20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question to the
Prime Minister is supplementary to a question which was asked by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. Will the right honorable gentleman inform me whether the Government has. under consideration a proposal to sell the vessels which belong to the Australian Shipping Board ? Will he. state whether the private shipping interests have made representations to the Government to the effect that they be permitted to purchase those ships in order to establish a monopoly on the Australian coast ?
– The position of coastal shipping in Australia, in common with certain other problems of the same kind, is receiving a good deal of attention from the Government. I am not in the position to make a statement about it at the present time, but when a decision or decisions have been reached on the matter, I shall take an early opportunity to place the House in possession of the facts.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether it is a:fact that the Government has asked shipbuilding interests in Australia to tender for the construction of twelve 10,000-ton ships? If so, when were these prices supplied to the Government? What action has the Government taken to build ships in Australia?
– In order that the details may be accurate, I shall ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport to provide the information sought by the honorable member.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister forSupply and, by way of explanation, I direct his attention to the decision of the United States
Government to reduce the production of tinplate in order to force down the price of tin. Will the honorable gentleman inform me whether Australia’s supplies of tinplate have not already been reduced ? Has not that reduction affected our food production, and forced up the price of food ? Is it not reducing our capacity to feed the United Nations forces, and to accumulate reserves of food against the possibility of a major war? Has it not. also reduced our exports of food to Great Britain? If those arc facts, will, the Government consider the advisability of making representations to the United States Government about that position, and appealing to it to restore the full supply of tinplate to Australia?
– I saw a reference in the press to the matter to which the honorable member for Mitchell referredat a time when I did not feel able to pay much attention to it. I agree that a further reduction of our supplies of tinplate will be most serious from the stand-point of those industries which use it. The best answer that I can give to the honorable gentleman is to say that I shall examine the implications of his question fully as soon as I am able to do so.
– In view of the disastrous bush fires that have occurred in many parts of New South Wales, will the Prime Minister immediately confer with the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, with the object of granting assistance, financial and otherwise, to those persons who have suffered serious losses through no fault of their own?
– Iwas asked a question about that matter yesterday, and I then indicated that I would discuss it with Cabinet.
– My question to the Minister for Air arises from the publication in newspapers, and announcements over the radio, of news of aircraft that have been lost, or have crashed. When that information is published, it is stated that the names of the crews of the aircraft will not be released until their nextofkin have been notified. This happened twice last week. In view of the fact that the practice must cause great distress and worry to persons who have relatives serving in the areas in which accidents occur, will the Minister see whether anything can be done to prevent the release of news of such accidents until the names of victims can be made public?
– I agree with the honorable member that the premature publication of news of such accidents causes distress and worry to the relatives of men serving in the area concerned. The Royal Australian Air Force does not issue any official announcements in relation to accidents until the nextofkin of the servicemen affected have been informed, but newspaper representatives are usually on the spot and they send reports to their newspapers as soon as the accidents occur. I do not know whether we can take any action to prevent that practice, because we have no control over the newspapers. However, I shall discuss the matter with the Minister for Defence and ascertain whether he is prepared to make representations to the newspaper associations. I suggest to the honorable member that, as he has taken such a keen interest in this matter, he also might make personal representations to the newspaper associations in the hope of persuading them to discontinue this distressing practice.
– In view of the value of railways in defence operations and in peace-time trade and commerce, I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport to declare the attitude of the Government towards the standardization of railway gauges throughout Australia, for which provision was made in the policy of the former Labour Government. Has the Minister given any consideration to this subject ? If not, will he do so in the near future?
– I shall ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport to supply a reply to the honorable member’s questions.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service’ whether he is aware of the text of the appeal made yesterday by the chairman of the Joint Coal Board for cooperation in the coal industry in order that production may be increased? Does the Minister realize that while the New South Wales Government has made provision for increased motive power and truck facilities to handle an increased quantity of coal, men will not be available to drive the engines which will be needed to haul it? In the two large depots concerned with the haulage of coal at Broadmeadow and Enfield, enginemen average 56 hours a week on duty, and 70 hours by some men is quite regular. In view of that fact will the Minister at an early date call the conference that I suggested to him a few weeks ago, or take some alternative action in support of the enginemen’s view that their overtime should be limited ?
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! There is too much audible conversation.
– I previously indicated to the honorable member the action that is being taken by State governments in co-operation with the Australian Government in an endeavour to recruit additional labour from overseas for railway utilities. I understand that since he made the suggestion to which I have referred, a senior officer of my department has had a conversation with him. I intend to discuss the matter myself with that officer. We are conscious of certain circumstances mentioned by the honorable member, and I shall examine the remainder of his question and give consideration to his submissions.
– The question that I direct to the Postmaster-General arises from the fact that most parcels that are transmitted by post nowadays are secured with modern adhesive tape instead of with string as was formerly the practice. Unfortunately, the use of such tape means that, in the eyes of the postal authorities, a parcel is sealed and therefore is liable to a higher charge than would otherwise apply. This ruling reacts to the detriment, of residents of country areas. Will the PostmasterGeneral have the postal regulations amended so as to permit the use of modern adhesive tape on parcels without their being regarded as being sealed for the purpose of assessing postal rates?
– There is no need to review the regulations because penalty rates are not imposed in respect of parcels or packets up to 1 lb. in weight that are sealed with adhesive tape. The sealing of commercial papers and newspapers with adhesive tape is prohibited, because the concessional rates that apply to those articles are granted subject to the provision that they shall be open for inspection. I emphasize the fact that parcels such as I have mentioned, may be sent by post, either tied with string or sealed with adhesive tape, without extra cost.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral finally approved a scheme to resume residential property in Redfern for the erection of postal stores? If so, has he given any consideration to representations made by the Lord Mayor and aldermen of Sydney City Council on an alternative site? Are eviction notices for many hundreds of families in that area in course of preparation? Finally, is it considered that work on these stores will not be commenced for five years and that a change of government will cause the alteration of this uneconomic and drastic proposal?
– I shall reply to the last part of the honorable member’s question first. I should be astonished if any government altered the proposal to build a sorely needed mail branch building in Sydney. Irrespective of the government in office the needs of the community must.be served, and this proposed building which is for a mail branch is necessary and will not be used as a store. Therefore, nothing will be done to niter the proposal. I gave much consideration to the representations that have been made by the Lord Mayor and certain members of the Sydney City Council, and I asked them to make alternative suggestions. No alternative suggestion of a practical nature was made, and therefore the decision must stand. It has been intimated to the residents of the area that they will be unlikely to be required to move for two or three years. In that time it is for the New South Wales housing authorities to provide alternative accommodation, or for the residents themselves to make their own arrangements for accommodation. They have at least several years in which to prepare for removal from the area.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation studied the official finding that the Trans-Australia Airlines freighter aircraft, which crashed shortly after taking off from Cambridge aerodrome near Hobart last August causing the deaths of the captain and the first officer, was forced down because of icing that occurred on the ailerons while the machine was on the tarmac? Light snow was falling at the time of the accident and the aircraft was loaded to capacity with zinc concentrates. Officers who gave evidence at the official inquiry said that the civil aviation regulations did not provide for any inspection of aircraft to check for icing conditions while on the ground. Will the Minister have an appropriate regulation promulgated as soon as possible, certainly before next winter? Such occurrences are extremely rare, and that fact probably explains why the regulations do not provide for safety inspections to check for icing.
– I have not yet examined the report or the findings of the committee of inquiry, but I shall give consideration to the points that the honorable member has raised and shall examine, with the technical officers of the Department of Civil Aviation, the question of what might require to be done.
– Has the Minister for Social Services seen reports of a proposal that has been made in Canada for the abolition in that country of the means test? Has he examined that proposal, and if not, will he do so in order to ascertain whether the passage of legislation to provide for the abolition of the means test in this country can be expedited ?
– I have seen reports about the Canadian scheme for the abolition of the means test. I ‘point out that the Canadian proposal is not an established fact, but is still only a suggestion that has been advanced by the Dominion Government. So far, no Canadian province has announced its intention to accept the proposal. Broadly, the proposal is that there shall be a contributory pensions scheme with the Dominion Government, the provincial governments and the individuals concerned contributing. The idea is that a universal pension free of the means test will be paid to contributors at the age of 70 years. It is estimated that the cost of operating the scheme will be 340,000,000 or 350,000,000 dollars. I hesitate to say, without having had an opportunity to examine the matter more closely, whether such a scheme would be possible or desirable in this country. Although [ agree completely with the honorable member that the abolition of the means test on pensions is most desirable, I point out that the fundamental purpose of social services is to provide for people who have no means.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question that relates to a statement contained in the third annual report of the Joint Coal Board. The statement, which is made in paragraph 71 (d) of the report, is that the board has been managing for some years a pool of the most modern coal-mining machinery for hire or purchase by any private coalmining companies that would use it to advantage. What substance is there for, and what explanation is there of, a report that the board is to sell about £9,000,000 worth of its own coal-mining machinery to private collieries, some of which have previously declined to develop the industry, even when asked by the board to do so? Is the House to understand that the development of all the coal resources of New South “Wales, which have been systematically undertaken by the board, is now to proceed only insofar as it suits private coal-mining companies?
– I was asked such a question by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and indicated that I would make a statement to-day on the matter, the sub stance of which I would obtain from the Minister for National Development. ] have that statement ready and I propose to make it at the end of question time.
– by leave - Yesterday, I promised the Leader of the Opposition that I would make a statement to the House upon the sale of plant and equipment by the Joint Coal Board. I now inform him that the provision of plant and equipment with which to conduct the coal-mining industry is primarily a responsibility of the industry itself. The board has always encouraged owners and operators to provide their own plant. It has assisted them to do so by sponsoring currency exchange arrangements, priority manufacture and priority shipment from the United States of America, and in other ways. But it has proved a difficult task to induce colliery proprietors and contractors to provide the plant required. Overseas contractors were not prepared to do so on the ground that they had not sufficient knowledge of Australian conditions. In addition, some contractors could not find the capital with which to purchase the expensive plant that was required. The board, therefore, found it necessary to purchase plant extensively, and had to make purchases ahead of the time at which open-cut mines were planned to commence operations, so that delay would be avoided.
All that plant has been purchased from funds which have been lent by the Commonwealth to the board. Of the plant which was originally ordered, some has already been sold, but the plant that is now owned or proposed to be purchased by the board is as follows : -
The plant has now been operating for some time, and the board is running into a fresh set of problems, due to the need to collect rentals for it from hirers and in connexion with its repair and maintenance. The responsibility of purchasing plant, and then subsequently keeping it in good repair, should not be a function of the board. There is always the risk that unsuitable plant may be purchased, and disputes arise upon the amount of hire rental payable when the board accepts responsibility for repair and maintenance. There is no doubt but that an owner of plant will maintain and operate it more efficiently and economically than will a hirer of plant. Consequently, production efficiency is increased.
Although the board has made substantial investment in plant, much more is required. The board estimates that £40,000,000 needs to be spent on equipment and development in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. Unless, therefore, the correct policy is adopted, there is danger that the Commonwealth and the board may drift into the position at which the board owns a substantial proportion of the plant and equipment in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. The Commonwealth accepts the position that such plant as is necessary to provide the coal required must be obtained, and that, accordingly, it may be necessary to provide additional funds for that purpose in the future. But it is not willing to find funds unnecessarily. Indeed, the position in States other than New South Wales has to be considered. Most of those States are developing their own coal resources so far as is practicable, so that they may be as independent of New South Wales as is possible. The Commonwealth does not desire to establish in New South Wales a precedent which will involve the provision of substantial amounts of finance in other States.
It is not difficult to imagine how the board came to the conclusion that it would be advisable for it to make strenuous efforts to sell plant rather than to continue to own it and hire it out, with all the attendant heavy responsibility for spare parts and servicing over wide areas. The board, therefore, entered into negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks. Arrangements have been evolved under which the banks will provide hire purchase facilities for operators to purchase plant from the board. The board will guarantee payment of liabilities to the banks where the circumstances so justify. The arrangements contain adequate provision to ensure that the plant and equipment will be retained in the coal-mining industry. In view of the large total of contingent financial liabilities which were involved, the board submitted the proposal to this Government with the request that it be authorized to complete such guarantees. The Minister for National Development, strongly recommended the adoption of the arrangements, and they were approved by the Government, subject to agreement on certain matters of detail between the Joint Coal Board and the Treasury.
The proposal which I have outlined has not been discussed with the Government of New South Wales. Indeed, as I have already indicated, since the inception of the board in1947, plant and equipment has been sold at various times by the board, and no consultation has taken place with, nor has objection been raised by, the New South Wales Government. The provision of funds for thepurchase of plant and equipment is, of course, entirely a matter for the Commonwealth in terms of the Coal Industry Act. It has never been customary to discuss such matters with the New South Wales Government. Honorable members will remember that the legislation which constitutes the Joint Coal Board provides that the board shall be independent of the two Governments except when the Prime Minister, in agreement with the Premier of New South Wales, issues a direction to it on a matter of policy. In this particular matter, the Commonwealth has not issued any direction to the Joint Coal Board. It has accepted the recommendation on financial arrangements made to it by the board. The net result of the proposal is -
I believe that the recommendation for the proposed arrangements contains a prudent and sensible course for the board to follow in the interests of all who are concerned, and I include in those interested, the taxpayers of Australia.
– by leave - The House is obliged to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for having informed it of the facts. I do not propose to detain the House at any length at this stage, but I think that one or two points should be made clear immediately. There is no question of the State of New South Wales having been given anything in the nature of priority or preference over other States. Indeed, the whole purpose of the Coal Industry Act 1947, as was stated in the third annual report of the Joint Coal Board, was to give to the board a charter to take whatever steps were necessary to organize the New South Wales coal industry so that it would provide sufficient coal for the internal requirements of the Commonwealth and the development of export trade. There was a fallacious emphasis in the Prime Minister’s statement upon the distinction that might be made between the development of production in New South Wales and the development of production in other States. The right honorable gentleman made an artificial point. I do not underrate the importance of development in other States; I do not want to be misunderstood on that ground, but the fact is that the Joint Coal Board is concerned with the production of coal in New South Wales alone. In relation to distribution, of course, it is concerned with all States.
The policy of the board has been changed. That is the important fact. Furthermore, that change has been made without any reference to the Government of New South Wales. Whether or not that Government is legally entitled to bp consulted, it should have been consulted by the board. In its third annual report, the board stated -
To encourage mechanization by colliery proprietors who had difficulty in obtaining thicapital necessary to purchase the equipment required, the Board early decided that the machinery from its pool (with the exception of certain ancillary items) should be available either by purchase or hire.
Surely, in view of the vital importance of coal, it is unwise merely on financial grounds to alter the policy of providing equipment for hire by colliery proprietors. I ask the Government to reconsider the decision in conjunction with the Joint Coal Board and the Government of New South Wales. Only recently a member of the Government spoke of the enormous cost of importing coal. The 1947 scheme has been successful. The effect of providing equipment in a pool for hire is now becoming evident in the open-cut section of the coal industry, where results have been obtained more rapidly than in underground coal mines. In view of the good results that have been obtained, the decision to curtail the system of hiring machinery for the purpose of increasing production is bad. Apparently colliery owners will be forced, to enter into arrangements, not only with the Commonwealth Bank, but also with the private banks, for the purchase of equipment. I do not want to discuss the general problem of relative efficiency that the Prime Minister raised in hit statement. The question whether equipment is better cared for when it is owned by the operator than when it is on hire is merely of an abstract nature.
We are interested in getting more coal. The Joint Coal Board has succeeded in getting more coal for us. Therefore, I consider that the board has made a great blunder if it has sponsored the scheme that the Prime Minister has announced. In fact, the board is supposed to consist of three members, but for over fifteen months it has had only two members. The one expert who was included in the membership, Mr. Jack, died about, fifteen months ago and he has not been replaced. There is cause for dissatisfaction with the operations of the board, and, therefore,
I hope that the Prime Minister will provide an opportunity for honorable members on both sides of the House who are especially concerned about the coal industry to debate this matter more fully than is possible on this occasion. The Opposition considers the change of policy to be of great importance and it will raise the matter on a later occasion under the rules of the House.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether any approach has been made to the Government by the Queensland Government for assistance in the drawing up of a programme designed to aid the beef industry in Queensland? If no such approach has been made, will the Minister give the House an assurance that the Government is willing to provide such assistance and to furnish to the Queensland Government any information in its possession that might help towards placing this important industry on a better basis ?
– To the best of my knowledge no approach or request has been made by the Queensland Government to this Government for the purposes that the honorable member has mentioned. However, the Government is most anxious to assist the Queensland beef cattle industry and to stimulate the volume of production of beef. The Government was responsible for the recent conclusion of an arrangement for the sale of beef with floor prices for six years and an assurance of full disposal of beef for a period of fifteen years, no matter what quantity is produced. The agreement includes a formula of prices that is designed to cover the cost of production to the beef industry and to provide an incentive to production by ensuring a proportion of profit. 1 have no doubt that this agreement will prove to be a great contribution towards the stabilization and expansion of the beef industry. The Government will be glad to make available to the Queensland Government or to the beef industry any assistance by way of information that it can provide through any of its instrumentalities.
– Has the Minister for the Interior been informed of the intention of the Government of New South Wales to introduce a bill to amend war service land settlement and closer settlement legislation to provide what has been described as a new ceiling price that will ensure a fair market value for land acquired for soldier settlement? Is this proposed amendment an indication that the McGirr Government has at last agreed to pay just terms for land which is acquired for closer settlement in accordance with the policy of the Australian Government?
– I have not received any official advice on this subject. My only information concerning it is a paragraph that I read in the newspapers this morning.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Health a question which is supplementary to a question that I asked him recently in relation to the extension of free medical services and free medicine to persons who have less income than pensioners. The Minister has stated that owing to the difficulties of identifying such persons he cannot find any way of extending these benefits to them. Did the Minister’s answer imply that he was in favour of extending medical benefits to these poor people if an easy means of identifying them could be found? If that is so, would the Minister accept a suggestion for me of a simple method of identifying such people and extend the benefits to them?
– The Government has under constant consideration the rendering of assistance to old folk who are not in receipt of a pension and who are not eligible to receive free medical benefits. Ultimately, a scheme will be worked out for those people.
– Some time ago I drew the attention of the Minister for Social Services to the fact that certain building contractors had not been paid for the construction of war service homes which had been completed for some time. I understand that some improvement has now taken place in this position but I ask the Minister whether he will examine the case which I mentioned previously of a contractor in the Bundaberg area. Although this man has completed ten houses action has not yet been taken to pay him fully for the construction of the first.
– I shall examine the matter that has been raised by the honorable member. However, I should like to take this opportunity to reply to certain criticisms that have been made of the War Service Homes Division. Contractors often say that their payments have been delayed but when their cases are examined closely the reason is very often found to be that the division’s inspectors would not pass some of the work
Mi at had been done.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been informed of the decision of the Australian Wheat Board to prevent wheat-growers in southern New South Wales from sending their wheat to Melbourne, although that city is at least 200 miles closer to certain farms in the area, than is Sydney? Does the Minister believe that this decision is in contravention of section 92 of the Constitution ? In view of the fact that to send their wheat to Melbourne will cost growers in this area an extra 4s. a bag, will the Minister approach the Australian Wheat Board and ask it to reconsider its decision?
– I know nothing of the facts to which the honorable member has referred. I shall investigate the matter and ascertain what can be done about it.
– Reports have recently appeared in the press that arrangements have been made with the Government of India to make increased supplies of jute available to Australia. Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House of the nature of such arrangements? Can he indicate what supplies will be made available and whether they will be sufficient to cover requirements in respect of cornsacks for the next season? Will the increased supplies be maintained for an indefinite period? Is the price of jute likely to be increased in the future?
– During the term of office of my predecessor and since I have become Minister, continuous negotiations have been conducted with the Government of India with a view to obtaining increased supplies of jute, but during the last s!x weeks or so special negotiations have been conducted in respect of related exchange commodities of mutual benefit to the two countries and the Indian Government has made a firm arrangement that it will issue licences for an export quota of 120,000 tons of jute to Australia for the period ending the 30th June, 1952. If is estimated that that quantity will meet our normal requirements for woolpacks and cornsacks. The Indian Government will not enter into any firm arrangement for a period beyond that date. Crop prospects and present estimates of production in India and Palestine indicate that prices for jute should remain steady.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration in relation to the difficulties that are being experienced in finding accommodation for teachers who teach immigrant children in the vicinity of immigrant hostels. Is it a fact that at Dapto, in the Wollongong district, over 200 new houses have been built for British immigrants and their families whereas no accommodation can be found for married teachers who will be required to teach the children of such families? Will the Minister consider the advisability of allocating two, or three, of those houses to married school-teachers in order to ensure that the education of those immigrant children shall not in any way be retarded because of the nonavailability of teachers?
– The suggestion that, the honorable member has made appears on the surface to be useful and constructive and sounds practicable. However, T suspect that, as in most instances of this kind, it may involve matters of policy that may arise between the Commonwealth and the State or between various Commonwealth departments. I recognize the problem of making provision for the education of children of immigrants, and I shall examine the suggestion to see whether it is practicable.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture indicate the price that the United Kingdom will pay for Australian dried vine fruits for the 1951-52 season? If not, can he indicate the stage that discussions on this subject has reached?
– I cannot give any indication of what the price for the forthcoming crop of dried vine fruits will be. Frankly, I am not abreast with negotiations, if any, that have been commenced on the subject. I shall inquire what steps the Dried Fruits Control Board and the Department of Commerce and Agriculture have taken in the matter and inform the honorable member immediately.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harbison) - by leave - agreed to -
That government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
Bill presented by Sir Earle Page, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This short measure has major objectives of far-reaching importance. It will restore to State governments, which, under the Federal Constitution, have the primary responsibility for health, control of public hospital administration and policy. It aims to provide a means to repair the damage done to State hospital revenues by the hospital benefits agreements that the States made with the Chifley Labour Government in 1945. Those agreements imposed conditions, in the matter of charges, on State hospital policies, which, taking Australia as a whole, have caused a loss in hospital revenue estimated at £6,000,000 a year. This loss is steadily increasing with rising wages and costs. The bill will enable insured patients in the public hospitals to enjoy immediately the advantages already secured by regulation to insured patients in private hospitals. Those advantages make available a minimum government and insurance contribution towards hospital care of 1Ss a. day, or £6 6s. a week.
