20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER ( (Eon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.n>., and read prayers.
– I desire to address a question to the Prime Minister relative to the proposed closing down of the plant at Glen Davis, and, by way of explanation, I point out that it appears that about four or five weeks ago, the then Leader of the Opposition, the late Mr. Chifley, attended a conference of the combined unions in the district, from which a proposal emerged that the Government should be asked to invite Mr. Essington Lewis, or his nominee, to make a report upon the matter. I also understand, although there is uo ‘ correspondence on the matter, that. Mr. Chifley had a conversation with the then Minister for Fuel, Shipping and . Transport (Senator McLeay) to ascertain whether the Go<vernment would examine that proposal. Will the Prime Minister himself inquire whether that suggestion has been considered, in order that even at this last stage, as it were, there may be an independent review of the decision to close the Glen Davis plant?
– Every conceivable’ aspect of that matter has been examined by the Government, not with haste, hut with very great care and deliberation, and. therefore, the decision that has been announced cannot be altered.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister in relation to the Government’s decision to close the shale mine at Glen Davis. Many thousands, of mine workers have built homes at Glen Davis, and .those men agreed, at my request, to the installation of machinery for the extraction of pillars in the mine. Does the Prime Minister consider that the Government’s decision will encourage miners throughout Australia to accept a policy of mechanization in mines ?
– All these matters were considered by the Government, and I have nothing to add to my earlier statements.
– In the absence of the Postmaster-General, I ask the Minister for Supply to inform me whether there is any truth in the report that certain postal items have been delivered in large quantities in bags to’ certain firms, that an employee of the Postmaster-General’s Department has left the bags to be emptied by the1 firm’s staff . md to be picked up on hia next call and that, on investigation, it has been found that some bags .have been missing and have been used to make a car cover? Is the department using a large truck, in some instances with three men in it, to collect the empty bags? Have any new orders covering such deliveries been issued?
– I saw that comment in a certain weekly journal which circulates in Sydney and had inquiries made into the matter. T am informed that the statements which are made in that report arn not correct. The department is not employing any men or motor vehicles hi Sydney to collect empty mail bags. When postal articles are delivered in mail bags, a receipt for them is obtained from the firm concerned, which is required to return the empty hags to the General Post Office. Such deliveries are made when large quantities of postal articles are addressed to a firm from an overseas country, the postal authorities of which have enclosed them in mail bags on which the name of the addressee is shown. When postal articles are placed in a mail bag at the General Post Office, Sydney, for delivery to a firm, the bag. is brought back by the delivery officer.
– Can the Treasurer state whether the Commonwealth Bank is pursuing a policy of credit restriction and, if so, whether it is doing so with the approval of the Government? If such a policy is being pursued, will the right honorable gentleman give an assurance that credit restriction will not be applied to co-operative building’ societies or to individual home purchasers and builders?
– The Government is pursuing a policy of selective credit restriction. The aspect that the honorable member has mentioned has been considered from all points of view, and the Government has no intention of altering the policy that has been laid down.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer a question which is supplementary to the question of the honorable member for Bendigo on whether the Government is pursuing a policy of credit restriction. The Treasurer, in reply, agreed that that was so. I ask the Treasurer whether the policy applies to private banks as well as to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Will the Treasurer lay on the table a copy of the instructions that have been given to the Commonwealth Bank?
– I will not lay the documents to which the honorable member has referred on the table. A “copy of it was presented to the Leader of the Opposition some months ago and it has not been varied since. The restrictive policy has been laid down in respect of the whole banking system of Australia.
– Did the Minister for Supply see a recent report which indicated that Australia would provide ‘ an area for the testing of atomic weapons, including atom bombs ? If the report was correct, what will be the extent of Australia’s participation in that project?
– I saw a report to that effect some time ago. It was completely false. No arrangement has been made for Australia to use the guided weapons testing range or any other part of this country for the testing of atom bombs. We are doing some electronic and radar research in conjunction with the United Kingdom. Government, but that ha? nothing to do with the matter. The report was utterly without foundation.
– When the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has the conference with State prices authorities which he mentioned yesterday, will hf take action to stop the extensive black marketing of Victorian potatoes in New South Wales, which is seriously threatening to destroy the Victorian Potato Marketing Board’s control over the industry and thus cause a shortage of potatoes, an increase of the cost of living and general unfairness to reputable and loyal potato-growers?
– I ‘ should have thought that the honorable member, Wit his legal knowledge as well as his political knowledge, would have been aware that this Government possesses no authority to act as he suggests. I am sure that the honorable member, as the representative of a potato-growing area, will realize that legally this matter is completely within the control of the Victorian Potato Marketing Board.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seen the report that the Sydney representative of the Potato Marketing Board of Tasmania, Mr. A. G. Foster, has complained thai potato sacks have become very scarce and has said that this scarcity has come just when it looked as if the position in respect of shipping services for the carriage of potatoes from Tasmania were about to improve? Will the Minister take step* to ensure that sacks are made available so that potatoes can be shipped from Tasmania to Sydney, where supplies are already dangerously low?
– The problem of securing sufficient sacks for the Tad.manian potato crop has been understood for some time. The six State Ministers for Agriculture, at the recent meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council in Brisbane, unanimously recommended that their Ministers in charge of prices should make an appropriate adjustment of the price of second-hand cornsacks designed, in the opinion of the State Ministers for Agriculture, to get second-hand cornsacks into circulation for this very purpose. I have not yet heard whether anything has been done, about it, but last week, on the representation of my friend the honorable member for Darwin, I was able to secure from a shipment which arrived in Melbourne a few days ago, 100 bales of cornsacks for the bagging of the new potato crop in Tasmania.
– I understand that four unions have already publicly indicated their willingness to provide members for the appropriate sections of the crew of Aorangi and that another union is holding a meeting this morning to consider the matter. At Newcastle this morning, seamen have walked off four vessels for the purpose of holding a meeting. Those are the only develop ments that have come to my notice since I informed the House yesterday of the action which the Government proposed to take. The only other matter which may appear to he relevant is that in New Zealand, according to a report in the Melbourne Age, which quoted the president of the mine workers’ union in the Dominion, the miners have decided to resume work. I hope that this is an indication of a general resumption in that country.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether, in view of the recurring and much publicized discontent in immigrant camps and the blame that is constantly being attached to the Government for allegedly unsatisfactory conditions in them, he will consider the complete abandonment of these camps, which are inconsistent with the democratic way of life, and the dispersal throughout the community of immigrants as they arrive in order to expedite their establishment as reputable members of democratic society free from the regimentation that is inseparable from camps of that kind ?
– I do not accept the view implicit in the honorable member’s statement that the conditions at immigrant settlements are as unsatisfactory as he appears to think they are. On the other hand, for every complaint that we receive from immigrants from overseas in this connexion, we set numerous letters of appreciation from others who are grateful for what the Australian Government is doing to help them to settle in this country. The settlements are not intended to be permanent residences. They are intended to be, in effect, staging camps in order to enable people who come to Australia to have an opportunity to look around the country, to find out where they are to work and where they want to settle permanently, and to make arrangements for subsequent accommodation. Over-all, there is an average turnover of about 2 per cent, a week from these settlements, which means a complete turnover in about one year in the residents in any one of these camps. This is achieving the intention that we have in mind. In view of the present housing shortage, it is impossible to provide permanent residences for all immigrants to this country, ft is necessary for them to make their own arrangements in this connexion. Considering that more than 500,000 immigrants have come here since the war, the discomfort that, we have suffered is relatively small.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware of the chaotic position in New South Wales in connexion with special baby’s food, butter, vegetables, salt, and numerous other commodities that are in short supply? What action is the Minister taking on behalf of the National Government to overcome the tragic conditions that are being imposed on children and aged people? Does he not agree that those circumstances establish a condition in which communism breeds?
