges for services supplied by the Postal Department. How they expected to put that down the people’s throats mystifies me. Honorable members on the Government side have made certain statements in an endeavour to persuade the people that these charges represent the only way of meeting the department’s deficit. It is just another slug. Let us have some common sense. I do not intend to tell the people that they should be pleased to have another impost which will increase their misery by depleting the purchasing power of their £1, which is already low enough.
Honorable members on the Government side have been heard indulging in all ports of petty explanations in order to justify the intention of the PostmasterGeneral. I think it is unprecedented in Australian political history that in eight short months a department should require an additional £20,000,000 to meet its expenses. After having been voted an additional amount of £8,000,000 a further £12,000,000 has been requested to enable the department to carry on. Has the Postmaster-General estimtaed his requirements for two years hence so that he will not have to ask Parliament for a further raising of postal charges before the next general election? Even the newspapers have uttered cries of indignation and have directed hostile criticism at the Minister. Of course, these people always squeal when their pockets are touched. They have not squealed out of sympathy with the ordinary letter writer or the person who uses the telephone occasionally. They have spoken from their own point of view. After analysing the Government’s proposals a little it may be found that the newspapers will not be hit so very hard. Hidden away in the Postmaster-General’s report there is a statement to the effect that the present rate of 2d. for 4oz. for the carriage of periodicals is to be replaced by a charge of 2-Jd. for the first 6 oz. In other words, a periodical 50 per cent, heavier will be carried at a rate that is only 25 per cent, higher than the previous rate, thus providing a 25 per cent, rebate to the people who distribute periodicals. Ever since it has been elected the policy of this Government ha3 been to slug the lower-paid workers. That has been the Government’s pay-off for the assistance that was granted to it prior to the last general election. Those who helped the Government on that occasion must receive their “ pay-off “ and they receive it in a very generous measure.
If the Government’s proposals are put into effect a seasonal worker who wishes to send money home at the end of the week will have to pay twice the previous poundage for a money order for £5, the rate having been increased from 6d. to ls. ; but the big business executive who may wish to send a £50 money order will be penalized only to the extent of .10 per cent. The Government is ever ready to appease its rich supporters at the expense of the lower-paid workers. The proposed increase of telephone charges will be a bugbear to most people who use telephones. .Again, the bill provides that business people shall be treated better than the private person. The businessman will be able to pass the additional charge on to his customers but the person who is in receipt of a lower income will have no means of passing his cost on. It is refreshing to know that the PostmasterGeneral does pay a tribute to the very low-paid workers in the postal industry. Despite the fact that honorable members opposite have referred scathingly to the 40-hour week it has been operating in the Postal Department for quite a long while. One would not expect Government supporters to know that, as they are not an fait with current happenings. The Postmaster-General has stated in his report -
It will be of interest to honorable members t«i know that in a very large section of the service the work load actually discharged by telephonists, telegraphists and other huge groups of employees of the Postal Department lias remained unchanged for many years and that the present output still compares favorably with that of years ago.
That has happened despite the introduction of the 40-hour week. It is very refreshing to know that the PostmasterGeneral is prepared to pay a tribute to these men but I think that a better gesture would be for bini to make a tour of as many post offices as possible, especially those in the larger-developed areas and ascertain the conditions-
– Order! The honorable gentleman must confine his remarks to the bill which deals with the subject of rates, not with the condition of post offices.
– I think that the collecting of revenue is connected with the subject of rates.
– It is not connected in the remotest way. The bill deals only with rates.
– My greatest concern in connexion with the proposed increase of charges for telephone services is for the invalid ex-serviceman. Honorable members on the Government side of the House, including the honorable member for Bennelong and the honorable member for Capricornia, did not mention that matter. The ex-serviceman who lies on his back every day must have a telephone within reach in order to summon medical aid from time to time.
– Order ! The subject under debate is not the installation of telephones, but the rates to be charged for them. That is the only matter mentioned in the title of the bill.
– Under the Government’s proposals the ex-serviceman will be charged a higher rate than previously with the result that he will be unable to meet his commitments and will be forced to dispense with the telephone which is so necessary to his comfort. The invalid civilian also requires a telephone for the purpose of summoning medical aid. He will be forced, owing to the extra rates, to have his telephone disconnected. What benefits will the postal employees receive from the increased rates?
– Order ! That subject is not within the scope of the bill.
– According to you, Mr. Speaker, nothing seems to be within the scope of the bill. The people of Australia will receive a further shock when they learn of the Postmaster-General’s intention to increase the cost of wireless licences by 100 per cent. I should like the people to know that that will be provided for very shortly in a special bill.
– Order! That matter is not mentioned in this bill as far as I can see.
– The PostmasterGeneral stated that an alternative means of bridging the gap between expenditure and revenue would be to curtail drastically postal, telephone and telegraph services. If the Postmaster-General was aware of his department’s financial position when he was considering the construction of a new telephone exchange at Lismore at the cost of £130,000, I do not think that he should have approved of that project.
– Order ! That subject is not within the scope of the bill. The honorable gentleman must deal with the subject under discussion.
– The PostmasterGeneral also stated -
In a large organization such as the Postal Department improvements are always possible, and T assure honorable members that special measures have been taken and are being continued w.th the object of improving efficiency sind eliminating any factors that may be likely to give rise to unnecessary costs. Although these measures are being pursued with vigour by well-equipped officers there is no prospect of any economies or improvements that arise being sufficient to reduce appreciably the wide margin between earnings and expenditure.
The officers of the department pursue complaints with vigour, and the complaints arise out of the high rates that are being charged. An investigation of the post office at Maroubra Junction - -
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is trying to evade my ruling. The House is dealing with the subject of postal rates as defined in the bill.
– I am trying to explain the lack of convenience-
-Order! That has nothing to do with the bill. If the honorable gentleman is not prepared to comply with my ruling he must resume his seat.
– You are making it very difficult, Mr. Speaker. The bill now before the House provides that the rate for the transmission of letters shall be raised from 3d. to 3£d. for the first ounce. That extra charge will fall on a longsuffering public. The existing charge of 3d. for a lettercard will become 3½d., an increase of 16 per cent. The PostmasterGeneral has even increased the charge for carrying the modest postcard.
– What about the immodest postcard?
– The existing charge of 2½d. for postcards will be increased to 3d., or by 20 per cent. Other items that are to be the subject of increases are commercial papers, patterns, and samples and merchandise in regard to which the increase is to be 50 per cent. A similar increase is also to be imposed on printed matter, including printed papers, circulars and catalogues, periodicals and newspapers, and hooks not registered at a General Post Office. But books, periodicals and newspapers registered at a General Post Office will have the’ benefit of the rebate of 25 per cent. How this Government looks after its friends! Its policy is “Slug the workers and keep slugging them “, but, by its policy of increasing taxation, it is certainly taxing its way into oblivion.
The rate for ordinary telegrams will be increased from ls 9d. to 2s. 3d. The new base rate will apply to telegrams of twelve words, instead of fourteen words as at present. That will mean a 14 per cent, reduction of the number of words and a 30 per cent, increase of the charge. The rate for each additional word is to be raised from Hd. to 2d, or an increase of 33^- per cent. Press telegrams, of course, are sacrosanct. There will not be any further increase of the cost of sending them. How this Government looks after its friends! The charge for telephones for business people, in comparison with the rate for domestic telephones, is hard to understand. A telephone is an absolute essential in a modern home, especially for the overburdened housewife whom, before the last general election, the Government was constantly bringing to our mind, dragging home day after day that string-‘bag full of parcels. But when mother can use the telephone to ring the grocer to bring what she wants along to the house, we find that she is to be slugged to the extent of a 46 per cent, increase ! The present rate for a business telephone in the city is £9 5s., to which it was increased from £7 10s. by the corresponding bill brought down by the Government last year. That rate is now to be increased to £12 5s., or an increase of 33-J per cent. We find, on the other hand, that the rate for a domestic telephone is to increase from £7 10s. to £il. I do not think that Government supporters will take that one lightly. Most Government supporters who represent borderline seats made their modest protests to the Prime Minister at the party meeting, but when the whip was cracked and they were threatened with withdrawal of their preselection for the next general election, they panicked, walked in behind the Prime Minister, and then tried to justify the increases for which the measure provides.
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! I can hear conversation. The honorable member should be given a fair hearing.
