20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. ‘Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. Mulcahy presented a petition from certain unemployed citizens of the State of New South Wales praying that steps be taken to provide them with employment and, pending such provision, to authorize adequate sustenance for their families and themselves.
Petition received and read.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Labour Treasurer of Tasmania, in presenting his budget in the State Parliament this week, made the following statements in connexion with the general enonomic policy to which the Australian Government has given effect: (1) That inflation was being defeated ; (2) that, by 1953-54, Australia would see a return to conditions of even greater stability; (3) that although the cost of living had increased by 20 per cent, over the last two years, wage-earners were better off because incomes had increased by 25 per cent, over the same period?
– Order ! What is the question?
– Does the Prime Minister not consider that these statements by the Labour Treasurer of Tasmania confirm the fact that this Govern’ ment’s economic policy is showing very desirable results in the interests of the people generally and that the calamity howling directed against the Government by the Labour party in this House is just so much hooey?
– I had observed that Mr. Madden the Treasurer of Tasmania, had made the statements to which the honorable member has referred. I thought that they were extremely sensible statements. It is interesting to note that, although they were made by a Labour Treasurer in Australia, the people who dislike them are in opposition in this House.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Health a question that concerns homes for the aged and infirm. I understand that it is unlikely that patients in the infirmary wards of such homes can be insured under the hospital benefits scheme and so qualify for the additional benefit of 4s. a day. The Government might be disposed, in the circumstances, to pay the benefit to benevolent homes on behalf of such patients. Is that likely to happen, and, in any case, will the right honorable gentleman give consideration to the suggestion?
– An arrangement has been made with the States that have signed agreements with the Commonwealth under which an extra 4s. a day will be paid in respect of pensioners who enter “ acute “ hospitals, even though- they are not insured. I shall ascertain whether a similar arrangement can be made with respect to pensioners who enter infirmaries, and supply an answer to the honorable gentleman.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that ‘ . the New South Wales Hospitals Commission has announced that owing, to a shorts ge of finance the hospitals in New South Wales will have to drastically curtail their activities, and that some of them may even have to close down wards? The chairman, of the Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr. Schlink-
-Order! I have repeatedly ruled that names of persons must not be mentioned in questions.
– The chairman of the Prince Alfred Hospital has stated that it may be necessary to withdraw about 300 beds from use at that hospital. Will the Minuter take up this matter with the Treasurer immediately, with a view to ensuring that the necessary finance will bc forthcoming to enable the Prince Alfred Hospital to keep going? If the Minister still intends to introduce a comprehensive health scheme, when is it expected that the scheme will commence?
– The’ position in New South Wales in relation to hospitals is exactly as I foretold would occur when tho Chifley Government’s hospital benefits scheme came into existence. It paralysed the whole system. The Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales has pointed out in his budget speech that New South Wales is gaining about £2,000,000 a year for its hospital revenue as a result of the agreement that it has now made with the Commonwealth. As the offer was made to New South Wales about twenty months ago, the New South Wales Government could have received about £3,500,000 more, if it had come into the scheme at that time. I understand that that Government is short of about £3,000,000 for its hospitals. Tho New South Wales Minister for Health has stated that, because of the method of handing everything out on a free basis, there is a great wastage of food, which cannot be excused in any case. The only way to correct that state of affairs is by the exercise of a sense of responsibility, which will be obtained under the scheme to which New South Wales has agreed.
– Has the Prime Minister received any approach from the New South Wales Premier, Mr. Cahill, seeking more loan money for the works programme of that State ? Has the right honorable gentleman also noticed that the latest variation of the theme song of the New South Wales Government - “Put the blame on the Federal Government “ - is to attribute the failure of the socialist venture of the State tile works at Blacktown, in my electorate, to insufficient loan money provided by the Commonwealth?
– Order ! The subject of the State tile works at Blacktown is outside the scope of the authority of this Parliament.
– Does not the loss of between £800,000 and £1,000,000 on this disastrous undertaking suggest that the New South Wales Government is entirely irresponsible in handling public funds?
– Propaganda questions of this kind should not be allowed.
– Such questions are asked by honorable members on both sides of the chamber.
– I have received a communication from Mr. Cahill on the matters to which the honorable member for Mitchell has referred, and, of course, I have also received many similar communications through the press in the last fortnight. It appears to be the fashion now, whenever somebody in Australia, and particularly in one or two States, wants money for something, to claim that the Commonwealth is responsible for providing it. That attitude is absurd. Mr. Cahill’s application is receiving my consideration at the present time. I am aware of the facts to which the honorable member for Mitchell has referred regarding losses by States in other directions. The remarkable thing is that some State governments have complained bitterly that they have not sufficient loan money for some really important purpose, yet it so happens that they have already expended probably an equal sum of money on some utterly irrelevant purpose.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration give me an answer to my question with reference to the number of unemployed Italian migrants in hostels and camps, the number coming to Australia, and the steps that are being taken to place them in employment, especially in the country?
– I am sorry that I have not been able to give the honorable member the answer to his question before now, but I am having a detailed statement prepared in order to show the position. I recall that approximately 1,100 Italian immigrants are now in camps awaiting what is known in the modern jargon as “ initial placement “. About 300 rural workers have yet to leave Italy for Australia, and approximately 950 are already on the water. The honorable member has asked me what steps have been taken to place those workers particularly on farms. I inform him that in March last the Commonwealth commenced a drive to obtain rural workers, and has placed, in the meantime, no fewer than 2,300 immigrants on farms in Australia and all but 200 of them have been Italians. I believe, that a statement on those matters was made in the House, but I shall give the honorable gentleman the details, which I have in my office.
– Is the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration aware that wharf accommodation for the reception of /immigrants at the port of Melbourne is inadequate and unsuitable for the purpose? Is he also aware that, in some instances, the long waiting periods involved by customs examinations, &c, have resulted in unpleasant incidents and subsequent court action? Although this matter has been raised on several occasions, there has been no visible improvement at Port Melbourne. Will the Minister arrange for it to be again investigated, with a view to prompt and suitable action being taken?
– I was not aware of what the honorable gentleman has alleged. I do not think that this matter has been raised during the time that I have been acting for the Minister for Immigration. I am sorry to hear of this report, and T shall have it investigated. If it turns out that there are unsatisfactory features in this connexion, I shall endeavour to have them improved straight away.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. I point out, by way of explanation, that under the taxation law dried fruits growers may be called upon to assess their current incomes at the 31st March each year. Does the right honorable gentleman know that the growers are fully occupied with essential harvest work at that period of the year, and that there is no chance whatever of assessing incomes in this industry until the drying of the fruit has been completed? Will he investigate the matter with a view to overcoming this difficulty?
– I shall certainly investigate the matter. I see merit in the honorable member’s suggestion and I shall be glad to consider it, together with other difficulties or implications that might be involved.
– Will the Treasurer say whether the 20 per cent, special depreciation allowance in respect of rural houses applies to houses built for casual rural workers ?
– The allowance applies to houses provided for all rural employees, whether they be permanent or casual.
– Has the Minister for the Interior had any further discussion with the New South Wales Minister for Transport, Mr. Sheahan, in relation to the proposal to construct a bridge across the Goodradigbee River at Brindabella? If so, will he inform the House of the outcome of such discussion? If no discussion has taken place, will the Minister again take up the matter with the State Minister and endeavour to see that some definite arrangement is arrived at so that this essential project may be proceeded with, particularly for the purpose of increasing primary production in the area and opening up of new country for settlement ?
– I have not heard anything further from the New South Wales Minister for Transport, and I do not know that any good purpose would be served by further correspondence on the subject. I am quite willing to discuss the matter with him. I understand that the position of the New South Wales Government in regard to the provision of money for what I regard as an essential work, but not a work of a high priority at the moment, is very much the same as that in which the Commonwealth would be placed if it were asked to finance the project from votes for construction work in the Australian Capital Territory, which is still short of houses and where at present house construction must take precedence over the building of bridges.
– I regret that I have nothing further to report on that matter at the moment, but I am grateful to the honorable member for having re-directed my attention to it. I shall ascertain the progress that has been made towards a decision and advise the honorable member of the result early next week.
– I address a question to the Minister for Health. Has any general direction been given that, recipients of the special tuberculosis allowance must undergo a further medical check-up with a view to ascertaining which cases are chronic and are showing no signs of improvement ? Is it the policy of the Government to transfer such recipients to the invalid pension list, thus reducing the benefit received by them and causing them financial worry and hardship which can only result in further deterioration of the health of sufferers of this dreaded disease?
– The present position of tuberculosis patients in Australia is exactly the same as it was during the eight years in which Labour governments were in office. This Government provides for infectious tuberculosis cases the most liberal allowance paid in any country in the world. The total expenditure on this item amounts to approximately £4,000,000 a year. The treatment meted out to tuberculosis sufferers in Australia is regarded by those who know anything about the subject as the most generous that has ever been accorded to them.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Civil Aviation consider allowing Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, or another commercial airline company, to compete with Trans-Australia Airlines on the AdelaideDarwin service, in view of the fact that the fare per mile is higher on that service than on the Adelaide-Perth service, on which there is competition?
– I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister acting for the Minister for Civil Aviation and request that the suggestion be considered.
– Has the Prime Minister received a report from the Joint Coal Board to the effect that, unless additional markets are found for coal, a number of underground and open-cut mines will be closed, thus causing largescale unemployment? If the right honorable gentleman has received such a report, what practical steps does he propose to take to restore internal demand and orders from overseas? Has the Government discontinued the importation of coal? Will the right honorable gentleman investigate the difficulties that are being experienced by coal-producers who have been assured of overseas orders but have been frustrated by administrative difficulties ?
– The Joint Coal Board does not report to me. It deals with the Minister for National Development, who has been in very close touch with it on all of its problems. I have had some small discussion with my colleague on the matter, having regard to certain reports of rather a scare nature that were published in certain newspapers this morning. My colleague has informed me that he regards the facts as having been extravagantly stated and that the overall position with regard to coal is satisfactory from the point of view of the country. It is no difficulty for this country to go through a short period during which it is actually producing a little more coal than it needs. That is a much healthier position than that which existed in Australia for years past.
– The same old story.
– I know that the old, old story in certain quarters is that Australia should never have reserves of coal. That has been the Communist line in the coal industry over the past fifteen years, but, from the point of view of the nation, there will be great satisfaction in the knowledge that we have, temporarily at any rate, more than caught up with the demand for coal. That position, of course, presents its own temporary problems of finance and marketing. They are receiving the close attention of ray colleague.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that when an applicant for a pension dies before the claim has been finalized, the Department of Social Services discontinues inquiries into the claim? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that such claims are finalized for the purpose, of payment of the funeral allowance to the next-of-kin of the applicants?
– I shall be pleased to make the inquiry that has been suggested by the honorable member, and I shall have the practice examined closely.
– Is the Minister for Works aware that contractors for the building of war service homes are sometimes denied payments that they have made to sub-contractors if it is established by the Crown that the claims are a few days overdue? In view of the difficulties that are often experienced by contractors who are obliged to honour those accounts, will the Minister direct that more sympathetic consideration be given to those claims before his department decides that it will not meet the obligations that have been accepted by the private contractors?
– I should be sure on this point, but, quite frankly, I am not quite sure, that the Department of Works has anything to do with war service homes. That matter comes under the administration of the Minister for Social Services, whose department usually works on direct contract. I believe that at present all works are being let by direct contract; but, in the past, when direct contracts were difficult to obtain, it is correct, as the honorable member has suggested, that a certain number of contracts went through the Department of Works on behalf of the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Social Services. If the honorable gentleman will supply me with detailed information, I shall have the matter looked into immediately.
– I preface a question to the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General by pointing out that, on the ground of economy, the frequency of many country postal services has been reduced, and the hours of rural telephone exchanges have been restricted. Is the Minister aware that this curtailment of services is causing considerable hardship to many primary producers, especially those of the outback areas? Will the Minister agree that the economies that have been effected are trifling in proportion to the inconvenience that has been entailed? Accordingly, will he give consideration to preventing further retrograde actions of this nature, and to the restoration of the services that have recently been restricted ?
– During the two or three weeks that I have had the opportunity to see the internal workings of the Postal Department, I have ascertained that the most extraordinary care and attention has been given to the matters that have been raised by the honorable member. In a number of instances it has been necessary to advertise several times for contractors to provide mail services, and in some, cases, owing to the present conditions, it has not been possible to enter into contracts. This matter is causing considerable concern to the Postal Department. I assure the honorable member that the efforts of the department are being directed towards the provision of the best possible services in country districts.
– Can the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General tell me when the construction of the new post office at Maroubra Junction in my electorate will begin? I remind the Minister that no homes have to be demolished before this post office can be constructed and that no great obstacles have to be overcome as the land is unoccupied and the residents are most keen for this facility to be made available.
– The honorable member can scarcely expect me to know the details of the construction of “he Maroubra post office. I shall ascertain the position, and provide him with an answer to his question.
– My question is addressed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service. How many persons in Australia are registered as unemployed, and how many persons are in receipt of the unemployment benefit? What is the estimated number of vacancies in industry?
– If that be a question without notice, the Minister cannot be expected to answer it now.
– I cannot answer the question now, but I shall obtain the information for which .the honorable gentleman has asked and send it to him later.
– My question is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Grayndler. Is the Minister aware that, on the 1st September, no fewer than 58,247 persons were unemployed in Australia? Since that date, many hundreds of men have been sacked in New South Wales-
-Order! Is the honorable gentleman asking a question or is he making a statement?
– According to figures supplied by the Department of Labour and National Service, ‘on the 1st September 58,247 persons were unemployed in Australia.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman has said that already.
– Will the Minister tell me where the vacant jobs are? If he does so, I shall be able to tell many of the 58,427 unemployed persons where to find jobs next Monday morning.
– It is correct that, on the 1st September, 58,247 persons were registered as unemployed. On the same” day there were more than 20,000 registered vacancies. The industries in which the vacancies existed were detailed in the document in which those figures were published. If any person applies to the Commonwealth Employment Service for one of those vacant positions he will be directed to it.
– Some time ago, the Treasurer announced in this House that he was having prepared a statement about the costs of ministerial visits overseas. Will the right honorable gentleman say what progress he is making with the preparation of the statement, and when he expects that the information will be made available to honorable members?
– I do not, remember having made the announcement to which the honorable gentleman has referred. If he brushes up his memory, I believe he will recall that this question arose during my absence from Australia. However, I shall look into the matter. I shall make the statement retrospective.
– Does the Minister for the Army consider that the wording of public announcements notifying areas in which field-firing practices will be held by the Army is such as to be almost unintelligible to laymen, and that the announcements are practically valueless as warnings of danger. Will he consider whether the wording of the announcements could be made more simple, and whether maps could be used to indicate danger areas clearly?
– Detailed information about areas in which field-firing practices will be conducted is published in the Gazette. Copies of the notices are made available to all interested parties. Always a special officer is detailed to visit everybody in the area in which the firing will take place and ensure that each person is warned personally. The officer is instructed to co-operate with residents of the area in every way, with the object of preventing damage to the public, to stock or to property. I have never heard such a complaint before, but I will be pleased to take the honorable member’s suggestion into consideration.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 25th September (vide page 2201).
– I wish to bring to the attention of the committee a matter which has been discussed in broad principle by a number of honorable members. The honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) cited a number of cases in which, in his view, there had not been a proper application of certain sections of the act under which a serviceman or his widow claimed that disablement or death was due to war service. This matter was also discussed by other honorable members including the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), who played a prominent part in the original drafting of the relevant clauses, some of which the Government has now proposed to amend. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made a suggestion which will have to be considered in the near future. A lot has been said of the administration of the Repatriation Act by the Repatriation Commission, but the real problem in nine cases out of ten, conperns the disposal of appeals by the entitlement tribunal. There has been a failure on the part of the entitlement tribunals to apply section 47 of the act, which deals with the onus of proof. The broad problem with which the Parliament was confronted in 1943, when the section was extended and redrafted, and when it was my duty to redraft it, was whether disablement could be proved to be connected in some relevant way with war service. The act was so drafted as to enable the ex-serviceman, or, in the event of his death, his dependants, to succeed in a claim so long as war service had contributed to, aggravated or accelerated the condition in some way. Then we dealt anew, as the Minister knows, with the benefit of the doubt provision that is contained in section 47. As it is a lengthy section I shall not read all of it to the House now. There is no provision in any act of this kind anywhere else in the world which is as beneficial to the soldier as is this provision, so long as it is applied. Section 47 provides that the commission, a board or an appeal tribunal shall give to the claimant, applicant or appellant the benefit of any doubt about the existence of any fact that would be favorable to the claimant, as well as the benefit of any doubt regarding any question that may arise for decision under the claim, including the question whether his incapacity was contributed to in any material degree, or was aggravated by, the condition of his war service. The wide sweep of the provision is obvious. The benefit of any doubt in any of these questions must be given to the ex-serviceman. Parliament did not leave the matter there, however. It went further, because the benefit of the doubt provision was linked with a special provision that relates to the onus of proof. Accordingly, it was specifically provided in sub-section (2.) of section 47 that in all cases the onus of proof shall lie, not on the ex-serviceman or his dependants, but on the authority that may contest the claim. It said, in effect, that it shall be the duty both of the commission and the appeal tribunal to- . . draw . . . from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant . . .
I do not think that the tribunals have sufficiently appreciated the intention of the legislature in relation to these provisions which mean, in effect, that unless it is positively proved by the authority that contests the claim that war service could have had nothing to do with the condition, the decision must be given in favour of the applicant. I admit - and this is a suggestion that I wish to make to the Minister later - that there is repetition there. It arose from the anxiety of all parties in the Parliament that this principle should be made binding at every stage of the application before the commission and subsequently before the appeal tribunal. As I have said, there is no provision like that in any similar statute anywhere in the world. It is based upon a very simple truth. An exserviceman of World War I. may suffer, 10, 20 or 30 years after his discharge, from a physical condition which may then appear and cause his death. If the question arises whether that condition was contributed to by war service, that situation will be covered by section 47, which governs the action to be taken in such a case. Take the case of death or disablement from a heart condition. I cannot imagine that any medical practitioner would deny the reasonable possibility of such a condition having been contributed to in some degree by war service. So long as that is possible the decision must be given in favour of the serviceman, because that is what the statute provides. The honorable member for East Sydney had this principle in mind when he suggested that the time was coming when, after the lapse of so many years, the claims of all exservicemen of World War I., who had served in combat areas, should be almost automatically recognized. It is not to the purpose to say that no symptoms had manifested themselves during the intervening period. Medical science recognizes that the physical and nervous strain of war service is such that it must play a part in bringing about the conditions which entitle a serviceman to compensation. For that reason, there is a special provision. Section 48 of the act, provides that a medical practitioner, who has any doubt about the cause of an applicant’s condition, must state the doubt in his report, but I believe that the provision is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. I do not criticize the political administration of the act. Indeed, there is no political administration, strictly speaking, because the Parliament has laid down the conditions of entitlement.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The right honorable gentleman’s time has expired, but if no other honorable member wishes to speak, he may take his second period now.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) said that it was necessary for applicants to make out a prima facie case, but in that he was mistaken. On the contrary, the onus of proof rests on those who contest the claim before the appeal tribunal. In this, the situation of the ex-serviceman differs radically from that of the claimant for workers’ compensation, who must make out a prima facie case that there is a plausible connexion between his injury and his employment. I know that the honorable member for Franklin has taken the keenest interest in exservicemen, but he was in error when he stated that applicants had to make out a prima facie case. Section 47 of the act makes it clear beyond all doubt that the onus of proof is on the department, that the benefit of any doubt must be given to the applicant, and that it is the duty of the tribunals to draw all inferences favorable to the applicant. Those who are contesting an application must prove that war service could not have had any connexion with the applicant’s condition, and I do not think that any doctor would dare to say, after the lapse of perhaps 30 years, that there could be no association between a man’s disability or death and his war service. I repeat that sections 47 and 48, which deal with the medical report, were drafted in order to make it clear beyond any possibility of ambiguity that the ex-serviceman should be entitled to have his claim recognized unless those resisting the claim were able to show by overwhelming evidence that disablement, or death was not due to war service. I am not attacking any of the repatriation tribunals. One honorable gentleman asked whether I should favour legal practitioners appearing before an appeal tribunal. That question does not arise; but means should be provided to check the decisions of appeal tribunals in order to ensure that they shall carry out this provision. I am convinced that m many instances they do not do so. The section to which this clause relates is most difficult, but the intention of the Parliament is quite clear and I desire to see effect given to that intention in cases of the kind to which reference has been made-. We have in existence the Legal Service Bureau which was established under another act, but in cases in which doubt arises I should like to see the Attorney-General have the right and, indeed the duty of supervision to ensure that such cases shall be put correctly to appeal tribunals. Such a provision would remove the source of dissatisfaction in cases in” which there is a feeling that justice has not been done. I put that to the Minister ; it has no party political significance whatever. All parties have contributed to improvements of the Repatriation Act; but that is a point at which there is considerable anxiety. I am suggesting not that section 47 be further amended, but that it should be applied more rigidly in accordance with the letter and the spirit of it.
– I appreciate the manner in which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has presented his view on the very important section to which (his clause relates. Since the section wa. introduced in 1929, no other section of the act has received more consideration with a view to improving ‘ it. It was introduced following prolonged discussions in this chamber, and after further examination it was amended in 1935 with a view to making its application easier. All parties have endeavoured to broaden the onus of proof provision and the benefit of the doubt provision in order to ensure that any ex-serviceman who can justly claim that his condition is due to war service shall be entitled to receive a pension. This matter was considered by the all-party committee that was set up by the Chifley Government in 1941 to review the Repatriation Act as a whole. The members of that committee were the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was chairman, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), who was deputy chairman, Senator Lamp, Senator Collett, who was formerly Minister for Repatriation, the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Allan McDonald) and myself, I, also, having formerly been Minister for Repatriation. The task of that committee was to review the operation of the Repatriation Act since its inception during
World War I. and to make recommendations to the Government with a view to improving it on the basis of experience. A very comprehensive unanimous report was made. The Government implemented almost all of the recommendations made by the committee. I am making these points to show that at all times the committee was concerned to ensure, beyond any shadow of doubt, that ex-servicemen shall be treated justly and readily be granted a pension if they are entitled to it. That is the basis on which I think all parties view this matter. Paragraph 49 of the report, which deals with onus of proof that incapacity or death is not due to war service, states -
Section 45w of the Act provides to the effect that, where an applicant to an Entitlement Appeal Tribunal shall make out a prima facie case in support of a claim that the incapacity from which a member is suffering or had died was caused or aggravated by war service, the onus of proof that such incapacity was not, in fact, so caused or aggravated shall lie with the Commission.
The Government accepted that recommendation and amended the legislation in an endeavour to give effect to it.
– What is the date of that report ?
– The committee sat for a very brief period and furnished its report on the 11th December, 1942. Paragraph 50 of the report reads as follows : -
A similar provision applies in respect of death caused by accident after discharge, where it is claimed that war incapacity contributed to a material degree to the death.
The committee considered many instances of persons who had been knocked down and killed because their war-caused disabilities had rendered them so physically unfit that they were unable to jump aside when crossing a street, so that vehicles driven by careless drivers knocked them down. The committee was of the opinion that such cases should come within the terms of the provision to which I have just referred. In that respect the committee stated in paragraph 51 -
The Committee recommends that the principle should apply in respect of all claims and appeals which come before the Commission in the future and that such a provision be inserted in section 39b of the Act.
That clearly indicated that the joint parliamentary committee regarded this provision as of vital importance. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is in the administration of the act that effect is given to the intention of the Parliament and of the various governments which have administered the legislation.
To-day, we have a Repatriation Commission which is composed entirely of ex-servicemen of very wide experience. Most of the deputy commissioners have been with the commission for a long time. I think that the deputy chairman was there after World War I., when the Repatriation Department, as it was then called, was established. He is a prominent ex-servicemen who has done a great job for Legacy and similar organizations. The chairman, Major-General Wootten, has had vast military experience and understands the difficulties of exservicemen. All the members of the boards are men of proved understanding of the difficulties of ex-servicemen. Every member of the staff, with the exception of the most junior members, is an ex-serviceman who knows what war is and what wounds entail. I am certain that the whole Repatriation Commission staff, whether they be members of -the boards in the States, the Entitlement Appeal Tribunals, the Assessment Appeals Tribunal or the administrative staff, are there because of their qualifications and their known sympathy with the problems of ex-servicemen.
At appeals to entitlement tribunals returned servicemen’s organizations are entitled to have advocates present to assist in presenting the case for the ex-serviceman concerned. That system has been approved by all governments. Every ‘possible opportunity is given to soldiers to ensure that if they have a legitimate claim they will be entitled to a pension and also to hospitalization, if necessary. In order to do justice to the commission I wish to indicate clearly the nature of the instructions that have been issued. We must ensure that all sections of the Parliament will have an opportunity to improve and amend this important, legislation, and I hope that the measure will overcome the difficulties of ex-servicemen. The application of section 47 of the Repatriation Act is a matter to which the attention of all repatriation boards, the members of the Repatriation Commission, and the assistant commissioners, has been directed from time to time, and all are fully aware of its contents. They apply the provisions of the section in the manner set out in the act itself. The High Court, in the case of ex parte Batt, has given a judicial interpretation of that” section. Although that decision was given in 1943 before section 47 was amended to .its present form, there has been no change in the onus of proof in an appeal to a tribunal. The act provides not that a determining authority shall deal either generously or ungenerously with a claim, but that it shall draw from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant and shall give to the claimant the benefit of any doubt. The officers always act in accordance with the provisions of the act.
– I believe that the Minister’s interpretation of the act is not correct.
Mr. FRANCIS__ I desire to put clearly before honorable members the nature of the instructions given to officers, so that they shall know how the Repatriation Department works, and what it is doing to carry out the intention and the spirit of section 47 of the Repatriation Act. The act requires that the claimant be given substantial justice. Shorn of its technical language, the section lays it down that when a determining authority is in doubt and cannot make up its mind whether a claim should be allowed or refused, the claim shall succeed. The actual composition of the various boards and tribunals ensures that the ex-serviceman’s view is fully represented, and that full effect is given to these provisions. The act provides for one member of each repatriation board to be appointed from a list of names submitted by exservicemen’s organizations. In fact, all the members of the State boards are ex-servicemen. With regard to the entitlement appeal tribunals, the act requires that the two members other than the chairman shall be ex-servicemen, and that one at least of them shall be a returned soldier selected from a list submitted by ex-servicemen’s organizations. The act requires the chairman to be a qualified barrister or solicitor, and, in fact, all chairmen are ex-servicemen. Barristers and solicitors were chosen as chairmen of these bodies because they are the people who are skilled in collating and interpreting the evidence submitted by applicants.
In the case of the assessment appeal tribunals, the act requires that the chairina.n be a qualified barrister or solicitor and that he be selected from a list of returned soldiers submitted by exservicemen’s organizations. The other two members are required to be medical practitioners, and where possible selections are made from ex-servicemen. In this way the majority on the board or tribunal, as the case may be, represents the ex-serviceman’s view, and in the case of each tribunal the requirement that the chairman have, a legal training, makes certain that all evidence before the tribunal will be given proper weight, and that the benefit of the doubt provisions will be given full effect. I have made these observations to indicate that the Repatriation Department is mainly staffed by ex-servicemen who have been especially selected to carry out the spirit and intention of the act. The members of all the tribunals, and the officers associated with them, are ex-servicemen. I have indicated to the House the nature of the instructions that have been issued to the department to ensure that not only will the legislation be applied as to its meaning, but also as to its spirit. These provisions have been under review by the all-party committee of exservicemen. The department is doing all that is humanly possible to observe the spirit of the legislation. That is made clear by the instructions that are issued. I have provided the Leader of the Opposition with a copy of the instructions, and I think he will agree that they are adequate to ensure that any ex-serviceman, who has a reasonable claim for a pension or for hospital treatment shall receive his full entitlement. I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to the points that hare been raised by the Leader of the Opposition. If it is possible to do anything further to ensure that ex-servicemen shall be given their full rights, that will be done.
.- There is one phase of the disability allowance table contained in the fifth schedule which I believe to be unfair to pickandshovel workers, including miners. I refer to the allowances that are payable in respect of a leg amputated below the knee, and an arm amputated below the elbow. The allowance in each case is fixed at 15s. a fortnight. I point out that a pick-and-shovel worker who suffers either of those amputations is virtually totally and permanently incapacitated. He is certainly prevented from carrying on the occupation he followed before his war service. I hope that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) will give due consideration to this matter because he has coal miners in his own electorate. Obviously, a miner or, in fact, any pick-and-shovel worker, who has had an arm amputated below the elbow or a leg amputated- below the knee can no longer handle a pick and shovel. The onus of proof provisions apply in respect of these men just as they do in respect of men who were gassed in World War I. I remind the Minister that three Australian mining battalions were formed during World War I. They were known as the First, Second and Third Mining Group. Quite a number of those men were badly gassed. They included my brother, who would never attempt to prove his claim. He coughed himself to death. Honorable members will have heard also of the late Major Connell, a former member of the Legislative Council in New South Wales. He was well known throughout Australia as a good soldier. As a member of the State Parliament, he assisted many ex-servicemen who applied for pensions because of disability caused by gas, but he did not claim one for himself. He explained his neglect by saying to me, “What is the use, Rowley? I am getting a parliamentary salary, and I have no need of a pension “. I warned him that, in the event of his death, the Repatriation Department would contend that, as he had never claimed a pension, he had not suffered from any war disabilities and, therefore, that his wife and other dependants would not be entitled to any benefit. He said he would consider my suggestion that he should claim a pension but, nevertheless, he died without having lodged an application. His brother came to me and told me of his death when I was addressing a meeting at Adamstown. I adjourned the meeting out of respect for his memory and obtained permission to see the doctor who attended him. I told the doctor the story that I am now telling to the committee, and said that I believed that Hugh Connell had suffered from the effects of poison gas. The doctor, I am glad to say, provided a medical certificate that enabled the widow to obtain a full pension. There are thousands of men in Australia who, like Hugh Connell, have never claimed war pensions, although they are entitled to do so.
I have a; third case in mind. This is the case of a man who rose to the rank of lieutenant in World War I. He is suffering from a very bad heart condition that is due to his war service. He was badly wounded during the war, but he has applied for a pension without success. His application is still being considered. Because of his physical disabilities, he has obtained an invalid pension, but the fact is that he has been incapacitated by injuries that he sustained as a soldier. I have written on his behalf to the Repatriation Department, although I have not referred the matter to the Minister. He lives at Belmont, but I do not wish to name him here. I ask the Minister for the Army to consider the case of this man who is now 60 years of age. He receives a small miner’s pension, which is a contributory benefit in the nature of superannuation rather than a ‘pension. Because he receives the invalid pension, he is not entitled to the full rate of miner’s pension. In New South Wales, the age pension and the invalid pension are taken into account when the eligibility of an applicant for a miner’s pension is assessed, but war pensions are not taken into account. Therefore, if this man were awarded a war pension, to which he is entitled, he would be able to draw the full amount of the miner’s pension. He would, of course, forgo the invalid pension.
I ask the Minister to give consideration to this case and to the situation of men who have lost limbs. I emphasize the fact that the degree of disability caused by the loss of a limb depends on the nature of the civil occupation of the victim. A clerk, or a member of parliament, would receive the same compensation for the loss of an arm or a leg as would be awarded to a manual worker. That is unfair. The rate of benefit should vary in accordance with the degree of occupational disability. Therefore, consideration should be given to the job that a claimant held prior to enlistment, with a view to providing him with income equivalent to the amount that he was able to earn before his war injury. Surely nobody would deny that it is unjust to award the same allowance to a clerk who has lost a limb as to a manual worker who has lost a limb. A clerk with one arm may be able to perform his usual work without loss of efficiency, but that is not true of a labourer. A clerk who had lost two arms would probably have the same degree of disability as that of a worker who had lost only one arm. Such men should receive more, than a miserly allowance of 15s. a fortnight. Their situation is tragic, and I trust that the Minister will give earnest attention to my representations and decide to treat them with justice.
– I enter the discussion on this clause because it refers to one of the most controversial provisions ever included in our repatriation legislation. I think that the committee should be made fully aware of the earlier history of this provision, because I have a lively recollection of an occasion when I was in opposition and a Labour government was in office. Members of the Parliament at that time, particularly those who were ex-servicemen, were of the opinion that the onus of proof in relation to any claim for benefit under the repatriation legislation should devolve upon the Repatriation Commission, not upon the applicant. They were greatly concerned when they learned that, although that view coincided with the accepted legal opinion, to which I shall refer later, the Minister for Repatriation at that time and the commission rejected it. The Minister was so incensed with certain action that was taken by one of the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals, to which applicants for pensions may appeal against decisions of the commission, that he sought to intimidate it. These tribunals, as government instrumentalities, are required to make reports to the Parliament.