– I hope there is no impression that the Government is indifferent to the existence of the shortage of butter in New South Wales at the present time, or to periodical shortages and high prices of meat and other commodities. The Government is planning and will endeavour to establish such a state of affairs as will be conducive to avoiding a recurrence of these shortages. I am bound to point out to the honorable member that, in addition to shortages of butter and meat, there are shortages of corrugated iron, building steel, cement, and a thousand other things. The basic cause is common to both types of shortages.
– Is the Minister for Social Services aware of reports to the effect that a serious drug-taking epidemic is raging in various cities of the United States of America amongst children and teenagers, and that insome instances drugs are being peddled through school children? As this could pose a very grave social problem if the practice developed in Australia, will the Minister take appropriate steps to safeguard Australian children and adolescents by the imposition of severe penalties on persons convicted of engaging in this nefarious practice ?
– The only knowledge that I have of the drug traffic in the United States of America has been gleaned from press reports. I would suggest that, although undoubtedly we have young children in Australia of impressionable age who seem to imitate the things they see in films and the things they read about, there is a greater inherent stability in them than in the children of corresponding age groups in the United States of America. Insofar as the matter of penalties may come within my jurisdiction, I would press for the imposition of very heavy penalties on persons convicted of this illicit narcotic traffic. I go. so far as to say that trafficking in narcotics for young people is a practice that well merits the death penalty.
GARDEN ISLAND. Dr. DONALD CAMERON.- As re ports arc current that access tonaval establishments on Garden Islandcan easily be obtained by saboteurs, will the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy inform the House whether they are correct? If so, what steps will be taken to correct the position?
– In view of the existence of the menace of communism in this country when the Government took office, the whole of the naval establishments in Australia were alerted in order to ensure adequate security for the armed services. Security measures have been checked from time to time and the Secretary of the Department of the Navy visited Garden Island a fortnight ago. Although the head of the department is well known ho had to prove his identity before he could gain admittance to Garden Island, and I should like to see anybody else try to get in there now.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House what portion of the £50,000,000 that was voted for the current financial year for the purpose of stockpiling essential defence equipment remains unexpended ? What explanation has the
Minister to offer for the failure of the Government to obtain the equipment for which Parliament has provided the necessary funds ?
– The information which the honorable member has requested will be disclosed when the budget for the next financial year is introduced.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to supply the House with information concerning the reported statement of the DirectorGeneral of Agriculture that increased supplies of sulphur which are vital to Australian agriculture would be forthcoming; from the United States.
– The Director-General of Agriculture has been attending the International Materials Conference at Washington, where he stressed most vigorously the case for Australian requirements of sulphur or brimstone. In view of the world shortage, it is not likely that Australia will secure its full requirements of sulphur this year. However, as a result of that conference I believe that an allocation has been made to Australia in respect of the first six months of the yea)1 of 34,000 tons of sulphur. The quantity that will be available in the second half of the year has not yet been disclosed. I do not think that it is possible to procure sizeable quantities of sulphur from other sources and action is being taken to increase the production of sulphuric acid in Australia from our native resources.
– Will the Minister for Health give consideration to the printing on paybooks of pensioners of the names and addresses of local medical practitioners who are willing to make their services available to pensioners? I suggest that such a matter could be arranged by post offices throughout the country and that the information could be confidential as between doctor and patient. 1. point out that pensioners who live in rooms where there are no telephones and who have no friends nearby find it impossible to contact medical practitioners at short notice. A similar request previously made to the Minister was refused on the ground that compliance with it would be unfair to such medical practitioners. At the present time pensioners are not receiving medical services to which they are entitled because they are not aware of the names of doctors to whom they may apply for such services.
– I shall give consideration to the request made by the honorable member.
– Does the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture know of any commodity, other than butter, the retail price of which is fixed without any real relation to the cost of production ? 1. ask the Minister whether or not the function of price-fixing is . to prevent excessive profits from being made in a time of shortage and whether the State prices authorities have suggested to him that there is danger of dairymen making such profits from the sale of butter at the present retail price.
– I am bound to say that I know of no other product the price of which is so relatively low as that of butter. I cannot readily call to mind any other product in respect of which State Ministers who control prices have fixed the retail price without regard to the cost of production. I have always understood that the primary purpose of prices control is to protect the public against exploitation and profiteering. As butter is now being sold to the public at approximately half of the cost of production, I cannot explain the logic of the attitude of State Ministers in maintaining the present price level.
– I wish to inquire of you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in your power to take action concerning the central heating system throughout this building. Could not ‘that system be regulated so that honorable members and other persons would not be .forced to undergo extremes of heat and cold which, T am sure, contribute towards unduly large numbers of colds and other ailments to which persons using this building arc subject? Those ailments are undermining the health and the efficiency of honorable members. This state of affairs has existed ever since I have been a member of this “House. I recall that on one occasion there were no less than six cases of pneumonia-
-Order ! The honorable member is getting outside the scope of a question.
– I ask you, sir, uh ether it would be possible for you to do something in that connexion. The air of Canberra is beautifully pure-
– Could you take action, sir, to relieve the discomfort of honorable members in this connexion?
– I shall consider the matter during the week-end and reply in due course to the question asked by the honorable member.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs aware of the serious plight of free suburban newspapers in Sydney and in other parts of the country because their publishers are unable to obtain supplies of newsprint? Does the Minister know that those newspaper proprietors have been forced seriously to curtail the size of their newspapers and. that some have been obliged to sell out? By way of explanation, may I add that although such newspapers individually are small they are numerous, and. collectvely are of great importance to suburban businessmen and the large number of people employed by them. Whilst I appreciate that the Government has no power to control or ration newsprint, I ask the Minister whether the Department of Trade and Customs will use its best endeavours to persuade the importers of newsprint to increase supplies to the newspapers referred to.
– I have a great deal of sympathy with the request made by the honorable member. I appreciate that the suburban newspapers perform valuable services and are an added strength to the business community generally. No doubt the honorable member is aware of the fact that this Government has been doing all that it can do to ‘ acquire additional newsprint. Because it has been impossible to secure more newsprint from the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and other hard currency countries, the Government has made available additional dollars for the importation of newsprint from Canada. It has, of course, no power to acquire stocks or to otherwise control newsprint by rationing. But there is a section within the Department of Trade and ‘Customs that is bending it? energies in this matter and is endeavouring to arrange a proper apportionment, as between those holding stocks and thos” without stocks of newsprint. Nevertheless, I shall direct the point raised by thchonorable member to the Minister foi Trade and Customs, who, I have no doubt will supply him with addition nl information.
– I have to call the attention of the House to the ever-present problem of conversation in this chamber. At times it is very difficult for me to hear speeches delivered from the back benches when loud conversation, laughter and ?o forth are going on close to me. I think that it is time that the House showed more control of its behaviour.
– Does the Minister for Health know that it is alleged that hundreds of age, invalid and widow pensioners have nothing left with which to buy food or clothing after they have paid house rents and medicine bills, and as a result many of them are becoming critically ill? Will the Minister investigate whether the complaint of the Combined Pensioners Association is justified, and if so, will he endeavour to persuade the Government to make special allowances available for such pensioners through tho Department of Social Services?
– First of all the honorable member’s question deals with n matter of policy, and secondly it should have been addressed to the Minister foiSocial Services.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture give me any fresh information regarding the supply of cornsacks for the coming wheat harvest? As reports suggest that the price of such sacks will be increased, would it be possible, and would it meet with the Minister’s approval, for the increase to be met by a consumer subsidy, which would prevent the extra charge from being passed on to the general public, as will normally be the case following the yearly survey of the cos1 of production in the wheat industry?
– I have no new information about the position in relation to the supply of cornsacks. The current position is that orders have been placed Ivy the Australian Government, accepted by Indian merchants and authorized by the Indian Government, for quantities that will substantially meet our requirements. It is- understood by the Commonwealth Jute Controller that there will be no difficulty in authorizing the final orders to meet our requirements fully. The Government has not considered subsidizing the price of cornsacks. I believe that if it did <o there would be no final difference in the impact on the public of the increased price, through the cost being passed through all the channels and appearing in the final cost of the commodity for which the cornsacks are used.