– Honorable members opposite will be interested in the following quotation: -
The postal increases proposed by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) would add-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman shall not refer to Ministers by their names.
– I shall resume the quotation. It reads -
The postal increases proposed by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony), would add to the cost of production, manufacture mid distribution of goods, and would accelerate the inflationary tendency, the President of the Chamber of Manufactures, Mr. Bertram said yesterday.
Now, nobody by any stretch of imagination would consider Mr. Bertram to be a supporter of the Labour party.
– He will not support the Liberal party after this.
– I do not think that many people in Australia will support the Liberal party again.
In conclusion, I say that the Government is not playing the game, and in all sincerity I ask Government supporters to be sincere at least once, and support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Melbourne. In other words, when it comes to an increase of postage rates the Government has certainly got the public licked.
.- I rise to support the bill and to oppose the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) . It is fitting that I should have to follow my whimsical friend, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin), because what I shall have to say in connexion with this bill will be pretty grim for honorable members on this side of the House as well as for honorable members opposite. I shall try to find merit in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Melbourne, but so far I have been unable to find any merit in it. Nor can the honorable gentleman himself find any merit in the proposal that the bill be referred to a select committee. If I damn this bill with faint praise, it is because I am driven by necessity to support it in order that the services that the people of our country have enjoyed for many years may be maintained. The need to maintain those services has forced the Government to bring down this bill to meet a very grave situation that threatened them, which, had it been allowed to go unchecked, might have brought the services to disaster or at least have caused a disastrous curtailment of them. Here is a proposal to increase postal charges, telegraph charges and the other ancillary charges connected with the Postal Department, so as to meet the present desperate situation, maintain service, avoid a further deficit, and allow the necessary time to perhaps redesign the department so that the increases of costs, inevitable -as they are, may be met without a repetitive increase of charges.
In his proposition for the setting up of a select committee the honorable member for Melbourne spoke with a degree of sincerity in his voice, and I must confess that for a moment I really believed thai he meant what he said. I believed it only until I had applied myself to a study of the debate on the similar bill that he brought down in this chamber in 1949 as 1 Minister in the Chifley Government. I found that at that time the honorable gentleman was diametrically opposed to the establishment of a select committee to inquire into the charges for postal, telegraph and other ancillary services of th, Postal Department. Here is what he said, as reported in volume 203 of Ilansard, at page 1S14, when he was speaking in the second-reading debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949-
The suggestion of the Leader of the Australian Country party that a select committee should he appointed to inquire into the operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department, even if it were adopted, could not have much result. The facts of the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department are known.
Let me repeat that -
The facts of the finances of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department arc known.
He continued -
A select committee could not And out anything more about them than has already been clearly stated. If the purpose of the amendment is the conduct of a smear campaign against the administration of the PostmasterGeneral ( Senator Cameron ) . I can understand why it has been proposed.
I have no doubt that he could understand why it had been proposed -
I assure the ‘Leader of the Australian Country party that there has been no deterioration of the finances of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Inefficiency in the department or a lack of proper control of it by the Postmaster-Genera), or his officers, has been implied.
Now we have this same honorable gentleman to-night bringing forward a proposition for the establishment of a select committee, when only a relatively short time ago while he was a member of the previous Government, he exercised himself in a way that will prohibit any sensible government from acceding to a proposition for the establishment of a select committee in connexion with such a matter. But that, is not all that the honorable gentleman had to say in that connexion. I quote now from volume 203 of Hansard at page 1825, when the honorable gentleman was speaking to an amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Sir Arthur Fadden). This is what he had to say -
Finally, I wish to deal with the amendment proposed by the Lender of the Australian Country party. There is no warrant for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into and report upon the Postal Department. The facts are clear and unmistakable. The department is soundly organized and its operations are controlled by mcn of ability, integrity and great experience, who are sup- ported by a loyal staff imbued with a high spirit of service. Its tariffs, even with the increases now proposed, compare favorably with those of other countries with dense populations which have adequate supplies of materials at their doors and are not faced with the problem of serving a sparse population over an area of more than 3,000,000 square miles. Therefore, the Government rejects the amendment.
Yet we have the same honorable gentleman putting before us a proposal designed to circumvent the intentions of the Government to meet this desperate situation, for the appointment of a select committee. The Government would accept his proposal if it would serve any useful purpose. However, the honorable gentleman himself said in 1949 that it would serve no useful purpose. Similarly it can serve -no useful purpose in 1951. The situation as it exists at present can be dealt with by this objectionable measure, if I may use that term, which is most distasteful to the Government. The situation having been remedied for a brief period of time, there is no sound reason why the honorable member for Melbourne, the honorable members who sit behind him, honorable members on this side of the House, and, indeed, the people themselves, should not apply themselves to a study of the Postal Department, with a view to making practical suggestions for the improvement of its service and for the avoidance of increases such as are proposed which, if they continue to he made, will have calamitous results. No man in his sober senses could support the proposal of the Opposition.
I have no doubt that the Government explored the possibility of a select committee having value; in fact in my own humble way I explored it myself. I tried to apply myself to a study of this matter in order to avoid increasing postal charges. [Quorum formed.]
I have disposed of the amendment, so far as I am concerned, that was proposed by the honorable member for “Melbourne. I shall now deal with the allegations of a number of honorable members opposite that this bill is a part of a piece of political trickery and that it would have been unnecessary if the Government, during the life of the Nineteenth Parliament, had faced up to the realities of the situation. It has been alleged that the Postmaster-General, when he brought down his bill to increase postal rates in November last, knew that those increases would be inadequate to meet the situation, and that he deliberately misled the House and the public. That allegation is not only shameful but is also untrue. I am astonished that a man of the quality of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) should lend his support to such an allegation. It would have been comparatively simple for him to read the speech delivered by the Postmaster-General in October, 1950, when he was bringing in his bill to increase postal charges. In Hansard of the 26th October, 1950, at page 1475, the Postmaster-General is reported to have said this -
These tariffs do not take into account the £1 a week increase granted by the Arbitration
Could anything be clearer than that? He continued -
Therefore, despite the increase dealt with in this bill, a heavy deficit for the current year is unavoidable.
If that is not a warning, the word has no meaning. Further, he said -
The Government had decided, however, to approach the matter on an interim basis and to review it again, in the light of actual results and the precise effect of the revised tariffs, at a later date.
If that is not political honesty, then political honesty means nothing at all to. honorable members opposite. The PostmasterGeneral was applying himself to> an unsavoury task, and was indicating that the measures then proposed wereinadequate to meet the situation and that the matter would have to be reviewed as soon as the increasing costs could be properly gauged by the department. ThePostmasterGeneral said in conclusion -
T again emphasize that the financial return from these proposals will go only a part of theway towards balancing the accounts of thePostal Department for 1H50-51. Considerationlias not yet been given to the full impact upon the department’s activities of the increaseof the basic wage by £1 a week that wa.=recently announced by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. As T said earlier, I shall be obliged to make a statement on that nui Iter when the department has ascertained the exact effect that that declaration will have irc relation to the expenditure.
Again I direct the attention of the House to the forthright political honesty of the Minister at that time, and theforthright political honesty of the Government. The attitude of the Government since then has been quite consistent,, regardless of the imminence of an election, and the subsequent successful prosecutionof that election. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I, in common with all honorable members on this side of the House, have no great liking for a bill of this description. The Government hasno illusions about the bill, but has introduced it to meet a desperate situation. Postal charges could have remained at the level fixed in 1950 and the inevitable deficit could have been permitted to grow and grow until it had reached a fabulous total in a comparatively short time. The natural consequence of such a stupid action would have been a drastic curtailment of the activities of the Postal Department. It is obvious that any such curtailment, no. matter what its order of magnitude, would affect the people who are in the greatest need of the services provided by the department. An increase of charges is no solution of this problem.
We have no illusions about this bill/but this opportunity should be taken to explain to the people as a whole that great. sections of the population have been labouring under a certain misapprehension. Many people have imagined that the basic wage could be increased, and that personal remuneration and the prices of materials and services could rise, without affecting the charges of public utilities. That is completely wrong, and the time has arrived when a clear statement should be made and should be reiterated until the community recognizes that all increases of wages must be reflected in the charges of public utilities in the same way as they are reflected in the prices of goods produced and services rendered by private enterprise. In the past there has been a tendency, for which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) must accept some responsibility, to try to delude the credulous into thinking that increases of the basic wage, cost-of-living adjustments and other financial manipulations are a charge against the rich and a penalty to be imposed exclusively on the boss. Many people have been told that big business would pay for all this, and that the lowly in the community would not be affected. That was a direct play on the credulity of the people by the Leader of the Opposition. He led his followers to believe that all these benefits in regard to wages and conditions could be effected and that the men on the lower income scales would never be expected to pay for them. That is not only wrong, it is evil. These charges, of necessity, must affect the lowly much more than any one else in the community. Here is a classic example before the House.
