20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to announce that it is my intention to issue a writ on Tuesday, the 28th October next, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Werriwa, in the State of New South “Wales, in place of the Honorable Hubert Peter Lazzarini, deceased. The dates in connexion with the election will be fixed as follows: - Issue of writ, Tuesday, the “28th October; nominations,
Monday, the 10th November; polling, Saturday, the 29th November ; return- of writ, on or before Tuesday, the .23rd December.
– Under the terms of the treaty of peace with Japan, the Australian Government has a right ‘to take up with the Japanese Government the subject of fishing rights in Australian and New Guinea waters. Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture raised the subject with the Japanese’ authorities? I ask this question because of a recent pronouncement, official or unofficial, on behalf of the Japanese authorities to the effect that they are planning to claim fishing rights up to the 3-mile limit. What has the Minister done about the matter?
– The Government has every intention of acting in accordance with its rights under section 9 of the treaty of peace with. Japan. It decided initially that, as an essential preliminary to enforcing conservation rights on aliens, it must first clothe itself with similar power in respect of Australian nationals. Legislation to that effect, therefore, was discussed with the State Ministers in charge of fisheries, and was passed by this Parliament during the last sessional period. Since then, the legal advisers of the Government have been actively clearing the ground on the issues of international law that are involved in relation to territorial waters and certain variations of territorial waters. The Government is now almost in position to exercise its rights under the terms of the peace treaty and to call upon Japan to enter into negotiations.
– The question that I direct to the Minister for Immigration refers to a suggestion that I made some time ago for the installation of kitchenettes at Gepp’s Cross immigrant hostel and to the offer of the Premier of South Australia to arrange for the installation of such kitchenettes. Can the Minister yet give any indication of the attitude of this ‘Government to the offer by the South Australian Premier!
– At the moment, I am mot in a position to make a statement of policy on that matter, but for the information of the honorable member and <of other honorable members from South Australia who may be interested in the subject, I have arranged for the head of any department to proceed to South Australia this week to confer with Mr. Playford. As soon as I am informed of the South Australian Premier’s proposals I shall consider the line of policy that the Government will take.
– -I address a question to the Minister for Immigration with respect to a statement that he is alleged to have made recently to the effect that the Australian Government accepted no responsibility to provide employment for foreign immigrants coming to Australia. Will he inform the House of the terms of the agreements that exist between the Government and the official representatives of the immigrants concerned with respect to entry into Australia and the provision of employment for them in this country? “Will he also indicate the legal position in this matter ?
– I have certainly never said that the Australian Government accepted no responsibility in respect of the employment of immigrants in this country. The Government accepts responsibility in the broad sense for the employment, generally, of Australians, and immigrants when they come to settle in this country. Some immigrants have alleged that the Government has a legal obligation to guarantee employment to them during their first two years residence in Australia ; but I have said that the Government has no such obligation. The terms of the agreements are available in print and, at first glance, I see no reason why honorable members should not be informed of those terms. I shall have copies made of the agreements and see whether it is practicable to table such copies promptly. Those terms will show that we require immigrants who come to Australia from Europe on assisted passages to work where the Government may require them to work during their first two years residence. If we are not in a position to specify a particular position for an immigrant at any time, he is free to seek other employment that may be offering. The terms of the agreements provide that the facilities of the Government’s employment service shall be made fully available to immigrants in their search for employment and that such immigrants shall be entitled to unemployment benefit in the same way as unemployed Australian citizens are entitled to that benefit. I do not think that any doubt on this point exists in the minds of the official representatives of the immigrants concerned but, apparently, some misunderstanding has developed on the part of some immigrants in relation to this matter.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Immigration, arises from an answer given to a question by the Minister for Supply, when he was acting for the Minister for Immigration, in which the honorable gentleman stated that unemployed immigrants were charged £1 a week for their board, that that sum was deducted from their unemployment benefit, and that they were left with only 5s. a week as pocket money. Is it the intention of the Government that immigrants should be confined to immigration camps? If not, is the Government prepared to give them an allowance so that they will be able to travel? Or is it satisfied with the position that arose when Italian immigrants terrorized stationmasters and refused to pay their railway fares?
– I do not know anything about the details of the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred in the last part of his question. Nc terrorized stationmaster has got i.ito touch with me. Having regard to the record of Australian troops in various parts of the world in relation to Italian soldiers, I think it hardly likely that stationmasters have been terrorized by Italian immigrants. We have gone to considerable trouble to ensure that immigrants who are temporarily out of work shall be accommodated in areas that are as close as possible to places in which work opportunities may arise. Apparently, some trouble developed during last week-end because we moved immigrants from one centre to another that we considered was more conveniently placed in regard to work opportunities. I assure the honorable gentleman that our efforts are directed to ensuring, not only that work opportunities for immigrants will be provided, but also that the immigrants will be accommodated in places in which they can take advantage of such opportunities as they arise.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration why the Government persists in bringing additional immigrants to this country, when it either cannot, or will not, provide work for people, both native born and immigrant, already resident in Australia.
– Presumably the honorable gentleman is referring in particular to the Italian immigrants who have been in the news in recent days. He should be aware, because of the repeated statements that have been made by me, and also by my colleagues who acted on my behalf during my absence abroad, that at the time when the plans for the introduction of a considerable number of unskilled labourers from Europe were made, we had in this country about 160,000 vacancies in employment of various kinds which resulted from the acute labour shortage. Due to economic changes overseas, which have affected this country, the demand for labour of that kind has declined. As soon as that decline became apparent the Government took action to reduce the intake of new settlers of that particular type. There was, naturally and inevitably, a certain carryover of people already on the water on their way here or who had arrived here, or who had sold their belongings and for whom it would have been a real hardship had they not been allowed to proceed to Australia. We are now going through a transition stage, I think without nearly as much difficulty as some people are trying to make out. Immigrants are being placed steadily in work, and, as the harvesting and processing season develops a little later in the year, I- am confident that immigrants who are now unemployed will be progressively placed in suitable employment. In the meantime, we have reduced our intake of unskilled labour.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether any employer of German immigrants has the power to suspend such workers without pay for alleged insubordination or failure to work sufficiently hard? If so, is it true that such suspended workers are not permitted to take other employment while they are under suspension?
– No private citizen has any right to suspend an employee without pay, but has only the normal right of an employer to dismiss an employee. If that course has been followed then the immigrants concerned would normally go to a Commonwealth employment office and would be directed to suitable employment, if such were available. If it were not available, they would have to seek such employment as they might choose.
– It is the South Australian Government that is at fault.
– If the honorable gentleman will give me the details of the matter, and if complaints have been received from anybody else, I shall see what is involved and what is required of the Government.
Mr. James proceeding to ask a question,
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is not asking a question, but is giving information. If he cannot observe the procedure laid down for asking questions, he must resume his seat.
– Has the Minister for Immigration yet received a report from the Minister for Defence after his visit to the West Cessnock camp for immigrants regarding huts with leaking roofs? Has the Minister received a letter from the miners’ federation about the condition of the huts, which apparently impressed the Minister for Defence? Has the honorable gentleman any statement to make on the matter ? Can he inform me whether the huts will be repaired ?
– I know that the Minister for Defence paid a visit to the West Cessnock camp, and I gathered that he was not favorably impressed with the conditions of the huts which he inspected. I am not in a position to make any statement on the matter, but I assure the honorable member for Hunter that it is under active examination by my department at the present time.
– I desire to know from the Minister for Immigration whether, as a means of relieving the strain . on British immigrant hostels, the Minister will discuss with his ministerial colleagues the possibility of enabling British immigrants now residing in hostels, who have served in actual fighting during the last war, to have the benefit of the war service homes legislation extended to them so that they can purchase their OW]1 homes, and thus relieve the difficulties associated with the present condition of British immigrant hostels.
– I do not quite follow what the honorable member has referred to as the “ strain on British immigrant hostels “, because there is ample accommodation for British immigrants in the hostels that we have constructed for that purpose. Does the honorable member propose that the British immigrants should be allowed to purchase the portions of the hostels in which they reside?
– Well, of course a large question of policy is involved, and I shall examine it to ascertain whether his suggestion can be usefully explored by my colleagues who are more particularly associated with the matter.
– Is it true that recently a number of Australian workmen were dismissed from the Rathmines air base, and that their places were taken by immigrants? Is it also true that in other military establishments throughout Australia immigrant labour has been given preference over Australian labour?
– To the best of my knowledge, no. Certainly no instructions would have come from my department to that effect. If the honorable member has some details in relation to the Rathmines air base that he would like to have examined, I shall examine them. While we have taken special measures, and provided some funds as a temporary measure, to absorb a certain number of European immigrants, in no instance was action taken which would have prejudiced the employment situation of an Australian.
– In view of the obvious disagreement between the Minister for Immigration arid large numbers of immigrants in relation to the terms under which the immigrants were brought to Australia, the immigrants believing that they were to be guaranteed employment in Australia and the Minister contending otherwise, will the Minister have arrangements made to repatriate to their native countries those immigrants for whom no work can be found in Australia and who believe they were brought here under false pretences?
– There is no disagreement between me and large numbers of immigrants. In fact, the form that eac assisted immigrant from Europe signs includes an undertaking that he has made himself familiar with the terms under which he is to be brought to Australia. As the document sets out clearly the benefits that he. is to enjoy in Australia and the provision that is to be made for him should he not be able to maintain himself in continuous employment, I do not think that there is any just cause for anybody who has signed such a form to have any misunderstanding of the position. I have no lack of confidence in the capacity of this country to provide suitable and prospering conditions of work for those who come to settle here under the terms of the Government’s immigration scheme.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Within the last 24 hours a report has been widely circulated in Brisbane to the effect that you have stated that honorable members should spend more time in Canberra rather than return home so frequently to be with their families. I should like to know whether that report is correct. If it is, do you not believe that comment to that effect is unjustified in view of the fact that honorable members are obliged to return to their electorates in order to attend to duties in relation to their constituents, and that the fact that they return home is purely incidental?
– Any action with respect to any statement that I am alleged to have made must be taken on a substantive motion.
– I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you will be good enough to have distributed, for the enlightenment of honorable members, especially those who accept your advice and stay in Canberra during week-ends to study them, copies of the very interesting and illuminating address that you delivered in Sydney yesterday, in which you outlined your historic battle to uphold your ancient and important office and the privileges of the Parliament against the principle of the divine right of Prime Ministers? Will you be good enough also to explain whether your reference to the accidental nature of the role of a Prime Minister refers to that office generally, or to its present occupant? In the latter event, will you offer any useful suggestions to honorable members or to the people about how best the results of such an accident can best be overcome ?
– The answer to the question is “No “.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that work has been stopped on the building of nurses’ quarters, which are 75 per cent, completed, at Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, because of lack of finance? Is he aware that when this building is completed, staff will be available to enable the authorities of that hospital to use the Marks Pavilion which accommodates 400 beds that, at present, are not in use? Will the Minister, as one of the principal custodians of the public health, discuss with the Treasurer the tragic position that exists in respect of hospital accommodation with a view to making sufficient money available at least to complete hospital buildings that are at present under construction ?
– The construction of buildings at the Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney, or at any other hospital in New South Wales is a matter entirely for the State Government.
– I address a question to the Minister for Social Services. If a man with a wife and child becomes unemployed and his wife is still employed, how much is the wife entitled to earn before the unemployment benefit ceases? Is child endowment assessed in the family income?
– Child endowment is not included in the assessment of family earnings in respect of eligibility for unemployment benefit. In the circumstances that the honorable member has mentioned, the wife would be entitled’ to earn £5 15s. a week before the benefit would cut out.
– Is the Minister acting for the PostmasterGeneral aware that, as a result of the economy campaign that is being pursued by the Government, cleaning arrangements in the mail branch of the Brisbane Post Office are inadequate? Is he aware also that the present staffing arrangements do not permit of any relief for Sunday or Saturday duties and that, as a consequence, the limited staff available is not sufficient to carry out the necessary cleaning arrangements ? In view of this state of affairs, by which the health of the employees in the mail branch can be impaired through the present ineffective cleaning arrangements, will the Minister consider the employment of additional staff?
– The matters to which the honorable member has referred are essentially departmental. If he will supply me with details I shall have inquiries made.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. Is he aware that the Australian Government and some hospitals use different methods of calculating the number of days that a patient spends in hospital and that, as a result, the patient is deprived of some part of the Commonwealth hospital benefits? If, for example, a patient enters a hospital at 4 p.m. on one day and leaves at 3 p.m. the next day, a period of 23 hours, is it true that some hospitals charge for two whole days whereas the Government allows the benefit for one day only in such cases?
– Ever since the hospital benefits scheme was inaugurated, the custom has been to regard the day of entry and the day of departure as. one day. That was laid down in the original agreement. I do not know the principle that is applied in all the States in making their charges, hut I believe that a different practice is followed in every State.
– Can the Minister for Health say whether the Queensland Government has accepted the Commonwealth’s invitation to discuss the details of the hospital benefits scheme on an official level? If discussions have taken place, has the Queensland Government intimated whether or not it will now adopt this scheme, which has been accepted by every other State?
– Correspondence is taking place between the two governments on this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. Before any organization is registered as an approved society under the Hospital Benefits Act, is the proposal for registration submitted for the consideration and decision of the Minister? If the Minister does not directly approve of the organization, on whose authority is the organization registered? Are the bona fides of applicant organizations carefully investigated before a decision Ls made? If reasonable proof-
– Order ! The honorable member has already enunciated several questions. I have asked that questions be confined to one on each individual matter.