– Will the Prime Minister state whether Labour governments in certain States have refused to transfer power to the Commonwealth to deal with the Communists? ls it a fact that certain opportunist Labour leaders of trade unions are advocating a “No” vote at the referendum? 1? it also true that paragraph 3 (a) of the Australian Labour party platform advocates the alteration of the Constitution to transfer all sovereign powers to the Commonwealth? Does not this indicate that, in its cardinal desire to fight a rearguard action on the issue of communism, the Australian Labour party is prepared to violate its own platform?
– If this question is not out of order, I do not know what is.
– I heard that comment. I shall decide what is and what is not out of order.
– It is true that two governments - those of New South Wales and Queensland - have declined to agree to a reference of power to deal with the Communists. It is therefore true that the Government will be required to submit legislation to this Parliament for the purpose of altering the- Constitution of the Commonwealth and that it will ask the people to affirm that alteration by their vote at a referendum. The proposed, alteration will be directed to the problem of communism. Having regard to the events of last year, I shall watch with great interest to discover what leg the Australian Labour party will come down on.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to state whether it is true that, although labour was available, no action was taken to discharge 40,000 bags of urgently needed potatoes from SS. Dilga. which was berthed at Darling Harbour, Sydney, during last week-end? is it a fact that during the week-end work proceeded on some vessels in connexion with the unloading of nonperish.able cargoes? In the public interest, <:m in view of the need to speed up the turn-round of ships, what action does the Government propose to take against those employers who were responsible for the deliberate hold-up of work?
– I welcome this evidence that the honorable member is endeavouring to assist us in trying to promote the speedier turn-round of ships in Australia. I shall make inquiries and give him n fuller reply when the details come to h - .’.
– hy leave - For the first registration under the National Service Act, all young men who are British subjects and who attained the age of eighteen years between the 1st November, 1950, and the 31st July, 1951, inclusive, were required to register with the Department of Labour and National Service between the 1st and the 15th. May. It is not possible to say exactly how many young men in the age group were required to register but it is believed to lie between 40,000 and 41,000 for the whole of the Commonwealth. When account is taken of the fact that this was the first registration under a new scheme and only a short time was available for young men to become familiar with the requirements and the procedure, the response has been very satisfactory. About 95 per cent, of the young men believed to be liable to register have already registered, and registrations are still being received.
Considerable latitude has been allowed to young men who have registered after the 15th May as it has been evident that many of them were not fully aware of their obligation. This is shown by the fact that about 3,000 men who were not in the age group required to register submitted registration forms to my department. The time has now come, however, when reasonable excuses for failure to register cannot so easily be demonstrated, and action to discover young men who have failed to register will be taken with a view to taking proceedings against them. I therefore strongly advise any young man who has failed to register to do so without delay.
More than one-third of those who have registered have indicated their desire to serve in the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force. The remainder will serve in the Army. The number of young men wishing to train in the Navy and, in some States, the Air Force, is considerably greater than the numbers these services can cope with and it will therefore be impossible to comply with the preferences of all those who wish to serve in the Navy and Air Force. Where- this situation arises, my department, in collaboration with the services, will select those who have the greatest claim for consideration because of previous voluntary service with cadet organizations, because of a family tradition of service in a particular arm of the forces or because they have special qualifications which fit them for technical occupations in these services. Also, a factor for eon.sideration in relation to the Navy and the Air Force will be the locality of residence in relation to the units to which the trainee will be posted.
I shall refer now to exemptions from, and deferment of, national service which have been the subject of many inquiries by honorable members. The National Service Act 1951 makes provision for exemption from the performance of national service for three classes of persons. First, there are those with a physical or mental disability as prescribed in the National Service Regulations; secondly, there are conscientious objectors to any form of military service : and thirdly, there are ministers of religion, theological students or members -of a religious order as defined in the National Service Regulations. Only 135, or less than one-third of ] petcent., of the 42,000 young men who have submitted registration forms have claimed to hold conscientious objections to military service. Before any of those are exempted from service they must satisfy a court as to their conscientious objections. There is no provision in the act for exemption from service on the grounds of hardship, nor is there a provision for the exemption of young men who are working in particular industries or occupations. There seems to be some misunderstanding about that. But section 31 of the act provides that the service of individuals or classes of persons mav be deferred in certain circumstances, and a number of honorable members have asked that should make a statement on the arrangements for deferment of service to help them in dealing with the many inquiries that they are receiving. 1 shall deal first with the problem of hardship. If a young man who is liable to be called up for national service believes that to be called up at the ordinary time will cause exceptional hardship to himself, or his parents or dependants, he may apply to my department, for deferment of his service. His application will be referred to a court before which he will have the opportunity of substantiating his claim. The court is empowered to determine that his service should be deferred for a stipulated period, not exceeding twelve months, at the end of which he may, if necessary, apply again. An application should not be made until after the medical examination as it is not until a young man has been medically examined that he will know whether he is fit for service, and when he is likely to be called up. If he believes his call-up would cause exceptional hardship he should ask advice on the procedure from the officer of my department who interviews him at the time of the medical examination, and he will be given the necessary form of application.
Honorable members representing country constituencies are aware that seasonal peaks make special demands on the rural labour force. Maximum production on the rural front is recognized by the Government as being a matter of great importance. Instructions have been issued to all officers of my department that, so far as practicable, young men should not be called up during seasonal peaks. It will not always be possible to avoid some overlap. For example, a seasonal operation may extend over a four-monthly period. Training periods vary from 98 days in the case of the Army with three intakes a year to 124 days in the case of the Navy with two intakes, and 176 days in the case of the Royal Australian Air Force with four intakes a year. In doing its best to steer the training period clear of a seasonal peak, it may be that training will extend into some portion at the beginning or end of the seasonal period. My officers will, however, do their best, and registrants, when they ure interviewed, should make clear what period would be most convenient for them to be called up.
Under the powers conferred upon the Minister by section 31 (1) of the act, I have also given instructions that students and apprentices, whose studies and trade training would be seriously interrupted if they performed their national service at the ordinary time may have their service deferred until a more suitable time. We wish to ensure that young men undergoing professional and technical training shall complete their training with the minimum of delay. The country needs its skilled men. With that in mind, our aim will be to defer the liability for national service of those students and apprentices who apply for deferment and oan show that the performance of their national service at the normal time would result in serious dislocation of their studies and training.
One of our problems is that universities and colleges work to a set curriculum spread over a fixed period. This first call-up falls right in the middle of the academic year.
This does not mean that all students and apprentices can have their service deferred. The performance of national service must inevitably dislocate to some degree the plans of all those who are called up, and students and apprentices cannot be immune from some interruption. What we particularly wish to avoid is the loss of a complete year or more ; in other words, the delay by that period of the completion of professional or trade training. My department has had discussions with the services and the universities and other educational authorities, and it proposes to hold a conference of all .concerned to have such an adjustment of curricula made that students and apprentices can undertake their service in the opening months of each year.
So that the skills and aptitudes possessed by trainees will be used to the maximum advantage by the services, each trainee is interviewed before he is called up, and a record made of his aptitude, qualifications, &c. These records will be the basis on which departmental officers will work in allocating trainees to the several branches of the services. This will apply especially to apprentices and although there can be no guarantee that all apprentices can be posted to duties in which their trade skills will be utilized -suitable Army units are not available in some locations - it is hoped that the policy that those branches of the services which .call for special skills should be filled by those who have, or are acquiring, those skills in civil life, will go a long way towards achieving this result.
Medical examinations and interviews have been proceeding now for several weeks, and call-up notices will be issued during the first weeks in July. Trainees will commence their training in the last week of July and the first week of August. The intake will be 500 for the Navy, 1,500 for the Royal Australian Air Force and 9,000 for the Army. For the first call-ups, my department has been concentrating attention on those registrants living reasonably close to centres where there are offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service. Those who registered in May, but who are not called up in July or August, will be brought into subsequent call-ups. Medical examinations and interviewing are being done at night, so that there is a minimum of interference with production, and the medical practitioners are more easily able to assist in the examinations. Thus, large staff additions to the Commonwealth Employment Service can be avoided.