The postal service was conceived, as was said by the honorable member for Melbourne, by Boland Hill. He believed that it to be his duty to give a service to the people at the lowest possible cost. Therefore, he introduced Id. postage. It would have been competent for him to devise a scheme on the basis of ls. postage or 2s. 6d. postage, but he believed that he had to scale his costs as low as possible and so he introduced Id. postage. The charge remained at Id. for a great many years, and maximum service was given to the people who needed it so greatly. Some years later various governments were forced to raise postage by a fraction of a Id. and then finally to 2d.
Never by any stretch of the imagination was it contemplated that the rate for ordinary postage would ever be 3d. or more than 3d. I venture to say that this will not be the last bill of this description that will be brought down by the Government. If. rising costs are not checked and if ways and means are not devised to meet the situation in which the Postal Department finds’ itself without increasing these charges, then we must go on increasing the charges until the utiltiy itself breaks down entirely. I issue a warning in that respect. As I have already said, it was never intended that the community as a whole should pay increases of this kind. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court in its wisdom recently increased the basic wage by £1 a week and the PostmasterGeneral has indicated the degree to which that increase has raised the cost to the department of providing its various services. Under such a system costs will be forced up until they reach a level which we, if we are to retain our political selfrespect, cannot condone. It is our solemn duty to make these services available at. the lowest possible cost and the way to meet the situation, as it is to meet similar situations in other spheres, is by sheer hard work. I believe that it is physically impossible to run a vast utility like the Postal Department on the basis of a 40-hour week, just as I believe that it is physically impossible for a man to do enough work in 40 hours to provide anything for himself in excess of his physical needs. Although I was prepared to wait and see how the 40-hour week would work out, I was of the opinion that it would work out in the way that I have indicated. If remedial measures are not taken, it will cause the breakdown of all public utilities. Under the present system, when a public utility is faced with a deficit its charges are increased and if those increases do not obviate further deficits the charges are again increased. Those who look at the matter only on the surface imagine that the problem can be solved by that means. But that has not been the case. Eventually, we must face up to the facts. We shall have to go through the same process until the increases imposed reach such proportions that the utility concerned breaks down. Above all other things, that is the one thing that we wish to avoid in respect of the Postal Department’s services which are vital to the community. Transport services are practically in the same category. However, whilst we could, perhaps, for a limited period, do without the unsatisfactory transport services that now operate, we could not dowithout the Postal Department’s services for a single day. For that reason, if for no other, we must face up to this problem in the way the Government faced up to it in 1950 and is facing up to it to-day. I believe that great economies could be effected. A thorough examination of the vast operations of the Postal Department might reveal ways and means of effecting economies. However, whilst such an investigation is being made the services themselves must be not only maintained but also expanded.
The honorable member for Watson, in one of his generous moments, made impassioned reference to ex-servicemen. I am one and I take this opportunity to tell him that I have been trying for the last 2S years to have a telephone installed in my home. Now, by the grace of God and of this Government, I am within a hair’s breadth of getting one. These increases will not stop my endeavours in that direction nor will they stop other people who are clamouring for services of this kind throughout the country. This is a temporary measure. It is not presented as a solution of the problem, but it is more acceptable than the spurious proposal that the honorable member for Melbourne has made. He endeavoured to confuse the public by claiming that the appointment of a select committee to inquire into this matter would provide a solution of the problem.
.- In view of the very strict ruling that Mr. Speaker lias given with respect to the matters that may be discussed, I rise in trepidation to speak to this measure. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) described the bill as calamitous and said that his remarks in regard to it would ho “ pretty grim “.
– But he will still vote for it.
– Yes. However, I could not, perhaps, sum up the measure more effectively than did the honorable member. In view of what the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) has said, I point out that the Chifley Government laid down thorough plans for the extension of telephone services during the post-war years. Under that plan 28,055 telephones were installed in 1945-46, when the country was recovering from the greatest catastrophe that the world has ever known. In 1946-47 the Chifley Government installed 49,100 additional telephones, in 1947-48, 48,137, in 1948-49, 64,980, and in 1949-50, 81,850, whilst it had made plans to install 100,000 telephones in the following year. That number was actually installed after the non-Labour parties had assumed office, but credit for that achievement must be given to the Chifley Government because it had already made plans in that connexion. In addition, the Chifley Government approved a special works programme for the Postal Department, with the object of overtaking arrears due to the recent “war. That Government authorized the department to undertake a special three years’ programme of urgent and essential capital works at a cost of £42,000,000.
-Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill before the Chair.
– I am now replying to statements that were made by the honorable member for Lyne.
– Order ! I have allowed the honorable member to do so up to a point.
– But I have not completed my reply to those statements.
-Order! I cannot allow the honorable member to discuss matters that are outside the ambit of the bill before the Chair.
– I support the proposal of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that the Government appoint a select committee to inquire into the proposed increases before they are implemented. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) referred to criticism of the Government’s appointment of a committee of mem bers of the Government parties to investigate these proposals because of dissatisfaction among its supporters. Members of the Opposition, of course, have no means of ascertaining the nature of the deliberations that took place at meetings of that committee, but in the light of the introduction of these proposals it is clear that the Government went out of its way to appease the dissentients in its ranks. After taking these proposed increases into account the Government will have increased postal rates and charges by approximately £20,000,000 since it assumed office a little over eighteen months ago. As that increase represents an added impost of £2 10s. per capita, surely the Opposition is justified in asking that these proposals be investigated by a select committee. I remind the House of the attitude that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) adopted towards the Post and Telegraphs Kates Act that the Labour Government passed in 194.9 for the purpose of increasing those rates by £6,000,000 in the aggregate. Speaking to that measure in this chamber on the 29th June, 1949, the Postmaster-General, who was then in Opposition, said -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. I resent them particularly on behalf of country people, who will suffer most. A great deal of the mail matter goes out into the country, and it is the country people who must ultimately bear a great part of the cost involved in the increase of parcel postage rates. >.”o one can deny that country people will bear most of the increased charges for long-distance telephone calls. In the cities, newspapers and periodicals are either delivered to the door, or are bought over the counter, but country people receive their newspapers by post. Therefore, the increased postage rate will bear most heavily upon them.
That is what the present PostmasterGeneral said when he was weeping over the action of the Chifley Government in increasing these rates in 1949. He continued -
If the Government cannot put up a better case for imposing, through the Postal Department, additional charges amounting to £ii,000,000 a year, the time has come for the holding of some sort of inquiry to determine whether the charges are justified.
The Opposition is now making a similar proposal to the gentleman who made that statement. He continued -
David Jones Limited, the Myer Emporium Limited, or any other great trading concern would have to submit to an inquiry by the prices authorities before they would -bo permitted to raise their prices.
The charges at that time were not nearly so severe as those proposed in this bill. He proceeded -
However, because of the dictatorial powers exercised by this Government and the fact that this monopoly has no competition, the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences. I hope that they will not have to suffer them for more than another six mouths.
– And they did not.
– That is so. They will suffer them for at least another two years. The House has been reminded that the Chifley Government increased postal rates in 194.9 for the purpose of raising an additional £6,000,000. A t that time, there was a one-halfpenny surcharge upon each article that passed through the post, and the receipts from that source were considerable. The Chifley Government did not increase postal rates in 1949, but merely incorporated the surcharge in them. In the previous year, the Labour Government had increased, by regulation, the standard salaries of employees of the Postal Department by £22 per annum.
– Order ! This bill does not relate to the salaries of the employees of the Postal Department.
– I was pointing out that one reason why postal rates were increased at that time was in order to increase the remuneration of low-paid employees of the department. The present PostmasterGeneral weeps crocodile tears occasionally about their plight, but he does not attempt to improve their conditions.