The No. 1 tribunal decided to expose the conduct of the Minister and the commission in over-riding the legal opinion given by the then Attorney-General, who is now the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), that onus of proof rested upon the commission. It dealt with the matter in its statutory report and declared that the law was not being properly administered by the Minister for Repatriation. The matter was of such vital importance that the Minister tried to force the tribunal to withdraw its report and alter it. He told it that the report would vitally affect his political future and that, if it refused to withdraw the report, he would take certain action. “When the tribunal refused to yield to his demand, he peremptorily dismissed the members. The chairman was Mr. O’Sullivan, a responsible man of high repute and great integrity, who had rendered noble service to the cause of ex-servicemen. The then Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Barnard, deliberately dismissed the No. 1 “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, because it refused to accept from him a direction that was contrary to the expressed opinion of the Attorney-General of the day. That gives an indication of the importance of this section to ex-servicemen. I believed that the opinion given by the AttorneyGeneral of the day at that time was correct, and I disagreed entirely with the action taken by the then Minister for Repatriation and with the commission’s interpretation of the position. In order to bring the record up to date, I shall read the following brief passages from the report of the No. 1 tribunal: -
At the present time inefficiency persists through every stage in the handling of pensions claims even up to the appeals of this tribunal.
The tribunal recommended -
That a general inquiry into the administration of the Repatriation Act, including an investigation into the matter raised in the report, be conducted by a competent authority having no association with the Repatriation Department.
Those were fighting provisions in any statutory report. They were a damning condemnation of the then Minister for Repatriation. Mr. Hickey, a member of the No. 1 Tribunal, informed me that it had been dismissed peremptorily by the then Minister for Repatriation. Mr. Hickey, who was the nominee of the Government on that body, wrote to me as follows: -
The simple fact is that the whole tribunal resisted political pressure placed upon it. It persisted for years in trying to have justice done to ex-servicemen, and in the process demanded that the Repatriation Department, now become an entrenched and powerful bureaucracy, not only carry out the law of the land, confirmed by the Attorney-General, but also improve its grossly inefficient methods. In doing its duty it antagonized successive Ministers of Repatriation. In the case of Mr. Barnard, as I shall show later, it resisted political pressure placed upon it in connexion with its parliamentary report and persisted in reporting the facts to the Parliament. Finally, having battled for years, the Chairman resigned in disgust last February.
It is interesting to learn why the then Minister for Repatriation got rid of the tribunal. Mr. Hickey wrote -
In my opinion he sacked the tribunal because the tribunal refused to be intimidated by him ; because the tribunal refused to be intimidated by one of the parties to its appeal, the Repatriation Commission; because the tribunal insisted that the Repatriation Commission should obey the law of the land, and filially, because the tribunal persistently reported the facts to the Parliament, originally against pressure placed upon it by Mr. Barnard.
I regarded this interpretation of the law as sound, and ex-servicemen’s organizations accepted it as such. I emphasize that the chairman and one member of the tribunal were nominees of the Government, and that the other member was selected from a panel of names supplied by ex-servicemen’s organizations. Because the tribunal sought to give effect to the law, a Labour Minister for Repatriation deliberately dismissed it in order to prevent ex-servicemen from obtaining their just dues. Mr. Hickey’s letter continued -
Mr. Barnard said that he had been embarrassed by actions of the Tribunal. I said a Tribunal’s job had legal and moral obligations, regardless of who was embarrassed and asked what action he meant.
I said . . . The Tribunal for years had tried both with Mr. Frost . . . and the Repatriation Commission and himself to have rectified what was a scandalous position, and had made no headway. It was, therefore, bound to report the whole matter to Parliament. The fact that it embarrassed him, the Minister, who also appointed the Tribunal, could not be helped . . . The Minister said that towards the end of Mr. O’Sullivan’s term of office . . .
Mr. Frost was a former Minister for Repatriation. Mr. O’Sullivan was chairman of the tribunal. . . he, O’sullivan, had seen fit to write a spiteful letter to the Repatriation Commission upon the question of the “Onus of Proof “. I said that the letter in question was from the Tribunal, was entirely objective and set out the true position in law and fact. I said I was astonished that the Tribunal, which was only carrying out the law. and trying to stop injustices to exservicemen, had been met not only with noncooperation, but also with active resistance. He said he thought the Tribunal had been indiscreet. I said one important aspect of the law was being broken in defiance even of Dr. Evatt’s direction.
I could continue in this vein, but I do not consider that there is any necessity for me to do so. However, I invite Opposition members to read the remainder of my speech on this matter, which is reported in Hansard on the 28th October, 1948, in order to ascertain exactly to what lengths a Labour government will go to deny justice to exservicemen. This has not happened under any other Administration. The action to which I referred was taken by a Labour Minister for Repatriation in defiance of the expressed opinion of the AttorneyGeneral of the day. Members of the Labour party who try to conceal their previous actions behind a smoke-screen should examine the record of the preceding Labour Government in respect of its treatment of ex-servicemen. I give due credit to the Leader of the Opposition, because he has indicated that he adheres to the opinion that he expressed on this matter a few years ago.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The Vice-President of the Executive Council has exhausted his time.
Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) has injected into the debate some of the comments he made during a fight that has long since concluded. Whether or not the facts stated by him are proven has little to do with the case to-day. The point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was consistent with the interpretation that he gave in 1943 of the provision relating to the onus of proof. The fact that a former Minister for Repatriation had a quarrel with the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal has nothing to do with the case now under consideration. I think that we should return to the matter before the Chair.
In my opinion, bureaucracy has not yet “ caught up “ with the interpretation of the Repatriation Act 1947. Even the instruction which the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) has read does not reflect the spirit of the act. The phraseology of the relevant sections dealing with the onus of proof is most interesting, because provision is made therein for the benefit of the doubt to be given to the claimant. Section 47 (2.) provides -
It shall not be necessary for the claimant, applicant or appellant to furnish proof to support his claim, application or appeal, but the . . . Tribunal . . . determining or deciding the claim . . . shall be entitled to draw, and shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions, all reasonable inferences < in favour of the claimant . . . and in all cases whatsoever the onus of proof shall lie on the person or authority who contends that the claim . . . should not be granted . . .
Another provision in favour of the claimant is section 48 (2.), which reads -
Where a medical practitioner entertains any doubt concerning any of the matters which . . he is required to report upon, he shall state in his report that he entertains such a doubt and shall indicate, as far as practicable, the nature and extent of his doubt.
Not one provision, but half a dozen provisions urge those who administer the act to be certain that the onus of proof shall not be placed upon the person who seeks a pension, or the redress of a claim. The Minister for the Army said that the act does not require the determining authority to deal either generously or ungenerously with a claim. In my opinion, such an attitude is completely wrong. The act does not enjoin the determining authority to be completely impartial. Any doubt that may exist shall be resolved in favour of the claimant. The instruction relating to the manner in which section 48 is to be administered conflicts with the provisions of that action. It is not a question of a determining authority exercising generosity, but of going to the utmost ends of investigation to ensure that the ex-serviceman’s claim shall not be damaged because the onus of proof provision has been used against him. The act leans over, as it were, to the side of the ex-serviceman. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the act, in indicating how this treatment is to be meted out to the ex-servicemen, is unique in the British Empire. Its provisions are extremely generous. The Minister’s reference to the fact that the act does not require a determining authority to deal either generously or ungenerously with a claim is a complete negation of the principles of section 48. The bureaucracy is not interpreting the section as it was intended to apply to ex-servicemen.
I leave that point to refer now to the appeal tribunals. I wonder what can be done to improve their efficiency. Notwithstanding the fact that sincerity should be the keynote in all cases and that the most exhaustive inquiries should be conducted, piles of complaints are made, particularly by ageing exservicemen, that they are unable to obtain justice. I sometimes think that these complaints result from the fact, not that the tribunals have not the will to do justice, but because their administrative techniques contain the element of injustice. In my experience doctors of high degree and of great experience, whose services would cost many guineas an hour, spend days in the preparation of evidence and its presentation to an appeal tribunal, only to be told in half an hour that tho evidence is neither substantial nor material. The only way to overcome that difficulty is to make provision for the appointment of experts to the tribunals. The evidence should be presented and tested by legally trained men. The ser vices of laymen advocates are not good enough. As the Leader of the Opposition said, this is a matter that should be considered by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer). Perhaps the trained staffs of the Legal Service Bureau could undertake the work. I believe that most of the disaffection that exists among exservicemen, after they have attended what they describe as “heartbreak house “ and have presented their appeals, is based upon their feeling that the evidence has not been properly tested and sifted, and that top often their appeals are not viewed in the right perspective. How otherwise would the evidence of expert witnesses be treated in such a cavalier fashion? Ex-servicemen believe that the provisions of section 48 are not being properly administered. The machinery appears to break down only at the bureaucratic level. The onus of proof provision should be more strictly interpreted. The spirit that is manifested in every word of the legislation suggests the tempering of justice with mercy, with emphasis on the side of mercy. This matter has always been one of difficulty and has been the subject of lengthy and frequent debate.
I reiterate the two points that I have made. First, the interpretation of sections 47 and 48 read by the Minister is not completely sound; and, secondly, the presentation of evidence and the resolution of appeals would be considerably improved if provision were made for applicants to have legal representation before the tribunals. As time goes on the determination of these cases will become increasingly difficult. The span of time covered by them already runs up to 30 years, and many concern ex-servicemen who until now have not made a claim against the authorities. The illnesses from which they suffer are not shown on their records. Their cases must be judged on the basis of their honesty, their military record, and the hundred and one other small factors that prove the genuineness of their claims. The cases should be considered not by patriotic laymen but by experts who are able to sift and evaluate the evidence.
– Why was that practice not adopted when the Labour
Government was in office at the time when the former Minister for Repatriation, Mr. Barnard, dismissed the No. 1 “War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal ?
– I rose to make some suggestions and not to discuss the speech of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr.” Eric J. Harrison), because there was no merit in it. If the Minister believes that by quoting his own speech lie submits evidence, I can only say that I found it very boring. The Minister’s interjection was inspired by political bias and demonstrates the smallness of his mind.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I wish at this stage to propose an amendment so that it may be considered in conjunction with the bill. I move -
That clause 23 be left out. with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following clause: -
Pensions at the rates payable under tin; Principal Act, as amended by this Act, :,re payable from and including the second ria y of October, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-two.”.
The object of the amendment is to enable increased pensions to be paid to ex-service mcn and women as soon as possible after the passage of this legislation which, I hope, will take place within the next IV1 w minutes.
– I should not have taken part in this debate had not attention been focused on the important onus of proof provision. The Parliament, by legislation, may define all sorts of matters in relation to ex-ser.vice men and women but it cannot decide whether ill health suffered by an ex-service man or woman results from war causes or otherwise. The decision of such matters must be left to the competent authorities. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) in replying to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said, in effect, that when a determining authority cannot decide whether or not an application for a “.rr pension should be granted, the benefit of the doubt should be extended to the applicant. I recall how jubilant the former member for Hindmarsh, Mr. Makin, was when, in 1943, he succeeded in his efforts to have an amendment inserted in the legislation which relieved an applicant for a war pension of the onus of proving that his ill health had been caused through war service. As a member of the South Australian Parliament, I worked with Mr. Makin on this matter for very many years, and I was well aware of the difficulties experienced by an ex-serviceman in proving that an illness was attributable to war service. The department should prove that it could not have been caused by war service.
– The honorable member has taken a long time to think about it.
– The Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon) should have enough common sense to listen to what I have to say without seeking to make political party capital out of a subject about which he apparently knows little or nothing. If, as Minister for the Navy, the honorable member poses as a man of intelligence, as one would expect him to be, I appeal to him to exercise a little common sense and not to make interjections which brand him as a dunderhead. In 1943, when the onus of proof provision was amended, I said that its interpretation would not be as easy as it appeared to be. Although the onus of proof was placed on the Repatriation Department, I believed that an applicant could not escape from it altogether and I thought that it would be difficult to interpret. I am still concerned with the question of interpretation. My own son joined the Royal Australian Air Force and afterwards was sent to an American hospital for advice on the treatment of his eyes. When he left the forces, he was unable to get even a pair of glasses from the Repatriation Department because it was claimed that there was nothing to show that his disability was due to war service. I did not go to the Minister or argue the ease, but it indicates the difficulty that ex-servicemen experience in getting the benefit of this provision. Honorable members have knowledge of many exservicemen who have died suddenly from heart trouble or some other illness. When they die the remark is passed that another old digger has gone. He has paid the penalty, but there is no proof that his death was due to war service. It should not be necessary for ex-servicemen to prove that a disability was caused by Avar service. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) gave to the House a good interpretation of the provision with regard to onus of proof. I believe that those who are administering the law should take into consideration the opinions of so many honorable members and their experience of this matter. I give full credit to the Repatriation Department in my State for the humane way in which its officers approach these matters. When I have been dealing with claims, the officers have often assisted me to take them further. I have no bone to pick with the Repatriation Department, but the Parliament should emphasize the need for more leniency by those who are administering the Repatriation Department in the interpretation of the clause relating to the onus of proof.
– I have the greatest admiration for the individual officers of the Repatriation Department. However, I have found that some of the decisions of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals ure difficult in understand in view of the declared policy of all parties in this ‘Parliament to place the onus on the Repatriation Department of proving that a man’s death or illness was the result of war service. I have before me papers relating to an individual case which I have referred to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). I a rn sure that he will do everything possible to rectify it. I wish to make reference to it now as evidence of the difficulty that the ordinary person has in understanding some of the decisions of the entitlement appeals tribunals. With the permission of the House, I shall not divulge the name of the deceased exserviceman to whom I shall refer, but I have written a letter to the Minister stating the name and he has it before him. The ex-serviceman died last February, and his widow was of the opinion that her husband’s death was due to war ser vice. She made an application to the Repatriation Department for a war widows’ pension. She took it to the Repatriation State Board and finally to the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal. Her appeal was rejectedWhen she interviewed me in Junelast, she told me that a very eminent medical practitioner in Adelaide, Dr. J. A. Rolland, was prepared to give her a certificate to the effect that, in his opinion, her husband’s death was the result of war service. I arranged with her to consult the doctor and obtain his opinion. I have here the doctor’s certificate, dated the 7th June, 1952. It states -
This is to certify that further to my previous certificate relating to the last illness of . . . First Avenue, St. Peters, whom I haveattended since 1928, I wish to state that X am firmly of the opinion that his illness was caused by the hardship of war service. ( Sgd. ) j. Alec Rolland, M.B., B.S., D.O.
It is difficult to imagine a more definite certificate by a medical practitioner than this one. I therefore arranged for a further appeal to be lodged with the War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal. The reply that I received from the Deputy Commissioner in Adelaide stated -
Reviewed under Section 64 (7). The Commission decided that the further evidence submitted is not material to, nor has it a substantial bearing upon the claim.
In other words, the Repatriation Department has said that a certificate signed by one of the leading medical practitioners in South Australia is not material to and has no substantial bearing upon a claim. I know that members of the entitlement appeals tribunal are returned exservicemen, and that they are men of high reputewho are endeavouring to do a job, but there is a feeling that they are not in all respects interpreting the legislation as it has been passed by the Parliament. The War Pensions Entitlement Appeals Tribunal has shown disinclination toallow a widow to appear beforeit. It has been claimed that a widow may become distressed by appearing before an appeals tribunal. However. I am convinced that the majority of widows would prefer to express their views before a tribunal. If the claim is- to be rejected, they prefer a tribunal to reject it, rather than to receive a letter of rejection from the commission. I have already cited an instance in which a claim was rejected, despite the fact that a reputable medical practitioner had furnished a certificate to the effect that the death of an ex-serviceman had been caused by war service.
I believe that every member of the committee has the greatest admiration and respect for the Minister for Repatriation. As this matter has been referred to by honorable members on both sides, I hope that he will take steps to ensure that entitlement appeals tribunals shall administer the repatriation legislation in the way that the Parliament intended that it should be administered, that is, that the benefit of any doubt shall be given to an ex-serviceman or his widow, and that the onus of proof that an injury or death had not resulted from war service shall rest on the Repatriation Department. I should be glad if the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) would request the Minister for Repatriation to examine this matter thoroughly.
.- Proposed new section 120a makes provision for a post-mortem examination of the body of a deceased member of the forces. The provision relates to deceased members of the forces generally, not only to those who have been inmates of repatriation hospitals. Will the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) explain the necessity for the proposed new section? Is it tantamount to an admission by the Government that things have been going on that should have not been going on, or a belated admission that pensions would probably have been granted to some exmembers of the forces if there had been a proper diagnosis of their condition before death? The Government appears to be locking the stable door after the horse has got out. The object of the proposed provision appears to be to repair damage that is irreparable because the ex-member has passed on. Therefore, it could not be any consolation to him if the department’s medical advisers decided after his death that he should have received a pension when he was alive.
Sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 120a provides certain safeguards in relation to ex-servicemen who have expressed an objection to the making of a postmortem examination, and there is a stipulation that such an examination shall not be authorized when the widow or nearest known relative of a member who has died without having expressed such an objection, does not consent to the making of a post-mortem examination. Very few ex-servicemen bequeath their bodies to universities for the use of medical students for experimental purposes. I should like the Minister to inform me of what is likely to happen to the bodies of deceased pauper ex-members, whose relatives are not available. There should be a safeguarding provision in that connexion. Perhaps an organization such as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia could be entrusted to give approval for post-mortem examinations in such cases, although I do not see the necessity for the proposed new section at all.
It may be too late to do anything about this matter, because there seems to be a tendency on the part of surgeons to want to get their knives into the bodies of the dead as well as the living. There is a recent example of this in relation to an attempt to force an inmate of a mental i institution to undergo an operation known as leucotomy, which is a branch of brain surgery. M!any inmates of those institutions are ex-servicemen. I ,do not consider that the post-mortem examination of the bodies of deceased ex-servicemen could result in benefits to their relatives ; indeed such a procedure could even defeat justice. After all, an exserviceman himself is the person who is best able to state the history of his case and to provide evidence that his disability was caused by war service.
I again emphasize the necessity to introduce modern methods of diagnosis and treatment in repatriation hospitals. Manipulative therapy has been practised very successfully in other parts of the world, particularly in the United States of America, in which country I understand that about 30,000,000 patients are now receiving such treatment from some 30,000 manipulative ‘ practitioners. Its provision in repatriation hospitals could prove very beneficial to many exservicemen who are suffering from the stresses - and strains of war service and would assist the authorities to obtain a true diagnosis of the physical condition of patients. I point out that manipulative therapists and chiropractors utilize modern X-ray equipment, and they perform very useful work in the treatment of disabilities that have been caused by a dislocation of the spine or pressure on the nervous system. Although such a condition might well be attributable to war service, after an ex-serviceman has passed on there is no opportunity to establish a claim, because the spinal cord shrinks after death. In such cases the ends of justice could be defeated by post-mortem examinations. Although an ex-serviceman in a mental institution had suffered from a brain tumour, a study of his nervous system or spinal cord after death may not reveal the real cause of that condition.
– The clause contains purely technical provisions designed to ensure uniformity of Commonwealth and State legislation.
– In Brisbane, a Swedish manipulative surgeon named Gelberg has achieved remarkable results, hut the doctors will not co-operate with him. The members of the medical profession in Sweden work side by side with manipulative therapists, in order to give to sufferers the benefit of their joint service and understanding.
– The honorable member would make an excellent Minister for Health.
– -Perhaps I could do the job much better than could other members of the committee. I am convinced that the provision of manipulative therapy in repatriation hospitals would assist many sufferers.
I have before me an extract from Stark Corridors by C. Asher, that waa published in the United States of America. As it has a direct bearing on the subject under consideration by the committee, I ask leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Is leave granted?
– I shall read a portion of it to the committee. It is as follows : -
There is uo question that structural distortions and nervous tension a.re at the bottom of a great deal of present day lunacy. In these cases, the chiropractor, who is the mechanic of the nervous system of man and the architect of the body structure, can succeed in correcting conditions that cannot be remedied by chemistry and surgery. . . .
The authentic records of chiropractic achievements in the treatment and cure of insanity would mi a book many times larger than this one. . . . Manipulative therapy, with its accent on posture and structure, is upsetting to medical practice.
I point out that many ex-servicemen, when they were called up, had structural defects that might have been accentuated by the shocks and tensions of war -
It is revolutionary to men who have received their training in the over-Pasteurized medical profession. The physician is the victim of the commercial greed of pharmaceutical houses that are forever concocting new brews. Only the practitioner of unusual liberality reaches out to learn of the allied systems of healing that bring relief to suffering humanity, where his own science fails. . . . Because of the fact that victims of insanity are imprisoned in medical institutions, there are few cases of chiropractic cures obtainable from official state records. In North Dakota-
– I rise to order. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Chairman, what chiropractics in North Dakota has to do with this bill?
– If the honorable member for Henty is interested in the problems of ex-servicemen, he will listen to this article. It concludes as follows : -
In North Dakota, in 1943, a number of medically incurable patients were transferred to a chiropractic sanatorium and, within a year, more than 50 per cent, of these patients were restored to their homes, permanently cured. We are appending to this chapter a number of chiropractic insanity cures, taken from a pamphlet published by Hon. A. W. Ponath, former Probate Judge of Richland County, North Dakota.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! “The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. TRELOAR (Gwydir) [12.281 - There has been a lot of talk, perhaps too much talk, about this bill, but I want to say that I appreciated the explanations by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and by the Minister for the
Army (Mr. Francis) of the onus-of-proof provisions. I have a long experience of repatriation matters. It extends back to 1918, when I was secretary of the Tamworth branch of the returned servicemen’s league. The principal difficulties in repatriation cases after World War I. were caused by the fact that the onus of proof was on the exserviceman. Since that provision has been altered, I have experienced no difficulties at all. I do not say that there are not difficulties, but I have not experienced any.
I resented the statement of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) about the bureaucrats in the Repatriation Department. If all bureaucrats are like the officers of that department, I have a great admiration for bureaucrats. Repatriation Department officials are all returned soldiers. Whenever I have visited a repatriation office, provided that I have received the necessary authority from the ex-serviceman concerned, they have always put the relevant file in front of me and have explained the exact position of the man’s claim. They have always been eager and willing to explain the appeals procedure, and I have not yet failed in an appeal.
Members of the Opposition have talked about many cases that have been brought to their notice which they have not been able to deal with satisfactorily. I think that much of the trouble that they have experienced is due to their lack of knowledge. They do not know how to handle these cases. There are many honorable members on this side of the chamber who would be very pleased to help them to do so. I suggest to them that, in future, they seek our advice whenever they have a case that they cannot straighten out. We should be delighted to help them, because our objective is to help returned soldiers everywhere, irrespective of the electorates in which they live. I believe that this measure should be passed without further argument.
.- I want to make a few brief observations with the object of removing any misunderstandings to which the befogging remarks ox the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) have given rise. There is nothing base, improper or foul about the provisions that relate to postmortem examinations. The Repatriation Department has a number of hospitals throughout Australia. In all of those hospitals, it is desirable to conduct post-mortem examinations from time to time. The Repatriation Department, in common with all other hospital organizations, has conducted such examinations, but there is some doubt about its legal right to do so. The proposals in clause 16 are designed to remove that doubt. They deal only with a technical point. We have taken precautions to ensure that tender susceptibilities will not be hurt. The clause provides that a. post-mortem examination shall not be undertaken if the deceased person, before his death, has expressed a wish against such an examination being undertaken. It provides also that, when no such wish has been expressed, the examination shall not be undertaken unless the consent of the wife, widow, or nearest relative, as the case may be, of the deceased person has been obtained. Any relative will be able to object to a post-mortem examination. Finally, in the clause care has been taken to ensure that nothing shall be done that would interfere with the rights of State authorities to conduct such an examination, or impede in any way a coroner’s inquiry when one was necessary.
I hope that I have relieved the honorable member for Reid of his anxiety in this connexion, and that I have convinced the committee that this measure is designed to improve the lot of ex-servicemen and their dependants. Careful consideration will be given to all the points that have been raised in the debate. I shall invite the Minister for Repatriation and the Repatriation Commission to examine the cases that some honorable members have raised. I know that some of those cases go back almost to the beginning of federation. I have heard them mentioned again and again in this chamber. They are hardy annuals which provide the foundation for a speech on a repatriation measure.
I have asked the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) twice to tell me the name of the individual who, he said, had some difficulty in obtaining the war gratuity.
– I think the honorable gentleman will do that on Tuesday.
– I hope that he will. This is not the first time that these challenges have been thrown out.
– The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) might do what the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), did in a ease that I raised with him.
– I shall not do what the honorable member for “Watson (Mr. Curtin) did. I shall not make a statement, and then fail to stand up to it.
– It was a correct statement.
– If the honorable gentleman wants to buy into a fight, he can do so. I say without heat that the Department of the Army has no authority to deal with the war gratuity. It is dealt with by an independent board, and only that board can make any recommendation concerning it. No appeal is permissible from that body. It is an all-party board and an all-party committee co-operates with it. The making of unwise, unfair and unjust observations does not assist a debate of this character. I appreciate the way in which the debate, as a whole, has been conducted and I hope that the committee will now pass the bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported, with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 12.37 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 27th August (vide page 639), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), who introduced the bill, did not say half as much in his second-reading speech about this bill as his colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who introduced a similar measure last year, had to say on that occasion. The bill seeks to authorize the raising of moneys to be advanced to the States for the purposes of housing in connexion with the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. That agreement has a life of ten years, and so far this Government has continued to provide each year since it came into office, for the advance of the sums of money in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Whilst the agreement may meet with ministerial approval, it does not meet with the approval of all honorable members on the Government benches. Last year, the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), in a debate on the similar measure to which I have already referred, used the following words: -
In my considered opinion the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is an insidious national tragedy which was conceived by the Chifley Labour Government, and was intended to be the basis of the socialist state of Australia.
If the honorable member for Bennelong was correct in making that statement this Government is building on that socialist basis, which was allegedly established by the Chifley Government.- In 1944, that Government appointed a commission of which the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), who was then a member of the South Australian Parliament, was a member. That commission examined the housing position in Australia at that time, and recommended that an agreement be made with the States so that the governments of the Commonwealth and the States could share the responsibility of providing homes for the people. Private enterprise had fallen down on the job. Investors were investing their money in other industries that were returning much bigger profits than could be expected from investments in housebuilding. The problem of housing was becoming worse and worse. Australian governments prior to the Curtin Government had done nothing about housing. They had left the State governments to deal with the problem. The Australian
Government, however, having the financial resources that the States lacked, decided eventually under Mr. Chifley’s Prime Ministership, to ask the Parliament to agree that the Commonwealth should accept certain responsibilities in relation to the housing of the people. The honorable member for Bennelong, who seemed to express in his speech the views of the more conservative supporters of the Government, was quite uninhibited in his condemnation of the measure last year. He said -
This Government has the right to give twelve months’ notice of its intention to cancel the agreement. I suggest that if it wants to do something worth while for the people of Australia it will give notice of cancellation nt the earliest possible moment, and will set about reconstructing the whole scheme of housing in Australia on an entirely different basis.
The honorable gentleman has apparently always considered that there is something wrong with the agreement. He is opposed to it on ideological grounds. I consider him to be completely wrong.
I take it that the Minister for Works expressed in his speech on the present measure the prevailing opinion, on the subject of housing, in the ranks of the philistines who constitute this Parliament. The measure asks the Parliament to approve of a loan of £30,000,000 for the States this year for the purposes of supplying homes under the agreement. That is not the amount that the States ‘asked for. They actually asked for a total of £41,468,000. In May last the Australian Loan Council which, in effect, means the Australian Government, decided that an amount of £21,820,000 was to be made available under the agreement. Later’ on, I think at the July meeting of the council, the figure was raised to £30,000,000. The decision of the Australian Loan Council and the implementation of this measure will not necessarily mean that the Australian Government will provide an amount of £30,000,000 to the States for housing. It will simply mean that the Government will make £30,000,000 available to the States if the loans that it will float are filled. If loans fail the States may not receive the full amount of £30,000,000. Whether, in such an event, the Commonwealth will make the money available from any other source is problematical. The amounts for which the States asked, and the smaller amounts that they were eventually promised, are as follows : New South Wales, £17,119,000, £12,100,000 ; Victoria, £16,000,000, £11,270,000 ; Queensland, £5,295,000, £3,730,000; Western Australia, £2,983,000, £2,900,000. Those figures were supplied to me by the Department of National Development. So if the housing problem continues to be as acute as it is now, and if honorable members opposite condemn the States for not having solved it, or for not having done’ more to solve it than they have had done, they should realize that the responsibility for the inability of the States to do better lies in the fact that they will receive only three-quarters of the money that they asked for and that they believe to be necessary if they are to fulfil their undertakings. Of course, the Government will say that the money should come from the loan market and from no other source. The honorable member for Bennelong suggested last year that we might use national credit for the purpose of financing the housing agreement. After having outlined a housing plan that he had in mind, he said in his speech, which was delivered in his best style as a Sydney county councillor-
– Order ! From what speech is the honorable gentleman quoting? If he is referring to a debate that took place during the current session he is out of order.
– I am not quoting from a speech made in the present session. It was made during the debate on a similar measure last year.
– There has been only one session since the last general election, and it is not yet over. It is a highly technical point, but if the speech from which the honorable gentleman is quoting was made last year I shall not enforce the procedure that I consider to be correct, because, in my opinion, there should be a new session each year as provided for in the Constitution.
– Perhaps the Constitution will need to be amended to ensure that it will have that effect. The honorable member for Bennelong, in his best style as a Sydney county councillor, said, after having outlined his scheme -
If the economic circumstances of the country were different it would be possible to use national credit to finance, in part, the scheme that I am advocating. 1 commend those words to the Minister. If it is necessary that the people be housed the lack of money should not be allowed to stand in the way, because many people are in urgent need of houses, and the slum conditions in our capital cities are truly deplorable. The position is so bad that sensational reports have been made to the State authorities on the matter from time to time. It is up to all governments, both State and Commonwealth, to do what can be done to alleviate the trouble that exists, and has existed for a very long time now. The Minister cited figures to show how many houses have been completed this year, and how many it is proposed to build during the current year. According to him, the number of houses commenced up to J une, 1952, was 58,000, whilst 47,000 had been completed, leaving 11,000 still under construction at that time. During the year ended the 30th June, 1952, 8,800 dwellings were completed, of which one-third were in country districts.
– The number is 9,300.
– The figure supplied to me by the Department of National Development was 8,766. Housing is one of the basic requirements of the people. The others are food and clothing, and if a considerable number of people in any community lack one of those basic requirements, which are necessary in any modern civilization, there will be a great deal of discontent. That there is discontent at the present time is evident from the criticism that has been voiced. I dislike having to continue to quote the honorable member for Bennelong, but I regard him as my star witness. This is something else he said -
This Government should bc courageous enough to institute a vigorous campaign in favour of home ownership as a national policy.
No one disagrees with that. The Labour party has always believed in home ownership, and has done everything possible to encourage it. In 1925, a Labour government in South Australia inaugurated the “ Thousand Homes Scheme “, the first of its kind in Australia. The houses were not built for renting, but for purchase. If we are to have a strong community, we must have ‘wider ownership of property. At least, the head of every family should own the home he lives in.
– -That rather contradicts what a former member for Corio once said.
– I halted my speech so that I might wait for, and hear, a repetition of that slander against the former honorable member for Corio, Mr. Dedman. He said nothing of the sort.
– It is recorded in Hansard.
– That is not so. Even if one member of the Labour party did make such a statement, he would not commit the whole Labour party. The policy of the Labour party is to help the people to buy their own homes. Last year, the then Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) told the House how many persons had bought their own homes, but I remind honorable members that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to do so now. The difficulty arises, not only from the high capital cost, but also from the fact that interest rates have increased so much. I again quote the honorable member for Bennelong, who said -
My experience in this class of business over a period of H0 years has been that the only real deterrent to home ownership is a high interest hill.
That is true, but this Government has increased the interest rate on building loans recently. Under the Chifley Government, the interest rate was 3 per cent., and repayments were spread over 53 years. This Government has increased the rate from 3-J per cent, to 4£ per cent., with the result that another £350 has been added to the price of a house, the initial cost of which would be about £3,000. The increased interest rate has also bacl the effect of extending the period of repayment by at least two years. Because the interest rate has been increased, fewer houses are now being built. Costs have increased by at least 25 per cent, in the last twelve months. According to figures published in the Quarterly Bulletin of Building Statistics for the quarter ended the 31st March last, the number of houses commenced in that quarter was only 18,790. We must go back to the second quarter of 1949-50’ to find a period during which the figure w as lower than that. It is true that more houses are being completed now, but that is only a temporary phase. Within a few years, very few houses will be built, and the plight of the people then will be worse than it is now. Last year, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) made what would seem to be almost an anarchistic proposal for a Liberal member. It was certainly revolutionary. This is what the honorable member said -
In order to encourage people to remain in ilium the basic rate of interest could be made 3 per cent, with a rebate of 1 per cent., if they lived in them for a period of five years, and an additional rebate of 1 per cent, if they remained in occupation for 10 years. If they remained in them for 12 or more years, the purchase should be made interest free. ff that proposition had been advanced by a member of the Labour party, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) would have scented Communist influence, or he might have tried to tie the matter up with the Commonwealth Literary Fund. The theme of most Government propaganda over recent years has been the completely discredited story that the Labour Government discouraged home ownership. The story is false, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has shown on a number of occasions. His most telling point was his reference to what a Labour government did in South Australia in 1925. The McGowan Labour Government in New South Wales also encouraged the building of homes for purchase as long ago as 1917.