The measure, by making most favorable terms for hospital insurance, will give definite encouragement to the provision of prepaid hospital insurance. Solvency and assured revenues will thus be given to the whole hospital position. Insurance contribution of pence a week when well will provide pounds a week when sick.
The taxation measures of the Government which were set out in the budget permit insurance contributions and donations to community hospitals to be deducted from income before tax is levied. This gives material encouragement to self-help. Finally, the relief to government budgets of substantial charges for hospitalization of the people during the whole of their earning lives would bring much closer the attainment of the ideal of the elimination of a means test for pensioners during the winter of their age, when they can no longer earn. Incidentally, the passage of this measure at this time will enable the States to enjoy the advantages of any new agreement without waiting for the meetings of the Commonwealth and State parliaments, as some State parliaments do not meet before July in each year.
I shall now examine each of these points in turn, “dealing first with the restoration to the States of control of hospital policy. So that honorable members may better understand this point, I shall recapitulate the history of the loss of State control of hospital policy. During 1944-45, the late Mr. Chifley proposed hospital benefits agreements to the States. These agreements substituted a Commonwealth subsidy of 6s. a day for each patient in hospital in lieu of similar receipts then being collected by State governments from patients in public wards who could pay. As a condition for this substitution the Chifley Labour Government insisted that no means test should be applied in a public ward. Rich and poor alike were admitted into public wards, without payment or question, despite the acute shortage of hospital beds. Certain classes of patients, however, were discriminated against and had still to pay for treatment in hospitals or homes. Out-patients of public hospitals were still subject to a means test. Accident cases under workers’ compensation legislation had to pay, whilst other insured persons had not to do so. Deductions of sometimes as much as ?2 2s. a week were made from age and invalid pensions and tuberculosis allowances if recipients of them went into hospitals or homes. Another extraordinary condition was that State governments had to pay, in respect of patients, in public ward beds, for pharmaceutical benefits that were free to every one else in Australia. It is true that there was an escape provision by means of which the States could avoid the conditions of a means test. State hospital administrations could declare a bed in a public ward to be not a public ward bed by simply putting a screen around the patient and declaring that bed to be in a private or intermediate ward.
The Premiers protested against this revolution of hospital policy. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Treasurer held the purse-strings and so their better judgment was overpowered, and they accepted the agreements. I shall quote now the statements that were then made by various Premiers. For instance, Mr. McKell, who was then the New South Wales Premier, said -
Should this proposed scheme come into operation, many persons who now contribute to hospital benefit funds would discontinue their payments, so that the Commonwealth Government’s payment of Gs. a day would merely be substituted for the Gs. a day now received from other sources. The view of New South Wales is that the proposed scheme would substantially interfere with voluntary contributions towards hospitals. If the sum represented by a payment of Gs. a day in respect of each hospital patient were paid to the State in order to enable it to bring its hospital system up to date by providing additional beds, that would be. of more benefit to New South Wales than the proposed scheme -would be.’
Mr. McKell asked whether it would be advisable to sacrifice the huge amount contributed voluntarily. He said further -
I have received very strong protests, from an association which represents 140 hospitals in New South Wales, against the adoption of the scheme. They express the view that it will affect the honorary medical services.
Mr. McKell estimated that New South Wales would lose something like ?1,200,000 a year in voluntary contributions and asked whether it was desirable to sacrifice such an amount when the hospital position was so difficult.
Mr. Dunstan, who was then the Premier of Victoria, said -
Will there not he a tendency for people to rush the public hospitals under this scheme to the exclusion of the poorer sections of the ci immunity?
Only six or seven months ago I visited one of the big denominational hospitals in Sydney where I was told that there was a good deal of resentment among poor patients in public wards at the fact that wealthy patients, who could well afford to pay, were being accommodated and given treatment in public wards to the exclusion of people who could not afford to pay. Mr. Dunstan continued - lt has been suggested to me that the aboli tion of the means test will cause the withdrawal of honorary medical services from the hospitals. I am sure that if this scheme is introduced it will have a most adverse effect upon voluntary contributions to hospitals. Do you not think that, when this scheme comes into operation, people will take the view that, since the Government is meeting the cost of hospital treatment, there is no longer any need to make voluntary contributions?
That, of course, has taken place. The records of the hospital systems in every State show that whereas before the Chifley Government’s scheme was introduced more than 53 per cent, of the total expenditure of hospitals was from moneys that came from non-government sources, the corresponding figure to-day is only 20 per cent, and it is decreasing every year.
– But are the statements that the Minister has read an expression of opinion of the State governments at the present time?
– We put this matter to the State Ministers for Health last January, and they all agreed that the agreements should be abolished and the relevant legislation repealed. They carried a motion to that effect.
Mr. Willcock, then Premier of Western Australia, said -
An adverse effect on voluntary contributions has been our experience in Western Australia, also. However, I do not know whether we can expect to retain the honorary service of doctors in our hospitals, if the proposed scheme is brought into operation.
Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, said ;
I maintain that the Commonwealth scheme is fundamentally unsound. It provides for the payment of so much by the Commonwealth for each patient, but no Commonwealth contribution is to be made towards the cost of those services which prevent people from having to go to hospital. Under the proposed scheme there will lie an influx into the public wards of people who would otherwise be treated at home.
These were the expressions of opinion of the State governments in power at that time. Every one of their predictions has been fulfilled. Three out of four of these Premiers were Labour Premiers and the fourth was kept in office in Victoria by the supporters of the Labour party.
This Government indicated to the States, a year ago, that it would terminate the agreement at its due date. For the remainder of its duration the Australian Government waived the conditions imposed with regard to charges, so that the States could carry out their own policy if they so desired. We told the States that we were totally opposed to putting any limit on their control of hospitals just because we were substituting certain moneys for moneys that had formerly been collected from other sources.
The damage .that has been done is exactly in accordance with the predictions of the Premiers in 1945. At least ?6,000,000 a year of revenue to hospitals has been lost. Records of Australian public hospitals show that for twenty years before 1945 the hospital income derived from outside governmental sources was always greater than 50 per cent, of the total hospital expenditure. Since 1945 this non-governmental income has been steadily declining until now it is only 20 per cent. In 1944-45 the total hospital expenditure was ?10,500,000. It is now ?21,000,000. Hospitals have gone into debt because they have lost 30 per cent, of their contributions. In several States doctors have refused to operate under the Chifley scheme. As a result, in Tasmania and Queensland, concessional fees have been paid to doctors for the control of public wards. In Tasmania these payments have taken practically 15 per cent, of the money received under the hospital benefits scheme. No payment is made by the Commonwealth to the Queensland Government and the fees paid in Queensland are very much higher. If this became the practice in other States the hospitals would be mulct in millions of pounds more than they have to pay at the present time.
The Commonwealth believes that the damage can be repaired by a system of prepaid hospital insurance. In New South Wales more than a third of the income that hospitals received from patients in 1944 was derived from insurance payments. There was a hospital contribution scheme in every country centre and there was a good one in Sydney. One of the best schemes in Australia was that established by the New South Wales Railway and Tramwaymen’s Benefit Association which has a membership of 60,000. A large majority of railway and tramway employees are insured by that organization for amounts ranging from ?2 2s. to ?8 8s. a week for hospital care. Other non-profit organizations have been operating independently of this organization which has a long and enviable record extending back 40 or 50 years. I have been in constant touch with this organization. Other non-profit making organizations have been operating iti Australia since 1930. They have been able to provide hospital benefits amounting to ?2 2s. a week for ten weeks a year for single persons for 3d. a week and for married persons with dependants the payment has been 6d. a week. Proportionately increased contributions have been payable for benefits of from ?4 4s. to ?6 6s.
Every year these organizations have distributed up to ?100,000 to various hospitals after the payment of benefits to all claimants thus enabling those hospitals to obtain various forms of equipment that they might not otherwise have been able to purchase. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) is a director of the Metropolitan Hospitals Contribution Fund in New South Wales. The Board of Directors of that organization is drawn from trade unions, municipalities and other organizations which desire to help people.
– Have they approved of this proposal?
– Is it confined to non-profit making organizations?
– Yes. The Government proposes that every hospital benefit of £2 2s. a week insured for shall be subsidized to the extent of £4 4s. a week, making £6 6s. a week in all. At the present time £2 2s. a week will barely pay for board and lodging in hospital. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) is familiar with the conduct of the Canberra Community Hospital, and I am sure that he will support that statement. It has been suggested that the United Kingdom Government will be forced to make a charge for board and lodging received in hospitals under its free health scheme. The people who go into hospitals under that scheme do not have to meet that cost in their homes. It has been proposed that the Government should pay only the cost of nursing hospital patients. At the present time the average cost of hospital attention varies from £2 a day to £3 10s. a day, or an average of £3 a day. That is much more than would be obtained under the Government’s scheme which provides for the payment of about £11s. a day.
It may be asked whether single people can afford to pay 3d. a week, and married people 6d. a week, to a hospital insurance scheme. Since 1945, when this agreement was brought into being, the basic wage has doubled and child endowment payments have increased to 5s. a week in respect of the first child and 10s. a week in respect of second and subsequent children. Free life-saving drugs have cost about £4,000,000 a year, which represents a payment of about 10s. a head for every man, woman and child in
Australia and that amount is very close to the 13s. a year which will be necessary to insure against ill health under this scheme. It is most desirable that every one should provide against the necessity to obtain hospital treatment for themselves or their children. Surely people can meet the necessary expenditure quite easily. Since 1938-39, the amount of beer consumed per man in Australia has increased by 22 gallons a year. At 6d. a pint, which is lower than the price charged, this increase would result in an additional payment of £4 8s. a year for each man. Consumption of spirits has doubled. The consumption of cigarettes has trebled. Last year 20,000,000 lb. of cigarettes were cleared from bond compared with 7,000,000 lb. cleared in 1938- 39, an increase of1½ lb. of cigarettes a head of population. If it is possible for people to meet this increase in expenditure surely it is possible for them to pay for decent hospital accommodation. The greatest tragedy in Australia is the lack of hospital beds.
The most precious asset in this country is a hospital bed. Yet we waste millions of pounds which could be used to build hospitals instead of dealing with the problem in the realistic way in which it is dealt with in Canada and the United States of America and in which it was dealt within this country until six years ago. In order to meet hospital expenditure certain States have conducted lotteries. Forty million lottery tickets are purchased each year in Australia at an average cost of 5s. 6d. each. The cost of five tickets for each person in Australia would be 27s. 6d. a head a year. Surely, if people can pay that amount they can find enough money to insure themselves under this scheme. I learned in America that about 85 per cent, of the total amount required for hospital expenditure is obtained from patients. Of that amount over 50 per cent, comes from hospital insurance schemes, and the rest is obtained from organizations such as the Blue Cross or the insurance schemes of commercial organizations. The non-profit schemes in America, like the Blue Cross, are able to keep their expenses down to less than 10 per cent, of their collections. More than 80 per cent, of the collections is paid to the hospitals in the form of patients’ insurance. Of the remaining 10 per cent, of their collections a certain amount is allocated to a reserve to he used during epidemic years and the rest is used for certain types of administration.
In the great manufacturing city of Detroit, 75 per cent, of the cost of maintaining one large hospital came from hospital insurance funds. In some New England States, 80 per cent, or 90 per cent, of the cost of maintaining hospitals is obtained from such funds. In the city of New York the great International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union provides, through voluntary insurance, not only hospital benefits but also medical care on a fee-for-service basis. That union is doing all its work in an extraordinarily efficient way. We can and should follow America’s example. This measure will put the hospitals in an assured financial position so that they will not have to do as they have done in the past, that is, rely on storekeepers to carry them perhaps for months until the Government should step in and clear up their debts.
This measure has been introduced to ensure that we shall be able to apply insurance benefits to private and intermediate ward patients in public hospitals from the 1st January, when such benefits will be applied to patients in private hospitals. As soon as we reach an agreement with the States, the provisions of the measure will be applied to patients in public wards of public hospitals. Under the terms of the 1946 referendum we are able to extend these benefits to the patients of private and intermediate wards of public hospitals. The manner in which the Government will apply this benefit is such as will make it possible for a patient on his way to hospital to insure himself and get the extra Government benefit. At present most of our hospital insurance organizations compel patients, for actuarial reasons, to wait a certain time after joining before they can get benefits. Sometimes the wait is as long as two or three months, and when patients have chronic appendices and hernias the waiting time may be six months. In certain other cases it may be ten months.
Sir Earle Page.
Under this measure if a man, or his wife or child suddenly becomes ill and needs hospital treatment, he may sign up. and immediately become available for benefits. We believe that once he insures he will become so cognizant of the benefits of insurance that he will remain in the scheme.
– Is it not a fact that our present hospital insurance organizations repudiate a contributor as soon as he develops a chronic disease?
– I have it on good authority that each year during the last five or six years the hospital contribution funds have become more liberal in their payments. However, the length of time that they give benefits must necessarily be limited. We have discussed chronic cases, such as diabetics, with the insurance authorities, and they have agreed that, they will accept them for all other illnesses except diabetes, or whatever it might be, and we shall make provision for the patients to receive a payment in respect of diabetes or other chronic diseases. We intend to increase materially the number of people who can come into the scheme.
– Immediately a person becomes a chronic case, no matter howlong he has been in a hospital contribution fund, the fund denies any further responsibility.
– I discussed this matter with the gentleman who controls a hospital contribution fund in Adelaide, which has been in operation for eight years. He told me that only 1 percent, of his contributors remain in hospital more than the time for which they were entitled to get benefits. Such people are provided for by this measure.
The Government has carefully inquired into the percentage of Australians who can afford to insure. We found that it is about 85 per cent. of. the population. A similar investigation was made by the University of Columbia, which also showed that in the State of New York, which includes the City of New York, in which live about 10,000,000 people, 85 per cent, of the people were able to pay for hospital insurance. That means that about 15 per cent, of the people would bo unable to enter the. scheme. Age and invalid pensioners represent roughly 10 per cent., and they are being cared for under the pensioners’ medical scheme. About 1-J per cent, to 2 per cent, of the people are being treated under the repatriation system which leaves a hard core of about 3 per cent, who will not be provided for. We are considering whether we can voluntarily insure those people.
The United States Government has Announced that within the next two or three years it will try to insure all its age pensioners for a complete hospital service under a voluntary system. In the United States of America about 77,000,000 people were protected by insurance at the end of 1950. During the previous year 13,000,000 persons entered United States hospital insurance schemes. Two provinces in Canada and several States in the United States of America have compulsory insurance schemes. Each of those schemes make it possible for a man to contract himself out of the compulsory scheme by joining a voluntary one. More than half the population of those districts were in voluntary schemes which were working better than the compulsory schemes because there was a greater urge for local people to interest themselves in them. This Government scheme will allow insurance premiums to be deducted from a taxpayer’s assessable income before his income tax is assessed and it will also relieve the Government of heavy expenditure. In fact in the next five or six years £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 a year will be saved in hospital unkeep. But, if that relief were provided from State governmental sources it would ultimately have to be taken into account in taxes levied by the Commonwealth.
Mr. Bryson interjecting,
– The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) should keep abreast of what is happening in this sphere. In the State of New England in the United States of America hospitals with 1,000 beds derive 90 per cent, of their income from voluntary sources, whilst the corresponding percentage in respect of the United States of America as a whole is 80 per cent. The honorable member should see for himself what is being done in South Australia. Hospitals at Port Adelaide, Glenelg and Whyalla are not leaning all the time upon the Government, but are themselves finding much of their revenue. Institutions of that kind .will benefit considerably under this measure. The point I emphasize is that if we can save by this means an amount of £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 a year for other governmental purposes, we shall draw nearer to the day when we shall be able to abolish the means test in respect of age and invalid pensions. By obliging persons who now spend considerable sums on luxuries to pay a proportion of the cost of hospital attention, we shall effect savings in the interests of those who in the winter of their lives cannot afford to pay for such attention. Under the bill persons will be able to insure in respect of hospital costs upon payment of an annual premium of an amount that will not exceed the cost that they will save while in hospital in one week in the purchase of foods and other domestic requirements. Age and retired pensioners are not in the same position. They will not be able immediately to recoup their insurance premium in that way, but such insurance will give them a return many years ahead.
I urge the House to give a speedy passage to the measure. As I have said, it authorizes agreements with the States in relation to the provision of hospital benefits and for the payment of additional hospital benefit to voluntary contributors for hospital insurance. Under the scheme the revenues of hospitals will be assured and such institutions will have a more direct sense of responsibility. The scheme will also revive voluntary aid auxiliaries and re-establish local control and interest and afford an outlet for benevolent movements in the community. On the one hand mankind would be very poor indeed if it were entirely selfish in its outlook and habits while on the other, goodwill and charity furnish the oil that makes it possible for the world to go around. Voluntary associations provide the best machinery for the generation of goodwill and of the community spirit.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Eraser) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 13th November (vide page 1928), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Last evening, members of the Opposition indulged in some of the most pathetic nonsense that I have yet heard in this chamber. It would appear that their remarks emanated from a popcorn mentality born of brains that are as soft as ice-cream. They do not seem to appreciate the fact that we are now confronted with a national emergency, or the fact that the Government is endeavouring to give effect to its election promises and to do the very things that they have been urging it to do since it assumed office in 1949. Notwithstanding the fact, which they need to be reminded of, that the Government was in a minority for over a year in the Senate, where its legislation was frustrated, it has endeavoured to implement its election promises. Honorable members opposite have urged the Government to put value back into the £1 and have criticized it because it has failed to reduce taxes. Apparently, they are not prepared to recognize the considerable changes that have occurred since December, 1949.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) distorted the facts dreadfully in respect of this measure. He said, as he had said in respect of similar legislation that was introduced last year, that the Government was making concessions in relation to neon signs. The Government has not made any such concessions. The honorable member also said that the maximum rate of sales tax is to be applied to furniture and domestic utensils. That is incorrect. The rate of tax on those items will be 12$ per cent. He then descended to a level more appropriate to the approach that he made to the measure when he complained that the maximum rate of sales tax is to be applied to such items as dummies, cots and soap. The general rate has always been applied to those articles, and it was so applied when the Government of which he was a member was in office. He also said that retailers would suffer as the result of the increases of sales tax rates. Perhaps, to some degree, retailers may lose in relation to the financing of additional sales tax, but they are entitled to recover the additional amount of tax from the consumer in the adjusted price of goods. To-day, comparatively few items are subject to prices control and in respect of such items retailers can add not only the sales tax but also a margin of profit on the tax itself if they believe that the market will stand that addition to the retail price. Surely, no honorable member believes that under our present prosperous conditions the market cannot stand such a margin of profit in the prices of such goods ?
What are the conditions that confront the Government to-day? I propose to refer to two matters which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) mentioned last evening. He said that the sales tax was originally introduced by a Labour government during a period of depression. I assumed that when he referred to a period of depression, he meant a period of economic difficulty. He also said that it was continued by a Labour government during a period of war, and that it was justified at such a time. I remind the honorable gentleman that Australia is now engaged in a war in Korea, and what is worse, there is the possibility of a conflagration on a much larger scale. I believe that it is the responsibility of this Parliament and of the people of Australia to make adequate defence preparations so that, by our very preparedness, we shall avoid an international conflagration, the possibility of which we can see at the present time. Unfortunately, Opposition members are not prepared to accept any responsibility in relation to that problem.
Australia is also passing through a period of economic difficulty. I recognize the point, which is stressed by the Labour party, that the present economic situation is the opposite of that which existed in the 1930’s, but, nevertheless, it is an economic difficulty.
– Order! I ask honorable members to be seated. That is what they are elected for.
– The Government is taking measures which will assist to overcome the economic difficulties of this nation. Honorable members on this side of the chamber are accepting their responsibilities. The purpose of the increases of the sales tax is to reduce expenditure on less essential commodities. If people still demand those less essentia] goods, it is quite reasonable for the Government to say to them, in effect, “ You can buy those goods but we are entitled, by means of sales tax, to draw off some of the surplus spending power “.
Honorable members have heard many references during the last few weeks to inflationary trends. If honorable members will examine the relevant statistics for the period between the census in 1933 and that in 1944 they will find that the population increased by approximately 1,000,000 persons in that time. But those additional people were not distributed evenly throughout the community. The population in the metropolitan and provincial areas increased by more than 20 per cent., while the population in rural areas decreased by about 1 per cent. Since 1947, the population of the Commonwealth has increased by approximately 750,000, but the same trend towards a concentration of people in the metropolitan and provincial areas, and a reduction in the rural areas, has continued. An examination of factory employment, excluding transport, buildin^ and retail stores, reveals an increase of 124 per cent, between 1933 and 1947, but rural employment in that period has declined by 11 per rent. Our sheep population declined by 3,700,000 and our dairy cattle in milk by 15 per cent, between 1940 and 1951. Our wheat acreage was reduced by approximately 8$ per cent, in that period, and the average return this season will be, not 15$ bushels an acre, as it was last year, but 12 bushels an acre. Those figures reveal a trend which places a strain upon our economy at the present time, and I believe that some of the responsibility for that condition is attributable to too much concentration upon the production of less essential goods. One factor which contributes to that increase is the protection that is afforded to secondary industries.
The exchange rate and tariff protection, have made possible a good deal of the increased production of less essential goods. At the same time, the production of essential goods is far from sufficient to meet the demand for them. If the output of less essential goods increases to such a degree that it exceeds the demands of the Australian market, it will be impossible for us to find markets for the surplus in other parts of the world. We cannot possibly compete with the mass production methods of the United States of America, with experienced manufacturing countries such as Germany and Great Britain, and with- countries such as Japan, in which employees work long hours and receive low wages.
If my conclusions are right, and I believe that they are, this National Parliament has a responsibility to discourage, as far as possible, under present conditions, concentration on the production of less essential goods. I believe that the increased rates of sales tax will be a contribution towards bringing about that condition. I note that members of the Labour party have opposed almost every one of the financial proposals of the Government, and,’ therefore, I am not astonished to find that they object to this bill. Yet I know perfectly well that the Australian people are beginning to realize that the policy of the Government, which is intended to curb inflation, is bringing about that desirable result.
– In what part of Australia does the honorable member live?