From time to time, I have suggested that the halfpenny should be eliminated from postal charges. At present 25 different rates include the halfpenny but, under this bill, that number will be reduced to thirteen. That decrease, perhaps, is the only evidence of wisdom that is to be found in the legislation. The halfpenny should also be eliminated from charges for bulk postage. Under the bill, the present charge of 2-Jd. for 16 oz. will be 2-id. for S oz. The Postmaster-General would have been wise to vary the charge from 2W. for 16 oz. to 3d. for 16 oz. The halfpenny has been eliminated from the sixteen denominations of postal notes.
When the Chifley Government increased the rate for sending a telegram within a 15-mile radius, the charge became ls. 3d. for fourteen words. Under this bill, the, charge will be 2s. 3d. for twelve words. An urgent telegram of twelve words within a 15-mile radius will cost 4s. 6d. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has pointed out that the department has lost a considerable volume of business since the rates for telegrams were increased last year, and I forecast an additional decline of business when the new rates come into operation. A person who would previously have sent an urgent telegram to an adjoining suburb will find it cheaper in future to convey the message himself by taxi.
Press rates will be considerably increased, and that may not be wise, because the effect may be to drive persons who now use the press rate in post offices to utilize another channel that is not particularly mentioned in the bill. I refer to the leased machine channels that newspapers use in Parliament House. The heavy cost of press rates will probably cause them to divert their press matter to the machine systems, and that change may be to the disadvantage of some employees of the Postal Department, because the reduction of business may be so substantial that the demand for their services will he reduced. The change may ako affect journalists detrimentally. Some time ago, an attempt was made to syndicate press matter from Parliament House by ‘ the use of the machine system. No mention is made in the bill about the charges for such services. As the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has said, there are often pay-offs, and this may be an example of that practice.
The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), when the House was considering the proposal of the Chifley Government to increase postal rates in 1949, said-
Mildura is the most progressive decentralized area in Australia. At present the full mk: for a telephone call between Mildura and Melbourne is 3s. lOd. for three minutes conversation; that is to be raised to 5s.
Under this hill, the charge will be 6s 5d., but I assume that the honorable member for Mallee, despite his complaint on that occasion, will vote for the higher rate. He also claimed, at that time, that the residents of Mildura would be severely penalized by the decision to increase the rate for a night call from ls. lid. to 2s. 13 d. The rate under this hill will be 4s. lOd.
The honorable gentleman referred also to parcel rates. The rate that was imposed by the Chifley Government, and about which he complained, was ls. for a 2 lb. parcel, and, under this bill, the charge will be 2s. 3d. A 2 lb. parcel sent to an adjoining State under the rate imposed by the Chifley Government cost ls. 6d., but the charge under this bill will be 3s. 3d. A parcel sent between nonadjoining States cost 2s. under the rate levied by the Chifley Government, and will cost 3s. 9d. under this bill. The increases range from 25 per cent, to 90 per cent. A parcel weighing 11 lb. could be sent from Sydney to Fremantle for 7s. 8d. under the Chifley Government’s rate, but the charge under this bill will be Ils. Sd. Incidentally, I point out that a parcel of that weight may be sent from Sydney to London for only 5s. lOd.
One of the causes of the Postal Department’s deficit is the loss of many of its trained employees. It experiences one of the biggest turnovers of labour of any industry, but if higher wages were paid to the staff-
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in referring to wages.
– I shall refer to another matter. The Postal Department undertakes a considerable volume of work for other departments.
– Order ! That matter also is outside the scope of the bill. I have not permitted previous speakers to refer to it.
– I heard a reference to the subject. I believe that the Postal Department should be run as a business undertaking. In a series of prosperous years up to 1945, it had surpluses that totalled £50,000,000. Those profits were paid into Consolidated Revenue, whereas they should have been placed into a sinking fund to offset future losses. I agreed with the Postmaster-General when he complimented the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department on the loyal and efficient service that they rendered to the community, hut I believe that he could show his sincerity in a more practical way by supporting their claims for higher wages and better conditions.
.- If ever socialism stands condemned, it stands condemned by this bill. The Postal Department is heading straight for bankruptcy. Its probable deficit this year is £5,000,000, and unless drastic action is taken immediately, the deficit for the next financial year will be £12,000,000. The Labour party cannot blame the shareholders of this great national undertaking. There are no bondholders or landlords for it to blame. The Postal Department is owned by the community and is operated for the community. Therefore, when w>i examine the necessity for raising its charges, we must investigate the operations of the organization itself. During World War II., because approximately 1,000,000 of our people were in the armed forces the exigencies of the times prevented it from expanding its normal activities. As the result of that, during the war years and the immediate post-war years the Postal Department earned tremendous surpluses. For 1943-44 it had a profit of £8,100,000. In the four succeeding years its profits were as foi lows :- 1944-45, £8,400,000 ; 1945-46, £7,700,000; 1947-48, £6,600,000; 1948- 49, £3,200,000. Had this concern been operated by a board of business men, those profits would have been held in reserve and would be available to meet the present situation. But, through no fault of the officers of the Postal Department, who have done their best to control its finances, that total of £37,000,000 was filched by the former Labour Administration.
– And by Liberal governments as well.
– The Labour Government was in power throughout the period that I have mentioned. Every penny of that £37,000,000 was taken’ from thu department and used by the socialist administration to carry out its socialist schemes. Finally, even the Labour Go- vernment was faced with a position in which the Postal Department was heading for bankruptcy. During the last year in which the Chifley Government was in office, the revenue of the department was insufficient to pay its working expenses and none of its capital expenditure was provided from its revenue. The Chifley Government met the situation by increasing post and telegraph charges.
The Menzies Government was faced with an identical situation when it came into power. The department was again heading for bankruptcy, with its working expenses exceeding its income, and there were no reserves because the profits of the good times had been used for other purposes. I agree entirely with the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who said that the profits of the Postal Department should be retained by the department in order to carry it over bad times. But the socialist government had used all the profits. Therefore, the Menzios Government took the only possible course of action and increased post and telegraph charges last year in an attempt to bridge the gap between revenue and expenditure. Scarcely had the necessary bill been passed by this House when an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court placed an additional burden of expenditure of £4,000,000 per annum on the Postal Department. That was a factor over which the department had absolutely no control. The £1 a week increase of the basic wage was followed almost immediately by a cost of living increase, ovewhich the department again had not th/-. slightest control. Nobody is happy about, the present situation of the department, but, when increased costs are forced upon it by circumstances over which it has no control, there is no alternative but to increase the charges for its services.
I mentioned earlier the profits that were earned by the department up to the time of the introduction of the 40-hour week. The decline of Postal Department finances began from that very moment. Private business organizations have been adversely affected by the operation of the 40-hour week, but its effect has been multiplied three times within the Postal Department, which, of necessity, must provide a 24-hour service every day.
– Yet the honorable member has said that it stands condemned as a socialist organization.
– I do not say that the department stands condemned; I say that socialism stands condemned.
– Socialism stands condemned because, had the Postal Department not been a socialist undertaking, the government of the day would not have been able to filch the profits, amounting to £37,000,000, which were made from 1943 to 1949. The Postal Department, as a business undertaking, must be made to pay. its way. Two methods can be used to achieve this result. One is a reduction of expenditure, and the other is an increase of income. Both of those remedies should be applied. If we are to have a 40-hour week we must pay for it, and if the application of the 40-hour week involves the curtailment of some post and telegraph services they must be curtailed, unless the people are prepared to pay the cost of retaining them.
All the proposed increases of post and telegraph charges are necessary in order to pay the swollen salary and wages bill that has resulted from the operation of the 40-hour week and the granting of wage increases hy arbitration tribunals. T do not complain about the shorter working week or the wage increases, but clearly we must pay for the extra costs which they have caused. I urge the Government to explore every possible avenue in order to find means of eliminating waste and reducing the expenditure of the Postal Department. If necessary, it must restrict some of the department’s services.
– How can that be done unless the situation is investigated by a committee?
– It is quite possible to have an investigation by a committee, or by the department aided by outside experts. It certainly is not necessary to appoint another expensive committee when the job can be done simply by the Postmaster-General or departmentally. I rose to speak on this bill only in order to urge honorable members to face the facts. There are no bogies hidden in the measure. We are faced with the hard, cold, naked fact that, if we are to have less work and higher pay, the cost must be met in our public undertakings by the levying of higher charges.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Cremean) adjourned.
CANBERRA : Hostel Charges - Manganese - Chromite - Hospital Accommodation - Industrial Unrest - Mr. L. Collis - Communism - Postal Department - Diplomatic Receptions: Sydney Daily Mirror Report.