– The main part of the question is in the concluding part.
– That is so in the case of the scorpion, too.
– If reasonable proof «an be produced that an organization already registered under the Hospital Benefits Act has an unsatisfactory background, will steps be taken to cancel its registration ?
– A committee that consists of the Commonwealth Actuary and a senior officer of the Department of Health examines the bona fides of organizations that apply for registration. Applications are granted only after a scrupulous examination of the position of the applicant organizations. Certain bodies that have been registered as insurance organizations under the Insurance Act have not been approved for the purposes of hospital or medical benefits insurance because they lack the necessary stability.
– Does the Treasurer take pride in the economic programme and the financial policy of the Government? If so, will he explain to the House why he has refused to accept the challenge of the honorable member for Melbourne to debate that programme and policy prior to the holding of the forthcoming poll in the electorate of Flinders ?
– I do believe in the policy that this Government has enunciated and is carrying out. For that reason I shall not depart from Canberra, but will keep my watchful eye on it in conjunction with my colleagues.
– Will the Treasurer give urgent consideration to the request that has been made by several branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia that the Government should make a special allocation of money to the States to permit war service land settlement to function again normally and fulfil the Government’s original promise with regard to war service land settlement priority ?
– The matter is one of policy. The Government has carried out its policy faithfully and to the letter.
– The maximum deduction for income tax purposes in respect of expense incurred in connexion with the funeral, burial or cremation of a dependant of a taxpayer is only £30, whilst the actual expense is at least double that sum. Will the Treasurer inform the House whether consideration has been given to an increase of the maximum allowable deduction for this purpose ? If the matter has not been considered, will he investigate it, or refer it to the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation in order to ascertain whether it will be possible to permit as an allowable deduction a sum that approximates more closely to the actual expense in which a taxpayer is involved in such circumstances?
– The questionraises a point of policy that was embodied in the last budget.
-Will the Minister for
Defence inform the House whether there is any foundation for recent reports that a Brazilian warship was unable to call at Darwin, as scheduled, because there was not enough fuel oil at the port to enable the vessel to be refuelled there?
– I have seen the press report to which the honorable gentleman has referred, but I have not yet ascertained the exact position. I shall do so, and I shall inform him of it at the earliest possible moment.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say when the Government intends to repay to wheat-growers the money that they have contributed, under the wheat tax legislation, to No. 14 and No. 15 wheat pools, which money now comprises the wheat industry stabilization fund?
– That is a matter which, historically, is decided by the government of the day when it is considered that circumstances warrant such action. The Government has not yet given consideration to the time at which the repayment should be made.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. If the recommendation of the Australian Agricultural Council is adopted and the present wheat stabilization plan is extended for a further twelve months, is it the intention of the Government to make provision for a stabilization fund covering the extended period?
– The question involves Government policy.
– The matter raised by the honorable member for Mallee is an aspect of negotiation, obviously, between the Australian Government and the State governments, which would be a party to any extension of the stabilization plan, and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, which has always been consulted on such questions.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether the Government has considered the erection of a national memorial to his late Majesty King George VI. ? Will the Government ensure that any such memorial shall take the form, not merely of a statue, but of some institution or national work that will embody the late King’s ideas of service to his people?
– The matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred has not yet engaged the attention of the Government. When it does, I shall see that his suggestion is taken fully into consideration.
Mr. Davies proceeding to ask a question,
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is contravening procedure. He will take his seat.
– As the figures in connexion with the quarterly adjustment of the basic wage are made public normally within sixteen days of the close of the quarter on which they are based, will the Prime Minister say whether the announcement in regard to the basic wage for the 1st November next will be made this week? Will he also say whether any action has been taken to see that no announcement will be made until after the holding of the Flinders by-election?
– The date on which the announcement of the quarterly adjustment of the basic wage is made is not under my jurisdiction. I am at great pains to have nothing to do with it. The Commonwealth Statistician compiles the figures of the C series index, and sends them to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which then announces the adjustment. That procedure has been followed for many years. I have never interfered with it in point of time or substance, and I shall not begin to do so now.
– I ask the Minister for the Army, who represents the Minister for Expatriation in this House-
– Order ! If the question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation, it must be placed on the noticepaper.
– I ask the Minister for-
– Order ! If the question deals with repatriation, it must be placed on the notice-paper.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether men in the Australian armed forces who have over ten years’ service and whose employment is to be terminated, will be entitled to long service leave similar to that provided for employees in private industry?
– That matter is under consideration.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether it is a fact that State governments are being compelled to dismiss employees from public works and instrumentalities because of the lack of finance? Has the Australian Government any plans for the re-employment of these men or are they, their wives and their children doomed to an existence at the starvation level provided by the Commonwealth unemployment benefit?
– If there is any compulsion on State governments it has not come from this Government. The fact is that this Government has, without any obligation at all, supplemented the money otherwise available to State governments for works, by no less than £155,000,000 last year and a prospective £135,000,000 this year. That is a total of £290,000,000 in two years. If that singular act on the part of the Commonwealth, which of course has preserved the employment of many thousands of men on State works, is regarded as a piece of compulsion, then if I were a State Premier I should welcome a good deal more compulsion of the same kind.
– Has the Minister for Social Services any special discretionary power, or is there any provision in the Social Services Consolidation Act, te allow a doctor or a professional man who desires to purchase a home under the terms of the war service homes scheme, to purchase such a home at a cost in excess of £3,500? I ask that question because it has been brought to my notice that a number of doctors who are exservicemen are desirous of having homes large enough to accommodate their surgeries or offices within the confines of the residence, and at the present time they have no knowledge of how to obtain the necessary finance under the war service homes legislation.
– I am not vested with discretionary power to vary the provisions of the War Service Homes Act. The act provides that the maximum value of a property for which a loan may be granted is £3,500.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that Asiatic students who are training in Australia under a scheme sponsored by this Government are paid living and maintenance allowances in excess of the benefit paid to an unemployed worker? If so, will the right honorable gentleman take the necessary action to have the amount of the unemployment benefit substantially increased?
– If the honorable member will place his first question on the notice-paper, I shall secure an answer. In reply to his second question, I point out that the rate of unemployment benefit is within the jurisdiction of this House. The Government produced a proposal to double the rate of benefit when the budget was presented, and the Parliament approved of that proposal.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Appropriation Bill 1952-53.
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1952-53.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Aliens Act 1947.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill proposes some minor amendments, principally of a technical nature, of the Aliens Act 1947. Since the act came into force on the 1st January, 1948, certain anomalies and’ weaknesses have become evident. The amendments proposed are designed to remedy these defects so that the legislation will achieve the purposes intended when it was passed by the Parliament five years ago. No new principle or change of policy is involved. When the Aliens Bill was introduced in this House in 1947, its two main objects were described as - First, to ensure that we should have knowledge of the aliens in our midst ; and secondly, to provide for a periodical analysis of Australia’s alien population so that the Government could plan its immigration policy on sound and practical lines. It was also intended that the act should take the place of the National Security (Aliens Control) Regulations which were in operation during the war. The Aliens’ Classification and Advisory Committee, which had functioned during the war years, had unanimously recom mended that some basic control over aliens should be maintained in peacetime in the public interest, and in order that necessary security measures could be taken speedily and effectively in a national emergency.
The principal provisions of the act are, briefly -
When the Aliens Act was promulgated, there were less than 50,000 aliens liable to register; to-day, the number of registered aliens is over 275,000. Consequently, the information recorded in alien registers has assumed considerable importance, particularly in view of our efforts to assimilate the non-British section of the Australian community. I emphasize again, however, that, although quite a number of amendments are contained in the bill before the House, they are introduced for no otherpurpose than to make the present act do more effectively what it was originally intended to do.
The bill seeks to amend section 4 of the act to bring the definition of “ alien “ into line with that appearing in related legislation, such as the Nationality and Citizenship Act and the Aliens Deportation Act, and to correct anomalies arising out of the repeal of the Nationality Act, to which the definition was originally related. The definition of “ officer “ has also been amended to facilitate the delegation to appropriate Commonwealth officers of powers conferred by the act. For formal reasons a definition of “ certificate of registration “ has been included. The proposed amendment of section 5 is designed to provide for the removal of entries from the register of aliens in circumstances such as the departure from Australia of death of a registered alien or in the more happy event that he becomes naturalized. Proposed new section 7 deals with the classes of persons required to register as aliens. Under the principal act it was obviously intended that all alien children resident in the Commonwealth should be obliged to register as soon as they attained the age of sixteen years; but no provision was made for children who were under sixteen at the date of the commencement of the act or those who entered Australia while under the age of sixteen, to be registered upon attaining that age; nor was provision made for the registration of persons who lose their status as British subjects, by marriage or other means. The proposed new section is designed to correct these omissions. It will be noted that, in the case of an alien under 21 years of age, an obligation has been placed upon the parent or guardian to sec that he is registered. A parent, or guardian, who fails to comply with this provision will, by virtue of the proposed amendment of section 17, continue to be guilty of an offence until registration is effected.
Under section 8 (c) of the present act, any alien who does not intend to reside in Australia, and does not remain in Australia for more than 60 consecutive days, is exempted from making application for registration. It is not desired that persons coming within this category, mostly business visitors and tourists, should register, but in order that we may be able to ensure that those who do not leave Australia within the specified period or who elect to remain for permanent residence are duly registered, it is necessary that they should furnish certain information about themselves upon arrival. Proposed new section 8 (c) provides for this to be done. Departure from Australia is covered by the proposed amendment of section 21. Proposed new sections 9 and 10 refer to the notification of changes of address, occupation and employment. A literal interpretation of these sections in the present act means that an ‘alien who moves from one State to another would have to notify such changes to the officer in the State in which he is registered, i.e., the State which he has just left. The re-wording of sections 9 and 10 will make it possible to amend the regulations so that notification may be made to a money order post office, in the case of country areas, or the office of the Department of Immigration, in the case of capital cities, nearest to the alien’s new place of residence. I direct attention to the fact that section 10 has been re-drafted to permit of the necessity to notify changes of employment or occupation being reviewed from time to time. We do not wish to make the requirements of the act more onerous than the needs of the occasion call for, “and opportunity is provided to waive them should such action be deemed to be advisable at any time.
The present act makes no provision for the compulsory notification of marriage or a change of surname by marriage. In order that the records may be kept up to date, it is essential that this information should be furnished and the proposed new section 10a will remedy this defect. Under section 11 of the act, an alien may not change his surname without consent, but because an offence under this section is not of a continuing nature, an alien could, after paying a fine for changing his name irregularly, continue to use the unauthorized name without fear of further prosecution. Section 11 has been re-drafted with a view to correcting this weakness. In addition, the opportunity has been taken to exempt an alien woman who changes her surname by marriage and certain other classes of persons from the necessity of obtaining formal consent. The reasons for these exemptions will be obvious to all honorable members. In accordance with section 12 of the act, an alien is bound to apply for a certificate of registration and one must be issued upon proper application being made, but the alien does not have to accept or sign the certificate which, without the alien’s signature, has no force as a legal document. Moreover, while original section 12 (2.) gives power to require an alien to produce his certificate, it does not require him to retain the certificate in his possession. Experience has shown that for the proper administration of the act and to guard against irregular use of or trafficking in certificates it is necessary to provide for -
an alien to sign and accept his certificate of registration ;
Proposed new sections 12 and 12a are designed to achieve these objects. It is not proposed that an alien should be compelled to carry his certificate on his person at all times, but that he should be required to retain it in his legal possession. The effect of the proposed amendment of section 14 is that any person, whether an alien or otherwise, who makes a false statement under the act shall be guilty of an offence. Some minor amendments, which are purely technical and incidental to the main clauses of the bill, have also been made, but these do not warrant special mention at this juncture.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) agreed to -
That leave bo given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940-1950, as amended by the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1952.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
It will be recalled that the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act was amended during the last period of this session of the Parliament. The rates of pension were brought up to date to agree with those for corresponding classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act, and provision was made for pensions equivalent to certain special rates in the Repatriation Act to be granted in any case of a mariner should his incapacity warrant a special rate. That bill also wrote into the act provisions to enable regulations to be made for these ex-seamen to enjoy the same medical and certain associated benefits as are granted to ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act. Since the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act came into operation in 1940, general pensions rates for seamen who suffered war injury have always been kept at the same level as those for the corresponding classes of ex-members of the forces under the Repatriation Act. This was done during the war years either by War Cabinet decision or by National Security Regulations.
The Repatriation Act was amended earlier in the present sessional period to increase the rates of war pensions of certain classes of pensioners under that act, and it is the view of this Government that the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act should be amended from time to time to ensure that the benefits under this act are not inferior to corresponding benefits conferred by the Repatriation Act. By the bill that is now introduced, the general pension rates for mariners and certain classes of dependants will be brought into line with those for the corresponding classes of pensioners under the Repatriation Act.
Briefly, the increases are as follows: The general pension rate is computed on the basis of percentage of incapacity. The general rate for a mariner whose rate of pay was 22s. 6d. per day or less, and whose incapacity is assessed at 100 per cent., is increased from £7 to £8 per fortnight; the rate for a wife of such a mariner from £3 ls. to £311s.; and that for each child from £1 3s. to £1 7s. 6d. The rates for children of deceased mariners arc increased in respect of the first child from £2 4s. to £2 13s. per fortnight; for other children from £111s. to £1 17s.; and in respect of orphans where the mariner’s wife is also dead, from £4 to £4 16s. The maximum amount of the aggregate of the pensions payable to all dependants ofa totally incapacitated mariner, other than his wife or children, is increased from £4 4s. to £4 18s. 6d. per fortnight. In cases of severe disability where the mariner needs an attendant, the rates allowed for the attendant are raised from £3 to £3 10s. per fortnight, or, in certain cases, from £6 to £7.
