20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for the- Army say whether action is being taken to isolate a camp at Holdsworthy in New South Wales, occupied by national service trainees, because of an outbreak o£ what is believed to be menin gitis? If that be so, will the Minister state the exact position?
– The matter is being investigated now. I shall communicate with the honorable gentleman later this morning.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been directed to a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture to request American farmers to reduce the autumn planting of next year’s wheat crop by 8 per cent.? What action does he propose to take in respect of Australia ?
– I have seen a press report to that effect, but I have no official knowledge of the matter. I am taking steps to obtain official confirmation of the report, which indicates that the American Secretary for Agriculture has stated that, if America grows an excess crop of wheat, problems of storage and surplus and, subsequently, of price may confront American farmers. I say without hesitation to Australian farmers that, as Australia is practically the only producer in the world of wheat that is sold for sterling, and as there is an avid demand for sterling wheat, due to a shortage of dollars, they need have no fear that there will not be a ready sale at a satisfactory price of the biggest wheat crop they are capable of growing this year.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he will keep uppermost in his mind, during negotiations in connexion with the future of wheat marketing, the need for a continuance of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund. which now operates under wheat tax legislation passed by this Parliament?
– The Government’s policy is that there shall be an extension of wheat stabilization, if the wheatgrowers, desire it, oh terms negotiated by the Australian and State governments and the wheat-growers’ organizations. I had a discussion a week ago with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, during which the point that the honorable member has mentioned was raised, and I concede that, to my astonishment, the wheatgrowers’ representatives took the view that all moneys in the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund at the end of the present five-year plan ought to be returned and that a new stabilization fund should be commenced. I do not know the legal position in regard to the matter, but the Government desires to proceed by agreement with the wheat industry rather than by dependence on any legal entitlement. I assure the honorable member that the point he has raised will not only be in my- mind during the negotiations, but also be discussed freely with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation.
– In ‘ the absence of the Prime Minister, I address to the Treasurer a question about a breach of official secrecy in connexion with the announcement of the appointment of the new Governor-General. I ask this question,’ as I asked a similar question last Tuesday, because importance is attached to the tracking down of persons guilty of breaches of official secrecy. Did Her Majesty the Queen fix the night of Tuesday, the 2nd September, in London and the morning of Wednesday, the 3rd September, in Australia as the times for the announcement of the appointment of the new Governor-General? Was the appointment announced in Australia on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 2nd September? Had the Prime Minister made a confidential statement to Cabinet that morning, and was the fact that he made such a statement reported on Tuesday afternoon? Could the disclosure of the appointment of Sir William Slim have been made by any one in possession of the information otherwise than in a breach of his official duty and in betrayal of the trust of Her Majesty?
– From the nature and the length of the question asked by the honorable gentleman, it is obvious that he should place it on the notice-paper. I ask him, in doing so, to render assistance in obtaining a satisfactory answer by stating whether the previous Government was able to ascertain where the leak occurred with regard to the appointment of the present Governor-General.
– I preface a question to the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service by referring to a matter raised earlier in the week by the honorable member for Lang. It deals with the proposed closure of the immigrant workers’ hostel at the former military camp at Wallgrove, which is in my electorate. Is the Minister in a position to state whether the Government plans to use this establishment for other purposes at an early date?
– It’ is a fact that the immigrant centre at Wallgrove has been closed, mainly because of difficulties in connexion with transport. The occupants of the centre have been transferred to St. Mary’s and Villawood. Although the Department of the Army is acquainted with the fact that the centre is no longer used as an immigrant hostel, it is too early to say what plans the Army has for future use of the centre.
– Will the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration make available to the House a copy of the agreement recently signed by the Minister for Immigration and the West German Government at Bonn, to which the honorable gentleman referred in the House last week? If he is not able to do so, will he undertake that immediately he receives information in connexion with this matter he will make it available to the House?
– A copy of the agreement has just come to hand, and I have not yet had an opportunity to study it in detail. I am not quite aware of the convention in such matters, and I am not sure whether agreements of the kind should be tabled or not. At the moment, I see no objection to doing so. However. I shall have the matter investigated and shall acquaint the honorable gentleman of the result.
– I ask the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration whether it is a fact .that one in every eighteen persons now admitted to mental institutions in New South Wales is a new Australian? If that be so, will the Minister issue instructions to the officials who are responsible for the screening of intending immigrants that the utmost care and vigilance must be exercised in order to ensure that immigrants shall not be likely to become a liability to the nation in the way that I have mentioned?
– I recall having seen a statement made by the New South Wales Director-General of Health to the effect that recently the proportion of persons suffering from mental disability admitted to New South Wales mental institutions was, so far as people who have come to Australia in the last five years were concerned, about one in eighteen. I speak subject to correction in this matter. I immediately had the matter investigated, and I ascertained that the ratio of new Australians admitted to mental institutions in Australia is not greater than the comparable ratio among the indigenous population. In fact, the figures indicate that the ratio among new Australians is somewhat smaller than the ratio among the remainder of the population. That Ls natural, because in our screening abroad of intending immigrants we concentrate on the health, including mental health, of the people who are to be admitted to the country. A further discovery that I made, or, at least, a reasonable inference which I drew from the facts that I obtained, was that the majority of the new Australians who have been admitted to mental institutions are people who came to this country under the displaced persons scheme, which was instituted by the previous Government and continued by this Government, but which has now ceased to operate. It is not unnatural that people who were rescued from the tragic conditions that these people came from should perhaps suffer from mental instability to a greater degree than do people who had not undergone the dreadful experience to which they had been subjected. I assure the honorable member that we are watching the position very carefully.
– Will the Minister for the Army reconsider a previous decision in relation to the removal of the Long Bay rifle range to a site farther out in the country? If the range is moved, will he consider returning to the State authorities the land which it occupies at Long Bay so that it may be subdivided into building blocks on which to build homes for ex-servicemen?
– The answer is “ Yes, I shall be pleased to reconsider the matter “.
– Is the Minister for the Interior convinced that adequate fire escapes have been provided at the various hostels and hotels in the Australian Capital Territory? Will he arrange for an inspection of and a report on these facilities by a competent officer of the Canberra fire brigade ?
– I shall investigate the matter raised by the honorable member. At the moment I have no first-hand information about it, although I know that recently the Canberra fire brigade purchased a 120-ft. ladder. However, I do not think that its use would be necessary in .fighting fires in hostels. As far as I am aware, proper fire-fighting provision has been made at the hostels and hotels in Canberra, but I shall further examine the position.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs inform me whether it is true that the United Kingdom is most resentful of the fact that it has been excluded from the ANZUS pact and that it considers that it should be at least entitled to be represented by observers at all future discussions between representatives of New Zealand, the United States of America and Australia in matters relating to the Pacific region? If that be so, does the Australian Government propose to sponsor a movement with the object of having the United Kingdom represented, either fully or as an observer, at all future discussions between the three signatories to the pact?
– I dealt with this matter in reporting to the House on the ANZUS meeting of a little time ago. As is generally known, provision is contained in the ANZUS treaty for collaboration with other States and organizations in the Pacific area. This matter was discussed not only in respect of Great
Britain, but also in respect of other countries, but it was decided, as I have already reported to the House, that, for reasons that I gave at some length, at this very early stage the actual membership of the treaty should be confined to the original three signatories. I am not aware of any resentment on the part of Great Britain. It is perfectly clear that both New Zealand and Australia and, for that matter, the United States of America ako, will keep the United Kingdom completely informed of all activities in respect of the implementation of the ANZUS Treaty. As I have said at some length on more than one occasion, however, the three signatories to the treaty generally believe that, for the time being, the membership should remain on it3 original basis until we have had sufficient experience of the working of the treaty to enable us to know more about it. What the future holds after that in respect of the treaty is a matter that the future itself will determine..
– Is the Minister for Supply aware that there are in Australia very great surpluses of canned foodstuffs, and that food processors are finding considerable difficulty in securing satisfactory and adequate markets? Has the Minister considered purchasing additional supplies of tinned foodstuffs for the armed services in order to maintain primary production ?
– I have read a report that there is more canned food in Australia than is usual, but I do not know how correct it is. With reference to the honorable member’s suggestion that canned food surpluses should be taken over by the armed forces; I remind him that the Department of Supply, acting on behalf of the. various services, makes its purchases of food in advance of needs. It would be very difficult, therefore, because of existing commitments and arrangements, to buy extra foodstuffs. However, I shall examine the matter and ascertain whether there is a serious surplus of canned foodstuffs,’ and secondly, whether anything can be done on the lines suggested by the honorable member.
– Although there is now a surplus of certain kinds of steel in this country, fencing materials urgently required by primary producers are still scarce. Will the Minister for Supply investigate, this matter with a view to ensuring that the production of fencing materials. shall be increased?
– This matter comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister for National Development to whose notice I shall direct the honorable member’s question and from whom I shall obtain a reply as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether it is true that the number of operational farms in Australia declined by more than 10,000 from 253,536, in 1939 to 24.3,626, in 1950-51? When the Minister said yesterday that there are 40,000 fewer farm workers in Australia to-day than there were twenty years ago did he include self-employed farmers, or was he referring only to employees in rural industries?
– I am not familiar with the statistics contained in the first part of the honorable member’s question, but, if he wants me to confirm them, 1 shall be glad to do so. Speaking from memory but with confidence, I should say that the figures cited by me yesterday did include self-employed farmers.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Supply a question about the alleged Korean war veteran who is out of work. I realize that the Minister has already given information to the House on this subject but, in view of the reception given to his statements by certain honorable members, I should like to know whether he has any further information that he can give to the House, and whether there is any way in which this matter may be finally settled.