– I shall give an illustration for the benefit of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). A man said to me, in effect, “ Some of the things which the Government expects of us are pretty tough, but I tell you quite definitely that people are beginning to take a greater interest in their jobs, because they feel that their security in employment is now entering into consideration. Those workers are doing much better jobs than before, and are looking askance at fellow employees who are not pulling their weight.” Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that the Treasurer, by means of this bill, is making a sincere contribution towards the adjustment of our economic problems.
Opposition members have complained about the increase of sales tas; upon various items which, they contend, should not be subject to the new rates. I could criticize the application of the higher rates to one or two items, and, doubtless, nearly every honorable member could do so. We cannot expect to have unanimity on such a measure. I remind Opposition members that the rates of sales tax have not been increased on many items such as musical instruments, including pianolas, player pianos, and the equipment for those instruments. Watches, excluding those in which jewels have been set, are not subject to the higher rates. I believe that no honorable member has a valid reason for objecting to the decision of the Treasurer to increase the rate of sales tax upon jewelled watches. But the sales tax on certain types of clocks in common use. watch chains, watch bands, fountain pens, propelling pencils, travelling bags, handbags and cameras will not be increased. A tremendous lot of bally-hoo, if I may use such a term, has been spoken by Opposition members about the hardships which, they allege, will be inflicted upon the people by this bill. I believe that the Australian people have accepted the fact that they are required to make sacrifices if our economic problems are to be solved, and that they are prepared to make them. They realize that this bill calls upon them to make sacrifices, and very few persons have complained about the new rates of sales tax. I know that some honorable members can produce letters in which complaints are made against the increased rates, but the number of persons who have written to their parliamentary representatives in that strain does not amount to .01 per cent, of the total number of people in those electorates.
The Treasurer, in his second-reading speech on this bill, clearly set out the situation, and I have pleasure in reminding the House of his words. He said that- the duty of the Government is to examine the economic situation as a whole and, in the light of the best advice obtainable, to formulate proposals which it is considered will be in the best interests of the community -generally. The necessity for increased taxa tion is greatly to be regretted, but the neei.1.- of the nation under present conditions must bv the paramount consideration .
It is expected that the increased rates of sales tax will, in association with other step? taken by the Government, allow material and labour to be diverted to the production oi goods required for defence and essential development.
I commend all those vords, and particularly the last sentence, to Opposition members, who, I believe, have not accepted a real statesman’s responsibility towards this bill.
.- The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has repeated a fallacy which has been raised many times by Governmen supporters in the course of the budget debate and the debate on this bill. But the difference between his speech, and the speeches of his colleagues, lies in the fact that the honorable gentleman answered his own argument. He propounded the fallacy that the sales tax was a means of damping down unnecessary industries and diverting labour from non-essential to essential industries. At one stage in his speech, he even dealt with rural labour and metropolitan labour, and seemed to suggest vaguely that the sales tax would be the means of diverting labour from metropolitan industries to country districts. However, he answered his own question, so I do not know why he even bothered to make the point. He said that the only way in which labour could be diverted from metropolitan industries to rural industries was to alter the tariff and exchange rate, because such actions would have the effect of killing certain inefficient metropolitan industries. Throughout the budget debate and the debate on this bill, a slogan has been uttered by honorable members of the Australian Country party. It was particularly a feature of the speech of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who said, “ We do not tax incomes. We tax expenditure “. That claim is an absurdity, because the income of a person is his expenditure. No one amasses money for the sake of looking at it. The actual value of a man’s wages is in the value of the goods that they will buy. Consequently, if the price of goods is increased by means of the sales tax, the income of a person is correspondingly reduced. The difference between that method, and income tax as it is commonly called, is simply that the sales tax is not honestly graded, whereas the income tax is honestly graded. In the closing days of the Chifley Government’s administration members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country ‘party, who were then in Opposition, frequently referred to incentives. They believed that incentives were always money incentives. Since they have occupied the treasury bench, they have totally overlooked the fact that there are such things as incentive goods. An international controversy developed in relation to incentive goods in the years after World War II. Sir Stafford Cripps, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Great Britain, believed that British recovery would best be achieved by means of austerity. M. Spaak, the Prime Minister of Belgium at the time, believed in using his Marshall aid funds to buy straight-out luxury goods, including luxury foodstuffs. He deliberately gave effect to the theory that, if there were such goods in Belgium, the people of that country would be interested in earning high incomes. His policy was to provide a stimulus to work so that Belgium would recover quickly. Sir Stafford Cripps believed in imposing austerity and using the foreign funds of Great Britain to buy essential secondary industrial materials. Both men were socialists. One adopted what appeared to be the heroic policy of austerity, and the other adopted an apparently fallacious and improvident policy. The fact is that Belgian recovery was much better and more efficient than was British recovery in the same period of time.
The goods that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has singled out for penal sales tax are incentive goods. We have heard a great deal of talk about necessities in this debate. Who wants to buy more bread? It is one of the basic necessities, but very few Australians want to buy extra bread or meat. If they could have six loaves of bread where they now have one, they would not be in the slightest degree interested in the additional income that would enable them to buy extra bread. But watches, fountain pens and other goods that are subject to particularly severe tax as luxury items provide the reasons why many Australians, including young people, are interested in working overtime, earning additional income, and saving money. They offer an inducement for men and women to work harder. It is much more honest for a government to raise extra revenue, if it must do so, by means of a heavier income tax than unscientifically by increasing sales tax rates. Furthermore, many items that are classified as luxuries in the schedules to this bill, notably in the fourth schedule, are not luxuries. Travel goods, for instance, are not luxuries. Every member of this House must travel back and forth continually. Until I became a member of this Parliament I did not own any large suitcases or Gladstone bags because I did not need such articles. Many persons are engaged in occupations that involve frequent travelling. Therefore, the imposition of a severe tax on leather travel goods does not strike a blow at luxury goods; it merely penalizes many citizens who must have such commodities in order to carry on their occupations.
When the Treasurer replied to the budget debate, he singled me out for particular criticism and referred to a speech that I had made at a summer school at the University of Western Australia in February, 1950. He said that I had advocated the abolition of the sales tax and an overall reduction of revenue from indirect taxes by about £120,000,000 a year, and contended that such a policy would necessarily involve an equivalent increase of income tax. It is instructive to recall that, at that time, the sales tax yielded only £39,000,000 a year. I could not anticipate then that the Treasurer would go beserk and increase the sales tax levy to about £117,000,000 a year within the space of two years. The new sales tax yield will be three times as great as was the yield during the last year of the Chifley Government’s regime. Conceding that the Government’s defence commitments are inescapable - and that has been the argument of honorable members opposite - the Government is still morally bound to explain why it prefers to increase indirect taxation rather than direct taxation. Government supporters contend that the sales tax increases are anti-inflationary. “Will any honorable member dare to say that the raising of an additional sum of £117,000,000 by increasing prices through sales tax will check intiation, whereas the raising of the same sum by means of a higher scale of income tax charges would not check inflation? Everybody in this chamber must know that the increasing of income tax levies by £.117,000,000 would strike a greater blow at inflation than will be struck by these sales tax increases.
What is inflation? It is a condition of rising prices. Sales tax aggravates the condition of rising prices. It magnifies the increases that naturally take place. If the Government imposes a 50 per cent, sales tax on an article that is worth £5, it increases the price of that article to £7 10s. If the basic price rises from £5 to £6, the sales tax increases the price to £9. This measure will cause inflation to snowball. The best way of reducing expenditure on luxury goods is to tax luxury incomes. Let us not forget that there are luxury incomes. The budget papers disclosed that, in the small city of Perth alone, 697 persons had personal exertion incomes of more than £15,000 a year. If there is unwarranted luxury expenditure, it can be restrained by taxing luxury incomes. The Government has chosen instead to increase sales tax, which shows that it lacks courage. When I was first elected to this Parliament, my salary as a member was £65 a month. That salary went very much further than does my present salary, which is considerably larger. At that time, the basic wage was £4 17s. a week. It is now over £10 a week. Whether Government supporters like to admit it or not, the fact is that the basic wage increased over the period of the war only from £4 5s. to £4 17s. a week. Very heavy direct taxes were imposed upon income earners over that period, and they restrained the purchasing power of money and so restrained the basic wage. Therefore, if the Government’s only concern is to combat inflation, the best way for it to go about the task is to take its courage in both hands and increase income tax.
We have been told that the heavier sales tax imposts will cause a. diversion of labour to essential industries. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) spoke of the necessity for diverting men to the armed forces and referred to the possible effect of the new sales tax rates on employment in ice cream factories. I do not imagine for one moment that increasing the price of ice creams from 4d. to 5d. will put anybody out of work in an ice cream factory. But, even if I am mistaken, not one member on the Government side of the chamber has the slightest ability to prove that workers in ice cream factories are of military age and would go into the Army or that they would be diverted into munitions factories. If the Government wants to direct labour to certain industries, it must adopt the means of actual physical control. That is the only effective method by which it can be done. I know that the Government lacks power to exercise such control; nevertheless it is specious to say that high sales tax rates will have the effect of directing labour to particular industries and will strike a vital blow at non-essential industries.
The Government does not anticipate any reduction of the consumption of what it has described as luxury goods. The revenue from, sales tax two years ago was £39,000,000. The Government estimates that it will be £117,000,000 this year. Why has it made that estimate? The answer is simply that it believes that the people will continue to buy so-called luxury goods and will pay the higher rates of sales tax. Why, therefore, does it argue that the higher rates will lead to a curtailment of expenditure? The truth is that its estimates are based on the expectation of undiminished expenditure on luxury goods. If that were not so, its estimates would be invalid. The increases will be inflationary, not only because they will raise the prices of luxury goods, but also because they will apply to certain items that are included in the basic wage regimen. Reference has been made to tobacco, for instance. The increase of the price of tobacco will be reflected immediately in the basic wage.
There has been a great deal of imprecise thinking on the subject of luxury goods. We have been told that fur coats are luxury goods. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) has shown to me correspondence from a fur manufacturer in Melbourne which proves that many varieties of fur coats are not luxuries. Many fur coats are made of rabbit, Australian fox and opossum skins. They are no dearer than are the ordinary woollen overcoats that are not subject to a heavy penalty tax. There is no good reason why a woman who wants to pay £25 for an overcoat should have to pay tax at the rate of 66$ per cent, if the coat happens to be made of rabbit skins, but not such a severe tax if it is made of some other material. There would have been some justification for the Government’s claim if it had graduated the rates of sales tax upon fur coats so as to impose a low rate on the cheap lines, a medium rate on the medium lines, and a luxury rate on mink coats and others of similar quality.
The argument that the new sales tax rates impose a penalty on luxuries cannot be sustained. For example, they strike at persons who have special needs. As a father of small children, I shall continue to buy toys, and every other family man will do likewise. Travellers will continue to buy travel goods. Young men will continue to buy engagement rings and wedding rings, because that is an unavoidable social custom. Musicians will continue to buy musical instruments because they have a taste for music, and there is no reason why they should not indulge that taste. The method of raising additional revenue that has been chosen by the Government shows a lack of courage. If its argument in favour of greater defence expenditure is unshakeable - and I am prepared to concede that it is overwhelmingly strong - that fact is an additional reason why it should say to the Australian community, “ There is a state of international tension and we are at war in Korea. Therefore, it is essential to increase income tax severely “. Then it could levy additional income tax according to ability to pay so that those Australians who have the largest incomes and therefore have the greatest interest in the defence of the country would make the largest contribution. We were subjected to the most savage income tax imposts during World War II. That is why very little inflation occurred during the war. The people have endorsed without hesitation the Government’s arguments in favour of greater expenditure on defence. They consider that the present international situation provokes severe measures. The honest way to take those severe measures is to impose higher income tax on a graduated scale. The defence argument does not justify the imposition of sales tax as against ordinary graduated taxation. I consider that this measure is the worst feature of the budget. When the Chifley Government was in office in 1944 a total of 63 per cent, of the budgetary requirements was financed out of income tax. Under the Chifley Labour Government never less than 50 per cent, of budgetary requirements was financed from income tax and social services contribution.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not embark on a discussion of the budget now.
– Under this measure, with its great increase of indirect taxes, the percentage to be contributed to revenue by direct taxes will fall below 40 per cent. That is the general effect of this bill, which is a means whereby the honestly graduated burden of income tax will be made the minor feature of the budget, and this indiscriminate method of raising revenue by indirect taxes will become the major feature.
– I do not wish to repeat the arguments that have already been voiced by honorable members on this side of the House, but I consider that this matter is of such importance as to merit an attempt by me to sum up the Opposition’s case. I agree with the point made by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) that this bill cannot possibly be regarded as a check on the inflationary spiral, which is tending to devastate the nation’s economy. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has been quite frank about the position. He said when he introduced the measure that its purpose is, as the honorable member for Fremantle has also said, simply to raise substantial revenue based on the continuance this year of last year’s volume of the sales of goods. That is, in effect, the essence of the Opposition’s case. The title of the bill is completely misleading, because it is really one for an increase of the prices of all the goods and commodities that it covers. It can have no other effect. That fact proves that the Opposition’s case is correct, and that the bill is not in any sense anti-inflationary. The direct, inevitable and intended effect of the bill is inflationary. Of course, the Government is on the horns of a dilemma. One horn is the raising of additional revenue, and the other is the need to take action to stop inflation. The bill will not lessen the inflationary spiral.
The real danger, as I see it - and I do not speak dogmatically, ‘because it is a matter of opinion - is in the secondary trend that may develop. There are many trades and businesses in relation, to which the prices structure, which has already been raised to too g?-eat a height, will be raised to a further degree by this measure. That is to say, the inflationary trend will be increased by the bill. At the same time as that is happening we shall be under the very severe, and in some instances almost savage, restrictions of ordinary bank credit which have been imposed either with the sanction of the Government or by the Government itself, operating through the medium of the central bank. The danger of raising the prices structure, whilst at the same time imposing restrictions on credit quite unrelated to this bill, is. that there will be a very sharp inflationary spurt with the possibility of subquently very strong deflation. The facts are not in dispute. The honorable member for Fremantle has given figures to support them. According to the Treasurer’s estimate sales tax revenue will amount to £117,000,000 in this financial year. That is a colossal sum, which is without precedent. It will be a direct charge on the budget of every householder, and will be reflected in the cost structure right through every field of consumption. It will be passed on in the shape of higher prices, and, therefore, will not only increase inflation but directly cause a reduction of the general standard of living.
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council agrees with that.
– There is no question of agreement, because there is no answer to the Opposition’s case. The increase of prices will not be reflected in the November quarterly adjustment of the basic wage. In times of inflation wages and salaries always lag behind prices, and there will be a time lag for people whose wages and salaries are fixed by awards. For four months such people will carry the full cost of these tax increases. People on fixed incomes and on salaries and wages that are not fixed by awards will be in exactly the same position. Then again, we have the position that some honorable members on this side of the House have emphasized - the incidence of sales tax will fall on to the people least able to bear the hurden. A family with a small income will pay as much sales tax on essential commodities as a rich family of the same size will pay. So the tax is regressive and contrary to all modern principles of taxation. I do not say that in certain instances it is not necessary to levy sales tax. The war period is a good illustration of a time when it is necessary to levy such a tax. The sales tax is a concealed tax. The purchaser as a rule does not know what proportion of the price of an article is represented by sales tax. So the public is deluded, and that fact makes this form of tax, and its increase to the degree proposed by the Government, such an insidious danger to the whole economy.
The Treasurer estimates that the tax this year will produce £13 14s. 3d. a head of population. So sales tax will take 25s. a week from the household budget of a five-unit family. It is curious that, the Treasurer’s estimate of the return from sales tax is within a few million pounds of his estimated budget surplus. The Opposition believes that the budget surplus will in the end prove to be not £114,500,000 which is the Treasurer’s estimate, but between £220,000,000 and £240,000,000. So it would be possible for the Treasurer to abolish sales tax for this financial year and still balance his budget Such an action would, of course, cause an immediate sharp reduction of price levels. It was to achieve that objective that the people elected the Government to office. [ consider that the Treasurer has not made out a case for budgeting for a huge surplus with the intention of using, in one year, revenues that could be used for developmental works, which are selfreproducing.
I shall recapitulate the history of sales tax in this country. Sales tax was introduced as a depression measure by the Scullin Government in 1930, during a time of grievous emergency. The rate was 2£ per cent, and the revenue produced was £3,000,000 a year. At that time Mr. Scullin said that it was hoped that it would be possible later to reduce the tax progressively. Later the Lyons Government, if “I remember aright, increased the rate to 6 per cent. It was reduced, when. Government finances had improved, to 4 per cent, in 193G and the number of exemptions was increased. The Menzies Government increased the rate to 5 per cent, in 1939, on the eve of war, and to 8 1/3 per cent, in 1940. In 1.941 the Curtin Labour Government altered the principle of the tax by dividing the classifications into essential and non-essential items, the rate of tax on essential items being 5 per cent., and on luxury goods 25 per cent. By 1945, as a result of war costs, the rate had risen to 1.2£ per cent, for essential items and 25 per cent, for luxury goods. But that was an emergency period. Immediately after the war had ended the late Mr. Chifley started to scale the rates down, and in 1946 the general rate was reduced to 10 per cent, and item3 were transferred rapidly from higher to lower classifications. Later, the general rate was pegged at Si per cent.
The revenue figures from the tax since it was first imposed are impressive. They are as follows :- 1930, £3,500,000; 1931, £8,500,000; 1939, £9,000,000; 1943, at the height of the war crisis, £2S,000,000; 1946, £33,000,000; 1948, £34,000,000; 1949, £39,000,000. Then the present Government came into office and the figure rose to £57,000,000 in 1950-51. This year it is expected to be £117,000.000. So before the war the maximum amount raised from sales tax was £9,000,000 and the highest amount raised to assist in the financing of war expenditure was £33,000,000. But as soon as this Government took office it extended indirect taxes, concealing from consumers that a great proportion of price increases represented Government imposts or taxes. The Government did that in spite of the unconditional promises of its members to increase the value of the £1 by reducing the cost of living. Three years ago Mr. Chifley, as Treasurer, was bitterly criticized in this House over a bill to reclassify the sales tax. At that time he proposed to transfer many items from the 25 per cent, category to the 10 per cent, category, and he was subjected to a continuous and almost vicious tirade from the leaders of both the Liberal and Australian Country parties. But this Government has not adhered to the policy that its members enunciated at the general election of 1949. In 1948 it3 members attacked the Labour Government because it collected £34,000,000 in sales tax at a time when the financing of the war was by no means complete. But now the Government intends to raise from sales tax this year the astronomical figure of £117,000,000, which is more than the Labour Government collected from that source in three years of war. Those facts cannot be disputed.
As the honorable member for Fremantle has pointed out, it is absurd to say that the items on which the Government proposes to increase sales tax are in the luxury class, because they include many essential items. Indeed, the bulk of goods in the general section, the rate on which is to be increased by 50 per cent., are really essential items. The Treasurer sought to disarm his critics by saying that the proposals would mean an increase of - only £35,000,000 in revenue. The budget papers show that last year the amount collected from sales tax was £57,173,000. The amount to be collected from that source this year is estimated at £117,000,000. So’ the additional amount to be collected this year will not be £35,000,000 but about £60,000,000. As a matter of fact, the Treasurer proposes to collect this year £2 for every £1 that was collected last year. For every £1 collected from sales tax in 1943, during the peak of the war crisis, by a Labour government, he proposes to collect £3 in a time of peace. I submit that the Opposition’s case has not been answered. The proposed rates of tax are exorbitant. There may be a case for continuing sales tax in some instances, and even continuing it to the degree that was in operation last year. But the Opposition contends that proposed rates constitute an unjustifiable impost on every householdbudget and that the burden is being placed on those who are least able to bear it. In many cases it will cause domestic hardship. It must effect an overall reduction of the standard of living, directly and indirectly, because of the fact that wages and salaries fixed by awards have not kept pace with the rapidly increasing cost of living. People on fixed incomes, which are not based on awards, will be in a relatively hopeless position.
This proposal may have a very adverse effect on employment if, simultaneously with its operation, the Government’s credit restriction policy is administered with severity by the trading banks or the Commonwealth Bank. It will have a cumulatively adverse effect on the national income and will injure many small traders who have not the reserves to meet the aggravation of an already serious situation that may be caused by this legislation. The additional imposts must bear most heavily on those who are least able to bear the burden of taxation and may deprive many people of goods that have been called luxuries but which, in this modern age, are becoming fundamental necessities. The Opposition considers that of all the budget proposals this legislation is the most obnoxious. It hits wildly and indiscriminately. It is not like direct taxation because it is not graduated. It must be examined in the light of the Government’s pledge to reduce costs. This is a bill the true title of which should be “ a bill to increase the cost to the consumer of all the items set out in the bill “. It is not an indirect repudiation but a precise antithesis of what the Government promised to do. Opposition members regard it, therefore, as an absolute repudiation of the election promises that the Government parties made in 1949.For that reason we consider that the bill cannot be amended in a satisfactory way and that it is the duty of the Opposition to reject it completely.
– Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 15
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 . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to make a request to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on behalf of agricultural societies. I do not really think that it is necessary to appeal to him about this matter, because I know that he takes a very keen interest in all such associations, and has great sympathy with their objectives. I also know that only financial stress has compelled him to place heavy burdens on various sections of the rural community. The small concession that I now ask for, if granted would not involve any appreciable loss of revenue, but would demonstrate to our agricultural societies that the Government sympathizes with them and is willing to encourage them in their efforts on behalf of the rural community. Such sympathy and encouragement would be very much appreciated by the societies. What would be a very small amount to the Government would be of considerable benefit to these agricultural organizations.
I know that the request that I make will have the support of all honorable members on the Government side who represent country electorates. Honorable members on both sides of this committee who represent country electorates have already approached the Treasurer about this matter. I know that the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) is interested in it, and that the Treasurer himself has given sympathetic answers to similar requests. Unfortunately, the amendment sought by the agricultural societies has not been incorporated in this bill, and I ask the Treasurer to consider its insertion. Printed matter for use by agricultural societies was intended to be granted total exemption from sales tax by the Chifiey Government under item 60a of the sales tax exemption items in division IX of the First Schedule of the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act as a result of representations made by myself and other honorable members who represent country electorates. There is no doubt that it was the intention of the Chifiey Government to exempt all the printed matter used by agricultural societies. Unfortunately that intention has not been carried out according to the wording of the item, which reads -
Printed matter for use and not for sale by a society, institution or organiation established and maintained for the advancement of agriculture and not carried on for the profit of an individual.