I mentioned earlier that provision is now contained in the act to enable regulations for conferring medical and certain associated benefits for mariners at Repatriation Act level. The act at present enables regulations to be made to provide for sustenance allowances for Australian mariners while they are receiving medical, surgical or hospital treatment for war injuries, but, unlike the Repatriation Act, it contains no provision to provide for fares and travelling expenses where it is necessary for an Australian mariner to travel to obtain medical treatment or for pension purposes, nor in respect of loss of wages during such attendances. In order to place mariners on an equal footing with members of the forces, in respect of benefits associated with medical treatment, this bill includes provision to enable regulations to be made to provide for such fares, travelling expenses, and loss of wages. It will be seen, therefore, that the main purpose of the bill is to bring war pension rates for seamen and certain dependants into line with the increased rates recently provided under the Repatriation Act, and to enable regulations to be made whereby mariners, when attending for treatment or for pension purposes, may be granted benefits similar to those which may be granted to ex-members of the forces. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned. [Quorum formed.’]
Debate resumed from the 8th October (vide page 2681), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition does not oppose the passage of this measure but it believes that this is a bill of which the Government might well be ashamed. It should be ashamed of it, not because it is giving back to the wool-growers some millions of their own money, but because it has taken so long to do- the just thing. The Government should be ashamed of the measure also because of the reasons for the delay in giving the wool-growers their due that were advanced by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) in his second-reading speech. Those reasons were flimsy, weak and unreal. In the course of his speech, the Minister traversed the history of the Joint Organization. He said properly that it was established in 1945. I remind the House and the nation that it was established under one of the splendid pieces of legislation that the Chifley Government placed on the statute-book. The act has not been altered by this Government in any of its essentials. The Joint Organization, as the Minister said, was a company registered in the United Kingdom for the disposal of the wool belonging to the woolgrowers of Australia and certain other dominions. Under its terms, the British Government was entitled to half the profits. It is significant that the woolgrowers of Australia have had, until this year,only one distribution from the profits of the Joint Organization. That was the payment of £25,000,000 that was made by the Chifley Government in 1949. After three years in office, this Government, in March last year, gave the wool-growers £25,000,000 more. If the Government believes that the wool-growers are entitled to the money, why did it not give it to them when it was first elected to office? When the Labour party was in power, the supporters of the present Government who were then in Opposition, were petulant and critical because of the alleged failure of the Chifley Government to give to the wool-growers their due. Since the members of the Australian Country party have been tailing along with this Government, they have said very little on the subject. In fact, I have not heard one complaint from the Government side on this matter during the lifetime of either the Nineteenth or the Twentieth Parliament. Not a word has been said against the failure of the Government to distribute the profits of the Joint Organization but the Parliament is asked now to pass this bill. We have been told that approximately £67,000,000 is left to be distributed.
– Oh, no !
– Oh, yes there was. I shall refer to the Minister’s argument with regard to that amount of £67,000,000 presently. However, I agree with the Minister when he said that the Joint Organization had done a magnificent job. I am sure that all honorable members will agree that the Joint Organization has exceeded all expectations. There may be some substance in the Minister’s statement that, in 1949, there was some reason to believe that possibly there would be no profits to distribute, but I cannot throw my mind back to the arguments that were advanced then.- Undoubtedly, after the end of the last war there was a demand for wool to a degree that had not been expected, and it is true that this organization was able to do in four or five years something which it was expected it would take twelve or thirteen years to accomplish. Every one of us must be grateful to the Joint Organization for having done what it has done so efficently. But the wool-growers of Australia have been -Waiting for their money for a long time. From time to time, many honorable members have protested in this chamber, and have communicated with the Department of Commerce and Agriculture in the same strain, against the failure to. pay to a number of people who have left the wool industry for a long time, money that is due to them. This bill is designed to rectify that weakness. The Government should have given those people their money some years ago.
The Minister, in his second-7-eading speech, gave three reasons for the failure of the Government to distribute, all the profits available. First, he made a most significant admission. He said -
The level of taxation was, and still is, such that, had the full profit entitlement been distributed to all growers, a great many of them would have retained but very little of the money that the Government intended should be paid to them.
The Minister admitted that taxes were so high that, if the wool-growers of Australia had been paid the money to which they are entitled, the principal beneficiary would have been the Consolidated Revenue. Is not that a condemnation of the ruinous and excessive taxes that this Government has levied upon Australian wool-growers, and upon all the people of this country?
– Taxes are much lower now than when the Labour party was in power.
– That is not so. The Minister was speaking of the present time. He was speaking of the period in which, once again - I think for the last time - he holds the office of Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. He admitted in his speech that a tremendously heavy burden had been imposed upon the wool-growers, and that the reason why the Government did not give to them that which was their due was that, if it had done so, they would have to pay most of that money away in taxes. What an unreal argument! The Minister said that the Government could not give the wool-growers of Australia the money that was due to them because if it did so, an Australian Country party Treasurer would take all of it from them in taxes.
The second reason advanced by the Minister was that if the Government had made a complete distribution of the profits, £67,000,000 would have been injected into the currency stream, in a period of high wool prices, and of rising prices generally, and that that would have magnified greatly the inflationary problem. The Government had to rob the wool-growers temporarily of their due, because, if it had given the money to them, inflation would have increased and everybody in the community would have suffered. What a flimsy argument! If the Government was entitled to deny wool-growers their due because the payment of the money would have caused the inflationary spiral to rise even higher, it was entitled also to deny other sections of the community their due, to hold back a portion of men’s wages, and to hold back the proceeds of the sales of other primary produce. I am amazed that members of the Australian Country party have managed to remain quiescent in this matter, even though it be one of their own number who, as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, lias wronged the wool-growers of Australia. The wool-growers were entitled to receive that money several years ago. Now, on the eve of the Flinders by-election, they are-
– Order !
– That is a valid argument–
– Order ! I shall not permit the Flinders by-election to be canvassed during this debate.
– The Minister said that a Labour Government gave away £25,000,000 on the eve of the 1949 general election. I am throwing that argument back at him. My arguments are more valid and substantial than those that he advanced. The Senate elections will be held next year. This distribution is to be made in the hope that those woolgrowers who have deserted the fold of the Australian Country party can be bribed back into it.
– The bill is designed to validate something that a Labour government distributed in a hurry, without legal authority.
– It is not. Under this bill, the Government proposes to validate a second distribution of £25,000,000-
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is six months out of date. That sum was distributed last March.
– I know that. The distribution that was made by the Chifley Government was made in 1949. This talk of validation does not interest the woolgrowers. When the Labour party was in power, they received their money. The legal formalities about which the Minister has spoken do not matter to them very much.
The first reason advanced by the Minister for the Government’s failure to distribute all the profits of the Joint Organization was that if the wool-growers had received their money, they would have retained very little of it, owing to high taxes. The second ‘ reason was that the payment of the money would have aggravated inflation. The third reason was the Poulton case. The Government sheltered behind a court action. It could have placed in trust several millions of pounds to meet the circumstances that would arise if the judgment in the Poulton case were adverse to the Commonwealth, and it could then have proceeded to distribute the rest of the money to other wool-growers. But it advanced that case as a reason for denying to the wool-growers of Australia that which was their duc. The wool-growers were told, in effect, that, owing to the Poulton case, they would have to go without their money for a considerable period, because it was necessary to wait until the decision of the court was announced. The Government knew very well that it would have to pay the money out sooner or later.
The Minister made another significant admission in his second-reading speech. He said -
It lias become increasingly evident that a number of wool-growers who left the wool industry before the high level of wool prices became established have been experiencing hardship of one form or another.
The high level of wool prices was established a couple of years ago. The Government, although it has known for the last couple of years that some woolgrowers have been experiencing hardship, has taken action to relieve them only now. What a’ damaging admission ! It will take all the nerve, all the acumen, and all the mental dexterity of every member of the Australian Country party to explain that to the primary producers of Australia. The Government knew that hardship was being caused by its failure to distribute these profits, but, for the reasons that the Minister advanced, it did not give to the wool-growers the money they were entitled to. It is most important that the wool-growers of this country shall be given every penny to which they are entitled.
The war has been over for a long time. The Joint Organization has finished its operations. The Government has money in its possession which belongs to the wool-growers. That money should have been paid to the wool-growers, but, instead, the Government retained it and used it for a couple of years, and did not pay a penny interest on it. Now that the Senate election is near, the Government parties will be hard put to explain that wool steal to the wool-growers. They will be going uphill all the way. Under the bill, the last of the wool-growers will not get his money until the 30th June, 1955. The Government still intends to retain a portion of it. The expenditure to be authorized by the bill applies to persons who left the woolgrowing industry before 1949. People who have stayed in the industry have to wait a few more years for their rights. And all this is being done to the woolgrowers by a coalition government which is composed of members of the Liberal and Australian Country parties, w’ho are the self-professed friends and the alleged representatives here of the wool-growers, but who have always shown the real farmers of this country that they in fact represent “ city farmers “ and not people who work on the land.
The Minister has set out the formula under which the proposed distribution is to take place. There cannot be much objection to that, nor to the general purpose of the bill. The mam objection to the measure is that it has been introduced long after it was due. The reasons advanced for the delay in the introduction of the measure are not substantial, and will convince nobody. Most of the people who are to benefit under the legislation will not obtain the full benefit of it until some years hence, The next Labour government will have to shorten the period of waiting before the wool-growers can obtain their share of the Joint Organization profits, because the Labour party will be back in office before 1955, the date set for the final distribution, and even before 1954, and it will undertake to see that the distribution is made. The Government has no reason to be proud of this bill. It has failed the wool-growers for the last three years, and now asks them to wait another three years for the benefit to which they are entitled, and for the return of their own money.
.- I listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) in opposition to the measure. At the commencement of his speech he indicated that the Opposition had no great objection to the bill, but he seemed to object to it a great deal. It is questionable whether I have ever heard the honorable member make a more pitiful speech. Honorable members who heard the secondreading speech of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) recognize this as a measure to provide for the complete distribution, and, in some instances, an immediate distribution of the profits which have arisen from the resale of 10,500,000 bales of wool, 6,600,000 bales of which were of wool grown in Australia and accumulated during the war as a result of the operations of the war-time wool marketing scheme. I wish to take this opportunity, lest the matter be forgotten, and before it is too late, to express my profound appreciation, as a small wool-grower, to the people and the Government of the United Kingdom for that most generous arrangement whereby, having agreed to hear all the losses incidental to the sale of this bought in and accumulated wool, they also agreed to share the profits, if any, equally between the Government of the United Kingdom and the wool-growers in the dominions concerned. That there have been no losses is cause for general satisfaction. That there have been substantial profits is cause for particular recognition. I wish to say, here and now, that it is questionable whether any people on the face of the earth other than the British people, or any government in the world other than the British Government, would have acted in that most generous way. The British Government, having undertaken to buy all the wool produced in this country, New Zealand, and South Africa during the whole of the war period, and having paid for it a price that was remunerative to the industry at that time, had the opportunity to dispose of the accumulated stocks of unsold wool for its own advantage. Instead, it agreed to bear all the losses incidental to the sale of the wool, and also agreed that, if and when there were any profits it would share them equitably between itself and the woolgrowers in the dominions concerned. Honorable members who speak in support of’ the bill should mention that very generous and important act.
When the Joint Organization was established in 1945, to my certain knowledge fears were expressed that it would take between ten and fifteen years to dispose of the accumulated stocks of wool. At that time the market for wool was not particularly buoyant, and it was intended to feed these accumulated stocks on to the market in such a way as to ensure that sales would not prejudice the sale of forthcoming clips. That was done so effectively that the accumulated stocks were disposed of, in a profitable manner, inside seven years. That, too, is a cause for great satisfaction, not only to us but also to the people and the Government of the United Kingdom. The question has arisen, from time to time, of when and how the previous Government, and this Government, should distribute to the wool-growers their share of these JointOrganization profits. Contrary to the views that the honorable member for Melbourne has expressed, I have very vivid personal recollections of almost ceaseless requests to the previous Labour Administration to make an interim distribution of the profits. In the years between 1945 and 1949 when that accumulated wool was being sold, we could not get the previous Administration to agree to an interim payment of any kind although we tried valiantly month after month, year after year. It was not until the general election of December, 1949, was imminent that at last, and in the most niggardly fashion, the Chifley Government agreed to make an interim payment to the growers. It was made in November, 1949, when an amount of £25,000,000 was distributed. At that time, it was estimated that the full amount to be distributed ultimately would be between £60,000,000 and £90,000,000. A subsequent distribution was made this year by this Government. The honorable member for Melbourne said, in the course of his speech, that the Chifley Government, having made an initial distribution of the profits, no other distribution had since been made. That statement is, of course, entirely untrue. I have no doubt that the honorable member for Melbourne was speaking to the best of his knowledge and belief, but the best of his knowledge is extremely limited in this instance, and his belief is of no importance when measured against the true facts of the case. Since the Government made the second distribution this year, the matter of making further distributions has been constantly before it. Members of the Australian Country party and the Liberal party have repeatedly made representations on the matter, but, of course, the situation has been affected to a considerable degree by the litigation that has been entered into. Until that litigation has been resolved, it is not competent for the Government to make a final distribution of the profits.