Motion (by Mr. Beale) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I bring to the attention of the House a matter which is of great concern to many hundreds of residents of the Australian Capital Territory. Yesterday there was placed on the notice-board at the government hostel at which I reside a curt notice in these words -
lt is hereby notified that as from the 5th July, 1951, the weekly tariff for permanent guests of this establishment will be increased to £4 per week. Cafeteria service will in future operate at this establishment.
– Yes. Similar notices have appeared at other hotels and hostels conducted by the Department of the Interior, and I have no doubt that, within the next few days, others will appear at all remaining hostels. From inquiries which I made last night, I have learned that the rates are to be increased at all of the eight hotels, hostels and guest houses that are conducted by the department in Canberra. At Reid House, the present tariff of £3 10s. a week will be increased to £4) and, in the dining-room, the waitress service which is at present provided will be taken away and cafeteria meals will be served. At Narellan House, the present rate of £3 10s. a week will be increased to £4, but the waitress service will he retained. At Acton Guest House, the rate will be increased from £3 5s. to £3 15s. and cafeteria service will be introduced. At Gorman House, the rate will be increased from £3 10s. to £4 and cafeteria service will be introduced.- At Mulwala House, the rate of £3 10s. will be increased to £4 and cafeteria service will be introduced. At Lawley House, the rate of £5 will be increased to £5 15s. for permanent guests, but waitress service will be retained. A similar increase from £5 a week will be introduced at Havelock House, which opened a week ago, and waitress service will be retained. At Hotel Acton, the rate will be increased from £5 to £5 15s. and the waitress service will be retained. At Hotel Kurrajong, the rate will be increased from £5 to £5 15s., but I am pleased to be able to inform honorable members that there, also, thu waitress service will be retained.
Amongst different groups of hostels in Canberra there is a uniformity of tariff charges, but uniformity is not maintained in the services and facilities that are provided at them. In some hostels on the cheaper tariff scale, hot and cold water is provided in every room. In others on the same tariff, cold water only is provided in the rooms and, in the hostel at which I reside, neither hot nor cold water is available in the bedrooms. In some hostels, billiard rooms are provided and in others that facility is not available. There is similar discrimination in relation to the provision of tennis courts and other means of recreation. The curt announcement of the decision to increase tariffs is typical of the arbitrary methods of administration that are applied in the Australian Capital Territory. I point out to honorable members that, in the hostels that.are conducted by the Department of the Interior, committees representative of the guests, which are well able to state the point of view of guests on matters which affect their lives in the hostels, are operating with the approval of the department. Amongst the members of those committees are highly trained and capable officers, such as accountants and economists, who are fully able to give advice on hostel management, costing and control. But the views of those committees have been largely ignored in the past, and that policy seems to be continuing. The decision to which I have referred was made without any reference to those representative committees. Its announce ment at this time disregards the fact that representations are now in train with the object of inducing the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) to appoint a committee to inquire into the management, control and finance of hostels that are conducted by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works and Housing. The Minister for the Interior knows of these representations. I regret that the announcement of increased tariffs and reduced services has been made in his absence. ‘Although many people receiving allowances from the Government may be in a position to pay the increased charges there are many more - and they are in the majority - in the hostels which charge lower tariffs who simply cannot afford to pay the rates to be charged. There are many ways in which the cost of maintaining hostels could be reduced without lessening, the comfort, and service that is given to the guests. I believe it can be demonstrated that methods of costing are at fault and that, foodstuffs are purchased on a most extravagant basis. Hostel managers have supported this statement and they, as well as the hostel committees, should be taken into conference with the Minister and departmental head on these matters. 1 ask the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) , in the absence of the Minister for the Interior, to issue instructions that the increases are not to be applied until opportunity has been given for representative views to be placed before the. Minister.
.- Many sections of Australian industry are faced with disaster unless they can obtain supplies of tinplate. I believe there is a simple solution to the problem. I believe that departments which are centralized in Canberra and Melbourne are not sufficiently familiar with the quantity of chromite and manganese which exists in Western Australia and the ease with which it can be mined and transported. In exchange for tinplate, which this country so urgently needs from the United States of America, a quantity of manganese and chromite, which exists in such tremendous quantities in Western Australia, should be offered. Australia has done little to deserve any reciprocity from the United States of America in the form of supplies of tinplate, and yet we expect that country to supply us with this material which it needs so urgently for its own defenceAustralia has a ban on the export of manganese and chrome. These two metals are used for the hardening of steel and . are urgently needed by America and the United Kingdom for their defence stockpiles, but are not available to them. A ban has been placed on the export of manganese and chrome for no other reason than the fact that it is not known how much manganese and chrome there is in Australia.
I am convinced that government departments are not familiar with the quantities of these minerals that exist in Australia. At the Horseshoe deposit in Western Australia it has been estimated by Mr. Cook, of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, that there are 500,000 tons of manganese. . The bureau may not be aware that there are other deposits of manganese in that area which have never been pegged because under the State mining laws if the deposits were pegged a certain number of men would have to be employed in working them. No one is prepared to spend a few thousand pounds a year in producing manganese when it cannot be marketed. The only user of manganese in Australia is the Broken Kill Proprietary Company Limited, which pays in the vicinity of £6 10s. a ton for it, although £17 a ton could be obtained overseas. There are manganese deposits in the electorate of the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) and in other parts of Australia. These are not worked because the Bureau of Mineral Resources and other government departments, knowing how much manganese there is in the country, recommended a ban being placed on the export of the metal.
There are even greater quantities of chromite than manganese in Australia. At Coobina alone, millions of tons of chromite are available. Again, because the departments are not aware of the country’s total resources, there is a ban on the export of the mineral, which is needed bv tha United States of America. Russia terminated America’s supplies of manganese and chromite last year for political reasons, and America is now forced to depend on limited supplies from Turkey and elsewhere. The
Government has decided to send two men to examine the Coobina chromite deposits next Tuesday in order to select sites for drilling. That is completely satisfactory to the people of Western Australia, because we are convinced that once the officials from the Bureau of Mineral Resources see these deposits the ban will be lifted. I understand that the Government intends to make top-level representations through the American Embassy to the Government of the United States of America and also to the British Government. If,- at this juncture, the Government could tell America and Great Britain that in exchange for tinplate it would supply limited quantities of manganese or chromite - 100,000 tons of manganese or 500,000 tons of chromite - I feel sure that the United Kingdom and America would welcome the offer, because they cannot obtain sufficient supplies of these minerals.
A conference of Commonwealth countries will be held in Great Britain towards the end of this year for the purpose of discussing raw materials. If it is not too late to arrange this barter for tinplate, I urge the Government to raise the subject of the Coobina chromite and the manganese in Western Australia at that conference. There is no need for me to emphasize the gravity of the shortage of tinplate. The pineapple industry in Queensland is faced with disaster. The same state of affairs exists in many other industries. A great deal of trouble has been taken to establish a tuna industry on the north-west coast of Western Australia which would result in supplies of tuna being made available to Australian consumers and in the development of that, part of Western Australia. The company concerned dismantled its plant on the Great Australian Bight and took it to the north-west of Australia to commence operations. It has obtained boats and intends to establish an industry in one of the biggest tuna fields in Australia, but it will be forced to close down if tinplate is net avr.il.thle, because it has been unable to obtain a quota for its new factories. The company’s activities in the south will also be restricted. Similar conditions will exist in the agricultural industries throughout Australia. Chromite and manganese are obtained not by mining but by quarrying. The reefs are many feet above the surface. They extend over an area of six or more square miles, and there is a reef every 100 yards or so. There are millions of tons of these minerals in Australia. A team of four men can blast out 400 tons a day. Yet those who wish to develop the industry have been prevented from doing so by the embargo which has been applied. It has been said that the cost of transporting the material would be too great. Apparently it is not known that in Western Australia road trains are used which carry 60 tons. Six semi-trailers are linked together and driven by one driver, who is relieved by another who travels with him. There are chromite deposits within three miles of the main Marble Bar road. I urge the Government seriously to consider this submission.