The Minister for the Interior has told us that 47,000 houses have been completed under the housing agreement and that, of that number, 9,300 were finished during the last financial year. The performance is not good enough. At the end of the war, it was reported that there was a shortage of at least 300,000 houses. Some honorable members will dispute that figure, but that was the number stated in the report of the commission of inves- ligation of which the honorable member for Port Adelaide was a member. Australia needs, on the figures presented by the former Minister for National Development, who is now the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), a building construction rate of 75,00f> houses a year. At least 60,000 marriages take place each year, and allowing alsofor new arrivals in this country who require homes, the figure of 75,000 houses a year is probably a conservative estimate of our real need. The fact is that we are not building houses at a rate that will enable us to meet current needs and,, at the same time, overtake the backlog.! Between the end of the recent war and the 30th June of last year a total of 525,000 houses should have been built on the basis of an estimated requirement of 75,000 houses a year. However, only approximately 305,000 houses and flats have been constructed by private enterprise and government agencies during that period. *
– What about the houses that were constructed during the last twelve months?
– The latest return that I have .been able to obtain is in respect of not the calendar year, but the financial year, and it shows that 67,000 houses were completed in the twelve months ended the 30th June, 1951. That figure represented an increase of 12,000 on the figure for the preceding year, whilst the figure for the year before that was 4,000 fewer. However, 67,000 is still not 75,000. The rate of building is falling rapidly because of rising costs and the increase of the rate of interest on housing loans. When, the recent war ended there was a backlog of 300,000 houses and the backlog for the post-war period is 225,000 houses. Thus, we are now 525,000 houses in arrears of requirements. The task of providing adequate housing for the Australian people is a joint Commonwealth-State responsibility.
The honorable member for Petrie, when speaking on a similar measure last year, said that it was ridiculous for members of the Opposition to allege that there was a lack of finance for home-building or home purposes. No one can . deny that there i8 a lack of finance for housing at present. The Government’s banking policy does not encourage the construction of houses. It is becoming increasingly difficult for private banks to lend money to homebuilders and, whatever the policy of the Commonwealth Bank may be, the real responsibility in the final analysis rests with the Government which could make adequate finance available for this purpose if it desired to do so. It could instruct the private banks to be more generous in respect of loans for the construction of houses than they are, perhaps, in providing financial accommodation for other purposes.- However, the Government refuses to take such action. The Opposition would like to see the rate of interest on Joans for house construction reduced to 2 per cent.; but the Government is encouraging the increase of the interest rate to such a degree that, ultimately, it will be impossible for any one to obtain finance for the purpose of constructing a house.
– Why did not the Labour Government reduce the rate of interest on loans for housing purposes to 2 per cent. ?
– The Chifley Government maintained the rate of interest at 3 per cent.; but it did not increase it to 4£ per cent., as this Government has done.. A rate of 3 per cent, is at least much closer to 2 per cent, than the present ruling rate of interest which is 100 per cent, more than 2 per cent. In many instances iri which persons have entered into contracts for the construction of houses, the houses are only half completed. Such persons will have no alternative but to meet the additional costs that will be involved in the completion of those structures.
I turn now to the amount of subsidy that has been paid in respect of imported houses and the provision of such houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. In view of the statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last night in criticism of the Queensland Government - I thought that his statement was highly flavoured and was not really intended to present the facts impartially and dispassionately - I addressed n. question on the same matter to-day to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), and I was furnished with the following reply: -
At the 30th June, 1952, a total of £1,958,400 had been paid by the Commonwealth for subsidy on houses imported by all State authorities. This represented £300 a house on G.52S houses. At the 30th June, 1952, 3,909 houses had arrived in Australia from overseas for erection in projects under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.
I ask honorable members to mark the words in which the Minister continued his reply -
From the outset the Commonwealth indicated its willingness to have under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement all houses imported by State Housing authorities that were certified by the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station as structurally sufficient. All houses imported by State authorities have been so certified.
Thus, the Minister for National Development has contradicted the statement that the Prime Minister made in this chamber last night. I repeat that the Minister said that all houses imported by State authorities had been certified as being structurally sufficient. Where is the case for the Government’s charge that the Queensland Government has fallen down on its job because houses constructed in that State were not up to specification and. their construction had not been properly supervised?
– Were the houses that were erected at Zillmere imported houses ?
– Yes. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon) is still at sea. Every one of those houses was imported, because the Prime Minister, in the statement that he made last night, referred to the subsidy of £300 that had been paid in respect of each of them.
– The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), when he was Minister for National Development, was responsible for importing them.
– That is so. That Minister arranged for the importation of 7,000 prefabricated houses, of which 6,528 have been brought here. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), in respect of whose allegations the Prime Minister made his statement last night, knows that the houses at Zillmere were imported. He should bring his colleague, the Minister for Air (Mr. McMahon), out of the air. I understand that all of those houses were prefabricated in Prance. I shall wait with interest to hear what the Queensland Government has to say about not only the Prime Minister’s statement, but also the reply that the Minister for National Development has furnished to me, which I have just read and which contradicts the Prime Minister’s statement.
I move -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the Bill lie withdrawn and redrafted “.
The Opposition is not satisfied that this bill goes far enough. The important responsibility that this Government and every State government has to discharge i3 to ensure that the Australian people are properly housed. What is now being done is still not good enough. We are falling behind in the struggle to provide adequate housing for our people. That is why we have so many of what are euphemistically described as emergency housing centres. Any one who has visited such centres is aware of the disgraceful conditions under which those who reside in them are obliged to live. Some of those persons may not be a3 satisfactory as they might be from the point of view of good citizenship. Nevertheless, they are human being3 and their wives and children are entitled to a fair deal. I do not think that the Government will withdraw the bill or adopt the suggestion made by the honorable member for Bennelong that it should reduce the rate of interest on housing loans and use the national credit in order to finance housing programmes, or the suggestion that was made by the honorable member for Petrie that purchasers of houses erected under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be relieved of the obligation to pay any interest whatever after they have occupied a house for twelve years. Nevertheless, the Government must achieve better results in this matter than it is achieving at present.
Finally, I ask that, if the Minister cannot expand the Government’s house construction policy he should at least endeavour to lower the interest rate on finance for house construction, so that people may be encouraged to build and to own their own homes. People who live in houses constructed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be given the opportunity to own their own homes and thus acquire a stake in the community.
.- I wish, first, to refer to the remarks that have been made by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) in regard to the housing centre at Zillmere. It seemed to me that the contribution of the honorable member to-day was a damp squib compared with the fiery way in which he came to the defence of the Queensland Government against the charges that were made against it in the House last night. I believe that he has been in touch with the Queensland Government-
– I have not been in touch with anybody in connexion with this matter.
– Apparently he has found that the Queensland Government is not able to provide him with any material with which to defend it against the charges that have been made. The honorable member has endeavoured to transfer to the shoulders of the Australian Government, blame for the failure of the housing scheme at Zillmere. He has stated that every one of those houses was approved by the Commonwealth Experimental Building Station. I suggest that the honorable member should read the statement which was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last evening. Last week, officers of the Department of National Development made an investigation to determine whether the Queensland Government has abided by the specifications which were approved by the station. It is firmly believed that the Queensland Government has departed, to a great degree, from the specifications approved by the Commonwealth. If the Queensland Government has continued to receive money from the Commonwealth for the erection of houses approved by the Commonwealth, and has built instead houses of a different kind its action is absolutely dishonest. If such a thing were done by a private organization it would be open to criminal proceedings on a charge of fraud. I maintain that there should be a royal commission, on a Commonwealth level, into this matter.
– Were not they prefabricated houses?
– I shall deal with that aspect in a moment. I am most anxious that the royal commission should not be appointed by the Queensland Government because royal commissions in Queensland have become notorious. When the terms of reference of such commissions have been drawn up, care has been taken to ensure that anything which might embarrass the State Government or its instrumentalities will not be revealed. This is accomplished by narrowing the terms of reference accordingly. I am, therefore, most eager that the royal commission which I believe should inquire into this matter be appointed by the Australian Government, and that its terms of reference should be as wide as possible.
Last night the Deputy Leader of the Opposition challenged me to table a letter which I had written to the Queensland Housing Commissioner, but you, Mr. Speaker, would not permit me to do so. However, with the concurrence of honorable members, I shall incorporate it in Hansard. It is as follows: - 18th September, 1952.
Mr. H. X. Galvin,
Queensland Housing Commission,
State Government Buildings,
Dear Mr. Galvin,
In compliance with your request, I herewith furnish the allegations made by me in regard to the Zillmere Housing Project.
Throughout the project the side lap on the corrugated fibro sheeting used in roofing the houses is only 1” to1½”. In the oldChermside Camp Area, I understand, there was an experimental house erected, the roofing of which was fixed with1½ corrugation overlap. A great number of houses in the area have reported leaking roofs which could possibly be caused by the shortness of the overlap used at Zillmere.
The tenants maintain that in quite a number of cases when leaking roofs have been repaired it is not uncommon for leaks to break out again on the occasion of the next rain. It is further maintained by them that when rain is driven in different directions according to the wind, leaks occur in the various parts of the roof.
I have personally seen the drainage system provided in the area and consider it unsuitable. From one of the sumps in the area I took a bottle of water which was found to be full of mosquito larvae.
I have been in several houses which are almost structurally completed but as yet unpainted in which the walls are out of plumb, the floors uneven and the stumps not level.
Many of the tenants complain that the windows in their homes are stuck and can be opened and closed only with the greatest difficulty.
All the T.14 type homes which I have inspected have the bearers cut through to allow the waste from the bath to be emptied, and in some instances I have noted that bearers and joists have been cut through. 1 have actually seen a bearer which had been cut through propped up with a piece of timber that was not even embedded in the ground.
I have seen dry rot on the exterior walls of homes and I have seen walls that were out of plumb. in almost every house I visited which was tenanted I found the ceilings were cracked. Many of the tenants allege that they have been waiting for periods up to almost twelve months for repairs to be effected to these ceilings. In other cases where ceilings have been replaced, these have not been painted. In one instance the tenant informed me thatcarpenters came to replace the ceilings whichwere cracked and discovered that the ceiling joists were seriously affected by dry rot; although admitting this, new ceilings were affixed to these same joists and no indication was given that they were to be replaced. The new ceiling has now cracked.
Many allegations have been made to me by competent carpenters and tradesmen to the effect that much of the workmanship is of a very inferior standard and much of the material used in the construction should have been rejected. From my own observation as a layman, their contentions appear to be based on sound premises.
I have in my possession letters from responsible citizens who are ex-employees of the Queensland Housing Commission and Lecorche Bros, and Schroth, in which it is alleged that they were unable to have much of the shoddy and faulty workmanship rectified and faulty materials replaced,by the action of either your Administrative Staff or by the instructions of the Works Supervisor employed by the contractors.
It was also maintained that should an Inspector consistently demand that his requests be complied with, he was transferred from the Project to another position or dismissed from the service of the Commission ; also that many complaints made by your Inspectors were ignored by the Administrative Staff and to their knowledge have never been rectified.
It has also been alleged that some of your technical officers are without sufficient experience to qualify them for their positions.
It was further maintained that the specification endorsed by the Commonwealth had not been rigidly adhered to. Many of the studs did not answer to the required lengths and, in order to obtain an evenness of construction, had to be cut.
It was maintained that the majority of the workers were not Australian - that the work of the Australian workmen was satisfactory but that the work of the majority of the tradesmen from Overseas indicated that they were not tradesmen, yet had been admitted find accepted by the Trades Union and were employed on the Project.
Orders given by Inspectors to rectify bad workmanship or faulty or inferior timber were “ rebuked “ and dry rot, if not of considerable proportion, had to be covered and scaled as quickly as (possible. lt was further alleged that the paint used in the painting of these homes was of an inferior quality containing a high proportion of lime.
In regard to the quality of the paint, my personal observation has suggested that there is definitely ground for the complaint that the paint is of an inferior quality. I believe this is confirmed by the number of houses which have required repainting so soon after their completion. . have personally seen stumps which have been built up by pieces of fibro cement so as to make them meet- the bearer.
I have been informed by a most reliable source that the Queensland Forestry Department endeavoured to prevent the use of certain timber but was unsuccessful.
Bathroom walls are not properly sealed from the flooring, thus allowing seepage of water through to the framework.
I trust the information contained herein is in accordance with your requirements.
Yours sincerely, (Bruce Wight.)
P.S. - I have surmised that the word rebuked “ quoted above, and which was used in the letter which I received, actually whs meant to be “ revoked “. For the sake of accuracy, however, I have quoted the word used by my correspondent.
Before I deal with the irregularities of tho administration and construction of the housing scheme at Zillmere, I wish to refer to two statements which have been made by responsible members of the Queensland Government concerning the health menace that exists in the Zillmere area. TheQueensland Minister for Housing has stated that the method of house drainage adopted at Zillmere is not considered to be a health menace. In his opinion, theonly health menace comes from the tenants themselves. I maintain that the Queensland Government and not the tenants of Zillmere, has caused a serious menace to public health. In Coxen-street, Zillmere, workmen’s barracks have been erected. Immediately adjacent to those barracks is a public lavatory. There is no septic system, in the area, so that the sewage is drained from the lavatory into a cesspit which has been dug at the side of Coxenstreet. This is contrary to Queensland health law3, particularly to regulation 24, which deals with sanitary convenience? and the disposal of nightsoil and further, which accurately defines cesspits and prohibits their construction. That is not the worst feature of this matter. Every week-end this sewage is pumped from the cesspit into a large tank, which is mounted on the back of a semi-trailer. The sewage is then transported to another street in the housing area, to a point which is surrounded by house.? and there, this sewage is emptied into the gutter in that street. I have in my possession a photograph of that process, taken by a photographer employed by the Brisbane Courier-Mail. It shows the cesspit, the pump mounted on top of the cesspit, the hose connected to the tank, and the pumping operation in progress. The sewage when emptied runs from the gutter into an open canal which has been dug between 150 and 200 yards long along the side of Handford-road, the main thoroughfare which connects Zillmere and Sandgate. The canal does not empty anywhere. After running immediately adjacent to the main highway for approximately 150 yards, it turns to the right, goes under a fence, and comes to an end. The sewage lies 2 ft. 6 in. to 3 feet deep, stinking in the Queensland summer sun. If the Queensland Minister for Health considers that that is not a health menace, I suggest that he is not fit to be a Minister of the Crown or a member of any Australian parliament.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall table in. the Library for all honorable members to see, the photograph to which I have referred.
– I shall allow it to be put there.
– Why not put it in the King’s Hall?
-Order! If the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) does not maintain silence he may find himself in King’s Hall.
– I recently joined issue with the Queensland Housing Commission on this disgusting practice. I was informed by the Queensland Housing Commissioner that originally Hunter Brothers Limited, who are the sanitary contractors to ‘ the Brisbane City Council, took away this sewage in pans at a cost of approximately £58 a month. Because the cost was considered too great, the commission decided on this new method of disposing of the sewage. The commissioner informed me that it was being done with the approval of the Brisbane City Council. I maintain that the Brisbane City Council has no authority to allow the Queensland Government to break health laws which that Government has passed, and which are still in operation.