In the definition of that item, every form of printed matter is not specifically mentioned. The definition reads -
For the purposes of this item “ printed matter” means programmes, schedules, catalogues, syllabuses, advertising matter tickets of admission and award ribbons certificates and cards for use in connexion with agricultural shows or exhibitions.
An attempt was there made to name all the normal kinds of printing used by agricultural societies. The officers whose duty it is to administer the sales tax have been unable to exempt a number of items not mentioned in that definition. For example, they have not included official badges, press tickets, letterheads, envelopes or receipts, although it was clearly intended that those articles should he covered. A curious situation has resulted from their non-inclusion in the exemptions. For example, an award ribbon such as I now exhibit to honorable members, although printed, is free of sales tax yet an official’s badge, which is usually made from an end of a ribbon, is subject to sales tax. That is undoubtedly an anomaly. It would be a helpful and gracious action on the part of the Treasurer if he were to accept an amendment to that item in the list of exemptions. I suggest that after the word “ ribbons “ in the definition in item 60a the words “ official’s badges, press tickets, letterheads, envolepes and receipts “ be inserted.
The second matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the Treasurer concerns an exemption in respect of cups and trophies used in connexion with agricultural shows. In the measurebefore the chamber there is an exemption of that kind to a -
Society, institution or organization which is established and carried on exclusively or principally for the promotion of competitive sport among the students of universities or of schools.
I have no objection to that exemption, but following that principle I ask the Treasurer to exempt cups and trophies used by agricultural societies for awards at agricultural shows. It cannot he contended that these articles are in the luxury class. All such trophies have a great value because they promote morale, and encourage further effort by those who exhibit at agricultural shows and who are proud of winning the trophies. These persons in some cases are carrying on traditions established by their fathers or grandfathers. The Treasurer should favorably consider including an amendment to exempt such items -
For use whether as goods or insome other form and not for sale bya society, institution or organization which is established and carried on exclusively or principally for the promotion of agricultural shows or exhibitions for the advancement of agriculture, and not carried on for the profit of an individual.
Letters sent to me by the Treasurer encouraged me to hope that the amendments I have requested would appear in this legislation. After I had made representations on behalf of the Queanbeyan Pastoral, Agricultural and Horticultural Association the Treasurer wrote to me as follows : -
I have noted the submissions and you may assure the Society that those submissions will receive full consideration when the taxation laws are being reviewed prior to the introduction of the budget later this year.
The right honorable gentleman gavea similar answer to representations thatI made to him on behalf of a number of other societies. I hope that before this measure becomes law the Treasurer will be able to allow to be made the amendments that I have sought.
– I wish to refer to item 12 of the fourth schedule to the bill which reads, inter alia -
Equipment, apparatus and accessories of a kind used exclusively or primarily and principally in indoor or outdoor sports andgames, gym nastics, athletics and physical culture, including -
I am under the impression that equipment associated with the.303 service rifle as usedby rifle clubs would fall within the scope of that item. Our
Australian rifle clubs have done very valuable work for the country. At present they are subsidized by the Department of the Army. They have kept alive the spirit of rifle shooting, and have fostered the correct use of this weapon. The rifle clubs might be called sporting bodies by a stretch of the imagination, but they are no more sporting bodies than are the groups of members of the Citizen Military Forces who do their training at week-ends. Service rifles are supplied by the Army to the rifle clubs, but all the additional equipment such as foresights, cleaning rods and aperture sights are purchased by the members of the clubs. Early in the last war all rifles and aperture sights were called in by the Government. Those aperture sights were later used by snipers. It cannot reasonably be held that aperture sights are not essential, because, on the contrary, they are necessary war-time equipment. I suggest to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that the equipment associated with .303 rifles used by members of rifle clubs be excluded from the provisions of this schedule.
– I shall deal first with the matters raised by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). He requested that the definition in item 60a of the first schedule to the principal act be widened to cover all printed matter used by show societies, institutions or organizations. I inform the honorable member that the exemptions contained in the act are consistent with what was requested by show organizations themselves.
The matter of trophies and prizes being exempted from sales tax was thoroughly considered in the light of all our difficulties and of the incidence of sales tax generally. It was decided that the concession requested by the honorable member could not be allowed. At this stage I can do no more than promise him that the matter will be kept constantly under review, as are all similar representations, with a view to adjustment at a time more appropriate than the present “With regard to the definition of printed matter, I am seized with what appears to be an anomaly in that a ribbon to go around a horse’s neck is exempted from sales tax but one that is to hang on the lapel of a steward’s coat is not exempted.
With regard to the matter raised by the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), ammunition used by rifle clubs is supplied by the Department of Defence and is tax-free. I shall examine the other matter that the honorable member has raised with a view to having adjusted any technical anomaly that may be found to exist.
.- I support the request that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has made that the Government, shall exempt from sales tax ‘printed matter and stationery used by agricultural societies. I am astonished at the refusal of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to accede to it. The honorable member presented a simple, unanswerable case to which the right honorable gentleman merely replied that it would not be possible to grant the exemption until conditions had improved. As such an exemption would involve a loss of revenue of less than £200 a year and as the Government is budgeting for a surplus of £13 4,500,000 for the current financial year, when may we expect that it will be able to grant so meagre a concession? The Treasurer has not rejected the request outright. Are we to be obliged to wait until the Government budgets for a surplus of £200.000,000 or £300,000,000? One can only conclude that the Treasurer is determined to reject every suggestion that the committee may make with respect to these proposals. I urge him to reconsider the representations that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has made so eloquently and so logically.
I have been asked by the Perth Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of one of its members who is a manufacturer of toys, to place before the Government two requests with respect to the proposed increase of sales tax on toys. That manufacturer, apparently, does not feel very happy about the attitude of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), who has advocated that Japanese toys be allowed unrestricted entry into this country. The first request to which I refer is that the increase of sales tax on toys be not implemented until after the Christmas period. The Government has said that the object of the increase is to divert man-power and materials from the manufacture of toys to that of essential articles. The Perth Chamber of Commerce has pointed out that the Government will not achieve that purpose by imposing the increase of tax on toys which have already been manufactured and which are now being held in stock for the Christmas trade. For that reason, the Government should immediately accede to that request. I received the chamber’s request some weeks ago when the Treasurer was unavailable owing to illness and I forwarded it to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The chamber suggested that the increase of tax on toys might be suspended for perhaps two months, or until toys already held in stock had been cleared. Unless the Government is absolutely stonyhearted it will accede to that request and thus enable parents, for one more Christmas, to purchase toys for their children at existing prices. Despite the views that have been expressed on this matter by some Government supporters, Australian children are living in expectation of receiving a plentiful supply of toys which, normally, are their due at Christmas-time, and, indeed, are of great educational value to them.
The second request that the Perth Chamber of Commerce has made is that the Government, if it refuses to postpone the imposition of the increase of sales tax on toys, might for purposes of the tax define two classifications of toys, namely, kindergarten, or useful and educational toys which might be exempt from tax or be subject to a lower rate of tax, and less useful toys which might be subject to a higher rate. Both of those suggestions are reasonable, and the Prime Minister in his reply to my communication to him on the matter promised that he would submit them to Cabinet. That reply gave me real grounds for hoping that they would be granted and, consequently, I couched by subsequent advice to the chamber in that strain. I sincerely trust that the Treasurer will not again, say that the Government’s financial position is so acute that it cannot accede to those requests. I repeat that it is budgeting for a surplus of such proportions that one Minister in the Senate said that it would not be expended except over his dead body. Again I ask when we may expect that the Government will be able to make concessions of this kind which would he of benefit to the community generally and, at the same time, would remedy anomalies and obviate hardship in many instances.
.- Strange though it may seem, I find myself for the second time within 24 hours in agreement with the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). I support the representations that he and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) have made - that printed matter and stationery used by agricultural societies be exempt from sales tax. There are 22 societies of that kind in my electorate. None of them operates for individual profit. In conjunction with their display of the agricultural ‘products of their respective districts they conduct a sports meeting.
Under the fourth schedule to the bill, equipment, apparatus and accessories of a kind used primarily in indoor, or outdoor, sports are to be exempt from the tax, but tax is to be imposed on printed matter and stationery used by societies of the kind that I have mentioned. In that respect, these societies will be penalized. I point out that such societies play a valuable part in the encouragement of the production of foodstuffs. The Government recognizes the urgent necessity to increase primary production. These societies are playing an important part in that direction because their displays really constitute the show windows of their respective districts. Their annual shows reveal to visitors, particularly those from cities and urban areas, the potentialities of their districts and thereby are the means of encouraging investment in primary production. They use a considerable volume of printed matter and stationery, including show catalogues and schedules. The Government would be doing a great service in the interests of primary production at very little cost to revenue if it exempted from sales tax printed matter and stationery used by such societies.
.- I support the representations that have been made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) that the Government exempt from sales tax printed matter and stationery used by agricultural societies. I urge the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to relent and to accede to that request. The loss of revenue that the making of such a concession would involve would be infinitesimal in view of the fact that the Government estimates that collections of sales tax during the current financial year will total £117,000,000. As the Government is budgeting for a surplus of £114,500,000 it could really alford to abolish sales tax completely. However, I know that the Treasurer would not consider such a proposition for one moment. Indeed, whether or not the Government really requires the money, it is determined to extract every penny that it possibly can from the pockets of the taxpayers.
Under the fourth schedule to the hill, sales tax is to be increased on equipment, apparatus and accessories of a kind used exclusively or primarily and principally in indoor or outdoor sports and games, gymnastics, athletics and physical culture. I urge the Treasurer to reconsider that item. The Government claims that it must draw off from the community as much purchasing power as it possibly can. However, in view of the fact that the Government is budgeting for a record surplus it is reasonable to expect it to exhibit a more sympathetic approach to the sporting requirements of the community. Surely it must recognize that sporting activities are essential to the healthy upbringing of our youth. In view of the fact that the Government is making available substantial funds for the purposes of national fitness, it should not hinder the activities of sports clubs of all kinds, including football, cricket, tennis, baseball and hockey clubs, by imposing high rates of sales tax on sporting equipment. After all, the youth of the community provide the money with which clubs pur chase such articles. Yet, the Government proposes to impose sales tax at the rate of 33i per cent, on all classes of those articles. One-third of the retail price of a tennis racquet or a football will be represented by sales tax. Sporting goods should not be classed as luxuries; they are essential to the wellbeing of the youth of Australia. If boys are to become strong, healthy adults, we must make it possible for them to indulge in the manly sports that will keep them physically fit. In order to engage in such sports, they must have the requisite equipment. The Treasurer, who claims that a luxury tax should be imposed upon sporting materials, has no real conception of the needs of the youth of Australia. I appeal to him to reconsider that matter. Let him forgo a little of the £117,000,000 that he expects to collect from the sales tax by exempting sporting equipment from that impost, because it is not necessary for the safety and good government of this country. Indeed, the sales tax legislation as a whole should be repealed. The loss of revenue would be almost offset by the surplus of £114,500,000 for which he has budgeted in this financial year.
I also urge the Treasurer to reconsider the increased rate of sales tax on confectionery and ice-cream. He may regard them as luxuries, but I classify them as necessaries for the children. Does not the right honorable gentleman remember that, when he was a child, he liked to eat confectionery?
– Oh !
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) obviously has no knowledge of the tastes of children. Surely the Treasurer has not forgotten that he liked sweets when he was a boy. Whether or not he was allowed sufficient pocket money by his parents with which to purchase them is another matter; but he has evidently forgotten that the confectionery, popcorn and icecream that he bought when he was a child, and the paper caps that were worn by children at birthday parties to add gaiety to them, were not subject to sales tax at the rate of 20 per cent. Such a tax is unnecessary. If the country were in serious financial difficulties, the Treasurer would be justified in seeking to discover ways and means of raising additional revenue in order to balance the budget. Such a position does not now arise because he has budgeted for a surplus of £114,500,000. In such circumstances, his attack upon babies, small children and the youth of the community is completely unwarranted. I urge him to reconsider those proposals in a more sympathetic manner than he has so far adopted. Let him remember that he is dealing with something more than facts and figures. Ho is attacking, harshly and unjustly, the section of the community that is not in a position to kick him, or to vote against him at the next general election.
.- I propose to direct the attention of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to some anomalies, and I hope he will rectify them when the sales tax legislation is again under review. Plant and equipment, in order to qualify for exemption from the sales tax, must be used in the actual manufacture of goods. Circular saws, portable saws and other tree-felling equipment-
-What about seesaws?
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) would be better occupied if he were playing on them. Circular saws, portable saws and treefelling equipment generally, when they are used by firewood merchants, building contractors and persons who are engaged in getting timber, are exempt from sales tax, but such exemption does not apply if they are used by primary producers for clearing land. I submit that primary producers who use circular saws, portable saws and tree-felling equipment to clear land in order to bring it under production are directly engaged in a process that may be considered similar to manufacturing. Agricultural machinery of various types is exempt from sales tax. I ask the Treasurer to examine that anomaly with a view to correcting it. A safeguard can be provided in order to ensure that the exemption shall not be granted to persons who are not entitled to it. The revenue can be protected if the purchaser of a circular saw, portable saw or treefelling equipment is requiredto give a certificate, such as is required from the purchaser of other agricultural machi nery, to show that the saws and treefelling equipment are to be used strictly for the purposes of primary production.
I also ask the Treasurer to review at the appropriate time the rate of sales tax that is imposed on household and domestice appliances. I agree that it is difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to define essential and nonessential domestic appliances. The circumstances of the day must be the deciding factor. But I consider that some relief should be given to the purchasers of the less expensive kinds of refrigerators, household furniture, washing machines and the like. The sales tax upon those articles, instead of being at a flat rate, should be graduated according to their prices. By that means, the wish of the Government to discourage the manufacture of expensive radios, refrigerators and washing machines would be realized, while the person in receipt of a small income would have an opportunity to obtain such articles, if he considered them essential for his household, and would not be unduly penalized. A radio receiving set that costs £15 or £20 cannot be classed as a luxury, or as a non-essential article, but a radiogram that costs between £60 and £100 can be regarded as a luxury, because it does not give any better service than is given by a less expensive instrument. The same remark applies to furniture and various domestic appliances. Foolish householders pay exorbitant prices for a few extra “ trimmings “. If the sales tax were graduated, and costly articles were subject to a high rate of tax, the Government would succeed in diverting materials from the manufacture of those goods. I ask the Treasurer to give consideration to those matters when the sales tax is under review.
– Mr. Chairman-
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill -by leave - read a third time.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1951.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 26th September (vide page 89), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) put -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the remaining stages being passed without delay.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. Eric J. Harrison do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) - by leave - put -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions in regard to the first and second readings, committee’s report stage, and third readings, being put in one motion covering several or all of the Sales Tax Bills Nos. 1 to 9, and the consideration of several or all of such bills together in a committee of the whole.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 6.2 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 6th November (vide page 1551), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose the passage of this measure which, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) stated in his secondreading speech, provides for a refund of £12,500,000 of the wheat tax which was paid, in respect of exports from the 1948-49 wheat crop, into the No. 12 pool. But the Government, by claiming some virtue for having introduced this legislation, is attempting to give a wrong impression to the wheat-growing industry because, in fact, the Government is merely carrying out the undertaking given in 1948 by the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) when he introduced the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill. The honorable gentleman then said -
The Commonwealth agrees that it will not hold an excessive amount in the fund and it will consider a refund of this tax to the oldest contributing pool whenever the financial prospects of the fund justify it.
The Government therefore is merely giving effect to the undertaking that was then given. The financial prospects now undoubtedly justify the refund to be authorized by this bill, and indeed, might be taken to justify a far larger refund than is proposed. The £12,500,000 to be refunded under the measure is only a small proportion of the £241.000.000 at present held by the Commonwealth which belongs to the primary producers. In the light of the present position of the wheat industry and of the fund, there is a good reason for the argument that the Government should be making to the wheatgrowers a refund not of £12,500,000, but of £24,000,000.
– How much is in the pool?
– I shall give the figures in a moment. When the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 194S was introduced the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said -
This bill is meant to end one phase in the history of the Australian wheat industry and to start another one. Nobody expects that this bill, or any other bill, can end the troubles of the industry and of the growers. Our seasons, with their droughts, uncertainties and the ups and downs, will always confront our wheat farmers with special difficulties. There are, in fact, so many factors affecting the growers’ prosperity which arc outside the growers’ control that wheat-growing has been too much of a gamble. That makes it all the more necessary for growers and governments to co-operate and to take all reasonable steps to lessen the risks of the industry. [ should imagine that in this House there was then, and is now, general agreement with that sentiment. In 1949 the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), made some specific pledges to the wheat industry - pledges that were endorsed by the Leader of the Australian Country party, the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The promise then made by the present Prime Minister, and. supported by the present Treasurer, was that the cost of concessional wheat sales to the wheat-growers would be recouped. Concessional wheat sales are sales of wheat to stock feeders at the homeconsumption price. On that occasion the present Treasurer wrote in reply to an inquiry from the wheat-growers’ journal - and his reply was therefore a considered statement of what was to be the policy of the Australian Country party, which he led, and of the Government that the Australian Country party would support if the anti-Labour parties were elected to office at the December, 1949, general election-
– How does the honorable gentleman relate this matter to the bill?
– I relate it very clearly to the bill. If Mr. Speaker challenges me, I shall endeavour to establish that.
-Order! I have been studying the bill and was just about to ask the honorable gentleman what his remarks had to do with it. The bill consists of five clauses, and relates only to a refund of certain money to wheatgrowers.
– I am making a passing reference.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman has been six minutes in passing, so he must have passed more than once.
– Very well, then, before dealing with that aspect of the matter it will be interesting if I review the wheat industry stabilization scheme.
– Order ! That subject is not within the scope of the bill, which is entitled, “ Wheat Industry Stabilization (Refund of Charge) Bill “, and is limited in scope.
– -Surely I am entitled, in a discussion of the proposed refund, to review and to state the principles that govern the operation of the scheme under which the refund is to be made.
– I cannot agree with that. It is a very narrow bill. I point out to the honorable gentleman, because we may as well straighten the matter out early in the debate, that this is not a bill to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act. If it were, then the honorable gentleman would be entitled to discuss any phase of wheat industry stabilization. The bill is designed to provide for the payment, through the Australian Wheat Board, to the growers of wheat of a certain season, of certain moneys held in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund. It has to do with nothing else.
– I rise to order. Would it not be relevant, according to your own description of the measure, Mr. Speaker, for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) to discuss the wisdom, justice and prudence or otherwise of the proposed refund and, in order to decide the point, to show how the fund came into existence ? Does not that connote, from the point of view of principle, an examination of the proposals of the Government? I think that that is all the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is attempting to do.
-Order! As I have pointed out, this is not a bill to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act. If it were, then the honorable gentleman could range over a field as wide as the world. But the scope of the bill is limited. It is designed to provide for the repayment to growers of wheat of a certain season, and of that season only, of certain money that was collected by what was known as the wheat tax. The nature of the tax, and the rights or wrongs of it, do not come into the consideration of the matter, according to my interpretation. The question before us is simply whether the House is or is not prepared to approve that moneys collected in one season from certain wheat-growers shall be refunded to them.
– In bowing to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I point out that the Minister, in his second-reading speech, dealt with features of the stabilization scheme, and I trusted that I too would be allowed to deal with some of those matters. However. I take it that I shall bc perfectly in order in discussing the amount of the refund that is to he made to the industry, the question of whether or not that refund should be substantially larger than is proposed, and the effect upon the wheat-growing industry and of primary production generally of withholding from them the tremendous sums that belong to primary producers which are at present being held by the Government, and of which this efund is a part. The Government is telling the Australian people that the way to beat inflation is to increase production, yet by holding such learge sums which belong to the rural community the Government itself is preventing the rural producer from following that advice.
– What large sums?
– The Government is holding to-day, £35,000,00 of wheat industry stabilization money, £12,500,000 of which it now proposes to refund. It will continue to hold at least £24,000,000, and a strong case has been advanced, with strong arguments to justify it, for a refund of at least £20,000,000, and possibly of £24,000,000.
– Out of what pool?
– The Government holds £100,000,000 in wool tax proceeds-
– Order ! The wool tax has nothing to do with this bill.
– The £35,000,000 in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund is a part of the total of £241,000,000 of rural producers’ moneys now held by the Government.
– What is the honorable gentleman’s authority for that statement ?
– Those are official figures and it would be a great pleasure to me to be able to give to the honorable gentleman the details of them. However, Mr. Speaker will not permit mp to do so. I may, however, be permitted to quote Mr. R. J. Doolin, the wheatgrowers’ representative on the Australian Wheat Board. The figures that I have given to the House are the figures cited by Mr. Doolin. He has stated that, in his opinion - and I take it that he speaks with some authority on the matter - there is no valid reason why at least £20,000,000 of the £35,000,000 now lying idle in the fund should not be refunded immediately to the growers. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) asked me what authority I had for the statement that I. made, and I now tell him that my authority is the wheat-growers’ representative on the Australian Wheat Board.
– A, and not the, wheatgrowers’ representative.
– All right, a wheat-growers’ representative. The refund to the growers of that money, which is properly theirs, and the retention of which, it can be argued on good grounds, is not necessary in view of the present circumstances and financial prospects of the industry, would enable the growers to undertake pasture improvement, sink new artesian bores, undertake extensive ring-barking so as to bring more land into cultivation, combat soil erosion on a bie scalp, and pay the high prices demanded for imported fencing materials. All measures are urgently needed on our farms if we are to expect bigger crops. As Mr. Doolin has pointed out, thousands of good properties are being neglected.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting right outside the scope of the bill.
– If you will allow me to explain, Mr. Speaker, I shall show that I am not. I am arguing that whilst the proposed refund of £12,500.000 will be of some help to the wheat-growers, it will not go far towards assisting to meet the urgent need for sufficient funds to develop the wheat industry. I am, therefore, arguing that the refund should be larger.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not do that, because an increase of the appropriation can be made only consequent upon the receipt of a message from the Governor-General.