.- In view of the fact that hospital accommodation in Victoria is desperately inadequate and that the cost of accommodation in private hospitals had risen during recent years by 300 per cent., I asked the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) last week whether the Government would initiate some action in conjunction with the Government of Victoria in order to provide hospital accommodation at reasonable rates and prevent the exploitation of the sick. The Minister contented himself with saying that hospitals in Victoria or anywhere else did not exploit anybody. I did not say that the managements of the public hospitals were responsible for exploitation. I said that the cost of accommodation in private hospitals during recent years had increased by over 300 per cent, while costs of the services used in those hospitals had only increased by 100 per cent, at the most. Therefore, a margin of 200 per cent, was unaccounted for. In 1939, accommodation in a fourbed ward in St. Andrew’s private hospital cost £3 3s. The charge has since been increased to £12 12s. Accommodation in a two-bed ward cost £4 4s. in 1939 and has since been increased to £15 15s. Accommodation in a single room has increased from £7 7s. in 1939 to £21. Accommodation is not the only expense which the patient has to meet. The prices that I have quoted represent the bare cost of occupying a bed. The public, particularly those in the lower income groups, cannot secure accommodation in public hospitals and it has been announced that there will be further rises in the charges of public hospitals in’ the near future because the wages of nurses are to be increased. That will be a rather belated increase. Exorbitant profits are being made from the sale of drugs, utensils and furniture and other materials that are used in Victorian hospitals. It is the responsibility of the Government, if it considers itself to be Christian or civilized or humane, to take some action on this matter.
– Can the honorable member substantiate his statements?
– They are substantiated by the bible of liberalism in Victoria, the Melbourne Herald. Charges made by the Melbourne . Herald will not be sneered at by members of Liberal party. That newspaper recently published an article about one of the reasons why difficulties in regard to hospitals exist in Victoria. The article begins -
Victoria could afford to have the finest and cheapest hospital and services in the world if the State got a’ fair .deal from the Commonwealth under the uniform tax system.
– Who said that?
– Mr. John K. Heughen, in an article in the Melbourne Herald during the early part of this month. Perhaps honorable members opposite might say that the allocations from the uniform tax pool are the responsibility of the Labour party as well as of the Liberal party. I am not concerned about whose responsibility they are, because if this article is right, then Victoria is getting an inadequate return for the money that it has contributed to the Commonwealth’s coffers. This article points out that since the introduction of uniform taxation the taxpayers of Victoria have contributed to Commonwealth funds only £2,000,000 less than the taxpayers of New South Wales have done, but New South Wales has drawn out about £70,000,000 more than Victoria has drawn out. Of course, New South Wales and Queensland have better hospital systems than Victoria has. I think that this Government, which is led by a Victorian, should do something to ensure that the intolerable and tragic conditions of hospital accommodation in Victoria will be remedied. It does not suit me for people to have their heads in the air and talk about schemes to populate this country through the expenditure of millions of pounds for the purpose of bringing immigrants here, when they will not allocate funds to enable the accommodation necessary for maternity cases to be provided. The granting of such funds would enable the people of this country to be kept in good health and kept alive. But they will not provide the money. The individuals involved would rather expend millions of pounds in bringing immigrants here. They are also ready to expend huge sums on a defence scheme. I am not opposed to such expenditure on defence, but I say that a healthy population is the basis of an adequate and proper defence scheme. Therefore, the Government should ensure that hospital conditions in this country are such that the health of the people shall be protected, and that Australian babies shall be born, in satisfactory conditions, in maternity hospitals that are adequately staffed and equipped. But the Government does none -of those things. It is apathetic about these most important issues. I say to the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), who is playing around with some scheme for free medicine, or nearly free medicine, or halffree medicine, or partly free medicine, that if he did something for the hospitals by placing adequate funds at the disposal of the State authorities so that more beds could be installed and maintained, he would be doing something satisfactory. I know that the Government has many obligations. But this is a particularly important matter. Early in 1950 I said in, this House that thousands of people were being turned away from hospitals in Victoria to die. At that time that statement was the literal truth. Since then, the position has worsened and is still worsening. I think that the first and fundamental act for the Government of a civilized Christian community to perform should be to ensure that such conditions do not continue. It should initiate some move whereby there will be adequate accommodation in hospitals for all kinds of people suffering from all kinds of rom plaints.
,- The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who is now in charge of the House, in answer to a question about the Bell Bay aluminium works dispute over builders’ labourers, said on Tuesday afternoon, as reported in the Tasmanian Mercury yesterday, that - it had been inspired by a man named Collis, who is a Communist and who is not an official of the union.
Yesterday I received a telegram from Mr. Len Collis, of Bridgewater, Tasmania. I intended to raise this matter on the adjournment last night, but the protracted sitting into the early hours of this morning precluded that. The telegram, which was sent from Hobart, reads -
I refute unreservedly that I am a Communist as stated by the Minister for Supply in the House yesterday. Further I refute that 1 arn a party to sabotage. Please make the above known in. the House as early as possible.
I am raising this matter because Len Collis resides in my electorate, is a member of the Labour party, and sent the telegram to me as his elected representative. I am not going to stand for people who are not Communists being, accused of being Communists, whatever we may think of their actions in other directions. The Minister’s accusation got into the press and Mr. Collis had to deny it in this morning’s Hobart Mercury. His denial was published unobtrusively. It is easy to fling accusations of this kind around and try to destroy the character of people engaged in industry. I do not intend to go into the rights or wrongs of the dispute at the Bell Bay works, but the accusation highlights the gross injustice of the indiscriminate use of the term “ Communist “ in Australia to-day by leading members of the community, members of Parliament and Ministers of the Crown. If a man speaks his mind to-day, or says an unpopular thing which sometimes has to be said, or if he is in industrial life or is watchful for injustices, he is likely to bo branded a Communist. That sort of thing was prevalent during the election campaign, when we know that hundreds of good men were accused of being Communists. In fact, the entire membership of the Labour party is supposed to be composed of Communists according to Liberal party propaganda. I would say that the new and current definition in this country -of a Communist is anybody- -
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! Confer.ences between honorable members must cease, otherwise I would just as soon go home.
– I would say that the new definition in Australia of a Communist is anybody who disagrees with the Liberal party. As an illustration of that fact I recall that a lady who was distributing Liberal party literature called on a woman in a town in the northern part of Tasmania during the last general election campaign, and offered her some of the literature. The woman said that she did not want it and the lady said, “Mrs. Jones, I did not think you were a Communist “. Two boys were outside a polling booth in Launceston handing out Libera] party literature. One of our men who walked past them, refused to accept the literature, and he heard one boy say to the other, “ He is a Communist, anyway “. Those incidents illustrate the type of mind being developed in this country by the propaganda that, unwittingly or wittingly, is going out from the Liberal party to-day.
– As an ex-parson, you should tell the truth.
– I am telling the truth.
– You are not.
– Order! Honorable members should address the Chair. Accusations thrown across the chamber are not conducive to low temperatures here.
– There is a movement in this country to try to intimidate workingclass leaders and trade unions. The anti-Labour parties want to develop a trade unionism composed of wishy-washy, spineless, innocuous “ yes-men “ who are afraid to express views contrary to those of the employers.
– Do not talk rot.
– It is a pity you do not get round among the workers.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman will please address me.
– “Well, I should like to have a go. This man named Collis is tho secretary of the Bridgewater branch of the Labour party, and a delegate to our State Labour conference. I have known him since I have been a member of tl»> Parliament, and I know that he is an absolutely honest man. The second part of the accusation made against him was that he was not an official of the trad, union concerned, in the dispute at Bell Bay, the Tasmanian branch of the Builders’ Labourers Federation. At one time that union was practically defunct in Tasmania. I think it had only about ten members, and nothing had been done for several years to organize it. A Communist was planning to take it over, but Len Collis got a group of men together and forestalled him. Ho reformed the union, later became its organizing secretary in Tasmania, and then helped many builders’ labourers to have injustices remedied. Many employers have remedied injustices when Mr. Collis has shown them where a mistake had been made. He might bc criticized for the way in which he has handled the Bell Bay dispute, and for the reason behind it. Honorable members opposite might say that the unionists have no case-
– Who is criticizing it?
– If the honorable member will read the Tasmanian newspapers he will know.
– The honorable member does not defend what Mr. Collis did, does he?
– I am not defending his actions, or otherwise. I am saying that it is possible to disagree with what he did and with his handling of the dispute, and to criticize him as a member of the Labour party, but that it is unjust to level the charge of communism at a man who is the organizer of a trade union, a member of the Labour party, and secretary of one of its branches. It just shows what damage irresponsible talk can do. 1 wished to bring these facts before the Minister who made the statement in tho House on Tuesday. Len Collis is not afraid of being criticized for any action that he has taken as a Labour man, but he definitely resents being marked with the stigma of being a Communist.