The only method of household drainage provided at Zillmere is that the household waste empties into sumps which have been constructed in the backyards of the houses. The settlement has been built on what was once fertile and profitable farm land. Yet, not far from it may be found any amount of land that is not productive at all, and which could have been resumed for this settlement. Thus, with a little forethought, the houses could” have been built without detriment to primary production, particularly food production. The soil upon which these houses are now built is most unsuitable for the particular type of drainage that has been installed. The type of sump used has been proved by authorities to be very effective, but it is effective only in a very different type of soil. It is useless in this type of land, because even before many of the houses have been tenanted seepage through the soil has filled the sumps. Consequently, after a house has been tenanted and the housewife washes the child’s diapers, and empties washing-up water and bath water which must flow into the sump, the sump overflows into the yard. The consequence of that is that many of the yards at this housing settlement are veritable morasses. I have here a sample of sullage that I took from the yard of one of the houses, and had examined by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
A disadvantage suffered by the people at this housing settlement is that they have had to build duckboard walks between their houses and their earth closets because their backyards are so full of filthy, slimy mud and slush caused by the overflow from the sump. I took a sample of water from these sumps, and if honorable members care to examine it they will see that the water is full of mosquito larvae. Indeed, some dead mosquitoes which have hatched out since I took the sample may be seen in the water. I have received a report about this water from a prominent Queensland health authority. Because these mosquitoes are breeding in sumps that were built by the Queensland Government, that Government has contravened section 77, sub-section 2 of the Queensland Health Act, which deals with mosquito prevention and destruction, and it has also contravened section 4 of the regulations published in the Queensland Government Gazette of the 14th April, 1942. The Queensland Government is responsible for the menace to health that has occurred through the breeding of mosquitoes in these sumps. The health authorities to whom I referred this sample of waterstated that mosquitoes carrying the microorganisms that cause dengue fever could easily cause an epidemic of the fever in this area. Malaria also cannot be disregarded as it too could assume epidemic proportions. If such an epidemic should occur, it would be a direct result of theQueensland Government not providing for the proper draining of this area. Much of the household waste water that goes into these sumps contains human excreta from the washing of the diapers of the children, and it also contains putrefying particles of” foodstuffs. Therefore, it provides an ideal breeding ground for flies. During recent summers in Queensland there have been continual epidemics of gastroenteritis, which have assumed such serious proportions that they have caused a considerable number of infant deaths. The Queensland Government, by continuing to allow these bad drainage conditions to exist, is threatening the health of every child and adult within the area of the housing settlement. One woman who lives in the settlement informed me that when she had lived previously in the Kalinga housing .camp her family had suffered no illness at all. Since she and her family had moved to Zillmere she, her husband and her children, had suffered successive attacks of. dysentery. The health authority with whom I conferred informed me that not only was gastroenteritis and diarrhoea to be expected because of these conditions, but also real dysentery of the amoebic and bacillary types could also be expected. Honorable members will remember that dysentery caused a great number of deaths during the 1914-18 war. I suggest that this indictment of the Queensland Minister for Health should make him realize that he is not only incompetent, but is also unfit to hold his position, particularly in view of the public statements that he has made that no health menace existed at Zillmere.
I shall now deal with the prefabricated houses. I have brought with me some samples of the timber being used in prefabricated houses in Queensland. I point out for the benefit of the honorable member for Melbourne that my criticisms are not levelled at the quality of the houses which the firm of Lecorche Brothers and Schroth endeavoured to provide. They are levelled at the Queensland Government for its incompetent administration and its inadequate supervision of the construction of these houses. The timber that I have with me to-day arrived in Australia in crates fastened with bands of iron. It was left exposed to the weather for a period of nine months. The Commonwealth officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture treated the timber as soon as it arrived in Australia, to destroy the syrex wasp, and honorable members may see in the timber, which I hope to table in the Library of this building, the holes left by the syrex wasp.
– Order ! I cannot agree to the honorable member’s suggestion.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker. I shall be happy to allow any honorable member to examine this timber. The Commonwealth authorities treated this timber immediately it arrived in Australia to destroy the wasp. This timber is very absorbent and when exposed to the weather absorbs moisture very freely. As soon as its moisture content reaches 20 per cent, or more a fungus develops on the timber. That fungus may be seen on the samples that I brought with me. The boards are stuck tightly together and held firmly by this fungus, so that when unpacked, the workmen have to use a pinch-bar to break them apart. After the pinch-bar is used it is found that where the fungus has formed dry rot has started. I have with me two pieces of timber that I broke apart myself and the dry rot in the wood is quite apparent. Frequently when this timber is condemned by inspectors of tha Queensland Government, and when the builders are told to remove it, the instructions are ignored and the timber is concealed by being painted over. In bearers, joists, studs, struts, ceiling joists, and roofing struts of houses that have been tenanted for periods of up to only twelve months, many instances of dry rot are quite apparent. Many of the houses are falling to pieces at such a rate that it has been found necessary to employ a big gang of workmen to travel around continually . to repair and replace timber and other material. In fact, many of these houses are rapidly falling to pieces. The allegations that, have been made by certain building inspectors about the timber used in these houses gives further proof of the necessity for setting up a royal commission to investigate the whole matter. From Dr. Harrison, of the Commonwealth Department of Health, I ascertained that the Queensland Forestry Department had endeavoured to prevent the use of much of this timber but the wishes of the Queensland
Forestry Department were overruled by the Queensland Government. In fact, those wishes were completely disregarded and the material was widely used. I have a letter from a man who is prepared to submit a statutory declaration about certain matters, and if a royal commission is appointed he will attend and give evidence. He was the supervisor of construction employed by Lecorche Brothers and Schoth on this Zillmere project. His letters reads -
The materials could not he classified as a prefabricated unit or units but more as a pre- cut system.
Further on he stated -
It soon was found out that almost every plan needed rectification.
That was to make the plans conform to the sizes and the types of materials that were being sent. That indicates clearly that the specifications approved by the Commonwealth were not being adhered to. He went on -
Work had to bc organized so that delay could not harm progress. At that stage (about February 1951) construction seemed to run out of hands - bundles of timber were opened up and found to contain dry rot - some bad to be replaced completely - especially studs and ceiling battens. 1 he first roll 1plaint about rotten timber had been lodged but replacements took place only when the manager of Lecorche Bros, found it absolutely necessary
The letter further stated -
Orders given to rectify bad workmanship were revoked. Timber of inferior quality oi containing dry rot had to be covered as quick as possible - so as to eliminate detection. In many instances the undersigned was not only reprimanded but also threatened to be dismissed if again giving orders to foremen to rectify work of. inferior quality - reasons - delaying work in progress. In spite of all those failures, strict supervision carried out by some Queensland Housing Commission officers resulted in their dismissal or transfer.
Far too many officers who have had power to carry out inspections and to make recommendations, were transferred from that project when they demanded that certain errors be rectified. I shall quote now from a letter that I have received from a former inspector of the Queensland Housing Commission. He states -
I have information if you want to make your case stronger on houses that have been finalized and tenanted for the last twelve months and contractors have received the final payment. I put in complaints and they were ignored by the Administrative Staff and to my knowledge have never been rectified. I have all copies of all jobs, numbers and streets on the Project. 1 will give you so us you can have them checked and see if they have ever been repaired.
I have here a complete list of the faults that he found. They include walls out of plumb, floors and walls not square, roofs falling down because they had not been nailed, insufficient solder on rivets in guttering, and guttering placed in such a way that it would not carry water from the roof. The list of faults covers several pages. This officer demanded that the faults be rectified. He told the foreman, through an interpreter, that this reface work had to be carried out before anything else was done. The foreman said, “ I will go and see the office about that “. The foreman then reported to the construction office, and an instruction was issued, signed by the Queensland State Housing Commissioner, that this officer was no longer to carry out inspection work. He has since been sacked. When the supervisor employer by Lecorche Brothers and Schroth, from whose letter I previously read excerpts, demanded that certain repair work and replacement be carried out, his pay was docked by from £3 to £5 a week. When he demanded an explanation, he was informed that he was “ too hard to get on- with “. He then suggested that if the commission was not satisfied with his work it should dismiss him. The executive officer laughed and informed him that he could not he sacked because, he knew too much. Therefore, he resigned and his evidence, together with that of inspectors employed try the Queensland Government, will be available if n royal commission is appointed.
I have before me also photographs which show dry rot in buildings under construction and cracked bearers improperly fitted to the stumps on which they rest. The pictures also show cracked stumps that have been built up with scraps of fibro to meet the bearers. These pictures were taken a few weeks ago and were published in the Brisbane CourierMail. The Queensland Minister for Housing, Mr. Hilton, subsequently informed the Queensland Parliament that the houses had been condemned. I then took the Housing Commissioner, Mr.
Galvin, on an inspection and drew his attention to similar faults in houses that had not been condemned, but which were tenanted by people who were paying from £3 2s. 6d. to £3 5s. a week for them. I showed him bearers in a worse condition than the ones that had been photographed. They were rotten inside. If adequate supervision is exercised, there is no reason why a bearer containing dry rot should ever be put into a house. Faults such as that should be rectified before any superstructure is built. Had that been done in this instance, there would not have been any need to condemn the houses to which I have referred. It was necessary to condemn the houses because bearers had been placed on faulty stumps and the framework had been built on faulty bearers. The bearers and stumps should have been condemned and removed long before the roof was put on.
The commissioner then took us to see what was going on in the Chermside
Area, where he said everything had been put right. I had a conference with one of the inspectors there and he told me in the presence of Mr. Nowland, the chief architect employed by the Queensland Housing Commission, that he was still not satisfied. He pointed to several frameworks on which there was no roofing or sheeting. He said, “ I gave strict orders that no other houses were to be erected until these had been roofed and sheeted “. He pointed out that the quality of the timber being as it was, if rain fell - and it is raining in Queensland now - the moisture content of the timber would be greatly increased and, ultimately, dry rot would set in. After roofs had been built on the houses it would be necessary to remove the outer walls or inner walls to find the dry rot in the studs. To find the dry rot in the ceiling, it would be necessary to lift the roofing. Dry rot in the bearers could only be detected by removing the flooring or crawling under the structure. Those “houses would be riddled with dry rot. The amortization period of these dwellings is 53 years, but they are likely to collapse within a few years unless they are completely reconstructed. Such work would come under the heading of maintenance and, of course, the Australian Government is responsible for three-fifths of the losses incurred by the State and this could include cost of maintenance. Does that not indicate clearly that the Commonwealth’s trust in the Queensland Government has been betrayed? The Queensland Government has used Commonwealth funds recklessly. It has been insinuated that certain serious irregularities in the administration, particularly the relationship of certain Cabinet Ministers to this matter, should be investigated. I believe that these allegations are serious enough to warrant the appointment of a royal commission. I hope that this Government will appreciate the importance of this matter and will appoint a royal commission to investigate it.
.- The Australian Government is unable to build houses for civilians because members of the present Government parties prevented the Commonwealth from obtaining power to build houses for civilians. They argued that the State governments should build houses and they have built houses.
– No government should build houses.
– The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. ‘Cramer) says that no government should build houses. When a Labour government sought to obtain power to build houses for civilians throughout Australia, members of the Opposition at that time maintained that such power should be vested only in the State governments. The opposition to the plan was successful and, therefore, we now have the spectacle of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and others attacking a state government for its alleged failure to deal with the problem of housing.
The honorable gentleman, who has bitterly criticized the Queensland Government and its public servants, has lost sight of the fact that this Government is a party to the Commonwealth and State housing agreement, under which the Commonwealth has undertaken to provide money for housing in the States. This Government has a responsibility to the taxpayers who have provided the money for the purposes of the agreement. Therefore, if it has neglected its trust by allowing a State government to expend hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of pounds wastefully as its agent, a royal commission, if appointed, should investigate not only the conduct of State officials and Ministers but also the administration of this Government. The housing agreement provides for supervision and control by this Government of the housing activities of the State governments, which act as its agents. That is a proper provision, and, if Commonwealth Ministers and public servants have failed to carry out their obligations, responsibility for their neglect should be sheeted home to them. I do not know whether or not the statements made by the honorable member for Lilley were correct and I do not propose to devote my time to a discussion of the achievements or failures of the Queensland Government in connexion with the erection of prefabricated houses. Those houses were imported at the inspiration of a member of the present Australian Government, who was a sort of advertising agent in this country for prefabricated houses constructed in Austria, France, England, and elsewhere. All the houses of that type that I have seen are entirely unsuited to Australian conditions and they should not have been imported. Better houses could be built in Australia for less than the cost of such buildings.
The housing shortage is becoming worse and worse. It is not a new problem. It was not caused by World War II., or by the influx of immigrants since that war. There was a housing shortage between the two world wars, and even before World War I. was fought. We had slums and a shortage of good houses in Australia at the beginning of the century. Our slums and the present shortage of houses are a heritage of the ineptitude and incapacity of successive governments, most of which have been anti-Labour governments. In recent years, Labour governments in the States have endeavoured to solve the problems of inadequate housing. They have accepted responsibility for housing the people for the first time in the history of Australia. As the honorable member for Bennelong said earlier, by interjection, members and supporters of the present Government consider that housing should be left entirely in the hands of private enterprise. But the slums of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, and even the new houses that the honorable member for Lilley has described as disgraceful, are our inheritance from private enterprise.
– How did the honorable member arrive at that conclusion?
– Because we had housing shortages throughout the period of unrestricted speculation by private builders. That was when our slums were built. Houses were erected on pockethandkerchief allotments, and to-day they are undeniably blots on the landscape.
Even the anti-Labour governments, to which the present Government is heir, recognized, between the two world wars, that the housing problem in Australia was acute. They declared that governments must do something about that problem, but apparently they spoke with their tongues in. their cheeks. In 1925, the Nationalist party issued a manifesto in which it stated that £20,000,000 would be provided in order to enable people in the cities and in the country to secure their own homes. The Commonwealth Housing Act was passed in 1927, but it became a dead letter after 1929-30, because no advances were made under it after that year. During the 1934 election campaign, the late Mr. Lyons, who was then the leader of the party from which the present Liberal party has descended, promised to assist in the building of houses with a view to the abolition of slums. That was a definite promise. Sir Frederick Stewart, in his report to the Government in 1935 on the clearance of slum areas and re-housing, said -
No constitutional hedge could justify our dis-concern, even were we not so definitely commited by pre-election undertakings.
Anti-Labour governments promised to tackle the problem when there was an abundance of labour and materials, but they did nothing to honour their promises. In March, 1936, Mr. Lyons refused to make money available for the specific purposes of slum clearance and extensive house construction. In 1938 he said it would be quite impossible for the Government to take part in any programme “of house construction for the abolition of slum areas. In 1939, the present Prime Minister refused to make funds available for the purposes of a plan for the rehousing of the people.
On the 1st May, 1940, Mr. Hughes was asked whether he had made any progress in the Cabinet with his proposal for the abolition of slum areas in Sydney. He replied -
I am afraid that that question is neither important nor urgent so far as it is directed to me.
– He was right, too.
– That was the attitude of honorable members opposite in the past. Their motto was, “Promise everything, do nothing”. They would admit the responsibility of the Government to erect houses, and undertake slum clearance schemes, but when they were called upon to give effect to their promises and declarations, they pretended that they had no authority to do so.
Mr. Hughes. - The honorable gentleman mentioned the name “ Hughes “. “Will he explain that he has not referred to me. I think that he has in mind Mr. Kent Hughes.
– Order ! Honorable members should be referred to by their constituencies.
– I apologize most humbly to the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes). I know that he would dissociate himself from such a statement.
The principal problem that confronts a person who desires to purchase a home is the cost - the cost of building, the interest upon the loan, and the price of the land on which the dwelling is erected. Building costs have soared abnormally during the last two or three years. A house which was an £800 proposition in 1939 costs about £4,000 to-day. Let us suppose that a man desired to purchase such a house, and paid a deposit of £500. Interest charges at 4£ per cent, per annum amounting to between £2 and £4 a week would have to be paid before he reduced the mortgage by Id. He would not own the property until 40 or 50 years had expired. That impossible position was brought about by the actions of this Government, first, in insisting that the Commonwealth should not take any responsibility for the housing of civilians, and secondly, for relieving the Commonwealth of responsibility for the control of the prices of land and building requisites.
Land values have soared in recent years. A block of land in a residential suburb of Sydney or Melbourne, which cost £100 or £150 before 1939, cannot be bought for less than .£500 or £700 today. A person pays as much for a building block in a residential area to-day as he paid in 1939 for the land and the house. -Of course, people cannot meet those high costs, and they would not have to meet them if the Liberal party and the Australian Country party had urged the electors in the referendum in 1948 to grant to the Commonwealth power to control prices. I point out that the prices at which houses constructed 30 or 40 years ago have been sold in recent years have been determined, not hy the present-day building costs, but by the scarcity of dwellings, and the eagerness of many people to secure immediate possession of houses. In order to do so they have paid prices out of all proportion to either the cost of the labour employed on the erection of the houses, or the cost of the land. When the Government removed controls over the price of land, the price became a plaything of the speculator. A block which cost £150 in 1939, cost £700 in 1950. That increase was not due to the fact that labour had been employed at any time to develop and improve the land. The increase was merely the gift of an unearned increment to the vendor. It may be claimed that the disparity between land values in 1939 and 1950 is explained by the diminished value of money, but that does not account for the whole increase. The unearned increment of a block which cost £150 before the war and costs £700 to-day, is approximately £400. Because of that condition of affairs, many people are not able to secure the houses to which they are entitled.
Iri my opinion, the Government should go out of its way to provide moneys at a low rate of interest for the purpose of assisting persons with families to purchase houses. One honorable member said that the rate of interest on a mortgage on a house should be reduced every few years. I have a better idea than that. I consider that the Government should write off a part of the purchase price of a cottage following every addition to the family. After all, that would only be in conformity with the Government’s policy to increase the population of Australia. The Commonwealth has incurred- heavy financial responsibilities in order to bring adult and even child immigrants to Australia. If the Government decided to make a contribution towards the purchase of a home upon the arrival of each baby, it would held to increase the population, develop the country and solve the housing problem.