This bill has been introduced at this time in order to make arrangements for the complete distribution of the profits, irrespective of the litigation that is now pending. An amount of approximately £42,000,000 will be distributed to the wool-growers. That is a large sum of money. This Government, had it adopted the tactics which were invariably employed by the preceding Labour Government, would have used those accumulated profits for the purpose of savaging the wool-growers. The agreement under which the wool was purchased during the last war provided that one-half of the profits from its realization should be retained by the United Kingdom Government, and the other half paid to the growers. The Labour Government would have acted contrary to the spirit of that contract, and would have used the money for the purpose of savaging the growers. In other words, no wool-grower, regardless of his circumstances, would have derived any advantage from the distribution of. the moneys. But this Government, with a full knowledge of the letter and spirit of the agreement, and eager that the wool-growers themselves should get some personal advantage from the profits, has elected, after consultation with the accredited organizations in the industry itself, to pay out the money in such a way that the distribution will be completed during the financial year 1954-55. That arrangement is entirely satisfactory.
The preceding Labour Government, in order to achieve its own socialist ends,, would have used those profits, first, to savage the wool-growers, and then to savage the economy of the country. That
Labour Government would have poured the whole amount of £67,000,000 into the spending potential of the people, to their prejudice, in the hope that the circulation of so much money would adversely affect the national economy, and, thereby, help the Labour party to achieve its nefarious end, which is the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. The present Government, eager to safeguard the economy of the country and protect the people, irrespective of their occupations, decided to pay out the profits in such a way as could not possibly affect our economy adversely.
To me, personally, the most satisfactory feature of this bill is that adequate provision is made for those who, though they have now left the industry, have contributed to it up to and including the 1st September, 1949, but who, because of the comparatively low prices which prevailed at that time, have been denied the opportunity of enjoying the highly remunerative prices that have since been obtained for wool. Adequate provision will be made to enable such persons who left the industry prior to the 1st September, 1949, to get, almost immediately, a distribution of their share of the profits. Honorable members generally may not be aware that there are people who were engaged in the wool-growing industry all their lives up till the 1st September, 1949, but who, because of the vagaries of the seasons and instability of price levels of wool left it at that time and are now in no financial position to meet the change in our economic circumstances and the current normal cost of life and living. Yet they have a substantial personal equity in this huge accumulation of profits, which amounts to £92,000,000, and it is only reasonable that provision should have been made to enable them to get their share of the money when they are most in need of it. I congratulate the Minister upon that provision, if upon nothing else.
The further distribution of the profits will be made in a way completely satisfactory to the industry as a whole. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said that the wool industry and the growers had not been consulted about this proposal, and that if the Minister had cared to consult either or both of those sections, the opinion would have been expressed that the whole of the profits should be distributed immediately. That statement is not true. I have pointed out that it is necessary for the Government to wait until the points at issue in the litigation had been resolved, and I emphasize that the Minister has been in constant consultation with the industry, and is in a position to know its view3 on the distribution of the profits. Because the Government and the Minister have met the industry in that regard, there is nothing to be said on this bill, other than to congratulate the Minister for having introduced it at this time. It could have been stood over, as it had been stood over for some years by the preceding Labour Government. But this Government is eager to discharge its responsibilities to the industry, and, accordingly, the Minister has introduced this bill at this- time. He is to be congratulated upon doing so.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) has made a rather remarkable speech. At the outset, he complained that the preceding Labour Government did not make a distribution of profits from, the sale of wool until 1949. We should not become critical until we thoroughly understand the situation. Substantial stocks of wool accumulated during the last war and were sold in the post-war period. I appreciate the statement of the honorable member that it is proper for a government to intervene sometimes in order to take action in the interests of the people as a whole - in this instance, the wool-growers. The honorable member said that the United Kingdom Government was prepared to bear any losses if the wool was sold for a price less than was paid to the growers on the basis of the values that prevailed when the wool was put into store. The honorable member did not object to government intervention at that time. He said that the United Kingdom Government agreed that half the profits from the subsequent realization of the wool should be paid to the Australian wool-growers. The other half was to be retained by the United Kingdom Government because it was bearing the risk of any loss. The honorable member expressed the opinion that the United Kingdom Government was acting magnaminously in that respect, and I agree with his view.
The honorable gentleman then dismissed those matters from his mind, and referred to the objective of the preceding Labour Government as the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Obviously, he was inconsistent. He said that the woolgrowers had been paid a fair price, on the basis of the values that were prevailing at the time the wool was placed in store in Australia. Had it not been for government intervention, I do not know how the wool-growers would have faired. I recall that the Government was obliged to intervene on behalf of the wheatgrowers during World War I. Had the marketing of wheat been left to private enterprise at that time, the growers would have received approximately ls. 6d. a bushel. Therefore it will be seen that the system of taking possession of the wheat on behalf of the people commenced during World War I. resulted ultimately in the growers getting a far .better price for their produce than they would have received had the sale of their wheat been left to private enterprise - a system that is being continually praised by honorable members on the Government side. In connexion with the Joint Organization and the wool realization scheme, Australian governments decided to stand by the wool-growers. At that time it was impossible to ship wool overseas, and the Government paid a certain price to the growers and held the wool until a favorable opportunity arose to sell it abroad. The honorable member for Riverina mentioned the £25,000,000 that was paid in 1949 and called it a miserable payment. He said that the wool-growers had to worry the preceding Labour Government for years before they got any of the money that they were entitled to. I remind the honorable member that the last war ended only in 1945, and that the wool held was sold after that time at a big profit. How could, the honorable member say that the £25,000,000 was a niggardly sum, because the growers knew that ultimately there would be about £60,000,000 available for distribution ? The honorable member has said that this Government has acted in the best interests of the wool-growers in now paying money that he believes the Chifley Government should have paid in 1949. If he criticizes the Chifley Government for taking no action in 1949 surely he should criticize his own Government for not taking action in 1950, soon after it assumed office.
– The reason was that litigation was in progress.
– The honorable member says that litigation was the reason for the Government not taking action. The honorable member previously said that if a Labour government had been in office last year it would have paid the money and would not have worried about the effect of forcing more money into an already inflated economy. Then he praised this Government for not paying the money last year. The honorable member cannot have it both ways. He cannot blame Labour governments for not paying the money, and then say that if Labour governments had been in office they would have forced the money into an inflated economy. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said he considered that the money should have been paid to the growers long ago. I suggest that if the honorable member for Riverina sincerely believes that the money should have been paid in 1949 then he should have made strenuous attempts to have the money paid by this Government some time ago. He said that he did not do that because litigation was in progress. The honorable member knew at the time that whatever the result of the litigation might be only a comparatively small amount of money would be involved. Assume that approximately £7,000,000 would have been involved in the litigation. If there were £67,000,000 in the fund the Government could have set aside the £17,000,000 to cover the result of the litigation and paid the growers the £50,000,000. I did not intend to speak on this measure, but in view of the criticism directed at the
Labour governments by honorable members on the Government .side I felt that it was my duty to lay the true facts of the matter before the House. The honorable member for Riverina has often said that the products of the grower belong to the grower.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable member says, “ Hear, hear ! “ I point out to the House that he has said that the Government has no right to interfere with the sale of the farmers’ products and if that is so he must criticize nonLabour governments as well as Labour governments. He cannot have it both ways. ‘ If it is good enough for the Government to help the grower by taking over his product at one time, then it is good enough for the Government to take over the product at another time when it may not suit the grower. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) said that in 1949 £25,000,000 from the Joint Organization profits was paid to the growers, and in March of this year another £25,000,000 was paid to them, making £50,000,000 in all. He then said that £42,000,000 was still owing to the growers by the Government. The Minister then said that if the £42,000,000 is now paid out, growers’ incomes will be heavily inflated, because of last year’s big wool cheques, and the taxation demands upon them will be large. Therefore, he said, the Government has decided that it will make annual payments of the balance of the £42,000,000 sp that by 1955 the whole amount will have been paid to the wool-growers. I believe that the Government has conferred with the growers about this matter. If it has done so then it must have conferred, not with all the growers, but with a few of their representatives. I venture the opinion that many growers would prefer to have the whole amount of the money owing to them paid to them at once. I am gratified because the Government intends to pay this money to the woolgrowers as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the Government might have had some difficulty in obtaining the full amount of money this year considering that it has to pay out the wool-growers who left the industry in 1949. We know that the Government has some difficulty in raising money, and I realize that any government should do the best that it can in the best interests of the community. The Labour party has always advanced the best interests of the whole community, but the Australian Country party has never done so because its policy is that the growers should receive the money for their products as soon as they have been sold.
The Opposition does not oppose this measure, and I am merely criticizing the arguments of the honorable member for Riverina. The honorable member first said that if the Labour party had been in power it would have paid this money some time ago, at a time when such an action would have flooded the money market. Then he used the conflicting argument that if a Labour government had been in office it would have used the money for some socialistic enterprise. That clearly showed that the honorable member’s speech did not refer to the merits or demerits of the bill, but was intended to belittle the Opposition. His attack was unfair. The Opposition believes that every Australian should be paid what is due to him, and I shall endeavour always to ensure that that shall be done. I shall not oppose the bill, but I hope that the Minister will be able to. distribute the money as soon as possible.
.- We have heard two speeches by members of the Opposition so far during this debate. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) obviously attempted to atone for the lack of knowledge of the bill that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) betrayed. It ill became the honorable member for Port Adelaide, in particular, to talk of insincerity in other honorable members after he had heard the vigorous attack made upon the Government by the honorable member for Melbourne in relation to the distribution of Joint Organization profits from the sale of wool. The honorable member for Melbourne ignored the facts and accused the Government of having done nothing about the Joint Organization fund since it had assumed office. The truth is that the Government distributed a sum of £25,000,000 from the fund earlier this year. The honorable gentleman referred continually to the amount of £67,000,000 that the Government was supposed to have in hand. Of course, £25,000,000 of that amount has been disbursed. The. honorable member also ignored the fact that the growers have been consulted by the Government, which has not acted arbitrarily. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) very properly reproved the honorable member for Melbourne for having made a lamentably political speech, full of glaring inaccuracies, on a subject that should not be made a plaything of party politics. Thereupon, the honorable member for Port Adelaide rose and accused him of insincerity. I say to the honorable member for Port Adelaide that he is the last person in this august chamber from whom I should have expected to hear such an accusation so soon after the honorable member for Melbourne, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, had made his deplorable speech.
Australia’s share of the accumulated profits of the Joint Organization is £92,000,000. Of that total, £25,000,000 was distributed to the wool-growers in 1949. I shall not be so unkind as to suggest, as I might well do, that the payment was made by the former Labour Government, only a few weeks before a vital election was held, as a sort of political bribe to the wool-growers. If I did so, I should commit the offence with which I have charged the honorable member for Port Adelaide.
– But the honorable member knows that the accusation would be true.
– I repeat that I shall not he so unkind as to, make the suggestion. This Government encountered fresh difficulty after it assumed office when litigation was commenced in the Poulton case. The case is almost history now because proceedings have been so protracted. This legal action placed limitations upon the Government in respect of the Joint Organization fund. Urgent representations for the distribution of the fund were made to members of this Parliament by wool-growers when a slight change occurred in their fortunes and wool prices fell from the unprecedented high levels that they had reached. The Government carefully considered the circumstances, and decided that it could afford to take the risk of distributing £25,000,000 of the accumulated profits. I say advisedly that its decision involved a risk. The Government has considered the interests of the wool-growers at all times. It is eager to assist them, and it consults their wishes before it makes its decisions.
The honorable member for Melbourne tried to make political capital by saying that the heavy taxes to which the recipients of money distributed from Joint Organization profits would become liable would be due to the high rates of tax levied by this Government. The honorable member for Port Adelaide, however, was honest enough to acknowledge that the severe taxation would be due to the large profit’ of the woolgrowers. The incomes of growers are already high, and the receipt of payments from the Joint Organization will render them liable to even heavier taxes.. The present scale of incomes was undreamt of by the most optimistic growers not long ago, and the receipt at this time of substantial amounts from the Joint Organization fund would only aggravate their position. Taxation would deprive them of a very considerable proportion of those amounts. Perhaps the honorable member for Port Adelaide saw the position in its proper perspective as a result of the explanation that was made by the honorable member for Riverina. The honorable member for Melbourne, at any rate, completely misrepresented that aspect of the matter. The growers, naturally, are not eager to surrender to the Government, in the form of income tax, a considerable proportion of the profits that have accrued to them. The Government proposes that the money shall be paid to them over a period of three years. However, payment can be made at an earlier date if the circumstances of the growers change in the meantime. The Government has considered their interests, and it will take appropriate action to afford relief to them if they should need help.
– Will they have to pay tax on the payments that they receive from the Joint Organization?
– The honorable member knows very well that they will have to pay income tax on the amounts that they receive. Goc! forbid that the final payments should be delayed until 1955, when the present Opposition will be in power and will make the tax burden so heavy that it will be almost impossible to bear !