It is too soon yet to have the full results of medical examinations available, but the indications are that the results are well up to expectations. More than 80 per cent, are being accepted as medically fit. The medical standards have been fixed by the services. It may be that some of those “who are not . accepted at the moment may be fitted in later when a wider range of training, making smaller demands on their physique, may be found possible.
I must mention here the excellent cooperation my department has received from members of the medical profession in serving as members of medical boards. All the reports I have received so far indicate that all sections of the community are co-operating with the Government in putting the national service scheme into effect, and this attitude of co-operation is particularly evident among the prospective trainees themselves. I lay on the table the following paper: -
National Service - Ministerial Statement, 29tH June, 1951. and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. POLLARD adjourned.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
The Government has adopted the recommendation of the board, which does not involve .any alteration of the rates of duty. Copies of the report are not yet available for circulation to honorable members.
- -by leave- 1 warn the Government that serious trouble may occur in the coal-mining industry because of the fact that the Joint Coal Board is not able to honour the promise that it made in 1948 to contribute, on a 60-40 basis, to the cost of providing an ambulance and mine rescue station at Cessnock. It is generally admitted that a. greater proportion of casualties occur in the coal-mining industry than in any other industry. Therefore, it is imperative that the station be provided at Cessnock. Incidentally, no one will be able to blame the Communist party for any trouble that may develop in relation to this matter. I worked for the greater part of my life as a coal-miner, and if I were still employed in the industry I should not hesitate to advocate a stoppage by the miners until their grievance in this matter had been remedied. Although the Government collects a levy at the rate of 2d. a ton on all coal produced in order to meet the financial requirements of the Joint Coal Board, the representative of the board has informed the coal-miners that the Government has not made sufficient money available to it to enable it to honour its promise tr> which I have referred. Apparently, the Government is not making available : requisite quota to the board. The State government contributes £70,000 annually for this purpose and the Australian Government has contributed up to £250,000 a year to the board.
I stress the urgency of this matter and plead with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to make sufficient money available to the Joint Coal Board for the construction of an ambulance and mine rescue station at Cessnock. I, myself, was the victim of many accidents when I was engaged in the industry, and I also performed ambulance duties on many occasions Therefore, I know the mind of the coal-miners on this subject. T repeat that if provision is not made immediately for the erection of the station, trouble that is brewing at the moment will break out and cause serious stoppages in the industry. Although I am still incapacitated, as honorable members know, as a result of an accident, I took so serious a view of the matter that I journeyed from Canberra on Tuesday to attend an important conference that was called for the purpose of discussing this matter. That conference was attended by representatives of the ambulance brigade at Cessnock, the Northern District Board of Management of the miners’ federation and several members of Parliament, as well as representatives of the Joint Coal Board. I was informed then that no money could be made available by the board for tha provision of an ambulance station at Cessnock until 1953. Such funds as the board possesses have already been earmarked for the provision of other amenities in various mining centres. It is obvious, of course, that the provision of an efficient ambulance and mine rescue service is far more essential than is the provision of other amenities. I have, taken the first opportunity to bring this matter to the notice of the Government because I do not think that the Communists are aware yet of the difficulty, and Ministers will realize that that is probably the reason why a strike has not already occurred on the Cessnock coalfields. However, I warn the Government that if it does not take prompt and effective action, through the Joint Coal Board, to provide an ambulance station, there will undoubtedly be serious industrial trouble in the industry and, furthermore, if that occurs, the miners will in this instance have the support of the general public. I therefore appeal to the Government to make the necessary funds available to the board for the immediate provision of an ambulance station at Cessnock.
Bill presented by Mr. Hot,t, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. The principal purpose of this bill is toamend the Conciliation and Arbitration
Act in respect of two matters. One amendment has as its objective the strengthening of the injunction power of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court; the other makes provision for the conduct of secret ballots in trade unions. These two matters formed important elements in the programme placed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) before the people of Australia at the recent general election. There can be no contradiction that they were emphatically endorsed by the electorate. It is, I believe, true to claim that the Government was given a mandate to introduce these specific proposals. Certainly the secret ballot proposals were freely discussed and received overwhelming support, including approbation from many electors who, while they may have voted for the Opposition party, strongly favoured secret ballots on trade union elections and strike issues. These proposals are important in themselves, but they form only a part of the general campaign which this Government and its supporters have directed against the sinister challenge of communism. The mandate to destroy the influence of communism in Australia was the central feature of the Government’s case to the Australian people. No issue weighed more tellingly in the mind of the elector. The Government has been instructed to get on with that job. This legislation constitutes one instalment of our task.
Some criticism of the Government has come from various sources, notably from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon). He abhors communism as we do, but he complains that we devote too much of our attention to the influence of communism in the trade unions and too little to Communist practices in other directions. That criticism is not without point, and we should be failing in our responsibility if we did not meet the challenge of communism at other levels. If we devote much of our discussion to communism inside the trade unions, it is because the impact of communism on our daily lives is more evident there than anywhere else. “We see the disruption of basic industries and essential services, the slowing down of the productive machine, and the spread of -the poison of class war. These and many other symptoms of the Communist at work are before us daily in the manifestations of r hose great trade unions which have been captured by Communist leadership for its own subversive purposes. I do not doubt that if the trade unionists of Australia, with the help of this Parliament, can rid their ranks of Communist leadership, there will still be a battle to be fought against communism where it pollutes our community life. But at least we will have made great gains in the economic field of material progress. We will have robbed the Communist of weapons which cripple us in peace and which would sabotage our defence in time of war.
The bill also includes certain provisions which are new. It is proposed to make two minor but not unimportant additions to the four matters which by the 1947 amendment of the act were placed within the exclusive jurisdiction of the court. It is now proposed to include the matters of paid sick leave and long service leave. These arc both matters on which uniformity is desirable as far as practicable, and on which the legal wisdom and authority of the Full Bench can be employed to advantage. Finally, the bill niters the provisions of section 78, which now prohibits incitement of breaches of fi wa rd s, to terms which more appropriately relate to certain techniques which have been developed to defeat the effective operation of awards of the court.
On secret ballots, broadly speaking, the bill does these things : First, it provides that the rules of industrial organizations shall require that elections of officials who occupy places of executive or administrative responsibility in the organization shall be by secret ballot, and that the rules shall be such that, so far as rules can go. they will provide for the full and free recording of votes by all members entitled to record votes and by no others, and a correct ascertainment and declaration of the results of the voting. I know it will be said that mast, if not all, existing rules provide for secret ballots. So they may. But how secret are some of the ballots and how doubtful the conduct of others? The Opposition recognized the need to provide means of correcting improper ballots. Prevention, in our view, is better than cure. Secondly, the bill permits officially conducted ballots’ not only when an industrial organization requests them, as provided by the 1949 amendments enacted when the present Opposition party was on the treasury bench, but also where a group of members petition the Industrial Registrar feeling that only by such a ballot can they be certain there will be no irregularities. Thirdly, the bill enables the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to order that the views of the members themselves be ascertained by secret ballot when it considers this might prevent, or lead to a settlement of a dispute. This power may be applied, I point out, in relation to members if the award relating to them is made by any Commonwealth tribunal.
We are not proposing in this bill that elections of officials shall be conducted according to some particular code of rules. So long as the rules provide for a secret ballot such as to ‘avoid the occurrence of irregularities, the formulation of the rules appropriate to their particular needs is left to the organizations themselves. The Industrial Registrar and the court will, of course, have to be satisfied that the rules submitted do satisfy the act’s requirements. Many people have urged that all ballots should be conducted officially, that is, by the Industrial Registrar, or by the Commonwealth electoral officers. We do not think that is necessary. Very many unions conduct their elections in an entirely praise-worthy manner. We believe that the great majority of the unions are well managed and that their officials are sensible of their responsibilities, especially that of conducting elections with propriety. The measure will, however, enable elections to be conducted officially when a sufficient number of members think that this is necessary to ensure that their interests are protected. Regulations will be promulgated fixing the number or proportion of the members of an organization who can apply to the Industrial Registrar. We have in mind, for elections to a central body, 1,000 members or 10 per cent, of the membership, and for branch elections 500 members or 20 per cent., whichever is the less in each case.