– The House is considering the allocation of moneys by the Commonwealth in order to assist the States to provide houses for the people. A large sum of money is provided each year for that purpose. Last year, direct advances made by the Commonwealth through its agencies and instrumentalities amounted to no less a sum than £70,000,000. This year, the allocation’ will be £80,000,000, and that figure does not include subsidiary assistance which will probably bring the Commonwealth’s contribution to housing this year to £100,000,000. That is a substantial sum of money. The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) made it appear that the Commonwealth is in some way responsible for the present housing shortage.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay used to say so when he was in Opposition.
– A Labour government was in office from the end of 1941 to the end of 1949, and a survey of home-building during that period gives almost a nil return. Consequently, this Government has found it difficult to overtake such a big lag, whilst meeting its other commitments. It provided £60,000,000 for payment of the war gratuity, and substantially increased social services, yet it managed to make available hundreds of millions of pounds for housing. We have had unfortunate experiences in Queensland in connexion with houses imported by the State Government under the Commonwealth subsidy. In these days too great emphasis is placed upon the value of imported houses. I believe that the time has come when the subsidy on imported houses should be withdrawn. Money expended in that way could be much better used, partly to subsidize the small percentage of imported softwoods that must be used in conjunction with native timbers in house construction, and partly for the development of native timbers for that purpose. At present we import timber from countries which, for thousands of years, have used native timbers for house construction purposes. Australian hardwoods are available in vast quantities, particularly in the coastal areas of Queensland. We should endeavour to use a greater proportion of our native hardwoods in house construction. Ample supplies of suitable timber are available and skilled building tradesmen are eager to use it* for that purpose.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has said that there is now a shortage of 500,000 houses. When the present Government took office we needed 700,000 new homes. This year, the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities will provide almost £100,000,000 for housing. In these days, when workers are beginning to value their jobs at their true worth, it is ridiculous that carpenters should be able to demand £20 a week. Do honorable members consider that that is a fair wage?
– I do.
– If the honorable member does so, obviously he is not building a house. We should do everything possible to encourage the establishment in Australia of industries from overseas. The establishment of two additional £1,000,000 plants would do much to restore equilibrium to our economy. But overseas industrialists will not be induced to establish branches of their organizations in Australia as long as Australian workers continue to demand the right to do less work for more pay.
This year, the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities will provide almost £100,000,000 for housing purposes. Of that colossal amount, £28,000,000 will be earmarked for war service homes and £30,000,000 for advances to the States and for subsidies on imported houses. In addition, £18,000,000 will be made available by the Commonwealth Bank in direct advances and to finance the activities of building societies. As the result of the financial policy applied by this Government the private banks have additional deposits amounting to approximately £330,000,000 and are now in a much better position to make advances for house construction than they were in the past. Credit restrictions no longer hamper prospective home builders from obtaining advances from the banks. Under the instructions issued by the Commonwealth Bank the maximum advance for that purpose is now £3,500.
– How much would an applicant have to pay as deposit in order to secure such an advance?
– I invite the honorable member to seek that information from the banks. Within the limits of the maximum advance, the amount of the advance, and the amount required as deposit, would be appropriate to the value of the structure. [Quorum formed.] The Opposition has alleged that restriction of credit by the Australian Government has interefered with the construction of houses. My answer to that charge is that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has instructed the trading banks that they may advance up to £3,500 for the construction of a house. So far as the Australian Government is concerned, money is available and there is practically no restriction on loans. Surely the States have some responsibility. They have loans for workers’ homes. They are able to make advances through their agricultural banks for the construction of houses for farm workers. That is not a responsibility of the Australian Government. Through the Commonwealth Bank and its instrumentalities, £100,000,000 is to be made available through direct advances. The Commonwealth Bank provides for loans up to £15,000 for the improvement of buildings on farm properties. In addition, £15,000 may be advanced by the Commonwealth Bank for the purchase of a farm and toplace a house upon it. Provision is made also for advances up to £10,000 for loans to co-operative societies anywhere in Australia. It does not matter in what branch of trade or commerce the co-operative society is engaged. An advance of £5,000 may be granted for the purchase of a home with a small commercial or professional business. Clubs may obtain loans for club buildings and accessories provided that they are non-profit making institutions. Under instructions from the Commonwealth Bank, applicants for advances for the construction of churches and schools may be considered. . More millions of pounds are to be spent on buildings for navy and army purposes.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must direct his remarks to housing.
– Provision is made for houses for employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I support the proposed advance of £30,000,000 to the States, and I hope that they will expend the money wisely. I urge strongly the need for decentralization. If local authorities in the provincial cities were given the right to spend more loan money in the localities that come under their control, decentralization would be encouraged.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). The House is discussing a proposed grant of £30,000,000 to the States, but the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) spoke as though £100,000,000 were involved. Honorable members know that £30,000,000 to-day is equal to only £12,000,000 or £13,000,000 a few years ago. Speaking for the workers who are looking for houses, I regret that the contribution that is proposed by the Government is not of a more practical nature. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) delivered an oration on dry rot. The honorable member for Wide Bay said that there was no need to worry because ample timber and materials were available and that in the sweet by and by houses will be provided. The people- without homes are not worrying about dry rot in the houses. They are more concerned with the dry rot that has eaten into the Government. The honorable member for “Wide Bay said that a person wanting to buy a house could get an advance of £3,500.
– I said that he may get a loan.
– He may or he may not, but if he wants to borrow £3,500 he has to have assets worth about that amount.
– That is completely wrong.
– I know men who had £1,500 or £1,600 in cash and who applied to the banks for the balance that they required to buy a home valued at £4,000. They were told that they should do better. The people have been fooled by the present Government. During the 1949 general election campaign, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated -
We will attack the basic causes of underproduction and excessive cost. While shortages continue, we will facilitate the entry of selected imported building materials; and will also review- the incidence of such imposts as sales tax on home fittings and furniture.
The right honorable gentleman did not say that the money would be provided in dribs and drabs. To-day, many people are not only without homes, but are also without jobs. A Government supporter has stated that many men who are out of work should be able to finance the provision of their own homes. He also stated that there are only several hundreds of persons unemployed, but I know that thousands of people are out of work, not only in New South “Wales, but throughout Australia.
– Order ! The honorable member should confine his remarks to the bill.
– Homes must be provided for our people. In New South Wales no less than six brickyards have closed down. The honorable member for Lilley has referred to the presence of dry rot in the timber of imported prefabricated houses. Possibly that condition existed before they came to this country. It will be remembered that
Commonwealth officers went overseas for the sole purpose of selecting suitable prefabricated houses for this country.. It would seem that they have beenresponsible for the importation of inferior units.
Following World War II. the Sydney City Council entered into an agreement; with the New South Wales Government: in relation to a large-scale slum clearance project. In 1945, thousands of substandard dwellings in Redfern and Surry Hills were condemned as unfit for human occupation. It was understood at that time that the Commonwealth would finance the provision of new homes for occupants of the sub-standard dwellings. However, the Liberal upper house in New South Wales considered that the homes were fit for people to live in. Despite the fact that in 78,000 of them there were no baths, tubs or coppers, the representatives of the big rag shops in New South Wales considered that they were adequate for the people. Subsequently the New South Wales Government entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth in relation to a rebuilding programme, but only relatively few houses have been constructed in the Redfern and Waterloo areas. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) told me recently that he had admired the houses that had been built, but, like myself, he wondered when the remainder would be constructed. Many people are still living in camps around Sydney waiting for accommodation. The whole set-up has come undone, as a result of lack of finance. Some honorable; members opposite have stated that homes have been built only in the city areas. Reports that have been furnished by the Housing Commission of New South Wales prove otherwise. Only £28,000,000 was expended during the last financial year on the provision of homes for exservicemen, many of whom are still waiting for accommodation. Some of them have told me that they consider that at the present rate of progress they will become eligible for the age pension before they are provided with homes. The New South Wales Labour Government has done a magnificent job to try to bridge the gap in housing.
– Why does it not complete the flats near the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
– Because of lack of finance. Clause 6 (1.) of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which is set out in the Schedule to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act 1945, reads -
The Commonwealth will advance to each State the moneys heretofore expended in the carrying out of a housing project or projects and the moneys that shall be hereafter required for the carrying out of the State’s housing projects as notified to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth from time to time pursuant to clause 7.
That agreement would have been honoured had Labour remained in office.
I believe that the housing of the people is second in importance only to the feeding of the people. Finance for housing, irrespective of cost, should be provided by the National Government. Honorable members opposite have claimed that no attempt has been made by the people who have been assisted to obtain houses to repay the money that has been advanced to them. I point out that the people who require housing are quite prepared to pay rent on say, the basis of 2 per cent, interest, where home ownership is not made possible. The honorable member for Bennelong stated that everybody should own his own home, and that houses should be built by private enterprise. If the honorable member had his way, many of the people who are waiting for houses would never get homes of their own.
Some honorable members would be astounded at the housing conditions in parts of my electorate. Many immigrants who have been employed on the waterfront live in those areas. In many instances, the beds that day workers occupy at night are used by night workers when they finish their shift. As many as six beds in each room of a house are constantly in use. This is a shocking state of affairs, which I am sure will be rectified when Labour again occupies the treasury bench. The next government will be, of course, a Labour government, but I shall tell it, as I am telling this Government now, that the provision of houses for the people should be its first responsibility.
The Prime Minister has told us that he will stake his reputation and the reputation of this Government upon the result of the Flinders by-election. He should hare said that if the Government parties do not win that election, the Government will resign and permit the people of Australia to repair the damage that it has done during the last three years.
– The Prime Minister has no reputation.
– Certainly he has lost the confidence of the people. I know of an association in Sydney that has been collecting money for the last six or seven years to build an institution, lt has been collecting small sums, and has been investing the money in Commonwealth bonds. Now, it wants to build the institution. Owing to the actions of this Government, many building tradesmen are out of work, brickyards cannot dispose of the whole of their output, and building materials of every type are available. But, when officials of the association visited a branch of the Commonwealth Bank the other day to make arrangements for the sale of the association’s bonds, which have a face value of £24,000, they were told that they would incur a loss of £2,500 if they disposed of them then. This Government is to blame for that state of affairs.
On the 30th June, 1949, the New South Wales Housing Commission had completed 10,000 permanent houses in that State. Yet honorable gentlemen opposite tell us that the McGirr Government did nothing to house the people. I prophesy that the number of houses completed in the five years prior to 1949 will not be exceeded in any year during which this Government remains in office. We have been told that this year the Commonwealth has made available to the States sufficient money to enable houses to be built for some time at the present rate of construction, but I say that the money that has been made available to New South Wales this year will not be sufficient to pay for one house or for one flat. It will only pay for the completion of last year’s unfinished programme. Those honorable gentlemen opposite who represent borderline seats have been telling us for the last few weeks what they will do about the means test, about pensions, and about houses for the people.
Members of the Government parties always make promises of that kind just before a general election or a by-election is held, but they do nothing to honour those promises. It was estimated that, last February, 100,000 additional houses were required in New South “Wales. I do not think that the money that this Government has made available to the New South “Wales Government will be sufficient to finance the building of many of those houses.
We have been told that we should nol be calamity howlers. At a time when this country is alleged to be more prosperous than it has ever been before, thousands of people are out of work and are without homes. If the Government cannot provide the finance that is required to build houses for the people who are already in this country, why is it bringing thousands of immigrants here each year? I believe that the target is 150,000 immigrants a year. Many immigrants have flocked to Sydney and other ‘ cities, but they cannot find houses there. I know that in Sydney more than 100 people are living in hostels that were designed to accommodate only 25 people. A member of the Liberal party has said that health inspectors should evict some of them, because the health regulations are being contravened. But that cannot be done, because those people have no other place in which to sleep. Those conditions obtain throughout Australia.
The farmers of this country are subsidized from the cradle to the grave. Almost everything that they use on their farms is subject to a subsidy. Their butter and tea are subsidized, in the same way as are the butter and tea of everybody else. They draw the maternity allowance and other social services benefits. The Government will help the farmers, but it will not provide the finance that is required to build houses for homeless people. If the Government can pay subsidies on houses imported from overseas, why can it not pay subsidies to brickyards? If that were done, many brickyards which are now closed could be put into operation again. Why does not the Prime Minister live up to the promises that he made in- 1949? He has said that he will hand back to the States their taxing rights, but doubtless he will ensure that the Commonwealth will take the major portion of the people’s money.
If the Australian people are prepared to agree to an annual expenditure of £200,000,000 upon defence in a time of peace, surely they would rally to the defence of homeless people and raise another £200,000,000 for building purposes. If the Government believes that the Commonwealth has not the power to make special grants for building, why does not it ask for that power at a . referendum ? The people would not reject such a request. The land owners of Australia will be given £6,000,000 a year as a result of the abolition of the land tax. Could not that money be used to finance the building of houses? Could not wealthy organizations such as the Rose Bay golf club wait until the people of this country have been housed before they erect new buildings?
The Government has sold national assets that the workers toiled night and day to build. During the last war, £10,000,000 was expended upon a graving dock. If a war were to break out tomorrow, money would be the last thing that the Government would think about. Taxes would be increased to provide any money that was required to prosecute the war. If the people can be taxed for war purposes, surely they can be taxed for peaceful purposes. Money spent on housing would be far better spent than the thousands of pounds which the Government has expended on referendums and communism. It would help to free this country from communism and from divorces because the shortage of housing has prevented many young people from getting married. Many others have married and lived in rooms and their living conditions have resulted in divorce. The housing shortage has operated to the detriment of the country more than any other factor. Homes are needed in New South Wales by 100,000 people and 40,000 of those people need them desperately. Unfortunately, these people will have to wait for eighteen months before they will have an opportunity to express their opinion of the Government at the next general election. Time and time again the Prime Minister has promised to provide homes for the people. He promised to make them little capitalists. In fact, he has not only deprived them of homes but of jobs also. His policy has put thousands out of work. Since they cannot get jobs they cannot borrow £3,500 from the Government to build a home as the honorable member for Wide Bay suggested that they could.
– I rise to order ! The honorable member has accused me of saying that a person could obtain money from the Commonwealth Government. He could not have understood that I referred to the Commonwealth Bank.
– There is no point of order.
– The Government advises the Commonwealth Bank. The Government has proposed that unemployment relief should be raised from 25s. a week to £2 10s. a week for single men who have been in the habit of earning at least the basic wage, of £11 16s. The Government has alleged that only about 50,000 people are out of work. The fact is that 100,000 people are out of work although many of them have not applied for unemployment relief. The amount of £2 10s. which the Government proposes to pay the single men is not even equal to the age pension yet the Government will expect the people of Flinders to elect its candidate at the by-election. The Prime Minister has failed to fulfil the promises that he made in 1949 to provide homes and work for the people and I hope that he will be man enough to resign after the Flinders by-election.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– This bill provides for the allocation of £30,000,000 to the States under the loan housing agreement. This amount is nearly £3,500,000 more than the amount that was allocated for this purpose last year. When it became necessary for the Australian Loan Council to reduce the total amount of loan money to be made available to the States the housing allocation was reduced to a little over £21,000,000. The Government, realizing the importance of the building industry, decided to increase that amount to £30,000,000 which is twice as much as the sum that was allocated for this purpose by the Chifley Government in 1945. This money will be allocated to the States in the following proportions: - New South Wales, £12,100,000; Victoria, £11,270,000; Queensland, £3,730,000; Western Australia, £2,900,000. This is a most important bill because of the spectre of unemployment which has been referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and other Opposition members. This £30,000,000 will provide very badly needed houses and will provide employment in that industry which has the greatest effect upon employment. As every house that is built provides employment for six men the provision of this amount will have a beneficial effect on employment. No industry is as important as the building industry in providing employment. At the beginning of the year there was a fall in the number of houses built under the housing agreement because of their tremendously high cost. However, I want to deal with the subject of costs at a later stage. I think it is only fair to comment on the statements that were made last night by the Prime Minister in such a restrained and controlled way when he told us about the shocking and disgraceful state of affairs in Queensland. That state of affairs is the result of bad administration by the Queensland Labour Government of the loan funds provided under this agreement in previous years. I refer to the housing project in relation to which the Queensland Government, using Commonwealth funds provided under the agreement, did such a bad job; it wasted money on the purchase of inferior materials, permitted bad workmanship and bad supervision, and failed to acquiesce in attempts by authorities such as the Queensland Forestry Commission to have better timber used. The position has arisen also from the Queensland Government’s lack of responsibility in relation to public funds and its lack of the integrity that we should like to see in connexion with public affairs. We all realize that there was a fall in public integrity and morals during the war. The community has been trying to lift itself above the level to which it fell in war-time, yet here ia an instance of leaders in the community, namely the members of the Queensland Labour Government, letting the community down by wasting precious funds that were made available to it to carry out the job for providing housing and employment at a time when both are badly needed. That job is almost a sacred trust.