– Very well. I shall say that the refund to be authorized by the bill will, in part, enable the wheat-growers to take some of the steps that I have mentioned, and that if the Government had been able to make a larger refund, it would have enabled the growers to do far more to put their industry in a condition to meet the future needs of this country, and of the world, in respect of wheat production, because the withdrawal by the Government of these huge sums from useful services is destroying the ambition of the individual farmer. That is why it is necessary that the refund provided for in the bill shall be made and why the largest possible refund should be made to the industry. The withholding of money which is not required for stabilization purposes is producing a fatal feeling of frustration in the very quarters where there should be hope and encouragement - the vital wheatproducing industry of this nation.
.- I listened with interest to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and I was rather amazed at the attitude that he adopted. I thought that the honorable member would simply approve of the measure and resume his seat. I am sure that he would have made » much better speer h had he done po.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was formerly Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, is not in the House at present and it seems to me that the Labour party is without an authoritative voice on the subject of this great primary industry. As you have pointed out, Mr. Speaker, this is a very simple bill. It is a bill to provide for a repayment from the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund to wheat-growers. It is proposed to refund the whole of the money in No. 12 pool, which represents ls. 5 1/8d. for every bushel of wheat that was delivered to that pool. The honorable member for Eden Monaro was correct in saying that this is a revolving fund. There are two other 4)001S No. 13, and No. 14 - which is not yet complete. The honorable member said that at least £24,000,000 should be paid to the wheat-grower. It was never contemplated when the act was introduced that only £9,000,000 should be left in the 0001, which is the amount that would remain in it if £24,000,000 were repayed. It has always been considered by wheat-growers that ‘at least £20,000,000 should be left in the pool to meet any emergency. The honorable member said that there is no need to have a fund just now because no emergency could arise which would require the provision of money to keep the industry in a stable position. In making that statement the honorable member revealed his inability to grasp the nature of the situation. Unfortunately, when the Labour Government introduced the original bill, it did not provide any limit to the quantity of wheat that could be used for stock feed. In the event of a bad season occurring in the coming year - which is still possible - the entire production of wheat would be sold inside Australia at the homeconsumption price, with no profit to the grower, and then the people-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not deal with the matter of home consumption. That is completely outside the scope of the bill.
– I want to say that the people in the industry would want to make–
– The matter is one, not of what they want to make, but of whether or not they are to have this money.
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said that the growers and the Government should co-operate for the good of the industry. All honorable members will agree with that statement, but at present it does not appear to be possible for the governments of the States-
– Order ! The matter i8 one not of co-operation, but of repayment.
– As a representative of a vast wheat-growing area, I welcome the proposal for this repayment. Only their own money are the wheatgrowers to receive. It has been stated that they are very lucky to get it back from this Government. When the Labour Government made a repayment it tried to make it appear to he a gift to the wheatgrower. Under the act, a fund has been built up by the wheat-growers so that money would be available to help the industry when the export price falls below the cost of production. I consider that the Government has proposed the repayment of a most appropriate amount - about £12,500,00 - because that will dispose of the funds in No. 12 pool. I hope that the Government will make a further payment - perhaps the whole of No. 13 pool - when it has sufficient funds in hand to do so and still retain £20,000,000 in the pool. That course of action would please the industry.
It has been asked why the Government has held this money for so long. It has been retained for only two years hecause each pool operates only in respect of one year and No. 12 pool covered the 1.948-49 season. Agreement with the policy adopted was expressed at a poll which was a vote was registered by every wheat-grower who cared to do so. The Government has not withheld this money because of unwillingness to distribute it hut has held it in a trust fund’ for the wheat-growers in accordance with their wishes. The wheat-grower is right in saying that the fund should not be allowed to reach great proportions and that, when it had reached £35.000,000 the Government should reduce it by repaying the money in one pool as it proposes to do now. The £22,500,000 that will remain in the fund is an ideal amount with which to meet an emergency.
This money will be paid to the wheatgrowers through the Australian Wheat Board, and will include interest on the amount that has been held. Wheatgrowers will be able to make good use of this money. I do not wish my remarks to make it appear that the Government has proposed to do anything out of the ordinary. It has only proposed that money shall be refunded to the people who contributed it in order to put their industry on stable lines. Up to the present time it has not been necessary to draw upon the fund to meet an emergency but it may be necessary to do so in future. Only by having this revolving pool are we able-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting onto the subject of the stabilization fund, which is not mentioned in this bill.
– Only by having
-Order! I must insist that the honorable member keep to the bill.
– I want to refer to what you said, Mr. Speaker. Owing to the existence of this “ revolving “ stabilization fund, men who have left the industry will receive their money from the fund instead of leaving it there for some considerable time, which could cause them financial embarrassment. I commend the bill to honorable members. It has been framed strictly in accordance with the terms of the act and conforms with proposals for which the wheatgrowers have voted. I hope that it will have a swift passage and that the repayment will be made through the Australian Wheat Board to the wheat-growers at the first possible moment.
.- I consider that the wheat-growers in having this amount of £12,496,000 refunded to them are very fortunate indeed compared with other sections of primary industry. The Government has seen fit to repay this amount. I agree that the wheat-grower needs this money and will be assisted by it. The amount has been collected under the wheat stabilization plan, which was opposed by honorable gentlemen-
– Order ! The subject of the wheat stabilization plan is not under discussion.
– The proposals that relate to the collection of this money were opposed in their entirety by honorable members opposite at the time of their introduction. The sum of £35,000,000 has now been collected in respect of three pools. It has been proposed that this money shall be repaid from what is known as No. 12 pool which relates to the year 1948-49. No. 13 pool relates to the year 1949-50 and No. 14 pool which relates to the 1950-51 crop. The No. 14 pool has not yet been finalized so that the full amount collected in respect of these three pools will probably be more than £35,000,000. That fac t supports the Opposition’s argument that the amount now proposed to be refunded could have been greater. The total amount left in the fund after the payment of this £12,490,000 will be approximately £26,000,000. As you have said, Mr. Speaker, this is a very narrow bill. I should like to say a lot more about it but in view of your ruling I must confine my remarks to the subject of the refund. It is very necessary that the refund be made, but it seems to me that the amount could, perhaps, have been greater. I hope that the Government will be just as liberal in dealing with the wool-growers in the distribution of joint organization profits as it has been in proposing this refund to the wheat-growers.
– Four honorable members have spoken to this bill and none has expressed any opposition to it. Does any honorable member wish to oppose it?
No honorable member having replied in the affirmative,
– I, too, support this bill. Although honorable members of the Opposition have expressed support for it, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) made some rather conflicting suggestions. He stated that about double the approximate amount of £12,500,000 proposed should be refunded in order to assist in the stabilization of the wheat industry in the future. I invite the attention of the honorable member to the object of the wheat stabilization fund. That fund is, in itself, a means of stabilizing the industry in the future. The objects of the fund as set out in the act, are, to provide-
Motion (by Mr. Clyde Cameron) put -
That the question be now put.
Mr. Speaker having declared in favour of “Aye” and a division having been called for,
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 31
The tellers having completed the count of the House,
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I desire to continue my speech by making a quotation that will answer a statement that was made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). This quotation will show exactly what the wheat stabilization fund is for, and the objects behind the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act. The objects of the act are to provide
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member is out of order in attempting to recite the objects of the wheat stabilization plan. You, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that that may not be done. I ask you, sir, to require him to confine his remarks to the terms of the bill.
-Order ! The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) must confine his remarks to the terms of the bill.
– It would be of interest to deal with a little of the background history of wheat stabilization.
– Order ! I have ruled that the honorable member may not do that.
– Then I shall deal with the bill itself. It is. designed to refund the wheat tax on wheat exports in respect of the 194S-49 wheat crop, which is known as the No. 12 pool. During 194S-49, wheat-growers paid into the No. 12 pool approximately £12,500,000 as wheat tax and that is the amount that will be refunded plus the interest for the intervening period. The 194S-49 wheat crop was exceptionally large, and of the 174,000,000 bushels that went into the pool, 115,000,000 bushels was exported.
Conversation being audible,
– Order !’ There is too much conversation in the House. Half a dozen committee meetings appear to be in session.
– When the total sum was averaged for the whole of the No. 12 pool it was found that the wheat tas collected in respect of the wheat in the pool was equivalent to ls. 5-Jd. a bushel. That is the figure that has been referred to in connexion with this ‘ refund. The No. 12 pool was the first pool to which the post-war marketing arrangements applied, because previous pools had been administered under the National Security Regulations. Certain money held in this trust fund by the Australian Government will be repaid, when it is considered that the total amount held is more than will be required in the immediate future for wheat stabilization. The current wheat stabilization plan, of which this is a part, continues during the period-
– Order ! The wheat stabilization plan has nothing to do with the matter before the House.
– The honorable member is only making a passing reference to the wheat stabilization plan.
– The amount in the fund at present is in the vicinity of £35.000,000, and covers three pools - Nos. 12, 13 and 14. In passing, I may say that the payments into No. 14 pool have not yet been completed and that consequently the total will be increased in the near future. From the £35,000,000 in the fund it is intended to repay completely the amount in No. 12 pool. The repayment will absorb £12,500,000, plus interest. The opinion of growers organizations was sought before it was decided to repay this money, and they all approved of this proposed action. They agree that the amount in No. 12 pool shall be completely repaid rather than that a pro rata payment, which would interfere with other pools, be made. It is the Government’s policy that growers shall not be obliged to make more than a fair contribution for the purpose of establishing funds in order to ensure the future stability of their industry. I believe that all honorable members will support the measure and that it will be welcomed by all sections of the community.
.- If it would improve the temper of the House, I should be prepared to oppose the bill. This tax should never have been collected, but since it was collected it should have been repaid to the growers, say, last month, or at some other time; and because that has not been done there does not seem to be any sound reason why it should be repaid to them to-day; in fact, it might be better to pay it back to them to-morrow. I regret, Mr. Speaker, that you called the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser) to order because, with great personal satisfaction, I knew that he was digging his own tomb in the easy soil of his inaccuracies and I was hoping that he would fall into it. However, you saved him from such a disaster, and thus we are obliged to deal with his arguments within the limits of your ruling. The object of the measure is to refund to the wheat-growers an objectionable tax that was never really necessary, but was conceived in the tortured mind of the Chifley Government as far back as 1945. That Government provided that if and when the export parity price-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is proceeding to discuss the tax and the manner in which it was collected. Those matters are outside the scope of the measure.
– If there is no point in referring to the collection of the tax, what is the point in discussing a proposal to refund it? The money must have been collected from some source, otherwise it could not. be refunded, and it is necessary for me, if I am to make any point at all, to refer, in passing - as the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) said I was doing - to the way in which the money was collected. The fact remains that if and when the price of wheat rises above a certain level, the surplus realizations are shared among the growers.
– Order! That point is not covered by the bill. Before the House gets into further difficulty, 1 point out to the honorable gentleman that as the collection of the tax is an accomplished fact it may not be discussed under the bill. The only questions that arise under the measure are, whether a certain amount shall be repaid and, if so, whether it shall be repaid through the Australian Wheat Board.
– So far as I am able to do so, I shall confine myself within the limits of your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Previously, I had occasion to ask questions concerning, not only this pool and the refund of tax collected in respect of it, but also the No. 11 pool and the tax that was collected in respect of it. I then suggested that the Parliament ought to device a more simple and more honorable approach to this responsibility. It is a lamentable state of affairs when primary producers - in this instance the wheat-growers - are called upon to pay a tax that i3 wholly superfluous. This tax has been rendered redundant because of the International Wheat Agreement and the persistently high export parity price for wheat. Yet. the only way in which supporters of the Government and honorable members opposite who are sufficiently interested in the matter can solve this problem is to dun the Minister to repay the tax to the growers and, having convinced him of the need for making such repayments, to dun the departmental officers, who really have nothing whatever to do with the matter, to agree to the distribution to the growers of a sum in excess of £12,000,000. When that stage has been reached the Minister is placed in the invidious position of having to dun Cabinet to introduce a measure for the purpose of refunding money that rightly belongs to the wheat-growers. That is my complaint about legislation that was passed by the previous Government. But this Government has a magnificent record in this respect. Within less than two years it has repaid to the wheat-growers approximately £16,500,000 in respect of No. 11 pool, and but for senseless obstruction of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), it might already have repaid to the growers the tax that was collected from them in respect of No. 12 pool. That is not a bad record for a Government that has no great liking for the Socialist legislation that was introduced by its predecessor.
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss the wheat industry stabilization scheme.
– We are pleased to see that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has returned from overseas. I urge him to devote his attention to devising a simpler, more equitable and more honorable method of recouping the wheat-growers of a tax that could never serve any useful purpose whatever.
– Order ! The honorable member must recognize that the method of collecting the tax is not covered by the bill before the Chair. I cannot allow him to discuss that aspect.
– I am referring to the embarrassment that has resulted to this Government because of the vast accumulation of funds that have been derived from collection of the wheat tax and which in the fullness of time will bc repeated as a result of the levying and collection of the tax in respect of the subsequent pools, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. Surely, it is reasonable to permit an honorable member to save the Government from a repetition of that embarrassment. Approximately £12,500,000 was collected from wheat-growers for no useful purpose whatever. Obviously, that money must be returned to the growers, and the Government is doing its duty in introducing this measure for that purpose. I repeat that the tax should never have been collected. However, as it was collected it should have been repaid to the growers immediately or at the first opportunity. This is the first opportunity that has presented itself to this Government to do so. It was cluttered up with affairs pertaining to No. 11 pool, in which funds amounting to over £16,000,000 had been accumulated, so it was obliged first to finalize the preceding pool. Subsequent pools will continue to embarrass the Government until such time as the whole wretched affair that has been described euphoniously as the wheat industry stabilization scheme has been appropriately amended.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 31st October (vide page 1361), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The object of this measure is to assist the cotton-growing industry by guaranteeing for a period of five years from the 1st January last an average net return to growers of 9id. per lb. for seed cotton, which is equivalent to a price of 30d. per lb. for raw cotton. The Opposition does not oppose the bill. I propose to discuss it briefly. The evidence given before the Tariff Board, when it inquired into the industry in 1949, revealed that the industry had practically ceased to exist in Queensland. Therefore, if the industry is to be enabled to continue, assistance of the kind that is provided for in the bill must be given to it.
It will be recalled that the Tariff Board rejected the industry’s request for a guaranteed return of 9£d. per lb. for seed cotton. I should imagine that the board viewed the matter solely on the basis of economic considerations. It held that the only measures of assistance that could be justified were, to continue the assistance represented by the protection that was afforded under the tariff and to relieve the Cotton Marketing Board of its liability of approximately £69,000 to the Commonwealth Bank. The Government has now agreed to grant the industry’s request for a guaranteed price of 9-^d. per lb. of seed cotton, and in doing so, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) pointed out in his secondreading speech, it did not confine itself to the economic considerations. The Government has taken the view, with which there will be widespread agreement, that it is desirable to develop cotton-growing on a large scale in Australia for the diversification of our economy and in the interests of our industrial development generally.
In perusing the report of the Tariff Board, I was interested in the evidence that was given to it with respect to the relationship that exists between the cotton industry and, for example, the dairying industry. Great difficulty is being experienced in obtaining sufficient oil cake for the dairying industry in order to ensure adequate supplies of milk. According to evidence given to the Tariff Board, the cotton industry could be enabled to produce adequate supplies of protein cake and seed meal for the dairying, pig-raising and poultry industries. Therefore, the use of cotton seed oil as an edible product in secondary industries is also of considerable importance. It is difficult to determine whether sufficient supplies of edible oil can be obtained from overseas sources. From the standpoint of nutrition, the value of cotton seed by-products cannot be questioned. However, the fact remains that the production of cotton in Australia has declined from a peak of approximately 17,000 bales in 1934 to only 522 bales in 1949. The production last year was little more than SOO bales. If the industry is not to be allowed completely to disappear, some assistance such as i3 proposed in this bill must be granted to it for a guaranteed period. Indeed, the Tariff Board, although it rejected the request of the growers on economic grounds, decided that the industry needed some form of stabilized assistance for a considerable number of years.
The history of the cotton-growing industry, as has been pointed out by the Tariff Board, shows conclusively that farmers who have been persuaded by abnormal influences, such as high prices for a season, or a special return for a temporary period, to grow cotton, ceased to do so when such inducements were reduced to more reasonable levels, or when they could obtain higher prices by growing other products. In those circumstances, the provision of a guarantee of a reasonable price for five years appears to be the proper course to adopt at this stage if the industry is to continue to exist, and if its development is to be encouraged.
– The cotton-growing industry in Australia is one of the few remaining large industries that have an opportunity to develop in both the primary and the secondary phases. Honorable members may not be aware that, quite recently, as much as £15,000,000 worth of cotton goods was imported by Australia. Therefore, the greatest possible scope exists in the primary and secondary phases for the development of cotton-growing. Australians began to grow cotton in Queensland in 1860, while the American Civil War was in progress. At that time Australia was unable to obtain supplies of cotton because the bulk of the world’s supply was then produced in the United States of America. Throughout our history, during international crises, this country has been starved of supplies of cotton. Because of the importance of cotton to this country and because of the large quantities that are now imported, it is imperative that we develop our cotton-growing industry. In 1920, a progressive move was made when the Hughes Government encouraged the expansion of cotton-growing. Senator Sir Walter Massey Greene, who was the Minister for Trade and Customs at that time, devoted considerable energy to assisting its development. Nearly 2,000 acres was then under cultivation, and about 600 bales of cotton was produced. By 1925. neary 40,000 acres was under cotton, and the production was 11,500 bales. The peak was 20,000 bales, but production reached a low figure during periods of drought.
I agree with the recommendation of the Tariff Board, which has investigated the cotton-growing industry on many occasions. That industry, if it is to develop soundly and he established permanently, requires irrigation and mechanical pickers. At present, the Queensland Cotton Board is doing its best to solve the problem of mechanical picking. Twelve mechanical pickers are now in use, and they pick as much cotton as approximately 30 men can pick in a specified time, and at less cost. The cotton-growing industry, if it receives proper encouragement, will he of major importance to Australia. The Government of Queensland has undertaken on more than one occasion to provide adequate irrigation projects for the development of the cotton industry, but I regret to say that it has fallen down on that job. However, I do not hesitate to point out, in fairness to that Government, that after it had given its undertaking, Australia became engaged in World War II. and encountered in the aftermath the dual problems of shortage of labour and of materials. That government, if it is to make a success of the cotton-growing industry, must fulfill its obligation to provide irrigation as quickly as possible.
Cotton-growing has a great future in Australia because the secondary industry phase of it can be substantially developed. Fourteen firms are engaged in spinning cotton, and there are 201,000 spindles all of which are dependent upon ample supplies of raw cotton for the production of yarn for clothing and for other purposes. The cotton industry, on the secondary side, requires 40,000 hales of cotton per annum. From the defence standpoint, it is vitally important that cotton shall be available at all times. It is required to clothe our troops, and is a vital necessity in the manufacture of munitions. Its importance can be seen in the decision by all countries to stock-pile cotton. The remoteness of Australia from the principal suppliers and the risks involved in transporting goods by sea in time of war, stress the necessity for the development of a local source of supply. To-day, I am at my wit’s end, as the Minister for the Army, to obtain adequate supplies of khaki for the next intake of national service trainees, and I am combing the world in order to obtain supplies. It is not possible to secure all our requirements, even from Japan. We shall accept Japanese materials if we can get them, because we must have them. For that reason, it is imperative that the cotton industry in this country be developed.
The proposal of the Government to provide a bounty of 9$d. per lb. for seed cotton, which was rejected in the first instance by the Tariff Board, will be commended by every person who is interested in the primary and secondary phases of the cotton industry. With wheat bringing such prices as are paid for it to-day, the by-products of cotton seed and cotton-seed oil will be of great assistance to the dairying, poultry and pig raising industries. The cotton-growing industry has everything to commend it, because cotton is urgently required, large quantities are imported, and the by-products are needed for our stock-raising industries. Above all, cotton-growing must be developed foi defence purposes. But I emphasize that unless irrigation and mechanical pickers are provided, the industry cannot succeed. If my time were not so limited, I should take advantage of this opportunity to demonstrate the major development that has taken place in the industry. With the consent of honorable members I shall incorporate in Hansard the following tables : -
I have mentioned that the cotton-growing industry is vital from the stand-point of defence. Honorable members may be astonished to learn that substantial supplies of cotton are required for transport purposes. There is substantially more cotton in the tyre of a motor car or motor truck than there is rubber or any other product. Had time permitted, I should have shown the large number of industries in which cotton is being used in Australia. I believe that the proposal of the Government to provide the bounty of 9-Jd. per lb., and the provision of irrigation by the Government of Queensland, will enable the cotton-growing industry to prosper, and meet an urgent national need.
Mr. NELSON (.Northern Territory) 9. 11]. - The purpose of this bill is to encourage cotton-growing in Australia, and to place the industry upon a sound and permanent footing. No one will deny the desirability of encouraging that branch of agriculture. Therefore, I ask the Government to give urgent attention to the part that the Northern Territory can play in assisting Australia to become self-supporting in respect of cotton. The broad picture of cotton-growing in this country is a gloomy one. I realize that efforts have been made in the past to establish the industry in the Northern Territory, but I point out that when those attempts were made the conditions were vastly different from those of to-day. Honorable members will appreciate the difficulties of the early settlers in areas such as Katherine and the Daly River when they attempted that task more than 30 years ago. Some of the problems that they encountered arose from transport difficulties, the cost of farming in those remote areas, and the lack of suitable machinery and ginneries. Added to those difficulties was the fact that the markets were situated more than 1,000 miles away, and the prices for tho cotton that was forwarded were erratic. Although the efforts of those pioneers were not crowned with success from the financial standpoint, they proved conclusively that cotton could be grown in those areas. There are thousands of acres of land in the Northern Territory similar to the country that was proven by those pioneers and should now be producing cotton for the Australian market.