Honorable members on this side of the House welcome the bill, which will bc happily received by the growers, because it makes provision for payments to be made immediately to growers who have left the industry. However, before I conclude my speech, I remind the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) of one significant omission from that provision. I refer to the amounts that are due to the estates of deceased persons. The Minister is aware of the facts, I believe, but repetition will not do any harm. The final distribution of many estates is being delayed because they are entitled to payments under the Joint Organization scheme. The trustees cannot wind up the estates until Joint Organization payments are completed. The result is that beneficiaries are being denied considerable sums. The Poulton litigation has not yet concluded, and it is possible that the case will be contested eventually before the Privy Council. Because of the issues involved in the Poulton case, the Government has decided that the provision for the immediate payment of Joint Organization profits in certain circumstances shall not include the estates of deceased persons. I should like the Minister to give further consideration to this decision and to give the House an assurance that all moneys due to such estates will be paid as soon as proceedings in the Poulton case are terminated. Considerable hardships are being caused because trustees are unable, to ascertain the value of the assets in certain estates until they are informed of the amounts payable from Joint Organization profits. This matter could be dealt with in an amending bill if necessary. In any case, the difficulty should be overcome at the earliest possible date. I emphasize that the claims of persons in such circumstances are just as urgent as are those of persons who left the industry prior to September, 1949, and did not enjoy the benefit of the subsequent high prices for wool. I urge the Minister to investigate that aspect. I commend him for the way in which he has handled this matter. The growers were consulted. . Definite proposals were submitted to them, with the result that they know where they stand. In addition, the Government is taking this action when, obviously, it would have some justification for delay until the Poulton case has been concluded. The honorable member for Melbourne should have commended the Government for introducing this bill, but, instead, he indulged in shameful criticism of it. In doing so, he merely went woolgathering and revealed lamentable ignorance of the cases that will be affected by the measure.
– The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) made one remark which was so interesting that it glowed like an oasis in the weary desert of the remainder of his speech. He expressed the hope that final distribution of the Joint Organization fund would not T)e deferred until the financial year 1954-55 when, he said, the Australian Labour party would again be in office. The latter portion of that statement is perfectly true. The honorable member, in looking at the future of the wool industry, conceded that the general election which is due to take place in 1954 will be won by the Australian Labour party. And it will be won by that party, of course, largely as a result of the support of the primary producers, particularly wool-growers. I have no doubt that the view that the honorable member for Moore expressed is shared secretly by his colleagues in this chamber, but, at all events, he can be given credit for the fact that he has been the first among them to acknowledge openly that the present Government has lost the confidence of the people and will be defeated at the general elections to be held in 1954. It may be that that sad thought which was shared also by the honorable member for River.ina (Mr. Roberton), promoted those two honorable members to make the regrettably silly speeches that they contributed to this debate. This measure presented an opportunity to representatives of woolgrowing areas to deal constructively and in an interesting way with problems that confront the industry. .Surely, those honorable members acted mistakenly in taking advantage of this debate to make querulous party political speeches and to attack the Australian Labour party rather than deal with the hill on its merits. You, Mr. Speaker, must feel heartily ashamed of the fact that at one time you were the leader of the Australian Country party.
– Order ! I have never expressed any such feelings.
– I am expressing them for you. The confusion of thought of members of the Australian Country party was evidenced in their speeches. The honorable member for Riverina, in speaking about the principal act, which was the product of a socialist government, as he would describe the Chifley Government, and which provided for government intervention in the affairs of the wool industry in order to save the growers from injury that would have been done to them by private enterprise, was so confused that he decried the nefarious aims of the socialists and declared that the woolgrowers needed protection from socialist legislation. Yet he praised this very scheme. I found it difficult to follow his logic. He attacked the Labour Government of 1949 for having failed to distribute from the Joint Organization, fund a sum in excess of £25,000,000 and, as he described that disbursement as niggardly, he appeared to believe that that Government should have distributed a sum of at least £50,000,000, or even more. Yet, practically in his following sentence, he defended the present Government for having failed to make a further distribution from the fund until March, 1952. He then attacked the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) for having suggested that this Government should have distributed a much larger sum and should have done so much earlier than March last. The honorable member for Riverina said that if this Government had made a larger distribution at an earlier date the money would have been swallowed in taxes. Yet, at the same time, he attacked the Labour Government for failing to make a larger distribution in 1949. If there was any force in his argument it was to the effect that rates of taxation in 1949 were so much more equitable that the growers would have retained a much greater proportion of a large distribution. However, I was not astonished at .his lack of logic because his arguments reflected a similar lack of logic on the part of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) when he was making his second-reading speech. The Minister attempted to defend the Government’s refusal to distribute a larger sum at an earlier date on several grounds to which the honorable member for Melbourne referred. The first of those grounds was that if the Government had distributed a larger sum the wool-growers would have received a lesser proportion of the total amount because, he claimed, practically all of the money would have been swallowed in taxes. The second ground that the Minister advanced for the refusal of the Government to distribute the whole of the balance in the fund was that if it had done so an additional amount of £67,000,000 would have been poured into the inflationary stream as though it would not have been taken by the Treasurer in taxation. Surely the two statements made by the Minister can only be reconciled as meaning that the Treasurer would have taken practically the whole of that sum in taxes and then would have expended it wastefully thus adding it to the inflationary forces that existed at that time.
The honorable member for Moore referred to what he described as lack of knowledge on the part of the honorable member for Melbourne, but, in fact, the honorable member revealed only his own lack of ability to grasp the arguments that the honorable member for Melbourne clearly placed before the House. I venture to suggest that the honorable member for Melbourne knows far more than does the honorable member for Moore, not only about all other subjects, but also about the wool industry. The Minister referred particularly to the position of growers who left the industry prior to September, 1949. He acknowledged that many of those persons are now suffering severe hardship. I have no doubt that honorable members who represent woolgrowing electorates have received, as I have, numerous letters setting out the pathetic personal circumstances of small growers who left the industry either because of age, or illness, prior to that date and who, therefore, did not enjoy the benefit of subsequent high prices for wool. Many of those growers have since been obliged to endure considerable hardship and are most anxious to obtain as quickly as possible payments due to them from the Joint Organization Fund in order to enable them to enjoy the ordinary amenities of life. Those persons are living in the knowledge that they, in fact, own certain money that has not yet been distributed from the fund, but they are not able to obtain possession of that money. They cannot satisfy even their most modest requirements from that source. In those circumstances, this measure has been introduced too late and it makes insufficient provision for such persons. I doubt whether any member of the Australian Country party is satisfied as to why the Government has failed to set aside even the maximum amount which could possibly be awarded in the Poulton case and to proceed with the distribution of the balance of the fund. I have never been able to understand why the Government has refused to act along those lines. No one believes that the S::al decision in the Poulton case can affect more than a small proportion of the amount still held.
– It will determine the validity of all the war-time acquisition schemes.
– I do not think that the Minister accepts that view.
– Arguments to that effect were advanced during the proceedings in the Poulton case.
– But the Minister does not accept the view that the decision in that case will affect a substantial proportion of the amount still in hand.
– It was indicated that the arguments that were adduced in the course of the hearing of that case could be applied on a broader basis.
– There is no reason why the Minister could not assess, in effect, the maximum degree to which the decision in that case could be expected to make inroads into the balance of the Joint Organization fund and proceed to make a distribution of the balance to the persons concerned. I repeat that many of those persons are now advanced in years and are suffering hardship; indeed some of them, probably, will not live for long enough to benefit from the full distribution unless it is soon made. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, did not indicate clearly for how long the Government intends to wait before it makes a distribution to growers who left the industry prior to September, 1949. In the event that proceedings in the Poulton case are further prolonged by an appeal from the High Court to the Privy Council, for how much longer does the Government propose to defer making the partial distribution for which provision is made under this measure?
– When the judgment in the Poulton case is delivered notice of appeal, if any, will have to be lodged within a certain period. If notice of appeal is not lodged, the Government will proceed immediately to make the full distribution; and if notice of appeal is lodged we shall invoke this measure to make the distribution for which it provides.
– I thank the Minister for that information. I do not know whether he knows, or whether it will be possible to estimate, how much time will elapse before the High Court announces its decision in this case.
– The decision could be given any day.
– I assume that, in those circumstances, no more can be done at this stage than the Government proposes shall be done.
– That is so.
– Therefore, I can only express regret that the Government did not decide earlier to make a partial distribution of the profits of this fund to people who have suffered hardship during the last three or four years as a result of the absence of such distribution.
.- I listened with some interest to the speech of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). Usually, his remarks are interesting and provocative, and he has at least a superficial knowledge of the subject with which he is dealing. Therefore, it was amazing that he intervened in this debate, because, from the outset of his remarks, it was apparent that he knew practically nothing about the distribution of the profits of the Joint Organization scheme. He was not aware, until his attention was directed to it, that this Government distributed £25,000,000’ of those profits last March. He did not know the total sum available for distribution, nor did’ he know when its first became apparent that large profits were likely to be available for distribution. He suggested that that became apparent first in 1949, but, in point of fact, the Government of which he was a member realized it in 1948, and secured the passage of the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Bill. He stated categorically that the wool-growers were not being paid a penny interest on this money. He did not know that the money was controlled by the Australian Wool Realization Commission, on which the wool-growers have a majority. He did not know that the money had been invested and that it was earning interest. From first to last, his attempt to score some cheap debating points was a pitiful effort.
I give both the Chifley Government and this Government full credit for good intentions in regard to the refund of this money to woolgrowers. The wool acquisition scheme was forced on the wool industry by war-time conditions. There. fore, no blame can be attached either to the Labour party or to the present Government parties for it.. Every one knows that, in the circumstances of that time, no other method of marketing wool was possible* When- it became apparent that large profits were being made from the sale of the wool that had been acquired, the Labour government of the day announced its intention- to- pay those profits to the wool-growers, and this Government also has announced its intention to: do so. But, unfortunately, good intentions do not put money into the pockets of the wool-growers. It is interesting to note, that although the honorable member for Melbourne accused this Government of paying this money back much too late, this is the first occasion
On which any member of the Opposition has raised the matter with this Government, whereas, honorable members on this side of the House have frequently pressed the claims of the wool-growers for the return of what is, at any rate morally, their own money.
Although this bill is some evidence of the good intentions of the Government in regard to the payment of this money to the wool-growers, it will not put money immediately into the pockets of those growers who have left the industry, because the payment will be dependent, to some extent, upon the decision in the Poulton case. Therefore, if any moral is to he drawn from the circumstances of the sale of this Wool, it is that it is dangerous at any time to put the affairs of primary producers into the hands of a government, because that leads only to prolonged irritation and litigation. I am sure that honorable members opposite will concede that the present state of affairs would have arisen if the Labour party had been iii office how. The economic state of the country and other circumstances forced both this Government and its predecessor to withhold from the wool-growers money that is rightfully theirs-. Many excuses have been given for- the failure to repay the money to them, but the fact is that, if the growers had handled the sale of the wool themselves, they would have had the money for it by now.
The Minister gave three reasons for the delay in payment. They were, first, that the Poulton case is still before the High Court; secondly, that the payment of the money would have had an inflationary effect; and thirdly, that, if a full distribution had been made, most of the money paid to the growers would have been taken from them in income tax. Although those reasons are plausible and must be regarded as reasonably satisfactory, investigation has shown that, if the Government had regarded the payment of the money to the growers as being of paramount importance, payment could have been made earlier. Honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr.Allan Fraser), showed a complete lack of understanding of the issues involved in the Poulton case. If they realized exactly what is involved in that case, they would not say so emphatically that sufficient money could be set aside to meet the claims of the private buyers involved in it.
– The Minister intends to make a payment before the case has finished.
– He intends to make a partial, not a final, distribution. The private buyers who bought their wool from the growers and then submitted it for sale under the appraisement system, were excluded by the Chifley Govern* ment’s legislation of 1948, from participation in a distribution of profits. In the Poulton case, they claimed, first, that the Commonwealth had no right to exclude them from the distribution. If that were the whole of their claim, I should agree that £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, whatever be the sum involved, could be set aside to meet any decision of the High Court. But the second part of their claim was that the whole of the war-time wool acquisition scheme and appraisement system was unconstitutional and wrong, because the wool was acquired on unjust terms. Therefore, honorable members opposite will appreciate readily why this Government cannot anticipate the decision of the High Court. Whatever be the private opinions of Ministers, while a case is before the High Court which involves a challenge to the whole of the wool acquisition scheme, the Government must recognize that there is. a possibility that the High Court will uphold the contentions of Mr. Poulton. If the Government were to pay the whole of this money now, and if the High Court were to decide that the wool had been acquired on unjust terms, the Commonwealth might have to pay a lot more money to other people. Therefore, it must keep the money in reserve. I think that honorable members opposite did not appreciate that aspect of the Poulton case.
My personal view is that the Government could have protected itself by making any payment to wool-growers conditional upon a release from a possible adverse decision in that case. It is clear that the only people involved are the growers of the wool and the private buyers. At this distance of time, it is hardly likely that the quantity or quality of the wool submitted is in issue. The wool was appraised, sorted and classified by experts. The quantity submitted by each grower was established definitely. Therefore, the court could decide that the wool appraisement scheme was unjust only on the ground that the Government did not pay enough for the wool at that time, either to the growers or to private buyers. It might be possible for the Government to arrange some form of release, or some form of set-off between it and the people participating in the scheme, in regard to any future liability that may arise as the result of the decision in the Poulton case. That is the only way that I can see in which the Government could overcome the difficulty. I do not know what advice it has been given upon that matter.