– It is the Commonwealth that has fallen down on the job.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has interjected. He has had some experience in matter relating to timber and in matters of high finance with timber people.
– No, he has not, you dirty mongrel !
-Order ! The honorable gentleman will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it.
– I am not quite sure of the words that the honorable member used, which you instructed him to withdraw, Mr. Speaker, but I am sure that they could apply to people in other places, too. I say that the honorable member for East Sydney should be the last to interject in relation to matters concerning timber for building purposes, because he has said things to us about that matter in this House on previous occasions. There will have to be very strict supervision in relation to all matters in which the expenditure of Commonwealth funds is involved, and I believe that the community will cooperate with the Government in that respect after what it has learned from the remarks of the honorable member for Lilley last night. People in the community should inform the Government of instances of the States wasting this money, which was taken from the taxpayers in the first place to finance urgent work, and which, in one State at least, has been expended in a wasteful and shocking manner. The building industry, which is nourished to some degree by the funds provided under this agreement, obtains its timber from the native timber industry, which is finding itself in difficulties after having made tremendous attempts to increase production. Overseas timber prices are falling and our own costs of production of timber have risen tremendously. I ask for leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I desire to make a personal explanation in relation to a newspaper report of a speech that I made yesterday. A Melbourne newspaper today published, under the sub-heading “ Unjustified “, the following report, which purports to be a report of my remarks : -
Mr. Falkinder said the “ unjustified and intolerable” clause concerning war widows’ conduct was a reflection on war widows, and should be removed entirely. “ Of course you have war widows whose behaviour is immoral,” he said, “ but no widow should have her morals subjected to investigation.”
That report is completely inaccurate. I propose to read to the House the precise words that I used. I said, with reference to the power of officers of the Repatriation Department to investigate the affairs of war widows -
The existence of such a power is a grave reflection, which is not to be lightly dismissed, upon war widows as a whole. Doubtless, as happens in respect of any other category of human beings, there are exceptional cases of war widows whose moral character is open to question. However, that fact could not, in any circumstances, justify the existing provision that empowers departmental officers to investigate the private life of a war widow.
I submit that that is an entirely different statement from that which was attributed to me by the newspaper, and I believe that I am entitled to have a full retraction of the report made by the newspaper, and that retraction should be given the same prominence as was given to the incorrect report.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
Honorable members will recall that when I spoke in the House last week on the subject of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited I said that if the Government decided to sell its shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited it would tell the House about its decision very promptly. I now have some information to give the House on this subject.
I informed honorable members that this matter arose for Government consideration when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited informed us that it was thinking of establishing a large oil refinery in Western Australia. I am now able to inform the House definitely that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited has decided to proceed with the establishment of this large refinery at Kwinana, near Fremantle, and will press ahead with all possible expedition with the project. The Western. Australian Government is, of course, giving it all possible assistance, and the Commonwealth Government also will lend its aid wherever this is appropriate.
The refinery will have a capacity of 3,000,000 tons a year and is expected to come into operation in 1956. When completed it will be capable of meeting nearly 40 per cent. of the estimated petroleum requirements of Australia at that time. It will be by far the largest refinery in Australia, and will have an operating staff of about 1,000 persons. The plant will comprise distillation units for the recovery of petrol, kerosene, gas-oil and bunker fuel, and for the preparation of feed stock for catalytic cracking. The cracking units will produce high octane motor spirit and residual fuel oil. Subsidiary plants will improve the quality of the distilled petrol, and will perform the necessary refining operations on kerosene and other products. Aviation spirit plant is also to be installed. The tanks required for the storage of crude oil and the products of the refinery will add substantially to the country’s strategic storage facilities.
The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited will provide the whole of the capital required for the new refinery, which is estimated to cost not less than £40,000,000. In addition, the company will expand the storage and distribution facilities of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited at a cost of about £12,000,000.
I told honorable members last week that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited was proposing to use the organization of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to distribute, in Australia, the output of this new refinery. To do this satisfactorily it would be necessary to expand the capital of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited from its present figure of £850,000 up to about £12,000,000, and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited had invited the Commonwealth to continue as a partner in this venture and contribute half the extra capital required. This the Government agreed to do, and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) made an announcement to that effect in January, 1951. I explained also that, in the future, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would cease to be a refiner and would become merely the agent for the distribution of the Anglo-Iranian products. Honorable members will recall that the Government conceived some doubts about whether the Parliament could validly appropriate money for this purpose and sought advice both from its law officers and from Mr. Barwick, Q.C. The advice was that the Commonwealth Parliament did not have the power to appropriate more money for this purpose. In these circumstances, the Government had a choice. In the first instance, it could decide to retain its existing shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, leaving it to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited to subscribe all the new capital required. This course would have resulted in the Commonwealth owning only a small share in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the great bulk of the capital being controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. ‘ Under these conditions, the Commonwealth could not claim to exercise any material influence over the policy of the company. On the other hand, the Commonwealth could decide to sell its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Under the oil agreement the Commonwealth is required to give the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited the first refusal of any snares which it desires to sell. What the Government did was to notify the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited of the fact that it had been advised that it could not legally provide money for an increase in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited’s capital, and to discuss the situation.
I asked the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) to make a special visit to London to take these matters up and discuss them fully with the company and to negotiate with them. He explained the matters which I have just outlined to honorable members. The Government decided that the best course of action was to dispose of its shares, but, of course, at a price which represented their fair value.
There has been quite a long negotiation on this question of price. At the outset, the Government appointed an experienced firm of chartered accountants to make a valuation of its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. This firm made its valuation and assessed a price of £6 10s. a share, giving a total of £2,762,506 10s. for the whole of the Commonwealth’s interest in the company. The Commonwealth indicated that this was its price and after a series of negotiations, in which we began with very divergent views on the value of the shares, I am now in a position to inform the House that the company has agreed to pay the value of £6 10s. put on the shares by the Commonwealth. In fact, earlier to-day, it paid for them at that price. In return, of course, the Commonwealth has transferred the whole of its shareholding to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited and the Commonwealth directors have resigned from the board. The oil agreement between the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, which imposed obligations on each party, has been cancelled. A bill to confirm the Government’s action in this matter will be submitted to the House as soon as practicable during this session.
In the result, the Commonwealth has disposed of its holding at the price which it was competently advised was the true value. We felt at the outset that, although there was for all practical purposes only one buyer, we should not go below this price, having regard to the fact that we were disposing of a public asset.
There has been some suggestion that the action of the Government in selling these shares is in some way depriving Australia of a vital defence asset. This view fails to recognize the obvious fact that there is little purpose in being concerned in an oil or petrol distributing business unless there is oil or petrol to distribute. The project now being put in hand will go a long way towards ensuring just that.
The net result when these transactions are brought to their conclusion is that, instead of having an old refinery, capable of handling 130,000 tons of oil at Laverton, in Victoria, a refinery which, in fact, did not operate during the war years, 1942-45, Australia will have a modern refinery capable of handling 3,000,000 tons of oil at Kwinana, in Western Australia.
I should emphasize that the negotiations over this matter have been exceptionally delicate and important, as the Government attached great importance to the establishment of the large Anglo-Iranian refinery in Western Australia. The Government felt that it was important that nothing should be done which would imperil or delay this great enterprise. I am pleased to report to the House that the negotiations in this important transaction have been conducted without any atmosphere of ill-will being injected into them, and with a high sense of responsibility on both sides. The period of association between the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been long, profitable and friendly. The Commonwealth welcomes the company’s decision to establish in. Western Australia this large refinery, a refinery which will be so important for the supply of petroleum products, for our trading position and for employment, and believes that its relations with this great company will be as friendly in the future as they have been in the past.
– I regard the announcement which has just been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) as evidence that a thoroughly bad business deal has been made on behalf of Australia. I had hoped against hope that after the debates that had taken place in this Parliament, and after the public discussions that had occurred, the Government would have made an honest review of the position. The statement of the Prime Minister dealt with two entirely separate things. He referred to the establishment of a great oil refinery in Western’ Australia - an excellent proposal, and one in which the Australian Government could have been a partner with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, as was disclosed the other day in this House. The essence of the arrangement between the Australian Government and the British Government, through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, was that there should be a permanent partnership for the provision of oil supplies for Australia. Now, it has been decided to sell the Commonwealth’s holdings in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The Parliament has not been consulted, and the people have not been consulted. Nevertheless, this extremely successful enterprise from a financial point of view is to be sold at a price that is grossly below its value.
– How does the right honorable gentleman know that?
– That much is evident from an examination of the balance-sheet. The Commonwealth’s shares are to be sold for £2,750,000, but their value is far in excess of that.
– The other day, the right honorable gentleman said that their value was £3,000,000.
– I said nothing of the kind the other day. The Prime Minister will not listen to argument, but keeps on interrupting from his privileged place at the table.
-Order ! The Prime Minister was heard in comparative silence, but the same courtesy has not been extended to the Leader of the
Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I demand that it shall be.
– The announcement was made on the 17th January last that an agreement had been made with the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited to establish a refinery in Western Australia. What the Prime Minister said about that aspect of the matter a few minutes ago was not news. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said that the refinery would supply petroleum products for the Australian and overseas markets and that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would handle the distribution of the refinery’s products in Australia; and, of course, it would do so in competition with the major oil companies. In order to finance the provision of adequate storage facilities in Western Australia, the capital of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was to be increased by £12,000,000, and the Government announced in January last that it would provide half of that amount. The refinery was to be the largest in Australia, and. storage was to be provided for an additional 1,000,000 tons of crude oil, intermediate and refined products, which, according to the Minister for National Development, would, be an important contribution to Australia’s reserve stocks of petroleum products for defence purposes. That was the arrangement that was made with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited only a few short months ago. Why has that arrangement been altered ? It was stated in the press, which seems to find out what happens in Cabinet in respect of important matters of this kind, that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) successfully opposed the proposal to sell the Commonwealth’s share in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited although the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) and the Minister for National Development wanted to make the sale. At present, the Postmaster-General is abroad, and the Government has now decided during his absence to make the sale.
I put it to the House that the Prime Minister’s reference to legal opinion is completely unsatisfactory. If the Government has raised constitutional questions, as the Prime Minister has admitted, it should look at the situation that it deliberately established in order that it could get the opinion that it obtained. It is said that the Australian Government should not be a distributor of oil, but the Government’s own conduct in relation to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited made it a distributor. Then the Prime Minister’s announcement enabled a situation to be established in order to justify this complete sell-out of Australia’s interests. The argument that has been advanced on constitutional grounds is merely a pretext. For 32 years, since Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was established by the Hughes Government, the Commonwealth’s holding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was constitutionally valid; and it has been continued by every subsequent Government - the Bruce-Page Government, the Seullin Government, the Lyons Government, the Page Government, the Menzies Government, the Fadden Government, the Curtin Government, the Forde Government, the Chifley Government, and the present Government. After 32 years, the discovery is made that the Commonwealth’s holding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is unconstitutional, or might be found to be unconstitutional. I do not believe that the people of Australia will accept that view. The Government’s decision is good news only for the monopoly groups in this country. As Mr. Bruce, when he was Prime Minister, pointed out, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited successfully repelled attacks by the monopoly groups in the 192 O’s, and prevented them from increasing the price of petrol and oil. The Australian Government’s partnership in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was really a partnership with the British Government through the AngloIranian company. It was a sound partnership, and it was vindicated in principle by the action that the British Government took during World War I., when Mr. Churchill declared that the British Government should hold a dominant share in the Anglo-Iranian company.
What is to be the Australian Government’s policy in this matter in .the future ? This Government having decided to sell its shares, I agree that the Anglo-
Iranian Oil Company Limited should be the purchaser of the Commonwealth’s share in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited because such an arrangement may assist a future government to repair the damage that will result from this decision. It will be the duty of a future government to restore the position that exists to-day. Certainly, the Australian Labour party cannot accept this sacrifice of Australia’s interest. The sale is being made at an unsatisfactory price and under unsatisfactory conditions. The Government is prepared to sacrifice the vital defence interests of this country. It is useless for supporters of this transaction to say that as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was only a distributor of oil it was not performing a service that was vital to defence. The answer to that argument is that the Government’s partnership in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited placed the obligation upon the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited to bring crude oil to this country and thus assure supplies. The loss that will be sustained as the result of this sale should be remedied by a future government at the earliest possible opportunity. I repeat that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been successful financially and has rendered a service vital to defence. As a result of this sale, those who have control of petrol supplies from beginning to end will gain complete control over supplies in Australia. For 32 years, under all of the governments that I have mentioned, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has proved to be a success. This Government now refuses to join with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in this great project in Western Australia. Some members, apparently, think that it might be a good thing to get their way and dispose of the Government’s interests altogether in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The Government has made its decision without consulting with either the Parliament or the people; but, in the long run, the people will not tolerate action of this kind. This matter involves not any abstract question, but the practical question of disposing of a successful enterprise that is vital to defence and indispensable to the prevention of exploitation by the major oil companies. The
Government should not have taken the action that it has taken. That is realized by members of the Australian Country party because, over and over again, they have defended Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited against an attack of this kind.
.- At the request of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr.Calwell), I sought, and was granted, leave during the debate on the Loan (Housing) Bill to incorporate in Hansard a letter to which I referred earlier this afternoon. In order that no honorable member will have cause in the future to allege that the charges to which I referred cannot be substantiated. I take this opportunity to say that I do not support that charge which is contained in the second paragraph of that letter. I have not, either in this House or in public, referred to the allegation that is contained in that particular paragraph. That paragraph was inserted in the letter at the specific request of the Housing Commissioner because the allegation to which it refers had been made in the State Parliament in Queensland. I do not subscribe to that particular charge. At the same time, I emphatically support every other statement that is contained in the letter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs ( 3 ) .
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for postal purposes - Westwood, Tasmania.
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinance - 1952 - No. 1 - Judiciary ( Appeals ) .
Papua - Report for year 1950-51.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Health - I. D. Byrne.
Nationality and Citizenship Act - Return for year 1951-52.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance - 1952 - No. 9 - Advisory Council.
House adjourned at 4.53 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Long Bay Rifle Range.
The total c.i.f. value of the import licences issued (£ A.49,700,000) is equivalent to about 111,000,000 dollars. Drawings by the Commonwealth against the International Bank loan can be made only after the importers of the goods have made payment to the suppliers. Documentation showing that the goods have been paid for and shipped to Australia is then submitted to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in support of applications for drawings from Australia’s loan account. The total of such drawings to the 5th September is 73,000,000 dollars. The reason for authorizing licences to a c.i.f. value in excess of 100,000,000 dollars is that allowance has to be made for frustration of some transactions because of unforeseeable contingencies (e.g. non-availability of goods or changes in manufacturing plans in Australia) and also for the fact that in some instances freight and insurance charges are not paid in dollars and cannot therefore be included in applications for loan drawings.
r asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that (a) men have recently been dismissed from employment under supervision of the Department of Worksat the Naval Air Station at Nowra and (b) unemployed residents ofNowra, including exservicemen, who applied for work at the air station under the supervision of the Department of Works throughout July and August were all informed that no work wasavailable?
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
As you are aware, the matters referred to in the first three questions do not fall within the jurisdiction of my department, but Ihave obtained the following information from my colleague, the Minister for Works and from the Department of Labour. For your information the general problem of temporary civil employment at Nowra Naval Air Station has been the subject of correspondence with the honorable member forMacarthur (Mr. Jeil Bate) in whose electorate the station is located.
The answers are -
1 ) (a) No men under the control of the Department of Works at Nowra have been retrenched during the past two months, also that (b) it is correct that unemployed residents of Nowra who inquired for employment during July and early August were informed no work was available at Nowra with the Department of Works, but in late August four engagements were made and in September twenty-one engagements have so far been made at Nowra by that department. These new engagements were mainly men who were previously employed on the Nowra project.
The circumstances leading to the provision of emergency short-term employment for unskilled migrants have already been explained to the House.
See. (3) of my reply to question 30 of the 12th September, 1952.
See (2) above. Questions 2and 3 relate to short-term employment for unskilled migrants.
As you are aware every effort is being made to provide increasing opportunities for employment in this country.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520926_reps_20_219/>.