– I have no further information at the moment, but there will be no difficulty at all in ascertaining whether the allegation that a. former Korean soldier is out of work is true or not. I have spoken to the honorable member for Watson, who raised the matter, and lie has indicated that, in response to my request, he “will produce for my perusal the soldier’s discharge papers which should reveal whether or not he has been in Korea.
– Has the Treasurer stated from time to time that the provision of funds for the use of municipal councils in the construction of roads, private streets, and drainage, is a matter for- State governments and the Australian Loan Council, and not for the Australian Government? As municipal bodies have been unable to borrow from the Commonwealth Bank, the trading banks, or other financial institutions, the money that they require to carry out these essential, urgent, and reproductive works, in spite of the fact that loans for this purpose have been approved by the Australian Loan Council, can the Treasurer take any action to have money made available? If he cannot, or is unwilling to do so, will he be good enough to explain to the House the reasons for his inability or unwillingness ?
– As I have stated time and time again, local government authorities and semi-governmental bodies of the kind to which the honorable member has referred are State instrumentalities, and it has always been the practice that the Australian Government does not deal directly with such organizations. Any representations that may be made by a State Government on their behalf will receive full consideration by the Commonwealth.
– Some time ago, the Prime Minister announced in the House that Australians who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese would benefit financially from the sale of certain Japanese assets in Australia. Can the Treasurer indicate what progress has been made in that matter, and when the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of such assets will be made?
– I have had inquiries made into that matter and have been informed that all requisite administrative measures to effect the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of Japanese assets in this country are well in hand, but that it will be necessary to amend the Trading with the Enemy Act in order to enable the distribution to be made. The Government hopes to introduce a bill for that purpose during the current sessional period.
– Has the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration seen the report that at least four Australians will attend the socalled Peking peace conference despite the decision of the Government to refuse passports to any person for the purpose of attending that conference? According to the report to which I refer, the four persons concerned claim that they hold British passports and, therefore, can flout the Government decision. Does any understanding, or agreement, exist between the Australian Government and the British Government with respect to the cancellation of passports which would enable this Government to prevent these persons from attending the conference to be held at Peking?
– So far as I am aware, no agreement exists between the Australian and British Governments whereby the Australian Government could interfere with the right of travel of person? who hold British passports that entitle them to travel to and from Australia. In my view, such interference would be undesirable. If any of .the persons to whom the honorable member has referred hold British passports and desire to go to Peking, the action that the Government has recently taken would not, in my opinion, prevent them from doing so. That action was taken with respect to persons who, we believed, desired to attend the conference at Peking and who held Australian passports or were likely to apply for them. As I said yesterday, it may happen that a person may elude the Government’s prohibition and succeed in going to Peking. However, I consider it to be better than an odd case of that kind should occur rather than that the
Government should interfere unduly with the traditional right of travel of individuals.
– If any of the four persons to whom the honorable member for Maranoa has referred and who are reported to hold British passports are liable to be charged with treason in accordance with the recommendation that the Foreign Affairs Committee made recently to the Minister for External Affairs, will the Government take action to prevent such persons from leaving Australia ?
– There is a difference between a person being charged with a criminal offence and being convicted of it. If the persons in question were found guilty of an offence of that nature I should say, speaking off-hand, that the Government would most certainly take appropriate action. Whether it would take action merely because somebody has expressed the opinion that they had been guilty of such an offence, is another matter which I should like to investigate more closely before I commit myself.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether Mount Isa Mines Limited has been granted a concession to work and develop all uranium deposits under the control of the Government? Is not that company financed and controlled by the notorious American Mining and Smelting Corporation?
– Mount Isa Mines Limited has not been given any franchise whatsoever with respect to the working of uranium deposits in Australia.
– On the 4th September, I placed on the notice-paper a series of questions relating to the staff of the Australian National University, but a reply has not yet been furnished. In view of the importance of the matters dealt with in the questions, I should like to know from the Treasurer, in the absence of the Prime Minister, when I may expect a reply.
– All I can promise at this juncture is to bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Prime Minister, to whom the questions on the notice-paper were directed.
– I have received from the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford), an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely: -
The proposed sale of the Commonwealth Government-owned shipping line and the effect any such sale would have on the effective defence of Australia and its shipbuilding industry.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
– In recent weeks there has been a spate of daily press publicity indicating that the Government intends to dispose of the Commonwealth shipping line. I have a file of such reports from which it is evident that the Government has that intention firmly in mind. Having regard to the manner in which Government interests in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were sold with little or no publicity, the Government’s intention to dispose of them not even having been disclosed to the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes), who was one of the directors and originators of the company, in this instance the press is no doubt serving a very useful purpose. The people are now witnessing the spectacle of another attempt on the part of the Government to sacrifice the people’s property to private interests. How far the Government is prepared to go to serve private interests is illustrated by its action in hawking the Commonwealth shipping line to attract the highest bid, if, indeed, a high bid can be attracted from any source. As the number of sources from which any bid, let alone a high bid, can be extracted, are very few, the sale if it is made will be a bargain sale for the benefit of the buyers. As there appears to be a combination of ideas or intentions among potential buyers, should they combine to hold off long enough then the complete sacrifice of this property could follow. The only effective protection against unduly high freights and fares at present in existence can thus be instantly removed, and those who must be protected, and they include all sections of the people, would be exposed to exploitation.
Australia needs a Commonwealth shipping line to keep the predatory instincts and methods of the shipping barons in check. It needs it to meet the requirements which inevitably arise when the country is called upon to defend itself, and it is imperative that it should have for its own immediate use and protection a shipping industry capable of building vessels which will not only meet the needs of commerce, but also be able to supply our forces in any emergency. The Labour party is not prepared to accept the principle that Australia’s shipping should be left wholly to private business interests, particularly to a section of the business community that has never failed to use its powers of exploitation to keep freights and fares at the highest possible level that the public could pay. Much has been made of the losses said to have been incurred in the operations of the Commonwealth shipping line. The line is stated to have lost the sum of approximately £6,500,000 between 194S and 1952. The fact is that while that book-keeping loss has been featured and given a good deal of , publicity in the press, the saving in freight, which cannot be accurately estimated, probably amounts to between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000. If this line should be sold, freights would increase and add to the already excessive cost of goods. Let us ask our.selves who would benefit from the sale of Commonwealth ships. Certainly not the people, because they would then be completely at the mercy of the shipping combine, which would be free from the restraints imposed by the existence of a Commonwealth-owned and operated shipping line. Certainly not those employed in the industry, because they would become less certain of continuous employment. Certainly not those whose business requires them to use the ships for travelling and the carriage of merchandise, because they would be exploited by having to pay unduly heavy fares and freights. Such persons are protected from impositions of this kind while the Commonwealth shipping line remains in operation. The interests that would benefit from the sale of the Commonwealth ships are the big shipping concerns that would eventually buy the line. The Commonwealth ships have been hawked everywhere, as can be perceived by a perusal of the daily press.
– The honorable member surely does not believe everything that he reads in the press !
– No, but when the press raises a continuous cry, of the kind that we have recently heard, about the Commonwealth ships, it is obvious that information as to the Government’s intention has leaked out from Cabinet from time to time. Those who will benefit from the sale of Commonwealth ships will be confined to the small section of selfish people who, while subscribing to and advocating the principle that competition is the life of trade, are busily devoting all their energies to preventing real competition from finding its way into the Australian shipping industry. The sale of valuable government assets took place on previous occasions at a sacrifice, and despite that sacrifice the Government did not receive payment in full. That must not happen again. As far as we can help to prevent that from happening, we shall do so. The matter of the continuation of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was inquired into by the Joint Committee on Public Accounts as long ago as 1926. In its very interesting interim report, the committee stated -
In view, however, of emphatic evidence placed before the committee that, owing to the uncertainty which exists concerning’ the continuance of the Australian Commonwealth Line ot Steamers- which is similar to the position to-day - its business lias been adversely affected, the Committee hass deemed it desirable to submit to Parliament, prior to the approaching recess, this Interim Report
To arrive at a decision, apart from the question of Government Policy, as to whether the Commonwealth Government Line should he continued, there must be considered what benefits have accrued to the country by the establishment of the Line, and whether such benefits have outweighed any financial loss incurred as a result of its trading operations. The evidence so far placed before the Committee indicates that not only has the Commonwealth Line been directly responsible for actual reductions in freights, but that the presence of the Line has exerted a material restraining influence against proposed increases.
I consider that to be a very important factor. The interim report continued -
Whilst it is difficult, in fact, almost impossible, owing to the many factors to be considered, to indicate in figures the actual gain to Australia by such action, it appears to the Committee, from the evidence already heard, that the shippers and primary producers of Australia have derived much benefit from the establishment of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers. The Committee, therefore, recommends that, in the interests of Australia, the Line be continued.
That interim report was furnished on the 10th August, 1926, when the Joint Committee on Public Accounts was presided over by Sir Granville Eyrie, M.P. The committee was not predominantly Labour. It was composed of six members of the United Australia party - as the Liberal party was then called - three members of the Australian Country party, and four members of the Labour party. A later report that was produced under a different chairman - as Sir Granville Eyrie had been nicely placed away by being appointed High Commissioner for Australia in the United Kingdom in 1927 - modified that decision. The personnel on the committee was altered also, by the appointment of Mr. G. H. Francis, M.P.
– That was a good appointment.