Official interest was not shown in the cotton-growing possibilities of tha Northern Territory in recent times until the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization established its experimental station at Katherine River after the last war. That organization conducted trials with cotton-growing, and the results confirmed the findings of the pioneers that cotton could be grown successfully in that area. I ask tha Government, now that it has taken some action to place the industry on a stable basis, to offer encouragement immediately to the group of farmers at Katherine, who are prepared at this time to plant a cotton crop. Initially, some farming machinery such as cotton pickers will bo required, and a ginnery should be erected. That step should be taken urgently so that the Northern Territory may play its part in assisting to supply the cotton requirements of Australia.
.- I support the bill. Cotton -gr owing in Australia has been confined principally to Queensland, and, in particular, over the last twenty or 30 years, to the electorate that I have the honour to represent. The history of the industry in Queensland shows that it has depended very largely upon the provision of financial incentives and, occasionally, upon the patriotism of producers. As the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) pointed out, it was established as a result of the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. It grew apace so that in 1871, in the Dawson, Callide and Upper Burnett Valleys, cotton crops covered 12,963 acres and yielded 8,000,000 lb. of seed cotton. That development was the result of commendable industry on the part of the pioneer growers, who had to work under extremely difficult conditions. Unfortunately, when the American Civil War ended and stability was restored in the American cotton-growing regions, the Australian industry declined rapidly and passed through a very difficult period. Eventually, the Queensland Government in 1920, realizing the magnitude of the demand for cotton in Australia, guaranteed a price of 5£d. per lb. That action had an immediate effect on the acreage of cotton grown in Queensland. The crop had to be harvested by hand in those days, and I sometimes wonder how the farmers were able to find men and women who would work under the conditions that applied in the industry. In those circumstances, the rate at which production developed merited high commendation.
By 1924, cotton was being produced from 50,1S6 acres of land. Unfortunately, rising wages for rural workers and falling prices in succeeding years caused another recession so that, hy 1931, the total area under cotton crops was only 20,000 acres. Little change occurred during the economic depression because, of course, there was little incentive then to produce a low-priced crop. However, the demand for cotton promoted development of the industry again after the depression with the result that, in 1938, the industry reached its peak with 66,470 acres under crop. That was largely due to the high price that was available for cotton at that time. When World War II. broke out, cotton planting was encouraged, not only because of the monetary value of the crop, but also because the commodity was of first-class importance to the war effort. In 1941 and 1942, the total area cultivated for cotton production was 60,000 acres, and the crop amounted to 15,000,000 lb. of seed cotton. Although prices remained fairly high after the termination of hostilities, farmers were discouraged by the difficulty of obtaining labour in rural areas. Consequently, many growers turned to other agricultural pursuits. Seasonal conditions also affected the industry, and in 1945, 1946 and 1947 the yields amounted to 1,800,000 lb., 3,000,000 ‘lb., and 2,100,000 lb. respectively, from an average yearly acreage of 8,000. In 1948-49 the area under cotton amounted to slightly more than 6,000 acres, from which a crop of 1,800,000 lb. was harvested.
The industry was then in the doldrums, and its representatives asked the Chifley Labour Government for a guaranteed price of 9-d. per lb. However, the Chifley Government referred the request to the Tariff Board which, after considering it in the light of cold statistics, made a decision that subsequent events proved to be ill-advised. The board decided that there was no justification for the encouragement of this Australian industry, and it recommended that the only assistance that was needed was the cancellation of the Queensland Cotton Board’s indebtedness of about £6S,000 to the Commonwealth Bank. The sad result of the Chifley Government’s refusal to provide’ a guaranteed price was that, by 1949, cotton-growing in Queensland had become restricted to 2,68S acres which yielded a crop of 700,000 lb. of seed cotton. This was a tremendous disaster for the Australian economy because, as has been pointed out already, there is a large unsatisfied demand for cotton in Australia. That demand is growing year by year, yet the crop in 1949 was the lowest for 31 years. Obviously, the Chifley Government did a great disservice to the farmers in particular, and to the Australian economy in general, when it rejected the request for a guaranteed price. The industry was being effectively strangled. But then came the day in December, 1949, when the death knell of socialism was sounded and we were able to lift from the entire Australian economy an encumbrance that had weighed it down for eight long years.
The cotton-growers approached this Government in 1950 and again asked for a guaranteed price for their product. The proposition was similar to that which the Chifley Government had rejected. The Labour Government had looked upon it through the eyes of socialists; this Government looked upon it through the eyes of Australians. Here was one of the few Australian primary industries that produced a crop for which there was a large unsatisfied internal demand. The Government considered the proposition from a businesslike point of view and also took into account the value of cotton in any scheme of defence preparations. The industry has experienced many vicissitudes in Australia. Now, fortunately, as a result of the decision that this Government has made, it is booming again. The area under crop has increased from 2,688 acres at the time of the Chifley Government’s rejection of the appeal for a guaranteed price to 8,500 a<cres prepared for mechanical harvesting and a largs area prepared for hand picking in 1951.
This Government also has been able to impress the importance of the industry upon the socialist Government of Queensland. During the ‘thirties the State Government was particularly disinterested in the cotton industry, but now it has agreed, through the Department of Agriculture and Stock, to pursue, first, a comprehensive expansion programme directed to the development of a sound, balanced farming economy embracing the use of cotton and grass crop rotation in any districts where cotton can be grown efficiently; secondly, the development of cotton-growing in the most appropriate irrigation areas; and, thirdly, a programme of research designed to improve the efficiency of cotton production by means of plant breeding, entomological control and the adoption of mechanical means of planting and harvesting. In these days of relatively high wages in rural industries, it is essential to make the best possible use of mechanical equipment in the industry. Last year there were only five cotton harvesters in Queensland. Such machines are manufactured in th, United States of America, and the Government came to the assistance of the industry by making available sufficient dollar funds for the purchase of twelve more harvesters. These machines, together with the older equipment, will be scarcely sufficient to harvest the forthcoming crop. ,
Experience has proved that large cotton crops can be produced with the aid of irrigation than can be produced under the old dry farming methods. Therefore, we should take advantage of the great streams of water that flow to the sea from the Great Dividing Range in Queensland. Those waters are largely wasted at present. As I have already pointed out, most of Australia’s cotton is grown in the Dawson, Callide and Upper Burnett valleys. The Dawson River is a mighty stream. The people of Queensland at one time made a general appeal to their State Government to build a dam across the Nathan Gorge in order to impound the waters of that river. That request has been repeated constantly by residents of the
Dawson Valley. The construction of such a dam would make possible the irrigation of a vast area in which, according to geologists, the soil is extremely rich. It is well suited to the production of cotton, wheat, and many other crops. Large tracts of land that are useless in dry seasons could be made productive at all times by means of irrigation. Unfortunately, the State Government has consistently refused to expend even one penny on the project. I admit, however, that it constructed small weirs which are capable of spreading a small volume of water. Now that the Commonwealth has done its share in providing the necessary incentive to the cottongrowers to go ahead with a guaranteed price for many years, I consider that the time has arrived when the Queensland Government should change its attitude of antagonism to primary production in that State, and to co-operate with the primary producers by providing them with the water that is so necessary not only for cotton-growing but also for all general farming purposes in these great valleys that are to be found along the Queensland coastline. I refer to the Cania Gorge scheme to which the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) as a State Minister devoted some time, and to the mighty project that would irrigate the fertile district of the Upper Burnett. That project would open up vast areas for cotton projects under irrigation, under suitable climatic conditions, and thus enable us to meet the great, demand for cotton that exists in Australia.
The bill includes a provision in relation to the ginning of cotton. I point out that the return that the g]lower receives for seed cotton is primarily dependent on two factors - the price received by the processors of raw cotton and by-products, and the cost involved in the ginning process. An increase of ginning costs would reduce the grower’s return, which in turn would increase the amount that the Commonwealth would be required to pay in bounty. It therefore became necessary to provide in this bill that the Government shall examine the cost of ginning operations, as it could otherwise be placed in the position of undertaking to underwrite ginning costs without limit;
Clause 8 .(2.) therefore provides, in effect, that if the Minister is satisfied that costs of ginning and administration are beyond a reasonable amount he may reduce the amount of the bounty. As has been pointed out to-night, the price of raw cotton on the world market is at an all-time record height and it may seem unnecessary for this Government to guarantee a price of 9^-d. per lb., which is far below the world price, which in September last was 41.5d. That high price has had the effect of promoting cotton growing throughout the world, consequently last year’s crop was one of the best on record. If world production were to continue to be at or about such a level it would not be strange if the world price receded to some degree. If the price of cotton declines to the degree that makes the payment of the bounty necessary, the bounty will be paid to the processors for distribution to the growers. The producer of the cotton will at all times, while the legislation is in force, be able to obtain the guaranteed price of 94d. per lb. This, coupled with the production of mechanical harvesters which has been made possible by the Government’s relaxation of dollar restrictions and with the present surge of patriotism among the people of Queensland’s cotton -growing areas, will bring a huge yield of cotton on to the Australian market. I hope that it will do so.
The cotton industry of Australia, like the industry in most cotton-producing countries, has a romantic and long history. It was pioneered a long time ago and has had its ups and downs. We have always realized that it is an indusil’ which can ‘benefit Australia. The Government has now recognized that fact, and I trust that in consequence of the passage of this measure it will be soundly established and will play an important part in this country’s economy.
.-] rise to support the measure. In doing so T shall make some reference to the development of the Australian cotton industry. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) have also dealt with the sad story of the decline of the in dustry. It is true that a bounty on cotton was paid before the war, and that in the ten years from 1931 to 1940 the industry produced an average of 5,500,000 lb. of raw seed cotton a year. During the war period, due to war-caused disabilities such as shortage of labour and fertilizers, the industry started to decline, and in the three years from 1946 to 1948 the total production was 2,600,000 lb. a year or a little more than half the annual prewar production. The honorable member for Capricornia referred to the Tariff Board’s report that was issued on the 2nd October, 1949. He praised it in some respects, and said that under the circumstances then operating the hoard could only have come to the decision that it reached, or words to that effect. Earlier, however, he had stated that the decision by the Chifley Government to reject the application of the cotton, industry for a guaranteed price of 9½d. per lb., was a socialistic act. According to him, December, 1949, arrived and the socialist octopus or whatever he called it, was removed, so that now we are in a position to make provision for the payment of a bounty and to guarantee a price of did. pei” lb. for raw seed cotton to the cotton producers of Queensland.
The honorable member said that the Chifley Government did a great disservice to the industry. If he had read the Tariff Board’s report he would have found that the .board stated that because of high prices for wheat, meat and, in particular, dairy products, and because of the shortage of labour and fertilizers, cotton producers would not be able to obtain the necessary labour to plant and harvest their crops. It was said that all these difficulties would be overcome but the cotton producers concentrated on supplying the requirements of the dairying industry. It is true that it has been found by experience that the rotational growing of cotton followed by the growing of Rhodes grass has been of great service. At the same time, the growing of cotton makes provision for the supply of cotton-seed, from which cotton-seed oil and cotton-seed cake are produced. As a dairyman, Mr. Speaker, you know that cotton-seed cake is beneficial as a fodder for dairy cattle.
The Chifley Government was conscious of these matters, yet the honorable member said that it did a great disservice to this country by accepting the decision of the Tariff Board. The board said, in effect, that if we gave the guarantee of 9$d. per lb. for which the industry was asking, because of all the difficulties that existed it would not have a stimulating effect on the industry. In consequence it recommended against the guarantee. That advice was accepted by the Chifley Government. Now we find that there has been a slight increase of production.
The Minister for the Army referred to the consumption of raw cotton in Australia. The Commonwealth’s requirements of raw cotton are about 60,000,000 lb. a year. In the evidence that was given to the Tariff Board by experts it was suggested that within ten years the requirements of the cotton-spinning industry would be about 300,000,000 lb. In other words, as the Minister for the Army said, here is an industry that could be developed to provide a commodity that is in short supply, the development of which would lead to the settlement of large numbers of people farther north in the Burdekin Valley, and help to populate the far north of Queensland. Populating that area is vital from a defence standpoint. The Minister for the Army also said that the Queensland Government had done nothing practical to assist the industry, and the honorable member for Capricornia made reference to something that the cotton-growers wanted in 1923. If the cotton industry is to be developed, irrigation and mechanization are vitally essential to it, and so from time to time we on this side of the Houso have endeavoured to persuade the Governthat it should co-operate with the Queensland Government in respect of assistance in that direction.
– What government has the Opposition endeavoured to persuade?
– The Menzies Government.
– What about the Chifley Government ?
– Never mind about the Chifley Government. I am speaking about the Menzies Government, which has been requested from time to time by honorable members on this side of the House, to co-operate with the Queensland Government in expanding the cotton industry and in relation to the construction of the Burdekin river dam.
– What did the Chifley Government do about it?
– The Chifley Government told the Queensland Government that it would co-operate with it in the construction of the Burdekin river dam because of its vital importance from the stand-point of the generation of hydro-electric power in north Queensland and of the conservation and reticulation of water for the irrigation of cotton producing areas and for other crops. The present Government has done nothing to assist the industry and has left the people of Queensland to achieve the expansion of the cotton industry in the Burdekin Valley by themselves. It has already been proved that cotton can be grown successfully in that area under irrigation. The experts who have given evidence to the Tariff Board, and the Tariff Board itself, have said that irrigation and mechanization are vital to the expansion of the industry. The cotton industry, like the tobacco industry, is producing a commodity that is in short supply. That commodity cannot be produced in and round Sydney or Melbourne, but only in the far north of Australia. The development of the industry will make possible the settlement of a large population in our far north, which is vital to our defence. So the Opposition has great pleasure in supporting the measure.
The honorable member for Capricornia said that the Government is now doing something that the industry asked for in 1948, by giving to it a guaranteed price of 9½d. per lb. That 9Jd. per lb. is worth to-day only half what it was worth in 1948 when the application was first made, the reason being the failure of the Government to put value back into the £1. So there is nothing very munificent about the Government’s gesture in relation to this matter. It is true that the bill will ‘provide great assistance to the industry. Tt is also true that the world stocks of cotton have declined. As the honorable member for Capricornia stated, production of cotton in other parts of the world has increased recently. But there is now trouble in Egypt, which is one of the principal cotton-producing countries in the world.
Opposition members want this industry to be expanded and are prepared to support the Government in giving assistance to it. We hope that this bill will encourage additional growers to produce raw cotton seed. There are three ginneries in Queensland which are capable of handling this crop. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) is anxious that the cotton industry shall be established in the Northern Territory. So are all Opposition members, because that would make possible closer settlement in a territory of great distances and as a consequence we should derive great benefit from the introduction of this measure. This industry is vital from the standpoints of economy, defence and the expansion of irrigation - which is so necessary for the advancement of primary production. If irrigation can he developed in conjunction with the expansion of cotton or sugar or tobacco growing then the great volume of water which at present races away to the sea can be given economic value. Opposition members hope that this will happen and that a prosperous cotton industry will be established once again.
.- I, together with other honorable members on this side of the House, have consistently pressed for action to develop the cotton industry. I support the bill before the House the purpose of which is the implementation of the guarantee that was given by the Government some time ago to the effect that growers would be assured of receiving at least 9-Jd. per lb. for seed cotton. It is provided in the bill that in the years between 1951 and 1.955, if the return to the cotton industry should he less than 94d. per lb, the Australian Government will make good the deficiency. That guarantee will serve to ensure that cotton-growers will receive a reasonable price for their product over a period of years. I applaud the Govern ment’s action in introducing this measure.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) criticized the statement of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) that the Chifley Government had refused a similar request for a guarantee. The honorable member fo.Kennedy attempted to show that the statement of the honorable member for Capricornia was incorrect. The statement of the honorable member for Capricornia was quite correct. I well remember that during 1949 various meml ers of the then Opposition spoke in favour of the Australian Government agreeing to a proposal by the Queensland cotton industry that it he guaranteed 9-Jd. per lb. That request had been pressed over a considerable period by the Queensland Cotton Board and other representatives of the cotton industry. Finally, the Government requested the Tariff Board to investigate the industry. The honorable member for Kennedy was correct in stating that the terms of the Tariff Board’s report was unfavorable to a price being guaranteed. The report stated that because of labour difficulties and because other primary industries offered a better return it would not be an economic proposition if the Government were to attempt to foster the industry.
The honorable member then attempted to justify the action of the Chifley Government by stating that it had accepted that report. It is a fact that the Chifley Government accepted the report and refused to guarantee any price to the industry. Consequently there appeared to be no future for the industry because growers did not know how much they were likely to obtain for their crops. Therefore, they would not engage in that form of agriculture when a greater security of return was to be derived from other directions. The honorable member for Kennedy failed to explain that the present Government had before it exactly the same report of the Tariff Board. No other report had been presented setting out the existence of more favorable conditions for the development of the industry. Other industries are still open to growers. But in spite of these facts the Government agreed to the renewed application of the cotton industry for a guaranteed price of 9½d. per lb. over a period. It did not regard the problem merely from a cold economic view point. It realized that, provided the industry was given a reasonable chance of success, there was a big future ahead of it and it would be of value not only to those who were engaged in it but also to the nation. So, in spite of the Tariff Board’s adverse report, the Government has submitted this proposal for a guaranteed price.
The honorable member failed in his attempt to decry the action of the present Government and to justify the refusal of the previous Government to give the guarantee. Already the justification for the Government’s action has become apparent. Up to the present it has not been possible for the industry to develop greatly because there has not yet. been time for the full effect of the guarantee to become evident. Nevertheless, as the honorable member for Capricornia has pointed out, a considerably increased acreage has already been prepared for the growing of cotton this year. It is evident that farmers are turning to cotton growing because they will be assured of a basic price which will give to them an adequate return. At present, because of world conditions, they are receiving prices which are higher than the amount of the guarantee. If this legislation is passed and there is a drop of world prices they will still be assured of a reasonable return. As a result, the Queensland Cotton Board has been able to make arrangements for the guaranteeing of accounts by the State Government and it has thereby been able to purchase more mechanical harvesters from America. The Director-General of Agriculture has received information from the International Harvester Company, that a further seven new machines which have been ordered are expected to be shipped from the United States of America in October. An indication of the industry’s steady and rapid expansion is provided by the fact that the Queensland Cotton Board has orders for the harvesting by mechanical harvesters of aver S,500 acres this year and that this acreage will be only a portion of the total area to be harvested.
The honorable member for Kennedy criticized the Government on the ground that it had failed to collaborate with the Government of. Queensland in the development of this and other industries. That is a ridiculous allegation. The boot is entirely on the other foot. Time and time again various local authorities, chambers- of commerce and developmental leagues in Queensland have asked the State Government to make application to the Australian Government for various kinds of assistance for the cotton industry. Time and time again the State Government has been loth to forward any request to that Government, regardless of the political party in power, because of some fear that if it did so it might lose some of its autonomy. The honorable member for Kennedy dealt with the Burdekin Valley development scheme, which has been one of his favourite themes for a considerable time. At the end of 1949, prior to the holding of the general election, a statement was made by the Premier of Queensland to the effect that the Australian Government had agreed to help to finance the Burdekin Valley development scheme as it was then envisaged. When the present Government came to power in 1949 it found that no such undertaking had been given by the Australian Government.
The late Mr. Chifley himself stated in this House that the only discussion that had taken place between him and Mr. Hanlon in relation to the Burdekin Valley development scheme was a private conversation in which he had indicated that he would favour any sound scheme. But no official undertaking was given by the Government. When the present Government investigated the scheme it found in the files a report from an investigating committee which indicated that at the stage of the scheme’s development that had been reached it was not advisable that the Australian Government should become financially involved in it. This Government does not consider that it should refuse assistance to the Burdekin Valley development scheme or any other scheme, but it believes that before it can commit itself finally to the support of such a proposal the State concerned should develop the scheme to a point at which it can be proved to be practicable. I pointed out in this House on a previous occasion that the production of 100,000 tons of sugar in the area to be irrigated constituted at least 25 per cent, of the financial justification for the scheme. I pointed out that no market existed in Australia or overseas for the sale of that quantity of sugar. That demonstrates how faulty the scheme was. I understand that, as a result of discussions and investigations that have since taken place, it is quite likely that a more sound scheme will be developed which can be brought to fruition if there is proper collaboration between the two governments concerned. I suggest that when the Queensland Government has developed a scheme to that stage, if it notifies the Australian Government of its activities it will find that Government only too willing to assist. If the scheme has , been developed on a sound basis this Government will certainly assist the Queensland Government. There are areas in Queensland which can produce good cotton. Good cotton has already been grown on the Burdekin delta. The area upon which it is now proposed to grow cotton is a little further up the river from the delta, but with irrigation I think that cotton can be successfully grown in that area. Let the Queensland Government proceed with the proper investigation and presentation of this scheme and then let it submit it in proper form to the Australian Government. Perhaps this Government will then be able to do something of value for the cotton industry in particular and for Australia in general. “We shall never get anywhere while one government charges another with not having done something or with not having done enough of something. Let the Queensland Government submit a sound scheme which may be considered on its merits. There are some, apart from the Tariff Board, who have said that a bounty should not he paid, but I suggest that the results achieved justify the actions of the Government. I assure honorable members who are interested in our potential cotton-growing areas that the Government’s action has been much appreciated by cotton-growers, who have been given fresh hope in their attempts to develop the cotton industry as an adjunct to the other farming operations in which they are engaged.
.- I wish to refute some statements that have been made by the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson). At one time I was a member of the Queensland Cabinet, and I know that the statement that any arrangements about cotton were made merely in the course of a telephone conversation between the late Mr. Chifley and Premier Hanlon, of Queensland, is completely incorrect. There were definite negotiations, and a definite promise was made by the late Mr. Chifley that he would help to finance the Burdekin Valley development scheme.
I appreciate the action of this Government in providing a cotton bounty, but I suggest that in view of the prevailing world price of cotton it is very unlikely that the Government will have to pay out any money by way of bounty for some considerable time to come. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) and the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) cited a great number of figures to the House. I suggest that figures are not very entertaining unless they are dressed in crepe-de-chine or georgette. The honorable member for Capricornia mentioned figures which entirely refute the Minister’s statement that the Queensland Labour Government had done nothing for the cotton industry. The figures show that it did a very fine job in cooperation with the Chifley Labour Government on this very important matter. The honorable member then said that the Queensland Government had refused to encourage irrigation in Queensland. For the honorable member’s information I tell him that the Queensland Labour Government built the Nathan dam and established the Dawson Valley Irrigation Scheme in the very area about which the honorable member for Capricornia spoke. When the price of cotton was very low. much of the land that had been used for growing cotton was used for dairying. The irrigation scheme that supplied water for cotton-growing then supplied it for the dairying industry. Nevertheless, the whole irrigation scheme was started and finished by the Queensland Labour Government.