Honorable members opposite do not give the wool-growers much credit for common sense when they say that the growers would rather have had their money in times of high taxation. There is not much validity in the argument that the fact that the Government did not make the distribution then proves that the taxes that it has imposed are higher than those that were imposed by the Chifley Government. If I remember rightly, in 1949, when the Chifley Government was in power, the maximum rate of income tax was about 18s. in the £1. It was reduced to 15s. when this Government came into office. The point that members of the Opposition have ignored is that, while the Labour party was in power, the incomes of primary producers were lower than they were during the last two or three years, and, therefore, that the rate at which income tax was imposed upon their incomes was also lower. Every one knows of the difficulties with which primary producers were faced during the last two or three years in relation to provisional income tax, a system introduced by the Chifley Government. If, in one year, a final distribution of these profits had been made, the producers’ provisional income tax liability would have increased, and their position would have been intolerable. Therefore, I believe that, from the taxation aspect of the matter, the Government, in withholding this money from the wool-growers, acted wisely and entirely out of consideration for their interests.
I said earlier that, when a government handles large sums of other people’s money and decides when those sums should be paid to them, irritation and litigation are caused. The distribution of the profits of the Joint Organization scheme have already given rise to costly litigation. Let me refer to the case of the Perpetual Trustee Company and Masden. That case went to the Privy Council, which is never a cheap form of litigation. It has a great bearing upon the income tax liability of wool-growers in respect of this money. The issue in that case was the ownership of the Joint Organization wool profits. Some partners assigned their interests in a partnership, and subsequently died. Then the question arose whether these profits went with the partnership interests, or belonged to the estates of the deceased partners. It was a very complicated case, and the Privy Council was required to settle it. The Privy Council decided that the money was a pure gift from the Commonwealth. Every one knows that gifts are not subject to income tax. So the question of income tax liability in respect of these profits becomes quite important. I understand that, even before the decision in that case was announced, most people who had participated in the £50,000,000 distribution had been advised, either by taxation advisers or by farmers’ organizations, not to treat the money that they had received as a part of their taxable incomes. They were advised to show it in their tax returns as a capital increment. I consider that this matter should be decided quickly, because people who have not had the benefit of the expert advice that I have mentioned, or who do not belong to a farmers’ organization, may, in ignorance, have shown the amounts as income in their tax returns, and may have been taxed accordingly. It is only fair that the community as a whole should know the correct position.
– Has the honorable member given the Government the benefit of his views on the matter?
– I am giving them to the House now. The Government has available to it much more expert advice on this matter than mine could possibly be. I suggest that there are many problems germane to this matter that have to be solved. For example^ if these amounts are held to be. income, in what year were they earned ? Was it in the year that the wool was grown? It is in that year that profits from the sale of wool, as such, are usually regarded as income. Or was the income earned in the year that the wool was actually sold? Finally, if it is held to he income for the year in which this Government or a future government makes the final distribution, that will make it the most uncontrollable sort of income, as far as the taxpayer is concerned, that ever existed. It is also suggested that the amounts be regarded as an accretion of capital that occurred while the money was in the hands of the Joint Organization which acquired the wool, which was a capital asset, and disposed of it to advantage. Finally, of course, there is- the important decision of the Privy Council in the Masten case, in which was expressed the opinion that this was a pure gift by the Government to the wool-growers. The fact is that as the wool was acquired by the Government under the appraisement scheme, there is no legal obligation to return it or its value to any one. It is only in recognition of a moral obligation that this money is now to be distributed. In these circumstances there is some difficulty in deciding definitely whether the money distributed will, or will not, be regarded as taxable income.
The whole sorry story of the delays in the payment of this money, whatever the justification for them may be, leads to the conclusion that interference by governments in matters that are essentially the business of primary producers or other persons by the acquisition and marketing of their assets on their behalf is a bad and dangerous practice. I believe that this Government has been perfectly justified in retaining the wool profits, just as any other government would have been. I take some comfort from the fact that the Government is not, as a general rule, in favour of handling and controlling large sums of wool-growers’ money, because it believes that such matters should be left in the hands of the growers themselves. I hope the moral will be clear to all primary producers in this country.
– I rise to support the bill, which is a simple measure to authorize the Minister to distribute, at his discretion, the profits from the Joint Organization. It also contains certain provisos to protect the Government against legal actions, such as the Poulton case. I am sorry for the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), because to-day he was certainly off his ground. His trouble was that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Chifley Government, was absent,, and he had to step into the breach. The honorable member made a number of serious errors, and it was evident that he really did not know what he was talking about. He asked why the Australian Country party was tagging on behind this Government. I can see into his mind quite clearly. During the Nineteenth Parliament it was suggested to members of the Australian Country party that they form a government with the members of the Labour party, who would support them.
– Perish the thought!
– I and other members of the Australian Country party did not consider that suggestion as a compliment, but as an insult. To-day, members of the Labour party are putting out feelers to the Australian Country party tq discover whether it would assist in the formation of a new government, and I believe they are prepared to promise anything to achieve their ends. That explains the attitude of the honorable member for Melbourne. The honorable member said that in 1949 the Chifley Labour Government had distributed £25,000,000 to the wool-growers from the Joint Organization profits, and that no other distribution had since been made.
-he merely made a mistake.
– It might have been merely a mistake, but he upheld his assertion. His mistake was broadcast to the country. This Government, in fact, made a further distribution from the fund in March this year. The honorable member for Melbourne was not on the beam in relation to this matter. He has my sympathy, because he had to deal with something that he did not understand. Naturally, he tried to talk his way through it, as usual.
I took it from the opening remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) that he intended to give us a lesson on the making of good speeches. He referred to the “ silly “ speeches made by members of the Australian Country party which, he said, were “ not constructive “. I sat back in the hope that the honorable member would show us exactly what an ideal speech should be like. He started by saying that this matter should not be a party issue, then proceeded to deal with it on a purely party-political basis. He made many statements on matters about which he knows little, and showed clearly that he did not understand the implications of the Poulton case. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) was kind enough to explain them to him. However, the honorable member made one statement with which I agree. He referred to the eases of hardship that have resulted from the non-payment of these moneys.’ To judge from the letters that we received before the last payment was made in March, there are still many people who are in urgent need of the money. The winding up of a number of estates is delayed, because included in them are credits in the Joint Organization profits. I am convinced that the Minister will make those payments promptly, as he has promised to do, as soon as the termination of the litigation at present in course enables him to do so. That is all there is to say about thi3 bill. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr-. Freeth) has lucidly explained t-he implications of the Poulton case. I consider that the public should be apprised of the effect that a decision against the Government in that case could have on the distribution of the remaining Joint Organization profit?. The bill deserves support, and I have not the faintest doubt that members of the Labour party will vote for it, along with Government supporters, but they considered that they had to take the opportunity presented by the bill to vent some spite on the Government. Unfortunately for them their spite misfired, because they lacked the requisite knowledge of this subject. I have much pleasure in supporting the measure and commend it to the House.
– I listened with interest to the two members of the Opposition who have spoken on the measure and have indicated their intention to support it. I was intent on discovering whether they had any reason, other than pure politics, to advance for opposing the measure in their speeches. The history of the Joint Organization really dates back to 1939, although it was not until 1945 that the company known as United Kingdom “Wool Disposals Limited was registered in the United Kingdom. In 1939 the British Government decided to purchase the entire wool clips of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, for the purposes of the war. At that time the price offered was about ls. per lb. It rose to ls. 3d. per lb. in 1943. If I know the woolgrowers, they were in agreement with the arrangement. They knew that there was a war on, and were prepared to do their bit towards the winning of i*:. Naturally, some wool-growers thought the price was too low, especially since they had just come through a period of bad prices, but they also were prepared to help to assist the war effort. It was not until 1945 that the company that I have mentioned was formed. The Australian wool-growers had approximately a 63 per cent, interest in the stocks of wool held by the company. Originally the British Government decided to buy wool and stand all the losses. However, when the company was formed, the British Government and the Dominion governments concerned agreed to share in the profits and the losses. That is stipulated in an agreement which, I believe, represents a generous gesture on the part of the British Government.
Most aspects of this matter have been fully traversed in the debate, but I shall deal with two that the Minister raised in his second-reading speech. He stated that in this organization were certain assets, owned conjointly by the British Government and the Australian Government, which included 300 wool stores in Australia. I believe that it is the intention of the Government to buy out the British Government’s interest in those stores, pay into this fund the money so realized, and retain the stores for future use in the event of a national emergency. “Wool-growers’ organizations, and other interested organizations, contend that the stores should be disposed of completely. There might be some merit in that argument if the world were not in its present state of tension. I commend the Government for its intention to retain these stores for use in possible future emergencies, because I believe that in an emergency they could form the nucleus of an organization by providing storage capacity.
Another aspect of the matter, with which the Minister did not deal, concerns the statistical branch of the Joint Organization, which has been of immense value, and will be of immense value to any future government. “When the Minister was conducting negotiations with the United States Government with respect to the free auction of wool in Australia, the information gathered by the statistical branch about the type and quality of our wool was of immense value. It may be contended that this information can be gathered from the various wool-broking firms. I admit that those organizations have their own systems of collecting statistics for future reference and in connexion with their businesses, but I know, from my somewhat limited experience that wool-brokers’ statistics are not compiled on a uniform basis. I commend that matter to the Minister for consideration. I ‘believe that this branch should be retained.
Despite the statement of the honorable member for Melbourne that the woolgrowers are in dire need of this money, I believe that they will welcome the proposed method of distribution. It is interesting to note the anxiety displayed by members of the Labour party about the welfare of the wool-growers-. I have heard Opposition members describe the wool-growers at various times as the “ wool barons “. I suggest that honorable gentlemen opposite confer with their colleagues in Queensland with a view to reaching a common approach in this matter. During the general election campaign in 1951, the then Premier of Queensland said that the wool-growers were getting something to which they were not entitled, that it was high time astabilization plan was formulated, and that the Government should fix wool prices. Now, for party political purposes, honorable members opposite weep crocodile tears for the poor wool-growers and claim they are being robbed by the Government.
– Yes, this is a wool steal.
– The honorable member’s colleagues in Queensland have taken a different line. I suggest that he confer with them with a view to arriving at a. common policy. I support the bill. 1 know that it will be welcomed by the wool-growers.
.- I had not intended to participate in this debate, but I arn obliged to do so because of the provocative statements of those persons who misrepresent in this Parliament the country interests in the community. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar) said that this subject should be discussed in a non-party manner. It will be an historic occasion in this Parliament when the honorable gentleman approaches any subject in a non-party manner, as he is probably the most partisan member in the chamber, and constantly refuses to give fair and impartial judgments on matters such as this, because his mind is clouded by his own narrow vision. That is common to all members of the organization known as the Australian Country party.
This afternoon, we have witnessed the spectacle of this dying party fighting for survival. Faced with political annihilation because of their betrayal of country party interests on wool legislation of this kind and other legislation relating to primary production, these members of the dying Australian Country party are fighting feebly for existence by endeavouring to defend - to put it mildly - what is neither more nor less than another wool steal. The Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act, which was placed on the statute-book by the Chifley Government in 1948, conferred a great- benefit on wool-growers. The Labour movement has always been to the forefront in defending and improving the conditions of all primary producers. It was not until a Labour administration came into office that primary producers received reasonable returns for their products, and that people who worked in the primary industries were granted proper conditions of labour, and those amenities that are so essential if the great wool industry, on which the national economy is dependent to such a large degree, is to be adequately safeguarded.
– Does the honorable member represent the woolgrowers ?
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) continually intrudes in this debate. Some time ago, we described him as “ The wheat-grower from Wentworth “, because he had the temerity to participate in a debate on a subject about which he knew very little, even as a consumer of wheat. Therefore, I disregard his implied criticism of my participation in the present debate. When all is said and done, I have a responsibility to the 40,000 persons in my electorate who wear a considerable quantity of wool in their clothes. They are important consumers of this great product, and I am particularly concerned to know that those who produce the wool - whether or not they are called “wool barons” by members of the Australian Country party - are completely protected in order that my electors, in their turn, shall be able to obtain this great product at a reasonable price. I desire to be assured that woolgrowers, who constitute a most important section of the community, are receiving s fair return for their efforts.
I realize that my remarks are not exactly popular with members of the Australian Country party. They do not appreciate criticism of their incompetence. In this debate, they are giving little credit to the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act, which was introduced by a Labour government, and which has conferred a great benefit upon the wool-growers. The Joint Organization scheme provided the basis for the settlement of a most difficult problem during the war years, and the Australian wool-growers’ share of the profits is considerable. The wool-growers appreciate the foresight of the Chifley Administration, and realize that its legislation was an important factor in improving their lot.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), in his secondreading speech, gave two reasons for the Government’s decision not to distribute all the available profits immediately. He said -
The level of taxation waa, and still is, such that, had their full profit entitlement been distributed to all growers a great many of them would have retained very little of the money which it was the intention of the Government - indeed the intention of all Government* since 1939 - should be paid to them. The principal beneficiary would have been the Consolidated Revenue and this would have been contrary to the Commonwealth’s intention. The incomes which most wool-growers received in the 1949-50, 1950-51 and 1951-52 wool seasons put them into such taxation brackets, that they would retain only a very small percentage of any accretion to their incomes by way of Joint Organization profits moneys.
In my opinion, that excuse is not reasonable. When all is said and done, the growers were entitled to receive that money when the payment fell due, and this Government should have met that obligation. Every member of the Australian Country party, including the Minister, wants his salary when it falls due, irrespective of the rate of tax. That remark applies to nearly every member of the community. If I desired to be sinister, I could say that the Government was endeavouring to deprive the Consolidated Revenue fund of certain moneys that should be paid into it. But, knowing the Minister’s integrity, I do not make that accusation against him. However, I consider that the excuse for the non-payment of the money on thi clue date will not bear full investigation, and that the Government deserves a certain amount of condemnation for its dilatory approach to the settlement of the problem.