– An election will be held every month, in those circumstances.
– If the interjection of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) is a correct assessment of the situation, it does not speak very favorably for elections as they are con ducted at the present time. Some unions have approximately 40,000 members,” and the honorable member considers that 10 per cent, of them will regularly demand a new election.
Opposition members interjecting.
– Order ! The Minis tei1 must be heard in silence. Honorable members will have an opportunity to express their views later.
– Naturally, a request, would not be made by an organization which preferred to control an election si., as to be certain of the result. To date, only one request - that of the Victorian branch of the Federated Clerks Unionhas been made to the Registrar under section 96m which was incorporated in the act by the Labour Government.
– There have been others.
– The Minister does noi know what he is talking about.
– Obviously the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) does not know what he is talking about. I was speaking-
– Order ! Th« dialogue between Minister and honorable member must cease. I ask the Minister to address me, and to ignore interjections. Honorable gentlemen will have an opportunity to state their views in due course.
– We are making quite an important and necessary extension of the court’s power to order a secret ballot of members. As the law stands now the court can order a secret ballot only where the dispute is before it and therefore related to one of the four matters within its jurisdiction. That is not really much help, because, as honorable members are aware, most of the matters which give vise to contention from time to time are those which come within the jurisdiction of the conciliation commissioners. The amendment made in 1947 seriously affected the power formerly vested in the court to order a secret ballot, if it considered fit to do so at any stage of a dispute then before it. We are now seeking not only to restore the position to where it was then, but actually to cover those matters which may not be before the court but which are likely to give rise to a dispute. Therefore, we are now giving the court power to order a ballot irrespective of which industrial tribunal - court, conciliation commissioner or other Commonwealth tribunal - has or would have cognizance of the dispute. And the ballot can be of the members of the whole organization, or of a branch, or of a limited class of the membership.
It is of no use thinking of secret ballots unless there are current membership rolls and copies in the hands of the Industrial Registrar. While there are provisions about such matters in the act at present they are somewhat defective and, in the result, a dead letter. So we have looked at State legislation on the point and drawn, in particular, on the Queensland amendments of 1946 which the State Labour Government introduced when it found the then existing legislation inadequate to permit speedy ballots to be taken. The provisions to be found in the bill requiring an organization to keep a duplicate or butt of the latest union ticket issued to each member showing his name and place of residence are, for example, based on the Queensland acts.
The provisions of this part of the bill as I have outlined them are, I think, quite simple. All I want to add here is that to provide watertight rules is not enough. We are here setting out to give the unionists in particular the tools to do the job : that of electing the officials they really want to conduct their affairs. But if the Communist influence is to be eradicated, a closer and more intimate interest must be displayed by the unionist in the individuals who are seeking to lead his union’s affairs. He must know who he is voting for, what are the candidate’s affiliations, and he must avoid being misled by the pernicious propaganda being churned out and disseminated within some of the unions, and, indeed, in some “of their journals. He must take a much more direct interest in his union. The provisions of the bill should provide some incentive to this end.
I shall now deal with the subject of the enforcement of awards. Here, the intention of the bill is to restore to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court the power of enforcement of awards which I think was generally understood to be possessed by the court until the High Court ruled otherwise in March last in the metal trades and gas employees’ cases. These cases arose under section 29 of the act, which gives the court various powers which are usually possessed by judicial tribunals, including the power to impose penalties, to order compliance with an award, to grant injunctions, and to give interpretations. In the two cases which I have mentioned, a majority of the court granted injunctions restraining the unions concerned from continuing overtime bans, in contravention of the relevant awards. On prohibition proceedings, the majority of the High Court held that, as a matter of interpretation, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court could issue injunctions in respect: of contraventions of the act but not of awards and orders made under the act.
The House was told by Opposition members, when the earlier bill was before it, that to confer power to issue mandamus or injunctions and then to visit with contempt proceedings disobedience to the court’s orders was incompatible with the court’s functions of conciliation and arbitration. I remind honorable members that the Labour party, when a government, did just this in intro- ducing in 1949 section 96h of the act, and that similar provisions are to be found in the National Emergency (Coal Strike) Act of 1949 and in State industrial arbitration acts. During the course of the debate, a great deal was said by honorable members opposite about the undefined character of the punishment which could be awarded in contempt proceedings. There was a limit, they said, to the punishment the court could inflict. The Government has carefully considered these views and others expressed by the organized trade union movement. While at the time I emphasized the practical safeguards which existed against undue severity, we have met these views by placing defined limits on the punishment that can be imposed on those who defy the court in circumstances which, in its judgment, call for disciplinary action.
The bill also makes clear that, in addition to the parties to the award, theAttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth may apply, in the public interest, for an order of the court under this section. The Crown as the representative of the publicinterest has, in the Government’s view, a clear responsibility to intervene to protect the public interest where it is being wantonly disregarded. This bill goes onestage further than its predecessor. It extends the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court as the superiorcourt in this arbitral jurisdiction, to breaches or non-observance of awards and orders made by other Commonwealth industrial conciliation and arbitration tribunals. The Government’s policy is clearly known : it is that in the long run all other tribunals in the Commonwealth sphereshould be subordinate to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Some of thesespecial tribunals have their own code of enforcement, but it is the Government’s view that there may be cases where it is appropriate that the powers given by the bill to grant mandamus or injunctions should be exercised by the court even in relation to the awards and orders of these, other tribunals.
The other provision on this subject, clause 8, is intended to clarify and establish the powers of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to punish contempts of its own power and authority. In the Government’s opinion, this is what the Parliament set out to accomplish when, in 1947, under the guidance of the then Government, it altered the previous law on this subject, but which again in the metal trades case the High Court has held that it did not accomplish. At common law, superior courts of record ha’ve inherent power to punish contempts of their power and authority. Before the 1947 amendments, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was not expressed by the act to be a superior court of record. There was, however, a special section which gave to the court the power of a superior court of record to punish by attachment and committal any person whom it found to have been guilty of contempt of the court. It was held by the High Court in 1945 that the court could not punish a corporation at all.
By the 1947 amendments, which were introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the court was for the first time specifically created a “ Superior Court of Record “, in section 17 (3). The former specific, and limiting, provisions with regard to punishments of contempts were omitted deliberately by the Labour Government. Clearly, it was assumed that the court would have all the inherent powers to punish for contempt that flowed at common law from, its declared status as a superior court of record. The view of the majority in the High Court in the recent case, however, was that because the Conciliation and Arbitration Act makes specific provision for the punishment of disobedience of the court’s orders or awards, it ought to be construed as impliedly excluding the use by the court of its inherent powers to punish contempts in this particular field. Prom that judgment, it is clear that the act as it stands is not expressed in such a manner as to achieve the result which the Government thinks was contemplated in . 1947, when the present act was passed. In clause 8 of this bill, therefore, the Government proposes that the Commonwealth Arbitration ‘Court shall be clearly vested with all the inherent powers of a superior court of record. The existence of other remedies, and their efficacy, are matters which the court will, of course, take into consideration in deciding whether or not to exercise its powers to punish for contempt. But the Government thinks it is essential that the court should have th, fullest and clearest authority to secure compliance with its .orders and awards. The Government regards these powers as an essential part of the whole system of conciliation and arbitration machinery w Inch the Commonwealth has set up, with the assent of all political parties and the support of the Australian people.