– He was not the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). Senator Walter Kingsmill was appointed as chairman. The desired effect was then evidently obtained, as the report of the 6th May, 1927, contained the following paragraph : -
Having regard to all the circumstances therefore, the Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should not be retained as a direct Governmental activity.
Liberal as well as Labour members had subscribed to the interim report. A minority report that was signed by the three Labour members of the committee at that time, which accompanied the report of the 6th May, 1927, contained this passage -
We consider it to be of paramount importance to Australia that the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers should be retained for the following reasons: -
The Line has been, and still is. a controlling factor in regulating freight rates on exports from Australia to the United Kingdom and imports to Australia from the United Kingdom.
That was the very valuable purpose that the line was fulfilling at that time. The main report - not the interim report - contained the following paragraph:-.
In submitting this recommendation, however, the Committee recognizes that this line of steamers is an asset belonging to Australia
Honorable members should not forget that observation - and the Committee has carefully considered how the Line should be disposed of in a manner which would preserve to Australia the good effects it has exercised in the preservation of reasonable freights and fares between Australia and the United Kingdom.
The following passage should, he brought to the attention of .the public : -
The influence for good or evil of world shipping upon the prosperity and the commercial development of nations is too evident a fact to need lengthy discussion, more particularly in these latter days when the agglomerative tendencies which have made themselves felt in this particular branch of commerce have resulted in the formation of huge shipping combines of world-wide activities whose underlying motives are often far from being altruistic and occasionally fail to he even patriotic.
The committee realized that the shipping combine had to be very closely watched. I hope that the Government will show its interest in the public welfare by watching the combine closely now and refusing to sell out to it.
When the Government shipping line is wiped out, the ship-building industry will languish and inevitably disappear, for shipping interests have never been famous for their patriotism, when patriotism has conflicted with their commercial interests, and have always placed their orders for ships in the cheapest markets. The only responsible authority that can be depended on to keep the industry at a reasonable level so that it may be readily expanded for defence purposes is the Government. If the proposed transaction takes, place and the Government finds a way in which the interests that appear to be pressing for the disposal of the line of ships can be satisfied, a way can and will be found eventually to restore to the people, without imposing upon them the penalty of a huge financial sacrifice, the invaluable asset that will have been taken from them. The Government’s proposal should awaken the conscience of any elector who has mistakenly voted for it in the past. In the absence of any clear statement to the contrary by the Government, it can be assumed reasonably that this great national asset has been put up for sale. If, finally, a sale takes place and the facts are fully exposed to public inspection and understanding, this Government will go down in disgrace, not only as one that failed to keep its promises, but also as one that sacrificed the interests of the people to the point of plundering the public purse.
.- The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) has submitted for discussion “a definite matter of urgent public importance”. When an honorable member takes that course of action and, with the support of his colleagues, interrupts the business of the country for a period of two hours, one is entitled to ask whether the subject that has been raised is really one of urgent public importance. I must say that I noticed an absence of any note of urgency in the honorable member’s speech. It was rather a gentle and chiding complaint which went on and on and expressed concern and anxiety, but which certainly at no stage revealed the least note of urgency or any suggestion that thi3 matter could not wait until to-morrow, next week, or, perhaps, next month. The honorable member seemed to be making a plea for the survival of an institution of which he personally was rather fond, something which he and his colleagues had created and which they had hoped, at the time of creation, might be useful. Although the honorable gentleman did not find it within his capacity to make out a case that the Government line of ships was still useful or was serving any particular purpose, he argued, because the Labour party had hoped that it would be useful, that we should not destroy it or disturb it in any way. The honorable member’s speech revealed very clearly the basic difference in outlook between the Government and the Opposition. The honorable member has made his gentle complaints and his chiding plea for the survival of the shipping line because he is a socialist. He wants governments to own everything and to manage everything. Even if State institutions do not operate very efficiently, and even if they spoil something in the process, he still thinks that the Government should continue to own everything and run everything no matter whether it serve? a good or a bad purpose- Whether or not the ships provide a good service, whether or not they serve the best interests of the taxpayer and of commerce, is of much less importance to him than that the Government should own and run ships. To honorable members opposite, socialism is an end in itself. The Government ownership and operation of transport is an end in itself and even if it will do no good for the Government to run ships the socialists still think that it should own and run them. Being a socialist, the honorable member for Maribyrnong complained and was fearful that any one should ask whether or not it was really necessary for the Government to use up public funds in order to meet losses which must be borne by the taxpayer in order to operate a shipping line. The honorable member did not entertain for a moment the possibility that the same ends might be served more efficiently and cheaply and in the better interests of the country by other means.
This Government is not a socialist government and it is quite obvious that we do not believe that socialism is an end in itself. We do not believe that the Government should own everything, control everything and run everything. We have a faith, as a non-socialist government, that the people, given a fair chance to use their energy and initiative, can carry on production and trading activities rather better than . can a government instrumentality. We believe that there is a limit to what a. government should try to do and that there is no call to-day for the Government to engage in activities which, subject to the law and the requirements, of society, can be carried out quite well by private enterprise. In other words, we are not socialists. That is the whole difference between honorable members opposite and the Government in this matter. On the one hand there is a complete faith in socialism and a belief that socialism, is an end in itself; on our side there is a faith that there are some things that private enterprise can do better than governments. It is quite natural that the Government should explore the possibilities of being quit of the Commonwealth shipping line. We make no secret of that. It might be easy for a socialist government, like the late Labour Government, to find pride in the fact that it is running a socialist activity, even if it is running it badly. But when a government that is not bound down by socialist theory find’s that it has a shipping line, which has lost £6,000,000 in the last three years, do honorable members expect it to say, “ We must hang on to that “ ? Because we are not socialists, we look at the facts of the matter and ask ourselves, “ Is this the way in which the Australian coast can be adequately served with shipping? Must we go on losing £6,000,000 every three years for a socialist theory ? “ We are not bound by the theory. Why should we subscribe to it?
Quite rightly and properly this Government started to explore the. possibilities in order to see whether there was any better way of running the coastal shipping services than running a socialist line at a loss, not ensuring a very good service and causing both the taxpayer and commerce, to pay the penalty of the application of a theory. The people of Australia know where we stand. At the last general election we stated that we had no faith in socialism. The people of Australia voted for us knowing that we were a non-socialist government. So I say that this Government makes no secret of the fact that it is exploring the possibility of being quit of the Commonwealth shipping line. But I want to make it abundantly clear to all honorable members and to the country that while this Government is exploring the pos sibility of effecting the sale of Commonwealth ships, it has also set before itself from the start certain principles which it regards as fundamental and which it insists must be safeguarded in any sale of those ships.
The first principle is this: The Government recognizes that there exists at the present time a need to modernize the ships trading on the Australian coast, to increase the size of the’ fleet, and to make coastal transport more efficient. We seek to ensure that in any sale which may take place, the ships sold shall he retained on the coast, adequate services will be maintained on the coast, and public interest will be served through active competition. Secondly, we recognize that we have a responsibility, as a Government, for ensuring that services shall be provided for remote parts of the Australian continent, such as the Northern Territory, and shall be maintained to those parts of Australia, such as Tasmania, which depend on shipping as the main form of transport. Thirdly, we recognize, and affirm, the need to maintain in Australia an efficient shipbuilding industry. That, too, is basic to our exploration of this subject. This Government has placed orders with Australian shipbuilding yards for twenty cargo vessels. That is an indication of the importance which we place on the Australian shipbuilding industry. The fourth point is that this Government recognizes that it is a part of the responsibility of a government to ensure that the conditions of operation of privately-owned ships shall conform ,to the requirements of public interest. Subject to those four principles that I have stated - the maintenance of adequate services, the serving of the remote parts of the Commonwealth, the maintenance of an efficient shipbuilding industry and the maintenance of proper conditions in Australian coastal shipping - the Australian Government is exploring the possibility of selling Commonwealth ships, and we make no secret about it, or about the efficiency with which we are trying to carry out that purpose. [ Quorum formed.’] The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who directed attention to the state of the House, has emphasized the point that I made at the commencement of my brief remarks, namely, that there is no urgency about this matter. Members of the Opposition are so disinterested that they do not attend in the House to listen to the debate.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! The debate must proceed without interjections. I will not warn honorable members again that silence must be maintained.
– I conclude simply by saying this: The Government is exploring the possibility of selling the Commonwealth-owned ships. At the present time, no offers are before the Government for the purchase of the vessels. We shall continue to explore the possibility, and, in doing so, we shall try to safeguard in every respect those four principles that I have stated, and which, we consider, are in the best interests of the Australian public. We see no merit in socialistic activity as such, and the real difference that divides the Opposition from ourselves on this occasion is simply that honorable members opposite are socialists, and we are not.
– The Government spokesman in this debate is the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). He has not really dealt with the problem under consideration. He has not answered the question that is being asked throughout Australia : Is the Government endeavouring to sell the Commonwealth-owned ships? The Minister has simply told the House that no offer has been received, but the Government has not failed to inform the people that it would like to sell the ships. The Minister has merely indicated that if the Government is offered any sort of a price for the ships, it will probably sell that great asset of the Australian people. It is useless for the Government to nominate a spokesman and then to say that the matter can be determined simply by the use of the term “ socialism “. < The platform of the Labour party is clear on this matter. The Labour party’s policy and practice have been to use the ownership of the community in certain cases to prevent exploitation of the people, for defence purposes in time of emergency or to keep private monopoly in Australia controlled. The question that is becoming more pressing every day is whether the people of Australia believe that some of the nation’s greatest industries should be controlled by private monopoly. That means control by groups or combinations which do not compete with each other and which have the complete right to charge what they like and to restrict competition as they may desire. The Government will not avoid the question by using general phrases. It must come to the point.