The Minister made another attempt to defend the decision of the Government not to distribute the profits in full immediately. He said -
The second reason, and from the point of view of the national economy a very important reason, for the Government’s decision not to make a complete distribution of profits was that the addition of approximately £67 million to the currency stream in a period of high wool prices and rising prices in general would have greatly magnified the inflationary problem the effects of which the Australian economy is still feeling.
Certainly, when the payment of the money was due, the national economy was affected by inflationary conditions and, incidentally, those conditions will continue while the present Government remains in office. But the inflationary problem is not a valid reason for the indefinite postponement of the distribution of this money. It is difficult to know why the profits were not paid to the wool-growers on the due date. The woolgrowers were entitled to handle the money that belonged to them. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and other members of the Australian Country party constantly claim that they know best how to expend the people’s money for them. From time to time, they have told the people, “ We think that we should take some money from you for certain reasons “. When we analyse those reasons, we recognize that the Government is merely telling various individuals, including the wool-growers, that it knows better than they do how their money should be expended. Members of the Labour party do not accept those reasons, and consider that the Government should not postpone the payment of the money.
The first payment of about £25,000,000 was made in 1949 by the Chifley Government. A similar amount has been paid by the present Government. The Chifley Government, in making the initial distribution, was not influenced by the possible effects of the payment because it controlled the economy and inflation so that wool-growers received the full value for the money paid to them in accordance with the provisions of the original act. The Minister said that “ the addition of approximately £67,000,000 to the currency stream in a period of high wool prices and rising prices in general would have greatly magnified the inflationary problem “. That factor is not an excuse for withholding this money from the wool-growers.
It is scandalous that members of the Australian Country party, including the honorable member for Canning (Mrs Hamilton), sit idly by while the woolgrowers are exploited by a government which is kept in office by this dying political party. It is scandalous that members of the Australian Country party so betray the interests of primary producers and others as to support this bill. I hope that some of them will rise in their places and endeavour to justify this legislation. The most voluble member of the Australian Country party, the ‘honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), has been significantly silent during this debate. “We should like to hear from the honorable gentleman because he rarely fails to participate in any debate, and he should have some knowledge of this particular matter. I suggest that the electors are entitled to hear his views about it. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) should also give us the benefit of his opinion of this measure, because the matter deals with a subject vital to every primary producer. That honorable gentleman should also tell us where he stands. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar) merely apologized for his own actions instead of stating what he thought about the bill.
– Order ! The honorable member should deal with the bill, not with other honorable members.
– I apologize, Mr. Speaker, but as one who has taken a practical interest in the consumers’ side of the wool industry, I considered that it would be instructive to hear what those who have taken an interest in the producers’ side might have to say about a measure that involves the payment of millions of pounds. As a third reason for the introduction of this measure, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) said that there was still pending in the High Court a case known as the Poulton case, in which the plaintiff, who was a dealer, not only claimed to be entitled to payment of certain moneys, but had also put in issue the whole basis of the war-time wool acquisition scheme. The hearing of that case has been completed, but judgment has been reserved. In the circumstances, the Minister said, the Government believed that the proper course for it to take was to postpone the distribution of the payments that would be made under the bill. He said that in doing so it had to take into account all possible implications of the Poulton case. That is very sound reasoning generally, but surely the Government could have made allowances for the payment of this amount without infringing the rights of individuals or the judicial practices of this country. Surely the Government could have paid the money involved in the Poulton case into a trust without making any attempt to influence the court or its judgment. It then would have been possible for any moneys due to growers to have been made available. It would have been possible to pay the growers the exact measure of the Government’s liability without infringing the judgment of the court. The Government could have met its obligations at the right time. If I have been somewhat critical of the honorable members of this House, who represent primary producing interests, may I say in justification that we are entitled to hear their views about the measure. In common with other honorable members on this side of the House, I give this measure my approval.
.- Time does not permit me to cite the Western Australian episode involving the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) when Gladys Moncrieff played in Victoria and Her Hussar. Once again he has endeavoured to play the part of the funny man. The honorable member directed his remarks against the Government in general and the members of the Australian Country party in particular. He said that we were attempting to tell the wool-growers how they should spend their money. I do not think that any honorable member opposite is entitled to say such a thing, in view of the actions of the last Labour Government and its Minister for Agriculture, the -honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). That honorable gentleman told the wheat-growers, who also grow wool, that the then Treasurer intended to make a payment to the wheatgrowers just in time for him to take it back as income tax for the year 1948-49. This Government has not adopted those tactics. The honorable member said that it was left to Labour, during the war, to give primary producers increased prices for their products. Obviously the honorable member was thinking of wool when he said that. I remind honorable members opposite that a non-Labour government was in power at the time the wool agreement was made with Great Britain. That government did not put any pressure upon the United Kingdom for an increased price in view of the fact that that country was bearing the whole burden of war. Great Britain had agreed to pay 10 3/4d. sterling for every pound of wool in every Australia wool clip during the war, and one clip afterwards. Therefore, Great Britain was prepared to pay 13-rid. Australian for each pound of wool, which was a much higher price than we were getting before 1939. At the time Great Britain was forced to stand with her back to the wall against the tyrant in Europe and had no one to help her, what sort of people would we have been to ask for an increased price? The honorable member for Grayndler said that the Labour party had secured an increased price. The Labour party did secure 2d. per lb. increase, but when that happened America bad entered the war and the whole international outlook had altered. Honorable members should also remember that wool is one of the great munitions of war. The Labour party assumed office in October, 1941 and it was not until December, after America’s entry into the war, that the price of wool was increased.
This measure now before the- House is designed to bring, the Joint Organization to finality. The Joint Organization had its genesis in 1939, when England was prepared to accept all the Wool that we could grow and was prepared to pay all the transport and handling costs and also to pay us 50 per cent, of the profits on any of the wool sold outside the United Kingdom. When the war ended we had to set up an organization to handle the wool that was left in the scheme. All that the Labour party did was to set up the Joint Organization to deal with the surplus wool. The then Labour government said that there was a great danger that the price of wool would drop, and that the surplus must be handled very carefully. The Joint Organization handled it carefully, and was able so to dispose of the wool that it realized a big profit of £92,000,000. Under this legislation the war-time arrangement will be brought to finality, and the measure explains clearly to the wool-growers how the payments are to be made to them. Some honorable members opposite have criticized the Government for withholding the money for some time, and for the way in which the Government now proposes to pay it. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said that some wool-growers would have to wait until the year 1954-55 before they received their money. Of course they will. However, I remind honorable members - and the honorable member for Melbourne is no lamb in these matters although there are a lot of lambs at Flemington in his electorate - that the woolgrowers have never yet been able to make up their minds how the money shall be paid out to them. The first payment was made to wool-growers during the regime of a Labour government, and the honorable member for Melbourne said that that was the only payment that had ever been made to them. I say that any delay in the payment between November, 1949, and March, 1952, was not entirely the fault of the Government because throughout that period negotiations between the woolgrowers and the Government were proceeding as to whether this money should be used as a part of a new plan to establish a reserve price for wool. It was not until after a ballot of the woolgrowers had been conducted that it was discovered that a majority of them did not want a reserve price for wool. Not until that time was the way clear for the payment of the money. It ill becomes the Opposition to lay any charge of delay against the Government, because only six months have passed since the last payment was made to the wool-growers, and now the Government is proposing to pay them the balance of the money that remains under the control of the Joint Organization. I suggest that it is only right that those men who left the industry before December, 1949, should be paid first, and that the others should be paid according to the method laid down in the bill. I support the measure.
.- I support the bill. In the circumstances the measure is in the best interest of all concerned.
– in reply - One feature of this debate i-s particularly noticeable - it was led, on behalf of the Opposition by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is its deputy leader. With the exception only of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), no honorable member of the Opposition who represents a woolgrowing or rural electorate has spoken on the measure. That is an extraordinary circumstance. In this important debate, which deals with the expenditure of £92,000,000 and concerns the most important industry in Australia, not one honorable member of the Labour party, equipped either by his representation or by his knowledge, except the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, has risen to express the views of the Opposition. The Opposition is not able to put up speakers who may fairly claim to represent woolgrowers, because due to its rural industries policy the Labour party was practically wiped out of the rural areas in 194.9. It was wiped out notwithstanding its blatant attempts to bribe its way back to office.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. I submit that the word “ bribe “ is unparliamentary.
-It is not a usual term, but I point out that this afternoon the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), in my presence, twice described the bill as a “ steal “. Therefore, I shall leave this point of order to the decision of the House.
– I used the term in the political sense. It is not historically unknown in politics to speak of a political bribe, which phrase contains no personal imputation. It is an imputation against a party. It is an historic fact that on the 9th December, 1949, the very eve of the general election of the 10th December, 1949, the then Labour Government suddenly discovered that the woolgrowers were or might be entitled to some money. Without having taken the precaution of getting authority from the Parliament it paid out £25,000,000 to the wool-growers. A few weeks before, it had paid out £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 to the Australian wheat-growers and on the last day that the Parliament sat before the general election of 1949 the Chifley Government announced that it would honour its promise to the dairyfarmers of Australia. Moreover, just before it went to the people, it stated that it would increase the superannuation allowance to public servants. That is the setting into which the action of the Labour party, in relation to its obligations to the Australian wool-growers, has to be placed. It is just as well that we should recall the record of Labour, and it is just as well that the people should remember it, because it caused the Labour party to be wiped out of the wool-growing electorates at the general election of 1949. Only one of the few members of the Opposition who are qualified to speak on behalf of wool-growers has thought it worth while to take part in this debate.
Charges of neglect have been levelled at honorable members on this side of the House by other members of the Opposition and, in those circumstances, I am entitled to turn the spotlight on the Labour party. The chief spokesman for the Opposition in this debate has been the honorable member for Melbourne. The honorable gentleman is an industrious worker and usually is a student of the subjects that he discusses in this House, but he floundered and blundered badly to-day. He seemed to know nothing of the subject that he was discussing. He said repeatedly that the £25,000,000 paid to the woolgrowers by the Labour Government a few hours before the people voted in 1949 was the last and only payment that had been made from Joint Organization profits when, in fact, thi3 Government distributed an additional sum of £25,000,000 as recently as last March. That fact was clearly mentioned in my second-reading speech, a copy of which the honorable gentleman held in his hand at the time. Obviously, he had not studied it. This honorable gentleman who aspires, we are told, to be the Treasurer, if not the occupant of a higher office, said that the Labour party, if it were returned to office, would promptly pay out in full all profits of the Joint Organization scheme that were due to the wool-growers. He spoke with reckless disregard of the possible effects of releasing so much money if a condition of inflation prevailed at the time. “ Put us in power “, he said, “ and we will shovel the lot out “. And take it all back in taxes, no doubt! Whilst it is arguable, as the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) pointed out, whether this money should be taxable or not, the fact is that the Chifley Government had no doubt that the £25,000,000 distributed in the first place should be treated as taxable income in the hands of the woolgrowers.
Immediately this Government came to office, the organized wool-growers of Australia asked that at least a part of the residual profits of the Joint Organization should not be disbursed to them, but should be used as the. capital nucleus for a reserve price plan for wool that the growers were then sponsoring. That issue remained under active consideration for some time. By the time the possibility had passed, we had moved into the succeeding wool year, the amazing wool year of 1950-51. when the cheques of woolgrowers, as we all know, were fabulous. Labour will gain no credit from the woolgrowers for its suggestion that, had it been in office in that year, it would have paid the whole of the accrued profits of the Joint Organization to them to be added to their already fabulous taxable incomes so that, in truth, they would have retained literally none of the extra money. Income tax would have deprived them of it. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) spoke of. constructive suggestions. That was the most constructive suggestion to come from the Opposition during this debate, and the intelligent wool-growers of Australia will assess it for what it is worth. The fact is that this Government has taken the proper course of action.
I wish to correct a misapprehension that appears to be entertained by at least one honorable member. I said in my introductory speech that I had consulted the wool-growers on behalf of the Government in connexion with this bill. I have since refreshed my mind on the subject, and I find that I said that agreement had been reached that the 30th August, 1949. would be the appropriate date by which to judge whether former wool-growers had left the industry before the era of high prices. One honorable member apparently interpreted that statement to mean that the growers had agreed that the best procedure for paying out the profits of the Joint Organization to persons other than those who had left the industry would be to do so in three approximately equal payments. I want to be candid and clear. That is not so. The representatives of the growers asked, and still ask, that the payments be distributed at the one time. The Government refused their request for reasons that I stated in my. introductory speech and that have been repeated since by other honorable members. This decision was made in the general public interest because of the prevailing condition of inflation and also because, when the present Prime Minister declared in 1939 that profits would be paid to the growers, he meant that they would be paid to them for their benefit. The Prime Minister did not mean that the Government would practise any trick by which they would receive millions of pounds in one month and would lose it a few months later in taxation. The Government is honouring the spirit of the undertaking given to the growers by the Prime Minister in 1939. The balance of the profits will be disbursed in three more approximately equal instalments, unless special circumstances make it obvious that the fund should be distributed sooner or in larger amounts. The bill merely specifies a date later than which the money cannot be retained by the Government. It will not prevent the Government from distributing the money earlier than is now proposed if, in its judgment, changing circumstances demand a revision of its plans.