.-! should like to take this opportunity to bring before the Minister for Supply (Mr. Ben le) who is in charge of the House, the most unsatisfactory and intolerable conditions that Obtain with respect to postal facilities in my electorate. The post office at Maroubra Junction was built twenty years ago, when the population of the district was 4,000 people, and it is still in use now that the population is 20,000. The present building is too small for the amount of business handled and for the staff employed. The public space and the counter are inadequate to cope with the public in a satisfactory and an expeditious manner. The officials behind the counter who, in the words of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony), carry out their duties capably, efficiently and loyally, are forced to operate with their own cash boxes. Consequently, in busy periods there is a danger of monetary loss to the officers concerned. Moreover, there is only one door for ingress and egress.
– What does that mean?
– If the honorable member is so ignorant that he does not know what that means, he should keep his mouth closed.
– Order ! The honorable member must not use unparliamentary language.
– The local fire brigade authority is concerned about the safety of this building. After having received many complaints, I brought the matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony). When he had inquired into the matter he sent me a letter in which he stated that after exhaustive inquiries his department agreed with the fire brigade authority and intended to have the door in question altered. . He said that his experts who had pursued the inquiry with expeditious efficiency and with all the means at their disposal have made a certain suggestion. That suggestion was that they should alter the door so that it would swing outwards instead of inwards. I think that that is a touch of genius, and 1 suggest to the Postmaster-General that the officer who thought of that should be given a responsible position in the department. There is no provision for the queueing-up of the considerable numbers of people who visit the post office on the days when social services are distributed. Many ex-servicemen and age and invalid pensioners attend on those days. Moreover, each member of the staff is obliged to eat his lunch in full view of the public. Chairs and tables were provided as well as a small stovette, but they have been packed away ever since they arrived. There is no lunchroom to accommodate them. The stovette has been left in the position . in which it wa3 placed eighteen months ago, and it will be remembered that two winters have passed by during that time. The people at Maroubra Junction have to walk 1-J miles to get their registered mail, or have to travel by two ‘buses at a cost of Sd. each way. When I made these corn plaints to the Postmaster-General personally he said that he would make a personal inspection of the locality. He has forgotten that promise as honorable members on the Government side so often forget promises. I made inquiries about the establishment of a non-official post office at Little Bay. Prince Henry Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Australia, is situated at Little Bay. It employs about 300 residential workers. The Postmaster-General said that if I could find a person who would accept the position of now-official postmaster he would establish a post office at Little Bay. After I had spent much time in seeking a suitable person, I finally found one. I sent him to the Postal Department and he was interviewed by departmental officers. Officers also visited his home and reported that it would be a suitable place for a nonofficial post office. After all that, they offered him the munificent sum of 15s. a week if he would act as non-official postmaster. No doubt with the rising tide of inflation that will become £6 or £7 in perhaps eighteen months. At Botany there is a post office which is quite inadequate to meet the needs of the people. It is many years old and was built to serve a population only half the size of the present-day population. The post office at Maroubra Bay is a non-official post office and it does not fulfil the needs of the people. Maroubra Bay is a fastgrowing district and the people are complaining day after day of the intolerable conditions that they have to suffer. T. remind honorable members that those complaints were being made when people had to pay only 3d. for a stamp. The complaints will be much greater after (ho postage rates are increased.
Mi-. SPEAKER.- Order ! ‘The honorable member cannot refer to postage rates because there is a bill dealing with that subject already before the House.
– I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I bring’ this matter to the attention of the Minister in charge of the House, in the hope that I shall receive some definite information. I am sick of the empty promises which are so often made by honorable members on the Government side.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr.- WENTWORTH (Mackellar; [11.38]. - I had not intended to speak on thi? adjournment motion, but in the light of the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) I desire to make some observations. I know nothing abou the man whom he mentioned. That man, Les. Collis, may or may not be a Communist. I do not know. But I want to address myself to certain general principles. It is clear now that the only way of exculpating the innocent is to name the guilty. In other words, people who are not Communists have the greatest interest in ensuring that Communists arc named as such. The Labour party has quite consistently during the last four or five years played the role of an organization which is trying to prevent the Communists from being exposed. That has been made quite clear by, for example, the case which occurred at Katoomba about four years ago and which I mentioned in the House earlier to-day. The Labour party has played the part of a body which is trying to prevent the exposure of Communists as Communists.
– Order !
– Without reference to the case that the honorable member for Wilmot mentioned, I appeal to the Labour party to change its policy. I know that that will be a difficult matter and I know that there are many members of the Labour party who have had personal affiliations during a long period of time with the Communist party or its auxiliaries. I know that the Labour party in this House is led by a man who has in the past had considerable affiliations both with the Communist party and its subsidiaries.
– I rise to a point of order. The remark just made by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) is offensive to me and 1 ask that it be withdrawn. He has cast aspersions upon the character of the leader of my party.
-Order! That is not a reflection on the honorable member.
M.v. Petkus. - It is wholesale libel.
– At this late stage .1 appeal to the non-Communist elements in the Labour party to try to change the attitude of their party and to co-operate in the exposure of Communists. (.Inly thus can non-Communists be protected from unjust accusations. I know nothing about the case mentioned by the honorable member for Wilmot, but if he is sincere in his opposition to communism In; will follow up what he has already done by helping the Government and The i eople to expose Communists as and when he knows of their existence.
Mv. WARD (East Sydney) [11.42].- The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) seems anxious to engage in exposures, and therefore I shall no doubt receive his co-operation in the matter that I am about to mention to the House. During the past week or so I have been trying to get some information from the Government about a happening of approximately ten years ago. However, it is still of the utmost importance. It is not important to me as to who was intoxicated at a function ten years ago. What is important is that some of- the gentlemen who were intoxicated ten years ago-
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is addressing the House about a matter which is on the notice-paper.
– I do not remember seeing it on the notice-paper.
– The importance of that matter is that the people who I believe were’ intoxicated were in possession of important government information, and they disclosed it to people who were potential enemies of this country. If there was any basis of fact for the statement which appeared in the Sydney newspaper and upon which I have sought information, one would have expected that there would have been some denial from the Government. I have raised the matter in this House on a number of occasions, and in fact I put a question about it on the notice-paper. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in accordance with the arrogant attitude that he has recently adopted, gave me a certain reply. So as to make the reply intelligible, I shall read the question. It was as follows : -
Has the Prime Minister seen an article appearing in a Sydney evening newspaper of the 30th May, 1951, under the caption “Howfar do receptions help international diplomacy”, o£ which the following is an extract: -
He Was a guest of the former Japanese Minister to Australia (Dr.Kawai) at a party in the Canberra Hotel on the eve of the Pacific War at which some Australian notables having drunk more than was good for them talkedmore than was good for their country?
Has he taken any steps to institute inquiries to ascertain who the “ notables “ were to whom reference is made in the article and the nature of the information which they possessed, and of which it is alleged they spoke, when in an intoxicated state?
The replies that were furnished to those questions were as follows : -
Those replies reflect the arrogance of the Prime Minister with respect to this matter. Some persons may regard the incident to which I refer as not being of great importance and may ask, “ Who wants to know who was intoxicated at a party ten years ago ? “ But the importance of the matter is that the function was attended by a large number of parliamentarians, including a number of honorable gentlemen who are members of the present Government. The hesitancy on the part of the Government to clear it up completely is rather significant. If no basis existed for the allegation that some of those honorable gentlemen were in an intoxicated state as has been alleged by the newspaper writer, who stated that he was present at the function, and thus obtained his information at first hand, the Government should have quickly refuted the allegation. However, it did not do so. Stories are circulating that a number of honorable gentlemen who are members of the present Government, and others who were formerly members of it but are now overseas, were intoxicated at that function and spoke freely about matters which in the interests of Australia should not have been publicly discussed. Are such men of a type in whom great trust should continue to be reposed as custodians of important information that conies into their possession as members of the Government? Australia is now said to be confronted with a dangerous international situation. Honorable members opposite, at every opportunity that is presented to them in this House, talk about the need to prevent espionage in this country. If they art; really anxious to prevent the leakage of vital information, why does not the Government clean up the matter to which I have referred and let the people know the truth about it? It can easily do so. Why cannot the man who wrote that article, and who was present at the function, be interrogated? Why oan he not be asked who the “ notables “ are to whom he referred, and why cannot the names of such persons be made known in this House? Since I first raised this matter in the Parliament messages have been conveyed to me by various channels with the object, in my opinion, of intimidating me and of endeavouring to induce me to desist from urging that the matter be cleared up. No doubt, the authors of such messages hoped that I would be prepared to let the matter drop and say no more about it. I say to the Government that I shall not let it drop until it has been cleared up to the satisfaction of the Opposition. We want to know whether there was any basis in fact for the article and, if so, we wish to be informed of the details of any statement that the writer concerned might make. Nothing short of such action on the part of the Government will satisfy me or the members of the Opposition.