What was the situation in the Australian shipping industry when World War II. began ? Our mercantile fleet was completely inadequate for our population and its needs. That was recognized by the Menzies government of the day. The shipbuilding industry of Australia, which was vital to defence and to interstate -and overseas trade, had been allowed to languish. Great dockyards like those at Sydney and Cockatoo Island-
– And Walsh Island.
– And Walsh Island, also, were allowed to become virtual ruins.
– Walsh Island was a ruin.
– An island continent like Australia is dependent on sea transport. It must have a large and efficient mercantile marine fleet available always for overseas and interstate trade. That was the policy of the Chifley Government. It did not seek to exclude private enterprise from that field. It is well known that no attempt was made to do so. On the contrary, the people were served efficiently because there- wa3 a dual shipping service composed of government and privately owned ships. The Chifley Government found, however, that private enterprise would not meet the needs of distant States, including Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. The honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) has informed the House that sufficient ships of the combine could not be provided to lift sugar and the Commonwealth ships had to do the work. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) has estimated that the Commonwealth shipping line, by its effect on freights, has saved producers and the business community between £45,000,000 and £50,000,000 a year. This has to be offset against the official balance sheet loss of £8,000,000. I believe the honorable member’s estimate to be correct. A combine of shipping interests would have been determined, quite correctly from its point of view, to extract the highest degree of profit from freights. This shipping line has made an enormous contribution to the trade and commerce of Australia. I do not know the attitude that will now be adopted by Government supporters who represent constituencies in Tasmania, and central and northern Queensland, but I know that not long ago they joined with a deputation, led by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), which asked the Government not to dispose of the Commonwealth ships. I understand that the reply they received at that time was not unfavorable.
If Australia is to develop as a nation, if its commerce is to expand and, above all, if its defence is to be secured, we must have a large mercantile fleet. Not all of it need be government-owned, but a government line of steamers must remain an important auxiliary of it. When major Japanese war criminals were being tried for plotting a war of aggression, documents were produced which clearly indicated the policy of Japan after the war. Even while the Japanese leaders were preparing a campaign of aggression against Pearl Harbour and Malaya, the fixed policy of the Japanese Government was to expand to the south after the war and that policy was approved by the Privy Council of Japan and by the Emperor. It was emphasized that, in order to implement such a policy, a synthetic oil industry would have to be established in Japan, and the mercantile fleet greatly enlarged. That is exactly the policy of the Japanese Government now. During the war, our mercantile fleet suffered heavy losses from Japanese submarines, and our sailors made great sacrifices.
It is now apparent that the Commonwealth shipping line is on the auction block. Any one may make an offer for it, but I sincerely hope that no one will. If the line were sold, it would be the duty of the Australian people, under a different government, to rearm themselves with a similar asset. When we look the facts in the face, and have regard to the situation in the Pacific, it becomes clear that government control of a shipping line is of tremendous importance, not for the sake of establishing a government monopoly, but for the defence of Australia, and for the preservation and expansion of our trade. During the last twelve months, under the management of Mr. C. M. Dewey, who was appointed by the Chifley Government, the Commonwealth shipping line has shown a profit of £700.000. The full figures are not yet available, but it is clear that efficiency has been maintained.
The Government is to be condemned for selling the assets of the people. The Glen Davis project has already gone,, and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is to go. The Government’s holding in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, a firm vitally associated with the electronic industry, and, therefore, with the defence of the country, were thrown onto the market. The people are not in favour of governments entering all industries, but governments must enter certain key industries in order to protect the national interests. Because the honorable member for Maribyrnong is well aware of that, he has brought this matter before the House for discussion in order to learn, if possible, the intentions of the Government. For my part, I could not glean anything from the extraordinary speech of the Minister for Territories. I do not now know the intentions of the Government. It appears, however, that the private, shipping companies are not interested in buying the Commonwealth line. I hope that they will, continue to be uninterested, and that the people will retain this valuable asset.
– It is not surprising that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) did not glean anything from the speech of the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). He was so busy lashing himself into a fury with his own tail that he was in no condition to pay attention to- what was being said. Surely, this must be the most curious motion ever submitted in the House. It is based on the supposition that the Government is about to sell the Commonwealth shipping line, but as the Minister has explained, there has been no offer for the ships at, as they say, a bargain price. If I may mix my metaphors, that case can be likened to Hamlet without a Prince, a funeral without a corpse or - I am sure one or two honorable gentlemen opposite will appreciate this - a wake without whisky, because there is no such proposal. Therefore, the case falls to the ground.
I suppose honorable gentlemen opposite really mean that, despite every argument to the contrary that can be advanced, the Commonwealth shipping line should not be sold in any circumstances. They are taking the socialist view that the ships must be run by the Government. They are saying, in effect, “ It does not matter whether the ships could be run more efficiently by private enterprise; it does not matter whether the Government could get a walloping big price for them; it does not matter whether, by the sale of the ships, our shipbuilding industry could be1 made more secure; it does- not matter whether the ships could be. sold on terms favorable to the. country; and it does not matter whether the millions of pounds that would be obtained for them, if they were sold, could be applied much more usefully in other sections of our economy for the expansion and development of Australia. None of those things matter. Because the Commonwealth owns a shipping line and because the Labour party established a socialist shipping line, at all costs that line must continue under government control “. That attitude explains why a Labour administration is financially disastrous: to the country.
Let me cite to the House some figures that relate to this shipping line. It lost £1,723,000 in 194’7, £2,263,000 in. 1948,. and £2,037,000 in 1949. The total loss from 1947 to 1949 was £6,023,000. That is the record of the Commonwealth shipping line under Labour administration.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! If inter.jections do not cease, I shall take action, The action will be prompt and decisive.
– That is the kind of business administration that we have had under Labour governments. The reason why those losses were incurred is that Labour governments approach the administration of business undertakings - and the Commonwealth shipping line is a business undertaking - in a doctrinaire spirit. They say that, at all costs, we must continue to operate the ships as a socialist enterprise, even though the taxpayers may be ruined in the process.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) produced a pitiful and pathetic alibi. He came to the table and read a speech that I do not think he himself believed. Certainly he did not deliver it in a convincing manner. The alibi is that the loss of £6,000,000 does not matter, because we have saved on freight charges. I describe that as the most arrant piece of rubbish that has been uttered in this House during this week - and during the last few days we have listened, to. a lot of rubbish uttered by honorable gentlemen opposite. The alibi that, although we are losing money on the Commonwealth shipping line, we. are saving upon freight charges, will not stand a minute’s examination. The Opposition says, in effect, that, we should use a big steam hammer to crack a tiny peanut. It says that we should run the Commonwealth shipping line at a loss of £6,000,000 in order to keep freight rates down. Any child knows that if the Commonwealth wants to control interstate freight rates on the Australian coast, it has at its disposal many means of doing so other than that.
The Government has approached this matter from the viewpoint of the best interests of the Australian economy. If the Commonwealth ships could be better employed in other hands, we do not see why necessarily they should be kept in the hands of the Government. The Minister for Territories has said quite clearly that the ships will not be sold unless the outports are safeguarded, services at least as good as the present services are maintained, and the stability of our shipbuilding’ industry is guaranteed. As 1 understood the Leader of the Opposition, the basis of the Opposition’s case is that, because of defence needs, our shipbuilding industry must be protected. The Government parties agree, and have always agreed, with that proposition. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), honorable members who represent electorates near Brisbane and honorable members from South Australia know that, in a comparable period, this Government has given more orders to the Australian shipbuilding industry than has any previous government. We shall ensure the security of our shipbuilding industry. What is more, we shall ensure that if these ships are disposed of, they will be disposed of only at a fair price.
The Micawbers of the Opposition, when in government, sit down and survey their assets. They find that some of them are income-producing assets and that- some, of necessity, are not. They find that some income-producing assets are not producing as much income as they might do. They find themselves in need of money, as all people do, whether they be Micawbers or not. Their approach to the problem is, “We have this asset, and we must not part with it. To be sure, if we parted with it we could use the millions of pounds that we got for it to better advantage in national development “. Heaven only knows, Australia needs millions of pounds for national development. They say, “ We could use that money to great advantage and we could let a private company run the ships, but we shall not do so because we are socialists “. That is the clear point of division between us. The Opposition wants to retain the Commonwealth shipping line, irrespective of its virtues, because it is a government shipping line. The Government says that the acid test is to ask, not “ Who runs it “, but “ How is it nin, and what services does it render to the Commonwealth of Australia ? “ The Opposition’s case has been brought forward in a paltry manner. It is based upon the false assumption that the sale of the Commonwealth shipping line at a bucket-shop price is imminent. I say that it is the silliest case that has been presented to this House for a long time.