There is a market for cotton not only in Australia, but also in Great Britain. America and Egypt have been the two main sources of supply for the great British cotton industry. As supplies from those areas dwindle Britain’s demand will be all the greater from other sources, including Australia, because cotton is of great use both in peace and in war. The Queensland Labour Government built a ginnery at “Whinstanes, in Brisbane, where cotton can be treated and seed cake for stock fodder manufactured. I believe that if water is made available cotton can be grown in the area that extends from the northern rivers of Queensland to the Northern Territory. Cottongrowing experiments have been carried out in the Dawson Valley, and a great deal of experience has been gained there. Consequently that is where the industry will be first established.
I welcome this bounty, but I believe that in view of the world price of cotton it should be higher. I suggest that the bounty should be somewhere between the pre-war and the post-war price of cotton If the price of cotton should fall, and I doubt whether it will because of the threats of war and the great value of cotton in war-time, the bounty will become payable. I suggest that the bounty be fixed at a little higher than 9£d., but even if it is not I welcome it and hope that the growers will receive prices that will make it unnecessary for the Government to pay them anything at all.
.- When 1 first entered the Parliament, after the 1949 general election, I made my maiden speech on the subject of cotton and tried to induce the Government to agree to a bounty of 9$d. per lb. for seed cotton. It was a great satisfaction to me when the Government decided last year that this bounty should he given. The honorn bie member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) and the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) said that they do not think that this bounty will be of much benefit to the cottongrowers. It is well to remember that in 1949 not more than 1.000 bales of raw cotton was produced in Queensland, but iii 1930, because of the announcement of this bounty, there was a 100 per cent, increase of the production. In the present year there are signs that the further increase will exceed 100 per cent, of the 1950 production. Therefore, there was every justification for the Government agreeing to this bounty to encourage the development of the industry. The honorable member for Leichhardt suggested that it is not likely that the Government will have to pay this bounty. [ appreciate that according to the -world price for cotton the honorable member is probably right, but the difficulty under which growers have been labouring has been the lack of stabilization. The price of cotton fluctuated so much that farmers were not encouraged to plant cotton because they could not be reasonably sure of getting an adequate return. The granting of the bounty of 9J per lb. will import into the cotton industry of Queensland an element of stabilization, and because of the bounty more and more people will be prepared to plant cotton.
I now want to say something about the co-operation which the late Mr. Chifley was supposed to have given to the Queensland Government in connexion with the Burdekin Valley development scheme.
– Which he did give.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is so definite in his statement that I presume that he must have been present at the telephone conversation that took place between the Premier of Queensland and the late Mr. Chifley. However, there are no record? available to this Government which support the contention made by the honorable member for Melbourne about this matter. The late Mr. Chifley gave an undertaking that if it were proved thai the Burdekin Valley development scheme was sound the resources of the Commonwealth would be used to assist in itsimplementation. I believe that the Australian Government should have gone further than it did go. At the time when the Government agreed to pay this bounty it should have requested from the Queensland Government an undertaking that it would provide mechanical harvesters for the growers and would concentrate on the development of irrigation schemes. Year after year, the Queensland Government has raised its voice about what the Commonwealth should do in relation to this industry but that Government has always had a direct responsibility to do something about it. However, that Government has never been prepared to lift a hand to help the industry, although from its own resources it could have guaranteed a price of 9½d. per lb. for seed cotton, as the Commonwealth is doing under this measure. The Queensland Government, was no more prepared than the Chifley Government was to assist the industry. I admit that the State Government has provided some assistance in respect of mechanical harvesters, but it was shamed by the cotton-growers and by this Government into taking such action. The industry requires more mechanical harvesters to enable it to produce sufficient cotton to be of material assistance to our economy.I have seen chose machines in operation and I know how efficient they are. “Without them the industry could not carry on in areas where sufficient labour is not available for picking.
I emphasize the need to provide irrigation in areas that are suitable for growing cotton. Where irrigation is available crops are three times as great as those that it is possible to produce under dry farming methods. However, I do not believe that big schemes, such as the Burdekin scheme, are ideal for that purpose. It should be possible to implement a number of smaller schemes which would be more effective. Small rivers, perhaps, could be weired at certain points in order to provide adequate water in suitable areas.I understand that the Commonwealth has prepared a scheme to weir certain areas in Queensland where cotton can be grown in conjunction with other crops. I urge the Government to develop that scheme, perhaps in co-operation with the Queensland Government. I believe that the latter Government could be shamed once again into doing something to assist this essential industry. Unless proper irrigation is provided, the industry, regardless of whatever bounty or whatever number of mechanical harvesters may be made available, will not be enabled to produce satisfactory results. It may be said that because of the urgent need to make defence preparations the Government would not be justified in embarking upon such a. scheme at present. I am not sure that that is really the case, because cotton is a vital material for war purposes ‘and if Australia were enabled to produce sufficient to meet its requirements, our defence preparations would be made correspondingly more effective. As honorable members are aware, I am intensely interested in the cotton-growing industry.I urge the Government to do its best, perhaps in co-operation with the Queensland Government, to undertake a survey of the industry and to provide adequate irrigation facilities for the growing of cotton in Queensland.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 26th Septem ber (vide page 105), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition opposes this measure, because it is one of the Government’s budgetary measures that is intended to place increased burdens upon the Australian people. Just as we have opposed the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill, and as we shall oppose the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill, we oppose this measure. The bill is one of a series of “ soak the poor “ bills which the Government has introduced. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) has a delightful way, when he introduces a measure to increase telephone and telegraph charges and the broadcast listener’s licence-fee, to give to the House a history of the operations of the Postal Department right from its very beginning.
– The PostmasterGeneral has nothing to hide.
– But he has a lot to explain; and he certainly has made no explanation of matters that really need explaining. In his second-reading speech he reviewed the whole history of the broadcasting services and inferentially claimed credit for everything that has been done in the field of national broadcasting, for this Government which holds office temporarily. He said -
Hie purpose of this bill is to increase the fee for broadcast listeners’ licences, except those issued to certain classes of pensioners, to £2 - and th is reveals the class consciousness of the Government - and to repeal the provision in the Broadcasting Act at present requiring listeners to obtain additional licences at half the ordinary fee for receivers which they possess in excess of one.
The Postmaster-General argued that it is necessary to increase the broadcast listener’s licence-fee from £1 to £2 in respect of the 2,000,000 listeners in Australia, because the deficit in the accounts of the Australian Broadcasting Commission now amounts to £2,000,000 annually. In 1940, it so happened that the government of the day, which was the first Menzies Government, was going to the country and Mr. Thorby, who was then Postmaster-General, sprung upon the Parliament a proposal to reduce the listener’s licence-fee from £1 ls. to £1. 1 did not have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Thorby when he was PostmasterGeneral, but he was known as “ shootemdown Thorby”, In order to help the Government of which he was a member to win the general election that was pending at that time, he reduced the licence-fee by ls., and also the proportion of the fee of £1 that was payable to the Australian Broadcasting Commission from 12s. to 10s. He then said to the commission, in effect, “ Now, balance your budget”. It is true that, since that time the listener’s licence-fee has not been increased, but it is equally true that the deficit in the commission’s accounts has increased progressively. In 1943-44 that deficit amounted to £14,000, and in the succeeding years it increased to £123,000, £158,000 and £418,000. Then it took a big jump to £697,000, which, in the following year, was increased to £943,000. In 1949-50, which was the last year in which the famous Chifley Government was in office, the deficit rose to £1,363,000, whilst last year, which was the first year of office of the present Government, it increased to £1,885,000. Now, we aretold that the deficit will exceed £2,000,000 for the current financial year. Of course, the end is not yet in sight, because with the ever-increasing rises of the basic wage- - we are threatened with another increase of at least £1 a week in February next - the commission will be further in the red..
Some people say that it is in the red at all times; in other words, that it isunder the control of Communists. That is not so. Certain members of the commission’s staffs may hold advanced views,, but I do not believe that the commission is open to criticism in that respect. The point is that the commission is losing at. the rate of £2,000,000 annually. Its affairs should be investigated. The Chifley Government appointed to the commission, an officer of the Department of the Treasury and an officer of the Postal Department in order to try to help it tomanage the finances of its great undertaking.
– In doing that, the Chifley Government was confusing functions.
– That may have been, so; but that Government sought to stop the rot. Apparently, it did not succeed in doing so. It may be that the present system is wrong and that the Government would be well advised to abolish the commission, appoint a Minister for Broadcasting Services, and operate, such services under the control of a permanent head. Under such a system the Parliament would exercise a more direct control over the commission’s expenditure and, at the same time, establish a degree of surveillance over commercial broadcasting stations. To-day, those stations are not exactly fulfilling the functions that the Parliament originally intended that they should fulfil. However, that is a matter which I might not be in order in discussing at this juncture. The point I make is that regardless of the composition of the commission, whether it be composed of reactionaries or of conservatives, as it used to be, or whether three of its five members be Labour supporters, nothing seems to happen, to reduce- its financial obligations, which are progressively becoming worse. I was a member of the first parliamentary broadcasting committee that was set up by the Menzies Government under the National Security Regulations to make recommendations in respect of the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. The members of that committee were a happy family. Our chairman was Mr. W. G. Gibson, who was one of the most capable Postmasters-General that this country has had. He did much that redounded to his credit in his administration of the Postal Department. Other members of that committee were Dr. Grenfell Price, Sir Charles Marr, the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) and Senator Amour. The committee presented a unanimous report to the Parliament, which unanimously adopted it, and the Broadcasting Act 1942 was the fruit of its work. We had only one disagreement, and that was revealed in the addendum that the Labour members of the committee attached in its report in favour of the nationalization of all broadcasting services. However, the Parliament adopted every recommendation that was made by that committee.
– Did the honorable member refer to the alternative programme?
– No; we made a suggestion although we had no chance of having it adopted.
– That was why the Labour members of the committee made the suggestion?
– No; we did so in good faith. Perhaps, some day changes beyond our control may occur in respect of civil aviation, comparable with those that have taken place in broadcasting. In that matter, we said what we believed. Hut it is interesting to note that, in one particular, a recommendation of that committee is to be repealed by this bill. I refer to the provision that relieves listeners from the obligation to obtain a half-fee licence for each broadcast receiver in their possession in excess of one. I well remember the circumstances in which that recommendation was made by the committee. It emanated from Dr. Grenfell Price, who said that he did not consider that wealthy persons who owned more than one radio receiver should be granted licences for all of them for the payment of one fee. We agreed with him, and incorporated a provision to that effect in the bill.
– Who are the wealthy people to-day?
– That is another matter. Every member of this House and of the Senate was in agreement that those persons who wanted a receiver in the lounge, a receiver in the kitchen, and a receiver in a motor car should pay a licence-fee for each of them. It is now proposed that the ordinary people, who can afford to possess only one reveiver, shall pay a higher licence-fee for it, yet the 250,000 persons who own more than one receiver will not be required to pay an additional half-fee licence for each set in their possession in excess of one. The effect of bli at provision will be to impose no additional financial burden on the owner of three receivers. The payment of £2 will cover his three receivers. But he would have paid that amount if the act were not amended. If he has more than three receivers in his possession, he will show a profit as a result of this legislation. These people can afford to pay £40 or £50 for each set. But the great mass of the people will be compelled to pay £2 to licence the only receiver that they have in their homes. In the past, they paid only £1. Dr. Grenfell Price is still doing good work as the principal of St. Mark’s College in Adelaide. The logic of his observation to which I have referred still holds good. I cannot see why the Government, which is in search of money, should wish to give relief to those persons who least need it. Why should not the Government, if it is bent on increasing by £1 the licencefee that is payable by every person who possesses only one receiver, increase the burden proportionately on those persons who own additional sets? Why should not the half-fee licence for each broadcast receiver in excess of one, which is now 10s., be increased to £1? If people can afford to buy more than one receiving set, they can afford to pay a half-fee licence for each of the additional set or sets. But this is a class-conscious Government. It is eager to give relief to its friends and to make our radio services operate at the expense of those persons who are least able to bear the burden.
Mr. Anthony having entered the House,
– Before the PostmasterGeneral came into the chamber, I said that it was his invariable habit, when presenting a bill of this kind to the Parliament, to make a grand explanatory tour over the whole history of broadcasting and to claim credit for all the things that have been done. I repeat that statement for his information now. The honorable gentleman said, in his second-reading speech-
In 1935, there were only twelve national stations in operation compared with 50 stations today. . . .
Reading such a statement in that context, a person could be excused for believing that this Government was responsible for all the progress that had been made in establishing national and commercial stations. How many commercial licences has this Government granted in the twenty months during which it has been in office? I think that the answer is that it has established two of them. I know that it has opened one national station at Port Lincoln in South Australia, and another at Mackay, in Queensland. Perhaps it has opened a couple of others that I cannot recall at this moment. But I point out that the Chifley Government appointed the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to examine the whole matter of frequencies and power, and the allocation of channels-
– To Labour unions, mostly.
– We appointed that board to prepare a report on the matter of providing for a fairer sharing of the people’s domain, because the air belongs to them. I should have thought that it would have presented its report before now. I do not know why it has not done so. Perhaps it has presented its report, and the Government has decided not to do anything with it. Past governments in the early days of broadcasting granted licences largely to city newspaper proprietaries and these were all for free channels. Under a proper distribution of services, channels should be shared throughout Australia, and it would then he possible to make more of them available.
If I may now reply to the interjection by the Postmaster-General a few moments ago, I inform him that I do not want any more channels made available to Labour party stations or Labourcontrolled organizations. The licences for most of the stations that are operated by Labour interests to-day were granted by anti-Labour governments. That is my rejoinder to the honorable gentleman’s interjection. I think that we granted two licences, and that Labour interestsbought one, namely, station SPIT) Newcastle. That was a deal on the open market-
– Ask the Bishop of Newcastle about that.
– As this Government believes in free enterprise, it cannot very well object to the sale of that particular licence. The Postmaster-General, if he objects to anything that has happened in regard to station 2HD Newcastle, should state his complaint now. The matter was thoroughly debated in this House a few years ago. The Bishop of Newcastle wanted the Chifley Government to give to him without cost, a licence that belonged to another body. The licence had been cancelled by the Chifley Government under National Security Regulations because station 2HD Newcastle belonged to the Jehovah’s Witness organization. This body was declared to be subversive and the High Court of Australia decided that we had power to cancel its licence, but not to claim its equity. Therefore, the persons who owned that station had the right to sell their equipment and goodwill, and accordingly it was sold on the open market. The Bishop of Newcastle could have bought it at a price in competition with other people, but he wanted to get it for nothing. At that time, no licence was available to grant to any organization. I suggest that the PostmasterGeneral should examine the whole matter of licences with a view to ascertaining whether he can grant any more to some of the worthy organizations of Sydney, Melbourne, and other cities and towns. But he should not do as the Lyons Government did, when it gave to a graziers’ organization the licence for the station at Orange, in New South Wales, which had been taken from the corrupt Macarthur group. All the governments that have preceded this Government are entitled to whatever share of credit is their due in respect of developing the national and commercial broadcasting networks in this country. That statement includes all the governments back to the days of the Bruce-Page Administration. I think that you, Mr. Speaker, were PostmasterGeneral at one time, and that the Broadcasting Committee, of which I was a member, examined a bill that you had prepared to achieve purposes similar to those that I mentioned while you were absent from the chamber a little while ago.
The Postmaster-General also said in bis second-reading speech that the commitments of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in connexion with programmes naturally had increased in recent times. I do not think that he will find many people who will agree with that claim. He added that it was everywhere admitted that the national programmes are now of an excellent standard. They may be of a reasonably good standard but they are not universally recognized as generally satisfactory. A great deal of criticism is directed at the programmes of the national stations. Of course, the Australian Broadcasting Commission cannot satisfy everybody-
– There is even a good deal of criticism of the Labour party.
– But much less than the criticism of the Australian Country party.
-Order! No political party is referred to in this bill.
– I think, Mr. Speaker, that the Postmaster-General deserves that rebuke. The Australian Broadcasting Commission controls only two stations in. each of the capital cities. Et is my belief that we should follow the practice that has been observed in England. There should be three national stations in each of our capital cities. One of them could devote its programmes to horse racing and the like, and thereby please those people who want to listen to them ; the second could broadcast light or cultural music; and the third could provide general programmes. But I do not think that the Australian Broadcast ing Commission wishes to tackle the problem of managing three stations in each of the capital cities, because the cost would be too heavy. It is possible, by a re-allocation of channels and frequencies, to enable the Australian Broadeasting Commission to have three stations in each, capital city. I do not know what the percentage of the radio audience listens to the national stations, but I do not think that it is high. It is certainly not so high as it should be.
– It is about 10 per cent.
– I was the first chairman of the statutory committee that was appointed by this Parliament to examine broadcasting matters that were referred to it by the Parliament, the PostmasterGeneral, the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations or the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I regret that this Government has not seen fit to reconstitute that committee, provision for which is made in the Broadcasting Act. I am certain that the national broadcasting services are due for another overhaul. Such overhauls are made periodically in England. Lord Beveridge recently examined the position in that country. He was a Liberal member of the House of Commons, and is now a Liberal member of the House of Lords. He has recommended the continuation for another ten years of the complete nationalized system that has been operating in Great Britain. In other words, he has advocated the continuance of the socialization of the British system. We in Australia should examine our present system, with a view to ascertaining whether we can make the national network more attractive than it is at the present time. Mr. W. J. Cleary, who was at one time the general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and a good administrator in many spheres of governmental and commercial activity, once said to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting, “ Our position in regard to broadcasting is simply this: We give the people what they should have. The commercial stations give them what they want “. In other words, the commercial stations play down to the people, and the national stations try to elevate the. tastes of the community. I consider that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, even if it cannot achieve all that it wishes to do, should continue to try to elevate the tastes of the people in the matter of broadcasting.
Many persons still complain about the effect of radio serials upon their children, and about the inadequacy or the unsuitability of national and commercial broadcasting. Of course, broadcasting is in the same category as the weather in that respect. The officials who arrange the programmes cannot please everybody. Any man who sets out in the twentieth century to try to please everybody will be no more successful than was Diogenes of old, or any of those other people who looked for an honest man, or the fellow in Aesop’s fable who tried to please everybody in the matter of his donkey, and ended by losing the animal. There are many difficulties associated with broadcasting sytems throughout the world. There are difficulties associated with the British system, which is completely nationalized, and with the American system under the Federal Communications Commission, which is conducted completely by private enterprise. Our system is a mixture of the two. It is a sort of experiment of government-cum-private enterprise stations, which operate side by side, and, to some degree, in competition, with one another. New Zealand has the threestations system, but it operates in a different way from that which I suggest. The third station is allowed to broadcast commercial advertisements, and that helps to finance the national broadcasting system. That method would not appeal to the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), who made his name and fame in the commercial broadcasting field.
The House should not be asked to place an extra burden of £2,000,000 on the listeners of Australia without first conducting some investigation. The Minister should exercise his right to assemble a statutory committee representative of both Houses of the Parliament and all political parties that, are represented in them so that the proposition could be considered, carefully. I consider that a broadcasting committee would be more important than a committee on foreign affairs, although some honorable members may disagree with me. Every matter that affects the well-being of the people ought to be investigated by a committee of the Parliament. A long time ago, I advocated the establishment of various committees to which such matters could be referred. I hope that the Minister, who is eager to have the bill passed by to-morrow, will give to the Australian people the satisfaction of knowing, when he puts this additional plaster on them, that they may be afforded some relief later after a parliamentary committee has made an investigation. The honorable gentleman has circulated copies of a proposed amendment at this late hour. It provides, apparently, that certain persons, such as service pensioners and those who have been totally and permanently incapacitated because of war service, shall be entitled to some concession.
– It will apply only to totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen.
– I thank the Minister for the assurance. Those persons, therefore, will be included in the same category as blind pensioners. At present age pensioners receive a listener’s licence for half the normal fee, and I believe that blind pensioners and schools are granted licences free of charge.
– The proposal is to charge age pensioners and totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen one-quarter of the new rate of £2.
– The Opposition is pleased to know that the Government proposes to grant concessions to some citizens who are finding it hard to live. I am glad that more individuals in one category, at any rate, will be able to continue to listen to the broadcasts of proceedings in this Parliament, because I am sure they will be edified, enlightened, instructed and, on occasions, entertained. However, the Opposition is opposed to the proposal to increase the fee that is charged to 2,000.000 other listeners. It considers that the Government should find some way of reducing its expenditure instead of placing additional burdens upon the people. We are not happy about the vast expenditure that was involved in the re-enactment of the Sturt expedition. We do not know whether the cost was charged to the jubilee celebrations account or to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It was an expensive item, and the pageant did not justify the cost. We shall vote against the bill to-morrow in order to express our disapproval of the Government’s proposals.
.- I was intrigued by the figures that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) cited when he discussed the deficit in the accounts of the Australian Broadcasting Commission during the last few years. He said that, in 1943, the deficit amounted to about £14,000 and that it had now risen to £1,363,000. That was after eight years of Labour rule. In other words, under the government of which the honorable gentleman was a member, the deficit was multiplied 100 times in eight years. Now he wants to have an investigation because the total has increased slightly under the regime of this Government. Having lit a rocket, the honorable member expects us to grab it by the tail ! Nothing could be more inevitable than the progressive increase of the deficit and the ultimate increase of the licencefee for which this bill provides, if the original plan of those who founded our broadcasting system is to be satisfied and the receipts from the licence-fee are to cover, or nearly cover, the costs of that system. I do not wish to fall into the error of blaming any particular government for the present state of affairs, because I believe that the development of the Australian broadcasting system and the expansion of the work of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, coupled with increased costs of operation and the purchase and maintenance of plant and equipment, are sufficient reasons for the deficit that has been mentioned.
This bill is a very simple measure, which has been designed to bring into line with the costs of the expanding broadcasting service the licence-fee that is paid by those who use the service. The honorable member for Melbourne suggested that the fee was reduced from £1 ls. to £1 in 1940 in order to bribe the listeners.