– in reply - The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. E. Fraser) raised a matter that relates to Reid House and other hostels in the Territory. I shall convey his representations to the Minister for the Interior (Mr, Kent Hughes) who at present is absent owing to indisposition.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Grayden) referred to the shortage of tinplate and to the possibility of exploiting local production of chromite and manganese, which are said to be freely obtainable in Western Australia, as a bargaining point in negotiations with other countries from whom we require to obtain strategic materials. I have had a conversation with the honorable member on this subject and I have indicated to him that the matter is not quite as easy as that. In addition to tinplate we require copper, aluminium, cotton, sulphur and other strategic materials. It may be true that Australian chromite tungsten and other minerals are regarded with favour in other countries. All 1 can say at this juncture is that high level conversations are now proceeding in London and Washington with respect to supplies of these and other strategic materials, and that the Government is doing its best to see that an arrangement is made under which Australia shall obtain a fair share of the materials that it requires.
The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) referred to the hospital position in Victoria. I do not want to be outdone by- anybody in personal feeling for those in failing health who are unable, to obtain proper treatment. However, f point out that hospitalization is fundamentally a State function. Victoria is a rich State and it has an excellent administrative record in the sphere of health. I should have thought that it was primarily the responsibility -)f that, State to attend to matters of the kind the honorable member has mentioned. In any event, the Government is making substantial contributions to the States in the sphere of health. I shall bring the honorable member’s remarks to the notice of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), but, I again emphasize, that re’gardless of our personal feelings for the. persons concerned, we cannot disguise the fact that the matter is primarily the responsibility of the Victorian Government.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said that Mr. Collis is not a Communist, and he quoted Mr. Collis himself in support of that statement. If Mr. Collis is not a Communist, I am glad to have the assurance; but information that has been made available to me leads me to believe that if he has not embraced the knees of the goddess his conduct certainly indicates that he has been snuggling up pretty close to her. T shall state certain facts which I donot think the honorable member for Wilmot or any other honorable member will seek to contradict. I cite these facts on the authority of Mr. Hunt, who is the federal secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation.
– That is not proof.
– That may be so; but from what I have to say very strong inferences will arise from which honorable members with an open mind on the matter can draw their own conclusions. On the 20th June last, Mr. Hunt told the men at Bell Bay that Mr. Collis, of Hobart, who claimed to be the State secretary of the federation, is not recognized as such by the federal executive of the organization. However, until a mass meeting was called by Collis the men refused to go on strike, and the meeting referred to was held at Bell Bay. Mr. Hunt said that Collis was not registered in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, either as secretary or as an officer of the Builders Labourers Federation, and he was not recognized in any other State as an officer of that organization. The official secretary of the union in Tasmania is Mr. M. Colrain, of Hobart. Mr. Hunt stated -
When we inquired for membership tickets at Bell Bay, we found that all the strikers held tickets issued illegally by Collis. Tho tickets produced at Bell Bay had been printed in Hobart under Collis’s instructions. No affiliation fees collected on these tickets had over reached the federal office. We have never received a penny piece from Collis, although the federation at one stage lent the Tasmanian branch £500, and Collis is in possession of a car provided by the federation. Collis has never produced a balance-sheet for the federal secretary for any of his terms of office, and the union has been unable to send returns ofTasmanian membership to the Registrar as required by the Arbitration Act.
Mr. Hunt stated that he believed that in order to end Oollis’s activities the federation would have to amend its constitution so that the federal council of the union could close and later reform the Tasmanian branch.
– How does any part of that statement prove that Collis is a Communist ?
– The facts that I have just recited have been stated and published by Mr. Hunt. I have just been asked what activities of Collis induced mc to believe that he is a Communist, or that he is acting like a Communist. I was informed by responsible officials of the department that T administer that. Collis was a Communist or was, at least, behaving like a Communist. I think that that statement is justified by the facto that I have recited. A strike has occurred at the aluminium project at Bell Bay, and members of the Opposition must realize that that project is a vital defence enterprise because, to give them credit. a Labour government commenced that project. Australia could not carry ona war without adequate supplies of aluminium ingots, and to meet that need the plant was established at Bell Bay at very great expense. Collis, who is branded by the federal secretary of his union as one who possesses no authority in the union, went to Bell Bay sometime ago, engaged in agitation and caused a completely illegal strike. That strike has also been denounced by the secretary of the union as being unjustified. The Bell Bay project must get into production as soon as possible if we are to obtain the supplies of aluminium that are so badly needed for aircraft production and for civilian needs. I repeat that Collis, who is an unauthorized person, induced the employees at the Bell Bay project to engage in an unjustified strike-
– What are the demands that were made by the strikers ?
– I understand that the men have already returned to work, or are about to return to work, but the issue upon which they ceased work was connected with the payment of living away from home allowance.
– What is wrong with that?
-The authorized secretary of the union has said that the action taken was wrong. The complaint has also been investigated by a conciliation commissioner, who washed his hands of it. I remind honorable members again that the Bell Bay project is a vital defence enterprise, and that the stoppage of work that occurred was completely unauthorized. It has been said by people onthe spot who know Mr. Collis and his assciates that he is a Communist. He has since denied the allegation through the honorable member for Wilmot. Very well, I hope that Collis is not a Communist; but if he is not, I wish that he would cease behaving like one.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following answer to a question was circulated: -
The importance of protecting the timbers of Australia and the users of all imported timbers has been well in the mind of the Government in regard to the whole question of timber imports. To this end the Health Department of the Commonwealth, through its plant quarantine services, exercises two functions - (1) to ensure to the best of its ability that the forests of Australia are protected against new insect pests which might militate against the output of the local industry; (2) to ensure that the timber used by the public of Australia will last and give proper service. In doing this, the Health Department acts in relation to timber imports as do the States in regard to timber produced locally. The position of these imports is that owing to the very great shortage of timber throughout the world, the quality of the timber imported has probably not been as uniformly high as it was in the days when there was acute competition between the timber exporting countries for our trade.
The result is that because of the poorer quality of timber and the speed with which it is handled overseas, the danger of introducing various peats, such as the Sirex Wasp into Australia has increased. The Health Department which acts through the Agricultural Departments of the States in this matter, accordingly acted promptly when cargoes with infested timber arrived in Melbourne and I can assure the House that the cargo mentioned by the honorable member, and several other cargoes which arrived at the same port were effectively dealt with by. the Plant Quarantine Service. All the timber was lieut treated and so this timber can be used quite safely for housing in Australia. The problem of preventing despatch oi insect-infested timber to Australia is an extraordinary complex une to which the departments concerned have given much attention. As the House is aware, our local supplies of hardwoods and softwoods have to he supplemented by importations of the order of 860,000,000 super, feet per annum, of which, perhaps, 100,000,000 super, feet might be expected to come from Europe. Even where active co-operation of the government of the exporting country has been promised, the exclusion of all timber containing insects has proved impracticable by the inspection services available because at certain stages of development of the insect no external evidence of infection is shown. Pre-shipment treatment ibeing investigated but there are difficul’, practical problems involved. The danger of infestation and damage to Australian forests by the importation of Sirex was contested by the timber importers in successive deputations to the Minister for Health and in representations to me and others of my colleagues. The question .was considered of such national importance it was decided that the conflicting evidence for and against the maintenance of quarantine protective services against Sirex should he thoroughly examined by an impartial tribunal. As the State governments are primarily responsible for the major part of Australian forests, I have written to the State Premiers seeking their co-operation in the proposed inquiry. Meanwhile, pending the outcome of the above-mentioned inquiry, quarantine services at all ports will continue against Sirex. A constant watch for infected timber is being maintained and appropriate treatment ordered.
House adjourned at 11.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 June 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19510628_reps_20_213/>.