.- Although two Ministers have spoken in this debate, we have not heard a single denial of the allegation that the Government intends to sell the Commonwealth shipping line. We have read the press reports, and we know there is no doub that the Commonwealth shipping line is on the skids. Neither Ministerwho has spoken has dealt with the essential point, which is that the Commonwealth shipping line was established as a defence measure, as a result of the bitter war experiences, not only of the present Government parties, but also of the Labour party. As the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has pointed out, at the outbreak of the last war our shipping services were in a shocking state. We had only enough coastal ships to serve the ordinary needs of our coastal trade. We had no reserves for defence purposes. We had no overseas shipping. Our shipbuilding industry, which should have been able .to build the ships that we needed, was in a deplorable condition. Only the Cockatoo Island Dockyard was working. Of 225 ships in our mercantile fleet, which totalled slightly less than 500,000 tons, 82 Were more than twenty years old, and another 50 were more than sixteen years old. Half of the fleet was obsolete and of very little use for its purpose. Most of the ships on the coastal run were too large for our war-time purposes and. indeed, too large for ordinary purposes. They were of unsuitable types. We were in a very bad way as far as dockyards were concerned. The Australian Labour party said that never again should the provision of an adequate mercantile fleet be left to the risks of commercial chance. The Labour Government which was in office in 1949 introduced the Shipping Act, the whole basis of which was to provide proper shipping facilities and an adequate shipping reserve for defence purposes. That Government went about the .task in a methodical way. First, it introduced the licensing of all ships in order to ensure that only suitable ships were licensed. Persons who wished to build ships were required first to obtain a licence, thus ensuring that our ships would be modern and up to date. The second purpose of the Shipping Act was to establish the Australian shipbuilding industry, which was specially encouraged so that it might be a reserve for our wartime needs. The third purpose of the act was to establish the Commonwealth line of ships, and thus provide a market for the ships built by the Australian shipbuilding industry. If the Commonwealth shipping line is sold, there will be no proper market for the ships built by our shipbuilding yards, which will be obliged to depend on the orders they receive from commercial enterprises. If I know anything about private enterprise, orders for ships will go to shipbuilders overseas.
When the Shipping Act was passed, the Labour Government realized that there was scope for both private shipping lines and the Commonwealth shipping line to operate. In view of the suggestion that the Commonwealth shipping line is to be sold, we should address ourselves to the question whether that scope still exists. 1 shall cite figures which indicate that shipping tonnages have increased since 1948. In that year we had a total coastal shipping tonnage of S, 304,000 tons. To-day, our coastal shipping totals 8,867,000 tons, which is a considerable increase. Obviously, there is still scope for the Commonwealth shipping line and private shipping lines to function at the same time. In 1948, overseas shipping landed 6,900,000 tons of goods in Australia, whereas last year 14,538,000 tons were landed. In 1948, we shipped from Australia 5,736,000 tons of goods, and last year we shipped 5,874,000 tons. In. each year since the Shipping Act was passed we have shipped more goods overseas, and a greater quantity of goods has been landed in Australia.
The Labour Government, which we proudly admit was a socialist government, never served a dirty trick on private enterprise. Indeed, it assisted private enterprise to perform its proper function. That Government always recognized that ships built in Australian yards should be sold to Australian shipping interests at economic prices which would allow them to continue to run their ships profitably. It is on record that, that Government sold Barrigan to Mcllwraith McEacharn Limited at an arranged price of £470,000. Tt arranged for other ships to be built, and had its life been prolonged it would have ensured that private shipping firms could have obtained those ships at reasonable prices. There has been no unfair interference by any Labour government with private enterprise.
By establishing the Commonwealth shipping line the Australian Labour party did something absolutely necessary for the defence of Australia. It seems regrettable that whilst this important matter is being debated, the Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) are absent from the chamber. Apparently they are ashamed of themselves.
If one examines the position of our overseas balance of payments it is possible to ascertain the amount which we pay to shipping companies of other countries for freight on goods shipped to and from this country. The figures are astounding. In 1951-52 we paid £139,500,000 for freight on goods imported into this country, whereas the freight earned by Australian ships during that year was only £1,500,000. Who can now say that there is no scope for the Commonwealth line of ships to function and te be kept in reserve for defence purposes? I suggest that no one can. Because it is urgent that we should keep these ships, this matter has been raised by the Opposition.
– Does the honorable gentleman contend that the Commonwealth shipping line should trade overseas ?
– Order ! The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) has already spoken.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) has dealt fully with that aspect. This Government does not believe in controls, but from suggestions which are current, and about which the House has been told nothing, it appears that conditions are to be attached to the sale of these ships. It is said that they must be used only for this purpose and for that purpose. Has this Government ever previously subscribed to such a policy? Has not it. always believed in fair competition? Why then does it not use the weapon of fair competition and run the Commonwealth line of ships in such a way as will enable it to control Australian shipping?
– ‘Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- 1 do not intend to speak- at any length on this subject, but I believe that some of the statements which have been made by honorable members opposite are quite inaccurate. For instance, they have claimed that the Commonwealth shipping line was founded for defence purposes. I am again interested to know that honorable members opposite are becoming more defence-minded than they have been in the past. It is not so long since they opposed the institution of national service. Surely if anything is intended for the defence of the country it is national service! I also seem to remember thar honorable gentlemen opposite adopted a certain attitude in regard to Manus Island, an a-rea which is vitally important to the defence of Australia. Foi them to get up now and wail about the proposed . sale of the Commonwealth shipping line being detrimental to defence seems to me a little incongruous.
Legislation introduced by the previous Labour Government limited the life of : ship to 25 years, at the discretion of the Minister. Honorable members opposite have said that that Government never intended that the Commonwealth shipping line should interfere with the operations of private shipping companies. At the same time, because of that legislation, no Australian shipping company can build a ship unless it obtains the permission of the Minister to do so. If that is not direct interference with private trading. I do not know what it is.
I do not think that it is by any means certain that the Commonwealth shipping line will be sold. The Ministers who have spoken this morning have said that the ships will be sold only if the Government is offered a proper price for them, and only in accordance with conditions that will ensure that our shipbuilding industry shall be continued and that will enable the continuation of essential shipping services to ports of the Commonwealth that cannot obtain them from private shipping companies. Those are the conditions that Ministers have already mentioned. I believe that, should the Commonwealth line of steamers be sold on those conditions, we shall have every necessary safeguard, including the defence safeguard of which the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) has spoken so blithely. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) has stated that the maintenance of the shipbuilding industry in Australia is a vital necessity.
I cannot imagine any private shipping company, or combine of shipping companies, being prepared to buy this shipping line while legislation remains on the state-book which provides a 25-year limit as the life of a ship, because I can foresee a time when any company that, bought the ships could be smartly driven out of business if the Labour party were returned to office and implemented its avowed socialist policy about which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and his deputy, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), have boasted. They have stated that when they regain power they will continue in full the socialist policy of the last Labour Government, and in those circumstances I do not think that we need to have any fear that the line will be sold. The Opposition’s motion is purely an attempt to make political capital out of rumours that have appeared in the press.
.- The Government has made a pronouncement through the medium of the budget, to the effect that our first priority should be defence. It has obtained the appropriation of £200,000,000 for defence purposes. Government supporters have mouthed many platitudes about defence, yet the Government is now setting out to destroy our mercantile marine, which is our greatest defence potential. I am personally interested in Australia’s mercantile marine because I have actively participated in the construction of both naval and merchant vessels.
– How many ships did the honorable member build?
– If I had built only one I should have built one more than the honorable member for Mitchell (Mt. Wheeler) has built. The Minister for
Territories (Mr. Hasluck) lias attempted to defend the Government by means of references to the socialistic outlook of the Opposition. The Minister is only a young fellow, and he has a long way to go, but I shall remind him of another government-owned line of ships that was sold, or, shall I say, supposed to have been sold, because the nation is still awaiting the receipt of the purchase price. The Government is waiting for a satisfactory price to be offered for the present Commonwealth line of steamers, which will eventually be sold in the same manner as was the other line of steamers. That previous line was constructed during the regime of the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes), and was then given away, in effect, to the Inchcape-Morgan group by u subsequent non-Labour government. At a banquet which was tendered to Lord I nchcape and Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan to mark the sale of the line, Mr. Morgan made a statement that I shall quote as a reply to the mouthings of the Minister for Territories about socialism. The statement was -
We are advanced socialists. We have discovered that combination, not competition, means success in trade, and we are going to take the profits until the people are sufficiently intelligent to take the profits for themselves.
Lord Kylsant, who was one of the confederates of Lord Inchcape and Pierpont Morgan, served a prison term later on in respect of the finances of a. shipping line.
I am concerned about our great shipbuilding industry. In 1941 we were isolated from the rest of the world. We had no mercantile marine of our own and were at the mercy of the overseas shipping combines. When the war in the Pacific broke out our isolation endangered us. The Australian Shipping Board which was established during the war, embarked on a. mammoth programme for the building of a mercantile marine for Australia and it succeeded to a great degree in saving Australia. During the war Australian craftsmen built 36,000 small craft. I am proud to be associated with Australian shipbuilders, who compare favorably with shipbuilders in any part of the world. Australian shipbuilders constructed at Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney, two destroyers, Warramunga and Arunta, which were recognized as two of the greatest, best constructed and most modern naval vessels afloat. The board’s shipbuilding programme gave a fillip to the technical education of apprentices. Enrolments at technical colleges for diploma courses in naval architecture increased greatly. A lectureship in naval architecture was established in Queensland. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon) who is at the table, should take particular note of that fact. The reopening, during the war, of idle shipyards was an organizational achievement of the Labour Government. Among the shipyards reopened were those of Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, and Evans Deakin Limited, of Brisbane, the Walsh Island Dockyard, at Newcastle, which had been almost ruined by an anti-Labour government; the works of the Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Company Proprietary Limited and Morts Dock and Engineering Company Limited, in Sydney ; the Broken Hill Proprietary Limited dock at Whyalla and, later the dockyard of Poole and Steele Limited, in Sydney. The gigantic Captain Cook Graving Dock at Garden Island was also built, after it had been found essential for defence purposes to link Garden Island, in Sydney Harbour, with the shore. The dock is one of the greatest engineering achievements in the southern hemisphere.