I conclude with two observations. A feature of society in a modern state - and I am thinking of the democratic state in English-speaking countries - is the development of highly organized interests. . One of the problems of our present society is the integration of these individual organized elements to the furtherance of the common objectives of the nation. The trade union movement, from modest origins has now, and with the aid of conditions of full employment, become an immensely powerful and wellorganized force within the structure of the State with untold opportunities to further, the interests of the community as a whole or to limit its influence to purely sectional, and sometimes adverse, inrterests. I believe that the sense of responsibility - to the community as a whole is progressively taking hold of union members generally and of the more enlightened leaders of the movement. But, whichever way we look at the matter, society has a vital interest in preserving the integrity of the movement and of reconciling the interests of society as a whole with the special interests of a particular section.
Just two years ago, the present Leader of the Opposition remarked, when his 1949 amendments dealing with disputed elections were before this House -
Proper control of the affairs of a trade union by its members - not by any individual or body which is not a member, but by all its members - has become essential not only to the trade union movement but also to the entire community.
He added that this - may lead, in future, to other suggestions being made for the development of the trade union movement in the democratic structure of to-day.
This bill now embodies some suggestions which we hope will prove of real value.
I have explained the principles that the Government has had before it in preparing this bill. We are sometimes accused of trying to destroy, or at least to seriously weaken, the trade unions. That charge is completely false. Our actions ever since we took office should establish that we recognize the cooperation of the trade union movement to be essential for good government. Certainly we should not be in office to-day if we had not gained the confidence and voting support of hundreds of thousands of trade unionists. I have a firm belief in trade unionism. We need a strong trade union movement, one that recognizes its power but uses it with a sense of responsibility, a trade union movement which not only nuts for its membership, but also has proper regard to society as a whole.
My second point is this: The present Conciliation and Arbitration Act is, as I think most honorable members will admit, a hotch-potch of ideas and concepts evolved over a period of 60 years or more. Some of its provisions have been hastily inserted. My mail brings me almost daily suggestions for improvements, proposals for changes, and, of course, complaints about its operation in one direction or another.
– Prom whom?
– Most of the correspondence comes from rank and file members of trade unions. I do not think that on any previous occasion the government of the day has come to the House with a bill evolved out of full and frank discussions among all of those who are most directly concerned. This is not unnatural because so many measures in this field have necessarily involved contentious issues.
What I want to emphasize is that there must be a fairly wide area in which it should be possible to obtain some degree of unanimity among all interests engaged in industry as to the amendments that should be made to produce an even better Conciliation and Arbitration Act than we now have. I propose to make an attempt to achieve this result. I, and my officers at my direction, have had already many discussions with representatives of industry. I hope that, when the next set of amendments comes to this House, it will be possible to say that they do represent, if not as to all then as to a large part, the agreed ideas of industry as a whole.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 28th June (vide page’ 706), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the bill be now read a second time, upon which Mr. Calwell had moved by way of amendment -
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 in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.”
.- I support the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and oppose the proposals embodied in the bill as they have been advanced by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony). There can be no serious objection to referring such an important measure as the bill that we are now considering to a select committee of this House in order that the fullest possible consideration may be given to the charges for which it provides and which, if imposed, will have a serious adverse effect on the entire community. It is of the essence of correct parliamentary procedure that any important proposition for increasing charges to the public should receive the careful consideration of a committee. The Government’s opposition to the amendment is not conducive to the proper consideration that such an important proposal deserves. It i» a remarkable fact that, since the PostmasterGeneral read his second-reading speech, no Minister has risen to support the measure. Even the PostmasterGeneral is absent at this stage of the debate. He, unlike Horatius, does not intend to hold the bridge. He has departed in order that others may carry the burden of defending a bill which is opposed to the interests of the people. Honorable members on the Government side of the House have used many arguments in support of the measure. They claim, with some reason, that increasing costs must be met by some means. Government departments to-day must cope’ with the effects of inescapable additional costs. There are such costs in industry and commerce throughout the whole economic fabric of this country. When we speak of economic costs and ways in which to meet them we should consider who or what has been responsible to a marked degree for costs rising. If we are logical, reasonable and just men we will conclude that’ the present Government parties have been responsible for the tremendous increase of costs in this country, and that if the proposed increase of postal charges is approved, overall costs will rise acutely. I remind honorable members that it was the supporters of the present Government parties who canvassed the people of Australia to reject the referendum on prices control. As they sowed the wind, so are they now reaping the whirlwind. Honorable members opposite have claimed that the impact of the 40-bour working week and allied matters have necessitated the proposed increases. If they search their consciences they will find that the real cause was their opposition to the referendum that I have mentioned. The age-old lament against improvements of working conditions is scarcely a sound foundation for the Government’s attitude. Honorable members opposite who have sought to justify the increases by saying that it was inevitable that postal charges should rise, that they would have to be met, and that they would be only the precursor of further rises should consider what will be the ultimate effect on the economic structure of this country. Undoubtedly the inflationary trend will be accelerated. The following article was published in the Melbourne Herald of the 28th June: -
Melbourne business men said to-day that the increased G.P.O. charges meant much more than just paying bigger postage, telegram, and telephone bills. The costs would be passed on to the public and send the inflationary spiral higher, they said. . . .
The principal of a large mail-order firm winch distributed 800,000 catalogues last year, said the new postal rates were a staggering blow. His cost of distribution would now be increased, by this and earlier additions, by £8,320 per annum, or £160 a week. His firm had to pay more for telephones, telegrams and the thousands of letters it posted. He estimated the total cost of the increases at more than £30,000.
These increased costs will be borne by the already overburdened public, and the inflationary trend will be accentuated, to the detriment of the people of this country. I submit that the measure before the House is a corollary of the Government’s inability to maintain economic stability. During the 1949 general election campaign supporters of the Government undertook that if returned to office they would check rising costs and put value back into the £1. This measure is evidence of their inability to fulfil them. In their attempt to justify the proposed increases the
Postmaster-General and other Government members have stated that the percentage rise over a period of ten years has been relatively small. We should consider this contention in its true perspective. To the best of my ability I shall enumerate the increases of postal charges that have occurred since Labour relinquished office. In 1950. prior to the last increase of charges, the postage rate for letters was 2-Vd. for the first ounce. It is proposed to increase the rate to :j-A-d. for the first ounce, an increase, of 40 per cent, over the same period. If the proposed increases become effective the rate for postcards will have increased by 50 per cent.; commercial papers 100 per cent.; printed matter 100 per cent.; and books and publications printed in Australia 66 per cent. The bulk rate for newspapers in 1950, prior to the increase that became effective in November of that year, was 2£d. for 16 oz. ft is proposed to increase the rate to 2-kl. for S oz. The Government should consider the effect that these proposed increases will have on church societies and voluntary organizations, which are doing such a magnificent job in connexion with the social life of this community. It is evident that many supporters of the Government are not happy about the proposed increases. I ask them to take into consideration what will be the impact of the increases on the already overburdened church and public societies that issue journals and do their best to stimulate the moral and social life of the people of this country. The increases will be a severe blow to them. It is proposed to increase the rate for the postage of Hansard numbers by 25 per cent., and to increase registration fees by 50 per cent. Express delivery fees are to be increased by 50 per cent. I point out that the express delivery service is a very important factor in our commercial life. The proposed new domestic postal rates set out in the first schedule to the bill are an average of 56 per cent, higher than the 1950 charges. I submit “that no community can stand the extortionate increases that are proposed.
I shall now compare the proposed new premium rates for money orders with the rates that, were charged prior to November, 1950. It is proposed to increase .the poundage on money orders for up to £5 from 6d. to ls., an increase of 100 per cent. Such money orders are poor men’s cheques. However, as the value of money orders increases, .the proposed poundage will decrease. An increase of only 10 per cent, is proposed in connexion with money orders of a value of between £45 and £50. This is preferential discrimination. 1 contend that charges should increase proportionately as the value of money orders rises. But that is not proposed by this incompetent Government. These increased charges will fall on the shoulders of those least able to bear them. It is proposed that the poundage on postal notes shall be increased by 100 per cent, and that the charges for ordinary and urgent telegrams shall be 73 per cent, higher than they were in November, 1950. Charges for local telephone calls in the metropolitan area, it is proposed, shall be increased by 50 per cent, and in other areas by 25 per cent. The average charges proposed are more than 35 per cent, higher than the charges that were made in November, 1950, and they will affect adversely the economic life of the community. The proposition that has been advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne is a reasonable and sound one. This Parliament should set up a committee in orde to examine these charges. The Government and its supporters have not been particularly happy in the presentation of their case. It seems strangs that a responsible Minister such as the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) should have remained as silent as Dean Maitland throughout the course of this debate.