That was an insult to the intelligence of the Australian people. Surely the honorable gentleman does not believe that Australians would sell their votes for such a reduction of the licence-fee! The fee has remained at £1 since 1940. Now the Government proposes to raise it to £2. Before wo pronounce judgment upon this proposal, we should consider what listeners receive in return for that modest amount. The average period of listening in every home is 40 to 50 hours a week. Considering the wide variety of programmes available to listeners, there could scarcely be any cheaper form of entertainment. Even if we add to the licence-fee the capital cost of a listener’s radio set and maintenance charges, the entertainment is still the cheapest available in the world. There ought to be ug objection on that score. One of the benefits of this measure will be that it will abolish the system of charging for additional sets owned by individual listeners. That system was administratively wasteful and it succeeded mainly in giving owners a sense of guilt on account of extra, radio sets in spare rooms or motor cars for which they had not paid fees. The problems of policing the system were almost insurmountable.
We have enjoyed the reminiscences of the honorable member for Melbourne, who talked of his experiences as a member of the original committee appointed by the Parliament to inquire into broadcasting systems. My chief recollection of that body was that it succeeded in having itself perpetuated as a standing committee. The honorable member has suggested that the committee be revived, dusted off and put back to work. I hope that we shall not witness again a performance such as was given by that committee during the latter stages of its existence, when it wandered around the country ferreting out issues on which it could conduct hearings and take evidence in capital cities. One of its most notable efforts was to try to foment difficulties between the commercial broadeasting stations and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Its sole object was to obtain some excuse for continuing its peregrinations at the ex»pense of the taxpayers. Ninety per cent, or more of Australian homes have radio receiving sets installed in them. I suggest that the time is rapidly approaching when the figure will reach 100 per cent, and when we shall bo justified in cancelling the licence-fee system altogether and making our national broadcasting system a charge on Consolidated Revenue.
A great deal has been said about the Australian Broadcasting Commission during this debate. Although the commission has the best broadcasting frequencies at its disposal and the advantage of greater transmitting power, priority for land-line services and so forth and considerable amounts with which to finance its programmes, it still commands only from S to 10 per cent, of the available audience in Australia. I am sin’e that the honorable member for Melbourne will be happy to learn that, during the last few years, the percentage of the radio audience that listens to Australian Broadcasting Commission programmes has increased. That fact Droves the contention of the Postmaster.General (Mr. Anthony) that the programmes of the commission are becoming more widely accepted. Whilst the percentage is much lower than we might reasonably expect, the increase is encouraging. I cannot support the suggestion of the honorable member for Melbourne that we should have a third national broadcasting station in every capital city. Nobody with any intelligence or experience of the broadcasting industry would seriously advocate that there should be three different classes of transmission under the control of one authority. A wide diversity of programme material is available on the commission’s networks, and anybody may select satisfactory programmes by making the slight effort that is necessary to turn a dial.
Australia is not alone in facing the difficulties that arise from, increasing broadcasting costs. Considerable controversy has been caused in Canada in recent years because in that country the licence-fee has been virtually pegged bv the weight of public opinion, if by nothing else. Costs have continued to rise steadily, and the result has been that the Canadian Broadcasting Cor- poration has been forced to present a deteriorating type of programme. We should be confronted with a similar difficulty if we failed to increase the listener’s licence-fee. In 1946 the British Broadcasting Corporation was obliged to double its licence-fee because of high costs. Thus, we are in very good company when we propose to provide the additional sinews of war that are needed in order to maintain a high standard of broadcasting programmes. Taking into consideration the splendid service that is provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the diversity of programmes available from the commercial stations, for which the listeners do not pay, I believe that we are receiving an extremely cheap service.
I have never been able to understand why, although the broadcast listener in Sydney who will now pay £2 for his listener’s licence, is able to make a choice of five or six commercial stations to which he may listen, the owner of a wireless set in a country area must pay the same licence-fee although he has only perhaps two stations of very inferior transmitting power to which he may listen. It is time that we looked to the character of the service that is given . by a station and not to the power the station is using. It is not generally appreciated that a station which operates on the high frequency end of the medium frequency broadcast band is operating at a disadvantage of 40 or 50 to 1 as against a station of the same power which operates at the other end of the band. I appeal to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) to give urgent consideration, or to instruct the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to give urgent consideration, to the matter of increasing the powers of Australian broadcasting stations, because I believe that only by that means can thousands of people in this country who, at the moment have no broadcast service available to them, be served. There are hundreds of Australian country towns where no service is available at all during the day, and where the only service available at night is a fairly indifferent secondary coverage from a capital city station. I believe an increase of power would have the effect of allowing stations to render better service, and would cut down some of the profits which I know honorable members opposite consider to be extortionate. If my suggestion were adopted the people of this country could be given a better broadcasting service without any cost to the country.
Debate (on motion by Mr. E. James Harrison) adjourned.
PublicService - Immigration.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) once more when the Government proposes to offer alternative employment to persons who have been dismissed from the Public Service in accordance with the Government’s retrenchment programme. As I have pointed out on a number of previous occasions, many of these people are exservicemen. I have previousl y brought specific cases to notice. In one of those cases only has the person concerned been given alternative employment. I understand that other honorable members have had the same experience. One other case to which I shall now refer shows how the retrenchment programme is operating. There is an out-patients’ clinic at the Repatriation Department’s offices in Grace Building, Sydney, in which a staff of physiotherapists is employed. Under the Government’s retrenchment policy that staff was reduced from six members to five members, although it has not been up to strength for a long time. Mr. Ian Miles, whose position bore the designation of physiotherapist-in-charge found on the last payday that he was several pounds light in his pay envelope, although he had not been previously advised by the Public Service Board or any other authority, of any reason for the deficiency. On making inquiries he was advised that the position of physiotherapistincharge had been abolished. So the position apparently now is that there is no officer in charge of that important section of the Repatriation Department which, I understand, deals with about 150 returned soldier cases a day. On making inquiries Mr. Miles was not only told that his position as physiotherapistincharge and been abolished, but also that the abolition of it was to date from a day in last August. He was also informed that he would be required to refund some portion of the salary that he had received in that position. I understand that that order was eventually countermanded. and that lie was not required to repay the money. Mr. Miles is an exserviceman himself, and I wish to make it quite clear to the Minister, as there might otherwise be repercussions detrimental to this gentleman, that Mr. Miles is not the person who brought the case to my notice. I do not know Mr. Miles. I have never met him and would not know him if I saw him in the street. One of the other men employed by the Repatriation Department in Sydney brought the case to my notice as being typical of what is happening under the Government’s retrenchment policy, and of how exservicemen are being victimized by tho Government. It would not be so serious if thu Government offered alternative employment to dismissed public servants. Mr Miles is doing the same kind of work as he did before, but his salary has been reduced by pounds a week as a result of the Government’s policy. I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service to make some inquiries into the position and also to ensure that the Department of Labour and National Service shall be more prompt in offering dismissed public servants alternative employment. The dismissed persons cannot afford to be out of work for weeks
On end, and. as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, some of them suffer from war disabilities and cannot walk out of one job into another. Many of them are now in a desperate position. There is an obligation on the Government to find alternative employment for those people.
The Government has indicated that there are about 160,000 vacant positions waiting to be filled. If the dismissed public servants cannot be accommodated in those positions then, as many of them are ex-servicemen and have been employed in the Government service for lengthy periods of time there is an obligation on the Government to find them alternative employment at least on no less favorable conditions than they had prior to their dismissal. I ask the Minister to treat the matter as urgent because it is some weeks since we first raised it in the Parliament. I have been told that inquiries were being made, but since then only in one case has a dismissed ex-serviceman been given alternative employment.
Another matter on which I desire information concerns the order in which these men are to be dismissed from the Service. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that they were to be dismissed in a certain specified order, and that ex-servicemen who suffer from war disabilities were to be the last to be affected. The Minister for Labour and National Service indicated that that was not the practice followed in his department and said that efficiency considerations would determine who were dismissed and who were retained. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has adopted the same attitude, because I have had correspondence from him in which he seeks to justify the dismissal of one ex-serviceman on the ground that he was the least efficient worker in the particular section concerned, although the exservicemen’s work had never been questioned, nor had there ever been any suggestion that he was not efficient. That did not occur until the Government started on its economy drive. I ask the Minister to say when it became the Government’s policy to disregard the claims that exservicemen have on it in regard to employment, and to make the determining factor efficiency It is quite probable that in many instances the war disabilities of ex-servicemen are the very reason why they are less efficient than some other employees are. I ask the Minister to state plainly the Government’s policy in regard to the dismissals. Are they to be effected in the order indicated by the Prime Minister in this chamber, or are individual Ministers free to exercise their own discretion regarding the order of dismissals, as some of them have indicated they are doing. I wish the Minister to treat the matter as urgent. I do not want just an acknowledgment in a letter, and then- have to wait for weeks in which nothing happens and find that a decision has been made only after reminders have been sent. This matter may be regarded as only routine by the Minister and the Government, but it is a serious matter for the people who have been deprived of their employment. T hope that the Minister will give me a reply as soon as possible.
., - I have listened with interest, as one always does, to the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). It is true that he and certain other members of the Parliament have brought to our notice, and in many instances to the notice of my own department, particular cases in which members of the Public Service have been retrenched and have sought other occupations. I do not know of any case that has come before my own notice in which action has not been taken promptly. Honorable members who have written to me about such matters will agree that in most instances I have been able to inform them that alternative employment has been found for the person concerned. The greatest difficulty is met in Canberra, where the opportunities for employment, particularly of persons who were engaged in clerical duties, are relatively limited. In the capital cities and the larger centres of population there are many employment opportunities now offering, and I think that most of the dismissed people who have sought alternative employment have obtained it. If any particular <;ase is brought to my notice I undertake to do what 1 believe we have always done in regard to any matter that has become before us, which is to give it prompt investigation. I remind the honorable member for East Sydney that, fortunately for Australia, there are so many opportunities of employment available that the number of persons who are eligible for unemployment benefit in this country is at an all-time record low. The case that the honorable member has mentioned is not within my own knowledge. The honorable member has stated that Ministers have adopted standards of their own in relation to the order in which dismissals are to be effected. These are departmental matters which do not come before a Minister for direction in the ordinary way. The only occasion on which the general policy in relation to the matter came under my notice was when one of the senior officers of my department asked me whether the department could assume, in relation to the retrenchment programme, that it was to have regard to efficiency within the department. I told him that, as far as I was concerned, I wanted to approach the matter without regard to my own personal feelings and not on any basis of personalities, but having regard to the efficient administration of the department. I should he astonished to learn that any other approach had been adopted. I am quite certain that the guiding rules which have been stated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) have been honoured in the retrenchment process.
The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) recently raised the matter of the discovery of a Nazi badge alleged to have been issued in 1934 which he stated had been found on the clothing of an immigrant employee at a Melbourne factory. I have had inquiries made into the matter. The factory was alleged to have been engaged in the manufacture of fertilizers, which narrowed the field of investigation. “I n the Melbourne press report of the incident, a Mr. Ernest Plata, who was himself admitted to Australia during a period in which we were admitting the victims of Nazi oppression and who occupies a position in the nature of publicity officer for the Jewish Council, referred to the “ Commonwealth fertilizer factory “. The badge was alleged to have been discovered when the immigrant’s overalls were being cleaned. Inquiries have shown that the case mentioned by the honorable member for Parkes was identical wilh this case, particulars of which I have in my Posse,4son. I do not propose to state in the House the name of the person concerned in the case. I have done so to the honorable member and would be prepared to do so to the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) or to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) ; but 1 do not think it would be in the interests of the individual concerned or in the public interest that these details should be disclosed.
However, I can say that in 1934 the person in whose possession this badge is alleged to have been discovered and who, by implication was the holder of it, was only thirteen years of age. It is now eighteen months since this discovery took place. The badge was circulated among employees at the factory, where the incident was soon forgotten, but the badge found its way, through a representative of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia, into the hands of an organizer of the union. No public reference has been made to the matter for eighteen months. Perhaps there is some significance in the fact that that building trades union in Victoria is notoriously under Communist control. The personal record of the person concerned reveals that he was an Hungarian. He remained in Hungary throughout the war and in 1945 took up employment with the American army in Germany as a cook. He remained in this position until 194S, when he reverted to civil employment. No adverse report lias been recorded against him during his stay in Australia. He has a good employment record and, so far as I am aware, is a reputable citizen of this country.
Those who occupy positions in the Government and in this Parliament are not afraid of criticism, nor do I suggest that it is not the role of private members, particularly Opposition members, to offer criticism. However, I earnestly suggest to the House that where individuals are concerned, particularly new settlers in this country, even if there are doubts on their bona fides, honorable members should, in the first instance at least, give the department concerned an opportunity to investigate the facts. If, after the department has placed the facts before them, honorable members still feel that honestly presented criticise should be made against the Government or against individuals then, by all means, they should exercise their right to voice that criticism. But the Government has brought people to Australia with the deliberate purpose to help in the development of the country and, in time, to defend it and it should be remembered that it is very easy to take up the malicious, or even the bona, fide, comment of well-meaning people who may consider that suspicious circumstances attach to foreign immigrants. It may be easy and perhaps ‘politically advantageous for an honorable member to present such a story in this place. But for all he knows a life may be blasted by that disclosure. It may be that when the facts are revealed the criticism will have been justified, but in nine cases out of ten the facts may show that, through malice or mistake, unfounded charges have been levelled against people with no real ground for criticism.
– Who is to decide which cases shall be publicized?
– It must be left to the good sense of the honorable member concerned. I do not ask any honorable member to withhold criticism if he believes that it should bo made. But it ‘veasy to make charges against persons. Those of us who are here in the fierce glare of publicity accept that risk.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
.-] wish to speak briefly on the subject of the menace that could arise to the whole immigration programme by an infiltration of Nazis. The object of honorable members of the Opposition is to make themselves trenchant critics of the immigration plan in order to ensure that it will not be found to have any bad facets. I believe from my own investigations and my knowledge of the Department of Immigration that Nazis have been admitted to this country because of what has happened in the International Refugee Organization. Until Opposition members believe otherwise they will continue this attack. I believe that immigration has a fine objective and must succeed, but surely the role of the Opposition is to continue to be critical of questionable cases until they have been definitely proved to be wrong.
The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) was good enongh to show me a report on this matter which included names but it did not prove that I was wrong. In the circumstances, I agree that all the names should be withheld. I consider that my attitude in regard to the subject of Nazi infiltration must be considered to be sound until it is proved otherwise and until complete evidence is forthcoming from the Department of Immigration that the danger of which 1 complain is past. There has been a tendency on the part of the department To resent this kind of criticism, but it is not a narrow criticism. I think that all sections of the public approve of the immigration programme. I agree with th–
Minister that the names of individuals should be excluded from .complaints in this House. No life should be blasted by being smeared. There is so much contumely misrepresentation and crossaccusation among immigrants that a person with the best objectives may fall into error. For that reason, I have recently presented the Minister with a dossier of Nazis whom I believe, from my investigations, to be employed on the Snowy River scheme. I shall not raise this matter in Parliament if a satisfactory report is furnished on the subject. I do not wish to fall into the error that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made of calling people Communists until he was proved to be wrong. However, I think that 1 was justified in stating that in a certain factory a Nazi emblem and the impedimenta of a new Hitler youth movement in this country had been found.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) whether he has received any report on the investigations that have been made in connexion with my complaint about the quality of the food supplied to hostels in South Australia.
– Does the honorable member really want the answer? 1 cannot supply it to-night because I have not the details with me.
– I do want it. Since I raised this matter I have received numerous letters from immigrants who have friends in these hostels.
– Will the honorable member place them before me?
– Yes. The letters applaud the action that I have taken. The matter has been brought under the notice of the Housewives Association in South Australia. People have called upon me and informed me that the complaints to which I referred were fully justified. One lady who was attached to the Department of the Array during the war as a nutrition expert supplied me with a cookery book which the previous Government had prepared for use in the mass production of food. I have been asked by this lady, who is a prominent member of the Housewives Association, to present it to the Minister. It was issued by the Department of Labour and National Service during the war and contains excellent recipes which, if observed, would enable his officers to provide immigrants with a much better quality food than they have been receiving.
I have also received complaints concerning the enormous charges that have been made by the Government for the food and accommodation supplied. The charge for accommodation for a man, his wife and three children is £11 8s. a week, which is an exorbitant amount. I understand that the quality of the food is bad and the complaints that have been made by the immigrants at this hostel in South Australia have been numerous.
– Is the honorable member referring to the Rosewater hostel?
– Yes. 1 have been requested to visit the place, but have not done so because it was not in my division. An Adelaide doctor who is an expert in nutrition made five visits yesterday to different hostels in South Australia to inspect the food. I do not wish to engage in destructive criticism. I hope that the Government has an answer to these complaints, because if conditions are as bad as they have been portrayed to me, there is very serious cause for complaint. I have never been to the hostel I refer to nor have I tasted the food there. I have been guided only by the information that has been given to me.
Honorable members will agree that as a public man it i3 my duty to put these matters before the House. It is one of the advantages of living in a democracy and being a member of the Parliament that at adjournment time one has a right to bring forward complaints that he believes to be justified. Some such matters may not prove to be justified, but occasionally one may be found to be based on fact. I do not think that complaints of this nature should be treated in a cynical fashion. They should be treated sympathetically, and should be accepted by the Minister in the spirit in which they are put forward. The Government should ensure that all such matters are properly considered.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, Nos. 126. 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 134.
Dairy Produce Export Charges Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, No. 137.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, Nos. 124, 125.
Egg Export Control Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, No. 133.
Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, No. 136.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Defence purposes - Swanbourne, Western Australia.
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Warrnambool, Victoria.
Postal purposes - Murchison, Victoria.
Pharmaceutical Benefits Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1951, No. 135.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Repatriation Department - A. H. Penington, J. D. White.
House adjourned at 11.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What are the departments employing each of the employees engaged in publicity, propaganda, public relations, &c, set out in the answer of the 25th October to the question on notice by the honorable member for Yarra on the 22nd June, 1951?
– Taking the employees in the order in which their names appear in the answer to the honorable member’s previous question, the first 78, with the exception of Mr. C. J. Smith, are all employed by the News and Information Bureau of the Department of the Interior. Mr. Smith is on loan to the Department of Shipping and Transport. The remaining 26 are employed in the Short-wave Division of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
Olympic G ames.
n asked the Prime Minister,. upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s. - On the 1st November, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked the Treasurer the following questions : -
Can the Treasurer state whether it is a fact that Australian newspaper proprietors are attempting to establish a system of syndicated news from this Parliament? Does the Government consider it to be in the public interest that there should be only one channel of news from this Parliament to the press throughout Australia? If it does not, what action does the Government propose to take in the matter?
The Government has no information on the matters referred to by the honorable member. It is considered that the adequacy of press reports of parliamentary proceedings is primarily a matter for the Parliament rather than for the Government.
s. - On the 24th October, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council a question relating to the occurrence of fires in underground mines operating on Greta seam coal. The sealing off of sections of the mines operating on the Greta seam in the MaitlandCessnock district due to fires and heating resulting from spontaneous combustion has been a necessary practice for many years and much valuable coal has been lost as a consequence. The recent report of the South Maitland Coalfield Conservation Committee is being examined by the Joint Coal Board and the Department of Mines of New South Wales, and at the present time representatives of these authorities are conferring on matters directly related to the report. Every possible avenue will be explored with the object of ascertaining whether any satisfactory methods can be adopted to deal with this important problem.
s. - On the 30th October, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser), asked a question relating to the rules governing the Commonwealth scholarship scheme. I now advise the honorable member as follows : -
The primary purpose of the Commonwealth scholarship scheme is to provide educational opportunities for able boys and girls who have completed a normal secondary school course, and who wish to continue their education at universities and other approved institutions of similar standing in Australia. Selection is made on a competitive basis, normally on the results obtained by applicants at the leaving certificate or matriculation examination. In fixing the entrance standard, the Universities Commission had in mind that applicants who are selected should be able students who have a good chance of completing their courses in the minimum time without failure. An upper limit was set in regard to the age of students applying for scholarships to commence courses in that a student must be under the age of 21 on the first day of January in the year in which he commences his course. The case to which the honorable member referred was one in which the commission thought that it might be justified in departing from the general rules regarding age since this student had originally been forced to abandon his schooling for financial reasons but had at the age of nineteen years and eleven months returned to school to matriculate, and had been a full-ime scholar since then. The Universities Commission is always prepared to consider special cases but it is not considered that age provisions generally should be extended. Where very exceptional circumstances arise, full consideration will always be given to a case and if necessary, the general provisions will be relaxed to meet the circumstances applicable to the case.
– On the 30th October the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs -
Can. the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House whether the termination of the by-law concession on woven rayon piece goods as announced by the Minister for Trade and Customs last week is restricted to woven rayon piece goods classified as finished cloth only or is action being taken as” well to restrict the volume of grey cloth that is imported under by-law, printed in. Australia, and sold on the Australian market as Australian rayon in unfair competition with rayon that is wholly woven and finished in Australia?
The Minister for Trade and Customs has now furnished the following information : -
It is not intended to extend the by-laws issued under tariff item 449 (b) which grant concessional treatment to importations of woven piece goods wholly of rayon or containing a mixture of fibres in which more than 50 per cent, by weight is rayon, to cover such goods which are shipped to Australia after the 31st December, 1951. There is no present intention of cancelling the permanent by-law under tariff item 105 (d) (4), which covers rayon piece goods in the greige for the production of screen printed or roller printed piece goods.
y asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Uranium minerals have been discovered in the Northern Territory, but testing operations have not yet reached the stage where it can bestated that these discoveries are sufficiently important to warrant development. At the present stage survey problems render it impracticable in many cases to identify blocks and to notify the owner or lessee of land on which testing operations are in progress. Departmental action to overcome these problems is in hand. In every case in which uranium or uranium ore is discovered the owner or lessee whenever practicable will be promptly notified by the departments so as to enable him to make a claim for compensation under the Atomic Energy (Control of Materials) Act 1940.
y asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Last Wednesday in June -
These reserves are held mainly in the form of sterling balances in London.
Last Wednesday in June -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 November 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19511114_reps_20_215/>.