What will now happen to those big establishments? Are they to go to the wall simply because a few Cabinet Ministers wish to sell our Commonwealth, line of steamers to private enterprise? Great pressure to sell the line is being brought to bear on the Government, and I consider that finance has a lot to do with it. I believe that most, or quite a lot, of that finance will flow into the Liberal party’s fighting fund for the next general election. That is more or less corruption and bribery.
– I make no apology for that statement.
– I rise to order. The honorable gentleman has spoken about money flowing back into the Liberal party’s fighting fund, and has suggested that it is a matter of corruption and bribery. I draw your attention to that statement, Mr. Speaker, and I ask that the honorable member be instructed to withdraw it and to apologize for having made it.
– The words which tire honorable member for “Watson (Mr. Curtin) used are quite offensive. If honorable members use expressions like that they must not be astonished if the forms of the House are employed to compel them to prove their statements. I ask the honorable member to withdraw the statement.
– My remarks were not directed at any member of this House. I was speaking of a political party.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to withdraw any imputation of corruption and bribery, or to enter into an undertaking to prove his allegations.
– I withdraw it. When I look around and see the destruction of Australia’s assets; when I see the people who are dealing with those assets ; and when I see the connexion between certain political parties and the sale of those assets, I am inclined to wonder. However, I shall return to the shipbuilding industry. I am concerned about the fate of the 60,000 men who will be thrown out of work when our shipbuilding yards are closed.
– They will not be closed.
– The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) says they wilT not be closed. As the representative of a Western Australian constituency, he should be prepared to protect the interest of his electors by voting, against the sale of the shipping Une and thus make sure that shipping services on the Western Australian coast shall be maintained a.nd that freight rates shall remain within the reach of farmers whom he is supposed to represent. Approximately 60,000 men are employed directly or indirectly in the shipbuilding, industry. The honorable member for Corio. (Mr. Opperman) has said by way of interjection that we should buy from the cheapest source
– I rise to order. I said rushing of the kind! I asked the honorable member for Ballarat whether he bought on the cheapest market.
– No point of order is involved.
– When the Commonwealth disposes of its vessels, they will be taken to Yokohama for all their repair work, and apparently the honorable member for Corio will have no objection to that.
– Order. The honorable member’s time has expired.
. -I think it is a fair generalization to say that the Opposition has introduced this discussion solely for political reasons. Not one argument advanced by honorable members opposite suggests that the Opposition’s case is based on the need for efficiency or for the rendering of service to the Australian people. It is based entirely on political considerations, or, in the case of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua), on sheer emotionalism.
– I rise to order. I regard as offensive the Minister’s statement that my approach to this matter was based on sheer emotionalism.
– I do not agree.
– On this matter, members of the Opposition are like a school of sharks scavenging in offal-
– Order ! I shall not permit language of that kind. The Minister will withdraw his statement.
– I withdraw and apologize. I was merely pointing out-
– I rise to> order. The Minister’s withdrawal and apology were not loud enough to be heard by any onebut himself.
– I heard the Minister say that he withdrew and apologized. 1 think that is. sufficient.
– Proceeding on obviously very contentious ground, I direct attention to the two arguments put forward, apparently with some degree of sincerity, by the Leader of the Opposition. (Dr. Evatt). He said first that there was a saving in freight charges because of the competition that existed between the Commonwealth shipping line and privately owned vessels. He suggested that that saving was in the vicinity of £45,000,000 or £50,000,000. I invite honorable members to consider the feasibility of that claim. Did the Leader of the Opposition base his assertion on common sense and fact, or did he pluck the figures out of the ether? Information that I have obtained from the Commonwealth Statistician shows that the total cargo tonnage carried on the Australian coast during the relevant period when the losses were made was 8,000,000 tons. At an average freight rate of about £4 a ton, freight charges on the Australian coast totalled about £32,000,000. How could £40,000,000 have been saved out of £32,000,000? That is something that I do not pretend to understand. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition was plucking his arguments from the ether and is not prepared to deal in facts or in logic.
I come now to the matter of intimidation. We in this country do not believe in intimidation. The Leader of the Opposition said that if these ships were sold. a future Labour government would get them back, or words to that effect. He used the threat that though the Australian people had carried out their legitimate business according to the. law, they would be penalized and punished by a future socialist administration, which would pursue its doctrinaire path of destruction of private enterprise and the spirit of energy and initiative in this country.
– Order! I. think I heard the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) say that some one was lying. That is absolutely unparliamentary and he must withdraw the words.
– He has certainly muddled the facts.
– Order ! Does the honorable member withdraw? .
– Let us compare the manner in which Labour governments of all shades and hues have conducted transport operations with the successful administration of these undertakings under Liberal governments. Only this morning I have received figures relating to the operations of New South Wales railways.
– Order ! That matter is not relevant to the subject now before the Chair.
– I merely wish to show that there was a loss of more than £2,500,000 on the New South Wales railways.
-Order! We are dealing with a specific matter in relation to shipping.
– Then I shall mention some other figures which will contrast the management of the Government shipping line by a Labour socialist administration, with the conduct of the same undertaking under the control of a Liberal and Australian Country party government. Between 1947 and 1950, losses on the Commonwealth shipping line were, successively, £1,800,000, £2,500,000, £2,300,000 and £700,000, but when the Liberal-Australian Country party Government came into office, losses were quickly converted into profits. If, by some misfortune, the present Government went out of office, could we expect such profits to continue? The simple fact which must be emphasized in the interests of the people is that socialist governments have always run governmentowned. ships at a loss. Members of the Opposition, apparently, fail to realize that such losses, which amount to millions of pounds, must ultimately be paid by the taxpayers. To my astonishment, those honorable members appear to believe that the taxpayers get off scot-free in respect of such losses. As honorable gentlemen opposite continually claim that taxes are too high they must, if they wish to be logical, agree that government enterprises that aTe run at a substantial loss should bp disposed of. One result of such action would be a reduction of taxes.
– Does the Minister believe in the provision of subsidies?
– Yes, in certain circumstances; but I do not believe that subsidies should be provided merely to prop up inefficient industries. When one examines the records of Labour and Liberal governments in the sphere of mercantile transport one is forced to the conclusion that the socialists have proved themselves to be totally incapable of carrying on such business undertakings efficiently. For that reason, successive Liberal governments have been obliged to replace shipping services on an efficient footing.
Because of the party political implications involved in this matter, I shall remind the House of the basic principles of the present Government’s policy with respect to government ownership and control which were enunciated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the joint policy speech of the Government parties during the general election campaign in 1949. On this point, the right honorable gentleman said -
We approach the problem of Government ownership and control not as a problem of theory but as one of common sense and hard practical fact. We are concerned with the public interest. That interest must prevail.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the business of the day be called on. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Ayes . . . . 51
Noes .. .. ..29
Majority . . . . 22
– Mr. Speaker, is this a new form for calling on the business of the day?
– It is provided for in the Standing Orders.
– I had not heard of it before.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 27th August (vide page 636), on motion by Sir
Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The object of this measure is to reimburse the States for certain expenditure that they have incurred in the administration of prices control. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his brief secondreading speech, said -
As honorable members know, constitutional power to control prices and rents resides in the States and it is their responsibility to decide the extent and duration of these controls. Since 1048, the States have gradually reduced the area over which prices control is exercised, but there is still a substantial range of goods and services subject to control.
Because of the work undertaken by the States in the administration of these controls, payments are made to reimburse them for the expenditures so incurred. The Opposition, in broad terms, approves of this bill because it is merely a machinery measure to provide for the payment of money to the States to recoup them for their expenses in administering prices control. The principle of. such paymenthas been adopted during the last few years. In that respect there is nothing dangerous in the measure, nor is there anything in it to which the Opposition objects. But the insincerity of the Government in relation to prices control is sharply challenged by Opposition members, and the consideration of this measure gives to them an opportunity to express some conclusions that they have arrived at and to state some of their very firmly held convictions in relation to the prices structure. Despite the fact that the area over which prices control is exercised is being reduced, and that prices control in general is no longer favoured by the people, though its retention is most fervently desired by them when they are in danger of exploitation, we believe that greater interest should be taken in the subject by the Government. Government supporters, after having loudly proclaimed from the hustings that they were opposed to all controls, including one which the Government has just safely defended in the High Court, have displayed such patent insincerity in regard to this matter that I feel impelled to direct attention to it. In relation to prices control there are certain constants in the country which are still awaiting the complete rehabilitation that comes so slowly after a war. We contend that the prices structure has not been examined closely by the Government, which sought to absolve itself of responsibility for prices control by passing the buck to the States. It is well known that State departments which administer prices, whether they be in the charge of Labour or Liberal Ministers, are not efficiently organized, except constitutionally, to deal with this matter. When a commodity is produced or manufactured in one State and sold in another the prices authorities are utterly unable effectively to control its price. As the result of decisions beyond the control of the States higher costs are so weighting the price structure that effective control of prices has become very difficult.
We cannot agree that a good job has been done by the States when we examine the control exercised in respect of commodities that are vitally important to the people, not because the States do not want to exercise effective control, but because they cannot do so. If a commodity is manufactured in South Australia and retailed at its highest price level in New South Wales, the proper estimation of transport and other costa is almost impossible. The State Ministers administering prices control are sighing for the day when stability will return and they will be relieved of the burden of administering a control which the Commonwealth did not have the courage to continue for a few years longer. Consider the position in respect of goods that are sold interstate. When goods are manufactured or produced in the more populous States and sold in the other States the task of following through the costs incurred while the goods are in transit from the manufacturer or the producer to the consumer is so beset with pitfalls, so tortuous and so bent about with evasions and misstatements, that it is difficult for the prices authorities to fix a fair price for them. The consumers of such goods who need protection are not obtaining it under the present system of control.