– But not for the same reason.
– The Treasurer has not made any comment on this matter, which adversely affects the status of his Government, if the status of the Government can still be affected adversely. On 29th June, 1949, the Treasurer, who was then a member of the Opposition, made the following5 statement in this House in regard to increases that had been proposed by the Labour Government: -
Honorable members have not been supplied with data to support the proposed increases. The decision of the Government to inflict this additional impost upon an already unduly heavily taxed community must be examined in the light of two considerations. First, on the surface, it would appear that the bill provides further evidence of ‘bad budgeting by the Treasurer.
The situation has now been reversed. Can it be concluded from the statement that the Treasurer made in 1949 that the bill before the House provides indications’ of bad budgeting on his part? If that is the case one may readily understand the silence of the right honorable gentleman. In continuing his remarks on the occasion to which I have referred he said -
This contention is supported by the fact that when the Treasurer presented his budget last September, and estimated a deficit, he did not say one word about the financial difficulties of the Postal Department.
History repeats itself. The Treasurer did not refer to the contemplated heavy imposts that are set out in this bill when he introduced his last budget. One understands his stoic-like silence. On the 26th December, 1949, the present Treasurer also said -
The Treasurer, for political reasons, obviously has deliberately suppressed information about the trend of the finances of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in the current financial year.
The economy of Australia was not then in the same unfortunate position as it is in now. No Minister has risen to support the proposal of the Postmaster-General. He has relied upon the support of honorable members who are obviously speaking with their tongues in their cheeks because they knew that the public will react strongly against this iniquitous proposal. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) had the temerity to say that postal rates are not types of indirect taxation. Apparently he disagrees with the Treasurer because that right honorable gentleman in 1949 was emphatic that the variation of postal rates represented a type of indirect taxation. Any student of economics knows that postal charges are a type of indirect taxation and that this taxation falls most heavily on the people who are least able to bear it. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) said that the internal staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department merit the highest regard from all sections of the community, but added that that could not be said of the external staff. I was a member of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not discuss the staff of the department. I have ruled other honorable members out of order on that point. This bill deals only with the subject of rates.
– I repeat what has been said formerly.
– Order ! That is also against standing orders.
Mr.CREMEAN - No honorable member will deny that the proposed increases will be passed on to the general public and that more weight will be added to the burden of inflation. If honorable members on the Government side of the House are prepared to subscribe to this measure and to reject the wise proposition that has been advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne the consequences of that decision will be on their own heads. They know only too well that the effect of these charges will be felt by the great majority of the people who are least able to bear it. Therefore, I oppose the Government’s proposals and support the amendment.
Motion (by Mr. Swartz) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to he left out (Mr. Calwell’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so 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.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: - “Without amendment -
Supply (Works and Services) Bill (No. 1) 1951-52.
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1950-51.
Loan Bill 1051.
War Pensions Appropriation Bill 1951.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1949-50.
States Grants (Special Financial Assistance) Bill 1951.
Without requests -
Supply Bill (No. 1) 1951-52.
Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1949-50.
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1949-50.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Even at the expense of appearing to repeat suggestions that I have made previously, I propose to outline some steps that should be taken to avert the grave danger of the introduction into Australia, through the medium of imported prefabricated houses, of the sirex wasp, which is perhaps the world’s greatest timber pest. The danger of its introduction into Australia should not be treated lightly, because, according to press reports, it if* already prevalent in New Zealand, where it is not only causing great damage to houses and furniture but also attacking the forests planted at great expense in New Zealand. Indeed, its ravages are so great that existence of the New Zealand forests is endangered.. It is as great a potential menace to the timber forests of Australia as is the rabbit to the primary producer. I have asked many questions about it. At first my questions were treated rather lightly by those who advise the Government, but it is the latest information which I have received from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on this matter that has caused me some alarm because of the implied admission of the grave danger that the pest may destroy, not only many of the houses that we have obtained from overseas at great expense, but also the furniture of those who live in them. The possibility of the introduction of a new pest of this type cannot be viewed with complacency. In reply to my question in which I sought information on the subject the Prime Minister, referring to imported timber, said -
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.
That is perfectly true. Those who have seen the devastation wrought in Great Britain and in European countries are aware of the extent of their rebuilding programmes and realize that, as we have to compete against the promoters of those rebuilding programmes, we have to take whatever timber we can get. Unless we provide for the thorough inspection of component parts of prefabricated houses in the country of origin and reserve the right to destroy any parts which on their arrival in Australia are found to be infected, we shall- risk the importation of a new and dangerous pest into the Commonwealth and all the consequences that that would involve. The Prime Minister’s reply continued -
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 pests such as the sirex wasp into Australia has increased.
The contractors for the supply of prefabricated houses are paid sufficient to cover reasonable costs of production and transport to Australia, and we should insist that they give a guarantee that when the houses are packed and ready to ship to Australia they are free from insect infestation. In view of the comparatively few thousand homes being imported, if such a guarantee is not forthcoming we should cancel the contracts. In the long run it would be cheaper to cancel the contracts than to run the risk of importing into Australia a pest which is known to have caused so much damage in New Zealand. The Prime Minister’s reply continued -
The problem of preventing despatch of insectinfected timber into Australia is an extraordinarily complex one to which the departments concerned have given much attention.
But apparently very little action has been taken -
As the House is aware, our local supplies of hardwoods and softwoods have to be supplemented by importations of the order of 250,000,000 super, feet per annum, of which perhaps 100,000,000 super, feet might be expected to come from Europe.
We should be well rid of that 100,000,000 super, feet if its importation is to result in the introduction into Australia of a pest that will cause grave damage to our forests and homes. The reply went on to state -
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 is being investigated, but there are difficult practical problems involved.
We should not take the risk of importing timber until a satisfactory method of inspection has been evolved. The reply concluded -
The danger of infestation and damage to Australian forests by the importation of sirex was contested by timber importers in successive deputations to the Minister for Health and in representations to me and other 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 be thoroughly examined by an impartial tribunal.
I assume that the Government has experts to supervise contracts for imported houses in which very large sums of money are involved. Experts should also be available from the staff of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Apparently the importers of infested timber are able so to influence the Government that it has risked the importation of this dangerous insect pest into Canberra. As I mentioned previously, the timber in which imported houses delivered to Canberra had been packaged was so badly infested that it had to be burned. Therefore, I again urge the Government to have an effective inquiry made and action taken.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– It is rather strange that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) should condemn the Government on the ground that it had not taken sufficient action in this matter in view of the hue and cry raised by timber importers on the ground that government action had been too stringent. This moth was discovered in a cargo of timber that was being unloaded in Melbourne. As soon as it was discovered by the quarantine authorities, who in Melbourne are officers of the Victorian Department of Agriculture, which is the executive agent for the Department of Health, steps were taken to stop the unloading of the timber until it could be fumigated and disinfected. All other suspected cargoes have been not only disinfected but also subjected to heat treatment. That was done because the Department of Health considered that it was of the utmost importance that these insects should not be allowed into Australia. Unfortunately, the statement has been made and supported by cogent evidence, that this moth had entered Australia during past years but had not flourished under the climatic conditions of this country. Timber importers have maintained that the Australian climate is not favorable for its development. The Department of Health, however, maintains that everything should be done to protect Australian timber, especially the new pine forests which would be very susceptible to the depredations of this moth. Strangely enough, in other countries this moth has attacked only dying and weakly . trees, except in New Zealand, where, in the last year or two, attacks have been made on other trees. Whether the disease attacks only certain trees or whether it will flourish in this country, we do not know. But the Government is taking steps to prevent its introduction.