The position in relation to commodities manufactured or produced and sold on the local market is quite different. No difficulty should be experienced in establishing a. fair price for them. Throughout the States, but particularly in Victoria, the extraordinary fluctuations that occur in the prices of vegetables are unduly harassing housewives. The prices authorities seem to have no method by which, they can fix the prices of vegetables from day to day on a level standard. Prices are whipped round by the vagaries of the weather, by floods, by acts of God, by the manipulations of forestallers and by the glutting of the markets. On one day the products of the farms are sold, not at reasonable prices, but at acceptable prices ; on the .next day they soar to the high heaven. But all the time the producers are plaintively complaining that the returns that they receive do not justify their continuance in the industry. Too frequently the return to the grower is below his cost of production. Is it not within the wit of governments to solve this problem so that the market gardener and those whose activities are not controlled bv orderly marketing organizations shall not be forced to accept unprofitable prices at a time when the consumer is forced to pay -exorbitant prices for his requirements?
Commodity prices are one of the chief worries of the average Australian housewife to-day. Why has the politicoeconomic law of supply and demand been so subverted? This problem should, be examined with a view to ascertaining whether it is not possible to give greater (protection to the housewife. The present system of prices control does not appear to be able to cope with the activities of the middlemen, many of whom are on the way to becoming millionaires. Invariably vegetable prices are fixed on the basis of first quality. What happens in. the suburbs? In my own experience in Sydney, the owners of cafes, hotels, boarding houses and similar businesses buy bulk supplies through friends in the markets. The forestallers see that adequate prices are fixed in advance. The top quality vegetables taken from the markets in wholesale lots are quickly absorbed, and the seconds are carted to the suburbs where they are sold at the price fixed for first-quality vegetables. Nobody objects to the payment of the top prices fixed for commodities if he is able to obtain commodities of first-class quality, but all of us object to the payment of top prices for seconds.
– Order ! The honorable member is straying rather widely from the subject-matter of this bill, which does not deal with price fixing.
– I agree, Mr. Speaker, but the bill is designed to allocate funds from Commonwealth revenue to the States. I hope to be allowed to say something about the persons who will be drastically affected by this measure. Otherwise I do not know how I can continue my story. Unless I am able to refer to the matters that I am mentioning, my address will be considerably narrowed and all that I shall be able to say is that this bill will make certain funds from the Commonwealth revenue available for the use of the States in their efforts to control prices. State price fixing has completely failed. The fact that this measure is designed to provide money for price fixing gives me the right to say that the attempts of the
States to fix prices have failed. This Government, when it assumed office, should have assumed responsibility for the control of prices throughout Australia.
– The people decided the matter of prices control.
– The people wen poisoned by the propaganda of the nonLabour parties. They wanted the Government to retain prices control and make the system work. Quite recently the High Court decided that certain controls that have been imposed by the Commonwealth are valid. Therefore, the Government cannot argue that it does not believe in controls. Indeed, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) was the most vociferous member of the Parliament in defending certain controls, particularly capital issues control. The speech in which he defended capital issues control is a most glowing piece of English, and the Government of which he is a member is determined to retain capital issues control.
– Order! Capital issues control is not dealt with in the bill.
– I was merely making a passing reference to certain financial controls. If I am not to be allowed to speak about the difficulties under which the people of this country are labouring because of irregular prices control, and if I am. to be restricted to the fact that this bill arranges for the channelling of money from the Australian to the State governments, I must conclude my speech by saying that the bill is approved in general by the Labour party because it is fair to pay the servants who are working for us. However, I regret that the Australian Government has not the courage to measure up to the responsibility, that it was expected to assume in 1949, of protecting the Australian community from the exploiter, the forestaller and the racketeer.
– Before I call the next honorable member, may I explain that the terms of the bill are very clear, and that honorable members are limited in debate to a discussion of the purpose for which leave was granted to introduce the bill. That purpose is not to institute prices control or price fixing. As a matter of fact those matters are completely outside the scope of the Constitution. As honorable members were reminded a moment ago, prices control was dealt with by a decision of the Australian people. Therefore, if I allow one honorable member to discuss price fixing I must allow other honorable members to answer him. We must confine ourselves to the subjectmatter of the bill.
– This measure is obviously meant to deal with one of the matters inherited by this Government from the previous Chifley Government. Excepting for the agreement with the States, there is no reason why the Australian Government should reimburse the States for the moneys that they expend on prices control. Prices control is a function of the States, and there is no reason why the Commonwealth should pay for the machinery used by the States in organizing their price fixing activities. Prices control is a matter for State governments alone, and yet, due to the inheritance of a decision made by the Chifley Government, we ha ve the extraordinary spectacle of this Government paying for the machinery provided and used by State governments. I believe that the machinery for dealing with prices control and rent control in some of the States is more costly than it need be. That applies So New South Wales, and has particular regard to the machinery that that State has established for the control of rents, and for which this Government is paying. I realize the necessity of a measure of rent control for the time being because of the shortage of houses. It is the one control that is really effective, and there is still a need for it. I do not want to say what should be done to gradually relax this control, but I wish to complain about the machinery used in New South Wales, although I believe that it. is similar to the organization in Victoria and other States. In those States a rent controller has been appointed, and there are a series of magistrates and courts whose duty is to deal with rent matters. The cost of that organization is tremendous. Rents could be controlled very simply if the State Government would announce the formula upon which it desires to determine rents, and allow the people themselves to work out their own arrangements within the framework of that formula. If the formula is clear enough disputes will be rare, and there will be no need for the maintenance of huge rent control departments such as may be found in Sydney and in other cities. Rent fixation should be very simple, and a fair rent could be decided quite easily between interested parties if the Government would provide a formula for them to work on. There is no need whatever for the maintenance of a complex system of controllers and courts.
– Is that the honorable member’s experience?
– What I am saying is factual. It is a matter of my own knowledge. Recently New South Wales amended its rent control legislation to allow rents to be increased above 1939 levels in order to reimburse landlords for increased rates, taxes and insurance. If a landlord wants to have his property fair-rented he has to make application to the rent control authority, and then that authority, having checked his application, sends it to the tenant with a statement that as a result of the increased costs of the owner the rent has been increased by so much. Then the rent controller asks the question, “Will you object ? “. That bald question, of course, invites the tenant to object. The average person who receives a form like that sits down and reads it through and then says, “ Of course I object “. Of course every person objects to paying more than he can get away with, and when an objection is made the whole matter is referred to the courts. The matter then waits in the list of a court for determination. The machinery is so cumbersome and costly at present that people have to wait from six to eight months before their application for very small increases of rent can be heard. All this delay - the cost to the community of the work involved, and the cost to the State Government - has to be paid for by this Government. But the whole procedure is completely unnecessary. Houses or flats built at present are free of initial rent control, and the parties are free to arrange the rents to their mutual satisfaction. Nevertheless, they still have the right to go to the court,, and many do so. In my opinion there is no need for the maintenance of rent control on new buildings, for commercial, residential, industrial, or any other purpose at all, because the economy can find its own level on the new basis. I agree that there must be a measure of rent control on old buildings, but the machinery can be simplified to the point where the matter of adjustment can be left to mutual arrangement between parties if the Government would announce the formula upon which it desires rents to be fixed. If that were done the parties would have the right to approach the court for an interpretation of the formula to meet their special circumstances. Iii that way the cost of rent control, would be reduced without any loss of efficiency.
Sitting suspended from 12.J/5 to 2.15 p.m.
– -Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I had pointed out that the present system of rent control that is exercised by the States is very wasteful. I do not want it to be construed from my remarks that I am opposed to some form of rent control. In my opinion, rent control is still necessary, because of the conditions that exist in the community.
– Order ! I have already pointed out to the honorable member for Bennelong that the subject of rent control is outside the scope of the bill.
– With respect, Mr. Speaker, I submit that I should be permitted to refer to the machinery that is in operation in the States, because, the Commonwealth is called upon to hear the cost of maintaining that machinery. I consider that there should be a considerable relaxation of rent control, in order to bring it into unison with the existing economic conditions. That would result in a considerable reduction of expenditure. As I have already mentioned, there is no need for the rents of new buildings to be controlled. I believe that this aspect of rent control destroys the incentive of people to erect new buildings. The sacred right of contract that has been denied to the people during the period of control should be returned to them.
Many people do not understand the formula that is applied under the present system. I can speak with some authority about the effect of the application of the formula in New South Wales, and I believe that a similar system is used in other States. A rent controller-
– Order ! I cannot permit the honorable member for Bennelong to continue on his present line. The organization that has been established by a State to control rents is not a matter for which this Parliament is responsible. All that we are considering is a grant to reimburse the .States for certain expenditure incurred by them during the financial year which commenced on the 1st July, 1952. I cannot allow the honorable member to address himself to the wider field of prices control, which was placed outside the scope of our authority by the people of this country.
– That is true. I am not discussing that aspect of the matter. I am discussing only the type of machinery that is established in the States, which the Commonwealth is required to bear the cost of maintaining.
– Order ! No machinery of a Commonwealth nature is mentioned in the bill. This Parliament has no control over machinery of the States.
– I rise to order ! The Parliament is considering voting money for a certain purpose. It is surely proper for us to discuss the manner in which that money shall be expended.
– Order ! This Parliament cannot exercise retrospective control over expenditure by the States during a period that has ended.
– In that case, surely the honorable member for Bennelong should be permitted to discuss what the States have done with the money?
– If I remember correctly, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) was permitted to refer to controls.
– I was called to order on two occasions.
– I have no desire to delve into the merits or demerits of the principle of rent control. I desire merely to discuss how the money proposed to be appropriated should be expended, not only by New South “Wales but also by other States.
– Order ! The scope of the bill, is very narrow. It is to make provision for the grant of financial assistance to the States in connexion with the administration of the control of prices and rents, which is a matter that is outside the scope of this Parliament. We can either grant or refuse to grant money to the States. It is not customary in this Parliament to lay down conditions, and there is no attempt on the part of The Crown to do so.
– The amount that we grant to the States is greater or smaller according to the efficiency of their machinery. I suggest that the States could effect a worthwhile saving to the Commonwealth, which, in any event, should not be required to bear any of the costs. I consider that the present wasteful system of rent control could be simplified to involve less expenditure. I do not consider that the system that is at present in operation in New South W ales protects the interests of the people. May I proceed to discuss the formula, Mr. Speaker?
– Order ! I point out to the honorable member for Bennelong that clause 4 provides that the money appropriated under the bill shall be paid out after receipt of a statement, certified by the Auditor-General of the State, setting out the amount that has been expended by the State in administering the control of prices and rents during the financial year that commenced on the 1st July, i952.
– I rise to order! The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated in his second reading speech- lt is estimated that the grants would amount to £1,087,000 this year, compared with £937,000 in 1951-52.
Obviously, the provision is for expenditure up to the 30th June, 1953. The right honorable gentleman stressed that he did not want the .States to be hampered by financial considerations. I submit that it is obvious from the general tenor of his remarks that he intended that the debate should bear a relation to the amount to be granted by the Commonwealth.
– Order ! I am verysorry, but the administration of prices control is outside the ambit of this. Parliament’s power.
– Order! There is a Standing Order which says that Mp. Speaker shall be heard in silence. It. is disregarded occasionally. An attempt, was recently made to extend the power of the Parliament to prices control, but the proposal was rejected by the people.. The Parliament has the power to makepayments to the States. I have yet tolearn that it is the function of the Parliament to lay down very many conditions in connexion with such payments. I point out that I am not bound by anything that may be said in a secondreading speech. I am bound only by the Standing Orders and the custom* and procedure of this House.
– I rise to order. When, you called me to order on two occasions during my speech, Mr. Speaker, I came to realize that you were perfectly correct. This bill deals with the reimbursement of the States for a certain purpose and with nothing else. I support your ruling’ entirely.
– I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that, if discussion of this bill is to be limited tothe question whether the States shall Depaid an amount of £130,000,000, the power of this Parliament to discuss the purpose for which the money is to be provided will be limited. The Constitution provides that the Parliament may lay down conditions, and I submit respectfully ‘ that members should be permitted to discuss the method of expending money. Prevention of such discussion will limit the power of the Parliament and restrict the rights of private members.
– I have not heard anything yet that has in the- least shaken my view on this question. If the Parliament wants to lay down conditions, that is a matter that should be attended to when the bill is considered in committee. If honorable members wish to amend the bill in order to give effect to. the opinions that they have been trying1 to express, they should not try to. do- so- at tha second reading stage. I repeat that it is a matter that they can attend to in the committee.
– I rise to- order. I want to know whether an honorable member who considers that the proposed grant should not be made to the States will be allowed to explain why he does so.
– I fail to understand exactly the purpose of the honorable member’s point of order.
– You have stated, Mr. Speaker, that the bill refers to money .that has been expended already, but it refers to -money that is to be expended during W52-53.
Mr.- Thompson. - If I want to object to the expenditure of the money but am prevented from discussing the methods to be used by the States in expending it, I shall be deprived of my right to debate the bill. In order that I may object to the proposed grant, if I wish to do so, I must be able to discuss my reasons for doing so.
-I have no objection to the honorable member stating reasons but, unless the House overrules me, 1 -shall not allow a discussion of prices and rent controls. That is definite, firm, and final.
– I assume then, Mr. Speaker, that I may discuss the machinery. I have no intention to -discuss prices control.
– The machinery is outside the scope of the bill.
– I have nothing further to say.
, - I realize from the rulings that you have given, Mr. Speaker, that discussion of this bill will be restricted. In fact, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who intended to apeak, now considers that, in view of your rulings, he will not be able to discuss the matter as he would like to discuss it. I should like to know whether the money that .we are asked to grant to the States will be expended in accordance with the -specified purpose. The proposed grant, as I understand the bill, is for expenditure during the current year. The bill provides that .the Treasurer of each State must present an account at the end of the year to show that the money has been expended in .connexion with the administration of prices and rent controls. If the Commonwealth Treasurer should be dissatisfied with that account, he may refuse to accept it. In the meantime, he may make advances to the States during the year for the purpose of enabling them to carry out the administration of prices control. I point out that this situation has arisen from the fact that the people ruled, at a referendum, that the Australian Government should not continue to exercise prices control. The State governments at the time of the referendum campaign assured the people that they could deal effectively with prices control and, in fact, do a much better job than the Commonwealth had done. When the States took over the machinery of prices
Control after the referendum, the Commonwealth Government agreed to pay the cost of administering the system. 1 should like to know whether the State? are continuing to administer prices control as it should be administered or whether we are being asked now to provide money for a system that is not operating effectively.
Everybody realizes that political opinions on this issue differ. Members of the Opposition favour the use of a greater measure of prices control, whereas many supporters of the Government would abolish it.
– Order ! I am not going to allow the honorable gentleman to develop a debate on prices control. That is definite.
– I am making only a passing reference to the subject. Government supporters would do away with prices control if they could do so. In that event, bills such as the measure that we are now considering would not be necessary. The continuance of price? control necessitates the expenditure of money by the Government. I want to be satisfied that the expenditure on prices control is fully justified. We are entitled to ask that the money that we grant to the States be expended in a way that will be beneficial to the people and in accordance with our wishes. I do not wish to discuss rent control, and I know that I am not permitted to deal with the individual items of prices control. However, I believe that I am justified in referring to the cost of prices control, because the Commonwealth is expected to underwrite that cost. Are we not entitled to say that we expect the officials of the States to carry out their work efficiently?
– Order ! The honorable member is developing a situation that I shall not tolerate. I have said definitely, finally, and conclusively, that 1 shall not permit a debate to take place on prices control or rent control during the consideration of this bill. The power to control prices and rents rests with the States. The Commonwealth has agreed to expend certain money in order to reimburse the States for the cost of administering those controls. Whether the Parliament wishes to grant that money or not is a matter entirely for the Parliament to decide. However, I shall not permit a discussion of the question whether the State governments expend the money wisely or unwisely. That is not our business.
– I shall try to confine my remarks to the provisions of the bill. Clause 4 (2) states-
The .Treasurer may disallow any item nf expenditure set out in a statement furnished to him in pursuance of the last preceding sub section.
Will the Treasurer satisfy himself that the items of expenditure submitted to him on behalf of the States are accurate and, in fact, set out the amounts that have been expended on the administration of prices control?
– Yes. The Auditor-General certifies to the accuracy of the items.
– I understand that the audit certificates are submitted to the Treasury by the State officers, not by the Commonwealth Auditor-General.
– That is so.
– I do not wish to try to evade your ruling, Mr. Speaker. However, honorable members appear to bc circumscribed in debating this matter by virtue of the fact that they are not able to express their opinions on how the money should be spent. I realize that the States have to administer prices control, but, when the Australian Government has to supply money for any purpose, it should have some control over the spending of it. When the House was dealing with a previous bill, certain honorable member argued strongly that tHe States should be responsible for the collection of the money that they spent. Here is an instance where the States are to spend money which the Commonwealth hae collected, yet honorable members are not permitted to discuss the manner in which the States spend that money. In the circumstances, I do not desire to oppose the bill. I agree that the States should exercise control of prices and rents. I agree that it is in the interests of the people of Australia that the States should be provided with money for this purpose. But T ask the Treasurer to ensure that the States administer prices control in a proper and effective manner.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 11th September (vide page 1311), on motion- by Mr. Eric J. Harrison -
That ,the bill be now read a second time.
Mr. HAYLEN (Parkes) [2.391.- The Opposition has no objection to this bill.
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 11th September (vide page 1312), on motion by Mr. Eric J. Harrison -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill will implement the usual practice in regard to excise. It is not contentious as far as the Opposition is concerned and we shall not delay the measure by contesting it.
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.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for postal purposes - Hanwood, New South Wales.
National Debt Sinking Fund Act - National Debt Commission -Twenty-ninth Annual Report, for year 1951-52.
Papua and New Guinea Act - Ordinances - 1952-
No. 40 - Instruments (New Guinea).
No. 41 - Companies (New Guinea).
No. 42 - Companies (Papua).
No. 44 - Stamp Duties.
No. 45 - Animals and Birds Protection.
No. 46 - Commerce (Trade Descrip tions ) .
No. 47 - Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) .
No. 48 - Motor Vehicles Insurance.
No. 50 - Appropriation (No. 2) 1950- 1951.
No. 51 - Appropriation 1951-1952.
No. 52- Supply (No. 1) 1952-53.
No. 53 - Auctioneers.
No. 54 - Customs Tariff (Papual)
No. 55 - Customs Tariff (New Guinea).
No. 56- Exports (Control of Proceeds).
No. 57 - Criminal Code Amendment (Papua).
No. 58 - Criminal Code Amendment (New Guinea).
No. 59 - Customs (Cocoa Export) Tariff.
House adjourned at 2,42 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– I have had inquiries made by the Combined Traffic Committee into the questions asked by the honorable member and have been advised as follows : -
r asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520912_reps_20_218/>.