It was suggested that an impartial inquiry should be held to examine publicly the whole of the evidence in connexion with this matter. The findings of such an inquiry would be beyond dispute. We should then know whether the moth would be dangerous to our timber if it got into the country, and the best quarantine methods to be adopted if it were found to be dangerous. T”he Government has taken up the matter with the State Premiers, whose governments control Australian forests. We feel that we have a duty to the consuming public to ensure that whatever timber products they buy shall be good and durable. I sympathize with the honorable member’s feelings about the danger involved in the importation of infested timber, but I think that the method by which the Government is attacking the problem is the most effective available to us. We want to try to keep out this moth if it is found to be a danger to our timber. Moreover, we want to know whether certain timber may be imported after careful inspection by the countries which export it. The Government has taken a very keen interest in this matter since the appearance of the moth. Any packing cases in which it has appeared have been destroyed, and the whole matter has been taken up with the .State authorities. We asked the States to make a judge available to hold an inquiry, but they were unable to do that. However, we are still endeavouring to set up an impartial tribunal to consider the matter.
.- It was recently announced in the Australian press that the Australian Agricultural Council had agreed, at a meeting held in Brisbane, that it would possibly be advisable to lift the embargo on the export of merino sheep from Australia. The fact that such a resolution was adopted was confirmed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) when he replied to a question asked in this House. I express the hope that tho Government, even if the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture advises that the embargo be lifted, will not agree under any circumstances to permit the export of merino rams from Australia. The embargo on such exports was originally imposed in 1929 by the Scullin Labour Government. Every succeeding government, irrespective of its political colour, has confirmed that embargo; indeed the Chifley Labour Government, went further, and tightened it. For a number of years we had allowed the export of merino rams to New Zealand on condition that the New Zealand Government should not export them to other countries. I suggested that that slight modification of the total embargo had obvious weaknesses. There was nothing in the conditions of export to New Zealand which would prevent the New Zealand Government from exporting the progeny of stock imported from this country. In the absence of such a condition, or undertaking, from the New Zealand Government, a total embargo was imposed on exports to New Zealand.
Knowing the dangers that are inherent in the export of semen for artificial insemination, a regulation was made to prevent the export of merino ram semen to other countries. I know that the matter of the export of merino rams is one about which graziers are almost equally divided. The merino industry is of vast economic importance, not only to graziers but also to all the people of Australia. Therefore, the market should be protected by this Government. I know that very powerful interests in this country have urged from time to time the removal of the embargo. When I was Minister for Commerce and
Agriculture, certain representations were made to me to lift the embargo. I ascertained that a company existed or that it was proposed to form a company in New South Wales for the purpose of engaging in the export of merino ranis if the embargo were lifted. If the company was not registered, at least there wa3 a loose agreement between its members that if the embargo were lifted their subsequent operations would result in vast sums flowing into the company at the expense of the Australian merino industry. An Argentenian, a very good citizen of this country who had been living here for many years, was a member of the company. Another member was Mr. Frank Packer, the managing director of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. A third member of the organization was Mr. Falkiner, of Boonoke Station, a famous ram breeder. I believe that the Australian graziers, and indeed the Australian people, are particularly interested in the matter of whether Australian merino rams should be exported. Some people say that the matter is of little importance because, it is claimed, wool of the quality of Australian wool cannot be produced in other countries even from sheep imported from Australia. I do not agree with that. Those who hold that view believe that the quality of Australian wool is determined by our pastures and climate. I believe that its quality is the result of selective breeding over a long period, plus, of course, climatic conditions, plus a good deal of luck. When we refuse permission to export merino sheep we are not restricting trade. We are willing to sell our wool to other countries, but we decline to export what is, in effect, capital machinery. We are always prepared to sell overseas our wool, mutton and lamb, but I can see no reason why we should hand over to other countries a capital asset for the production of a commodity which we have perfected in Australia over a long period of years. T know that some Australian breeders support the lifting of the embargo, but at least 50 per cent, of them are still opposed to that policy. Some breeders claim that unless they are allowed to export they cannot make their studs pay. The fact remains, however, that the best-known studs in Australia have been in existence for a great many years, and merino tanu are- still fetching good prices in the market, as was shown at the sales in Sydney recently. Any merino ram that carries a superfine wool can always he sold at a good price. I, for one, have no fear that our studs will languish if the export embargo is retained. It may be true that the recent buoyancy of the market for stud rams in Sydney was due to the fact that some people expected the Government to lift the export embargo, and were acting in the belief that, however much they paid, they would be able to resell at a profit, because overseas breeders are prepared to pay almost anything for Australian stud rams. The Chifley Government even refused to permit the export of merino rams to research stations in Great Britain and the United State of America, although assurances were forthcoming that all sorts of safeguards would be imposed. We realized that once the principle was breached applications would flood in for permission to export under conditions which it would be impossible to police. I am raising this objection, not in a party spirit, but because I have at heart the welfare of Australia’s economy. During the many discussions that have taken place on international trade, strong efforts have been made to break down the Australian resistance to the export of its merino sheep. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, and I, stood firm, and resisted all blandishments from whatever quarter they came.
– I regret that I did not have the advantage of hearing the first part of the speech of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). No decision on this matter has yet been taken by the Government. The proposal to lift the embargo on the export of stud merino sheep has been put forward on the unanimous authority of the six State Ministers for Agriculture, and I have no choice but to submit it to Cabinet for consideration. I confess that I have not yet got down to examining the issues involved, and have not reached any conclusion. I hold no prejudices on the subject, and I confess that the case made out by the honorable member for Lalor appears to me to be a valid and forceful presentation of one point of view. There is a contrary point of view.
I am not sponsoring it, but it does exist. It has been pointed out that fine-wool merino sheep are plentiful in South Africa, and that sheep of the merino type are to be found in North America and in other parts of the world. Therefore, it is argued, the embargo on the export of merino rams is not wholly preventing the growing of fine wool in other parts of the world in competition with our own. It is also argued that breeders in Australia are free to import the best live-stock of all kinds from other countries, except Soviet Russia, and that it is paradoxical that while we avail ourselves of this freedom we deny to people in other countries the right to import live-stock from Australia. So far, I have not attempted to decide between the opposing arguments, although I realize that eventually I shall have to take the responsibility of making a recommendation.
– In view of the importance of the matter, will the Minister undertake to inform the House of his decision before it is put into effect?
– As in the case of all decisions that affect customs regulations, no prior warning could be given.
– Would it not be well for the three political parties to consider the matter beforehand?
– I have no wish to discuss the matter in a hole-in-corner manner. If discussions are to be held between the political parties, the Parliament is the proper place in which to hold them.
– The Parliament should have an opportunity to criticize the decision if it does not agree with it.
– The Government will not deliberately wait until the Parliament is in recess before reaching a decision. The honorable member for Lalor suggested that some people may have been buying stud rams in Sydney in anticipation of, or even with prior knowledge of, a decision by the Government to lift the export embargo, or with a knowledge that the Government was leaning in a certain direction. I say emphatically that I have not even made up my own mind, and do not know the opinion of any other member of the Cabinet on the subject.
– Will the Ministerdiscuss the matter with members of his own party?
– The members of my party are always at liberty to discuss with me any matter they wish to raise.’ There exists full opportunity for discussion of this matter as of every other matter. The Government, in making its decision, will not have in mind the idea of preserving or favoring any vested interest. The decision will be reached after full weight has been given to all the arguments, pro and con.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented: -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Carnarvon, Western Australia.
Postal purposes -
Public Service Act- Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation - M. B.Rowe, . E. A. Talbot.
Defence- C. W. P. Campbell-Everden.
National Developments- C. E. Gregory.
Whaling Industry Act - First Annual Report of the Australian Whaling Commission, for period ended 30th June, 1950.
House adourned at 12.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
Japanese Was Crimes.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 June 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19510629_reps_20_213/>.