The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) urged that special payments be made immediately to the estates of deceased persons for the benefit of beneficiaries, as well as to persons who have left the wool industry. That is a point upon which I consulted the wool-growers, and I point out to the honorable member now that the case that he argued obtained no support from them. To my mind, such beneficiaries are in a situation similar to that of beneficiaries who find that the assets of an estate include money lent on mortgage and who, therefore, have to wait until the date of maturity before they can realize that asset. I shall give further consideration to the proposal that the honorable member has made, but I do not hold out any hope that the Government will change its view on the matter, especially as the subject was discussed with representatives of the wool-growers.
The Government could have decided, logically, that the wool stores owned by the Joint Organization should be retained, in the present days of tension, in the interests of wool-growers against the contingency of their being needed again in a crisis. However, it has taken the view that some of the Joint Organization’s funds are invested in the stores, and that the whole of the funds should be distributed. Therefore, the Government intends to purchase the British Government’s share in the stores, and the value of the stores will be distributed. The stores will remain under government ownership so long as existing conditions prevail.
– The British Government still has a half-interest in the stores ?
– Yes. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) raised an interesting point with which I have not sufficient time to deal at length in this speech. I shall deal with it fully on another appro priate occasion. The honorable member advocated the continuance, in a reduced form, of the wool statistical service established by the Australian Wool Realization Commission, the records of which were drawn upon by me and my advisers in certain negotiations that took place two years ago and again eighteen months ago, when strong representations were made for the termination of the Australian auction system of selling wool. Without going into details, I remark at this stage that the existence of those statistics in relation to the composition of our wool clip, its timing, its placement, and so forth, enabled us to resist the assault upon the auction system. Although I was the principal negotiator for Australia, I was not technically equipped to analyse those records, but they were of great use because Mr. Crawford, the permanent head of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, fully understood them. The Government proposes that this system of maintaining records be continued on a reduced scale. I commend the bill to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenuebe made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Wool Realization (Distribution of Profits) Act 194.8.
Resolution reported ; report adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Bill - by leave - taken as a whole and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6 to8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 8th October (vide page 2686), on motion by Mr. Casey -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill is of vital importance to Australia. I believe that it is a great loss to the Parliament that the House, in its consideration of it, cannot have the assistance of the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. W. M. Hughes), who played such an important part in the formation of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, but who is now absent owing to serious illness. I have looked at this measure over and over again and have repeatedly analysed the statements that the Government has made on this subject. The more one analyses those statements, the more one becomes convinced that this is a shocking and scandalous proposal which cannot be justified on any ground whatsoever. The object of the bill is to validate an agreement under which the Government proposes to sell out the entire interest of the people of this country in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. At present, the Australian Government holds half the shares, plus one, in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the balance of the shares, that is, half the shares, less one, are owned by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, which was known for many years, and at’ the time that the original agreement was made in the 19.2.0’s, as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
The . Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), in his second-reading speech, did not remove the doubts and anxieties to which this proposal has given rise in the minds of fair-minded citizens. The Minister’s speech was notable for several vital omissions. This House, in which Government supporters are in the majority, should be vigilant to safeguard the interests of the people of Australia against exploitation through increases of the prices of oil and petrol. They should realize, as I believe that the great majority of them would, if left to themselves that the Government, which is vested with responsibility for the defence of Australia, subject to control by the Parliament, should in no circumstances dispose of an asset which is so intimately connected with the defence of this country. The Minister for External Affairs, in his second-reading speech, omitted entirely to refer to the crucial provi sion of the existing agreement between the Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. He referred to some of its provisions, including the obligation that was placed upon Commonwealth Oil’ Refineries Limited under the agreement to develop the oil refining industry in Australia. I shall direct attention to some of the more important provisions of the agreement in order to demonstrate its importance and also to show how wise and far-seeing were the statesmen of this country who were responsible for it. The first relevant clause of the agreement provides -
That was the main purpose of the agreement. Mr. Churchill emphasized that point in England when the British Government invested in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, which was then known as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited, because the British Navy simply had to obtain adequate supplies of oil. Mr. Churchill then said that it was all very well for the major oil companies to be courteous towards the British Government, but the only difference that existed between them and the Government was with respect to the price at which the companies would supply oil. He thought that their relations could be even more pleasant, from the British Government’s point of view, if it gained control of oil which it urgently needed; and, eventually, the Asquith Government invested in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited. It is essential that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should not be tied with the major oil companies if, in fact, those companies are tied with the international oil cartel. If this great organization should be tied up with the major oil companies to the detriment of Australia, nothing can be done about it. Secondly, the existing agreement provides -
That no action or question or decision relating to or affecting: -
the policy of the Commonwealth in connexion with naval or military or external affairs; or
any proposed sale or disposition of the Refinery Company’s business or any part thereof; or
any. proposed change in the status, powers, business or constitution of the Refinery Company; or
any proposed sale of refined products to aliens or for export from the Common wealth; or
any proposed sale of refined products on long contracts or under circumstances which might endanger the ability of the Refinery Company to meet requirements for consumption within Australia; shall be taken determined or made “without ‘the consent of the Commonwealth as expressed through its representatives on the Board of Directors.
That provision directly relates to international affairs. Oil is a part of international politics. The fate of nations depends upon adequate supplies of oil. When Japan entered the recent war towards the end of 1941 and Australia was threatened with invasion, our supply of oil, because of submarine activities, decreased within a few months to 36,000,000 gallons. We were then desperately short of oil. Incidentally, that fact explains a point that the Minister made when he referred to the cessation of refining between 1942 and 1946. We were then obliged to rely upon a limited tanker force for supplies, and they would carry only refined spirit. The existing safeguards will be abandoned if the House ratifies this agreement. Next, the original agreement provided -
That other things being equal the Refinery Company shall give preference to goods manufactured in the Commonwealth when purchasing machinery plant and supplies.
All of those provisions are important. The first provision in respect of nonparticipation of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in combinations or trusts safeguards the independence of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and that safeguard will continue until this new agreement is ratified. The Government now proposes to sell its shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited at a time when very few oil companies, whether they are producing, manufacturing or distributing oil, are independent of the international cartel. That cartel controls world manufacture and, to a large degree, world sources of petrol. It certainly controls distribution and, consequently, the price of oil and petrol. A Congressional committee that was recently appointed in the United! States of America to investigate the international cartel showed beyond doubt how the major oil companies operate under different names not only in different countries but, in some instances, in the same country. Admittedly, all of those companies are subject to a central control, and they combine in the interests of their private shareholders. No one can blame them for endeavouring to serve the best interests of their shareholders. But what can be said of a government which proposes to sacrifice a safeguard that it already possesses against exploitation by the international oil cartel ?
It was in order to counteract that danger that the right honorable member for Bradfield, when he was PrimeMinister, and all succeeding PrimeMinisters in this country, regardless of party, insisted upon the retention of the Government’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Why should the Government now set aside this guarantee? Once Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is completely controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited it will be completely free to join up with the major oil companies in this country without let or hindrance Such a step cannot be taken to-day; but the Government now invites the Parliament to approve of such a step. The Minister for External Affairs implied that this will not matter at all. He said that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was not able to exert any influence to keep down the prices of oil and petrol. Such an implication is only half true. It is true that when price-fixation was in operation all the oil companies were subject to the relevant law and it could not be said that any particular company was responsible for keeping down prices. But that was not the position during the period that preceded the introduction of price-fixation. On this point, I need only quote the following statement that was made by Mr. Bruce, now Lord Bruce, when he was Prime Minister of Australia in 1926: -
The progressive reduction in Australia has been largely influenced by the competition of the Commonwealth. Oil Refineries in the Australian market - competition which the oil trusts recognize as genuine, continuous, and designed to prevent the exploitation of the Australian public. If the Commonwealth Oil Refineries were not in existence, and this Parliament -were doing nothing to protect the Australian public against exploitation, would petrol consumers be as well off as they are to-day? The history of the last few months indicates that greater toll would have been taken from them by other companies.
That was proved before the outbreak of the recent war in 1939. The Government now proposes that that safeguard should be removed. As a matter of fact, it was so practical a safeguard in keeping down prices that legislation that the Bruce-Page Government introduced to increase the capital of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was unanimously supported by all parties in the Parliament. The Minister for External Affairs also said that the Chifley Government thought that the Commonwealth, having a major shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, should be entitled to a greater number of directors than three on a board of seven directors. That is true, and the Chifley Government endeavoured to effect an amendment along those lines. But the same observation is equally true in respect of the present Government because in January last it announced that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was to be expanded. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) announced that the Government had at last secured equal representation on the board of directors of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited with the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited. However, that is a minor point at this juncture, because the vital question now arises of whether the Government should abandon the safeguard that existed through its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and, from the point of view of popular ownership, sink the ship.
The terms of the existing agreement also have a direct and substantial effect in relation to international affairs. I do not need to elaborate on that aspect of it. Every one who has followed world events in the last few years, particularly in the Middle East, realizes the con nexion that exists, not only between oil supplies and defence requirements, but also between such supplies and the forces and tensions- that operate in international affairs. I have never heard before of a proposal like this being put through in such a way. The decision was announced in this House one Friday afternoon, after a suddenly called party meeting, which lasted, I understand, for about fifteen minutes. That is the way in which the country is being governed by a government that wants to get rid of assets which belong, not to it, but to the people of Australia. My remarks about the control of prices are supported by one of the reports of the public accounts committee, which endorsed what Mr. Bruce had said.
Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been an enormous financial success. The total capital investment by the people of Australia was only £425,000. It has been made good over and over again. Even the dividends received have far exceeded the capital investment. I stated to the House a little while ago that, in my view, the true value of the physical capital asset was far in excess of £3,000,000. I did not take into account, and the accountants did not do so either, the goodwill value of this business as a going concern. A court, in assessing the true value of the asset, would say that, by this purchase, the Anglo-Iranian company was not only acquiring shares but also was obtaining the complete ownership and control of a very successful business. From that point of view, which is the business point of view, the figure of less than £3,000,000 specified in the agreement represents only a fraction of the true value. The House is entitled to know the basis upon which these shares were valued. If a company purchases shares which give to it the control of a successful enterprise, the value of those shares must be far greater than would be the value of a few shares in the enterprise bought on the market. Let me put the matter in another way. If the Commonwealth Parliament acquired the shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited that are owned by the AngloIranian company, and if a court were asked to assess the value of those shares, what valuation would it place upon them ?
It is impossible to be dogmatic in this matter, and I do not wish to appear to be so, but I suggest that the figure fixed by the court would be nearer £10,000,000 than £3,000,000.
– What rubbish! Why does not the right honorable gentleman Sly £50,000,000 and have done with it?
– I am making the point, and I believe that most intelligent people can follow me, that if a company purchased every share in another successful company, the value of those shares, from its point of view, would be much greater proportionately than would be the value of only a few shares, because the purchase would give to it the ownership of the other company. This purchase will give the ownership of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to -the Anglo-Iranian company. The value of these shares is difficult to assess, but I believe that the true value is probably nearer to £10,000,000 than to £3,000,000. In any event, why should the value of the shares be determined in a hole-and-corner manner by a few valuers? In the agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian company, provision was made for arbitration in the event of a dispute. Why could not a judge be appointed to assess the true value of the shares? The sale has been hurried, and the value of the shares has been determined in a most unsatisfactory manner. It should have been determined judicially.
That is important, but it is by far the least important feature of this transaction. The fact is that, at a time when there is a desperate struggle for oil in the world, and when we are vitally concerned in the production and procurement of oil for defence purposes, the sale of this asset will be a tremendous blow to Australia and to its defence potential. I do not suppose that, when this project was pioneered in 1920, many people foresaw the development of the modern international oil combine to the degree to which it has developed. It has developed almost without restriction throughout the world. The price of petrol is not determined by what takes place in Australia. Throughout practically the whole of the world, it is determined on what is called the Gulf basis, irrespective of the trans port involved. As none of the shares of the major oil companies are beneficially owned or controlled by Australians, no Australian can tell what profits are being made from the oil that is sold in this country. The right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) said recently that the oil cartel rules the whole world, and that what it says goes. Mr. Churchill referred to the “long steady squeeze of oil trusts all over the world which led to the British Government’s original interest in the control of oilfields to secure its supplies, particularly for naval purposes and to protect itself from the domination of the great oil interests “. What has happened shows that the far-sighted actions of those statesmen were justified. From 1920 to 1952, a long line of governments - anti-Labour, Labour and coalition - have maintained this asset. It has been left to this Government and its supporters to scuttle the ship.
One broad principle to which the Minister referred should be studied closely. He said that governmental financial participation in industrial or commercial activities was not necessarily good or bad of itself, and that each case had to be considered on its merits, the only criterion being the public interest. So stated, that is an acceptable principle. A government does not invest public moneys in an enterprise simply for the sake of doing so. I am prepared to accept that general principle, but I claim that the Government is not acting upon it, but is defying it. The policy of the Labour movement does not support intervention by governments in industrial or commercial ventures except for some overriding purpose such as to prevent the exploitation of the people by trusts, combines or monopolies, or to combat a specially significant social evil. That is, broadly, the statement that appears in the platform of the Australian Labour party. It is not different from what was said by the present Prime Minister of Great Britain when he was justifying the purchase by the British Government of a half interest in the Anglo-Iranian company. He said then -
The general principle of partial State ownership has not been impugned, and I do not suppose it will be impugned. After all, it is only what we are doing in regard to the shinbuilding trade of the country by the competition of the Royal dockyards.
He gave other illustrations. The test of whether government intervention is justified is whether the intervention will safeguard the public interest. This is a partnership between the Australian people and a British company. Although the shareholding of the Commonwealth is slightly larger than that of the AngloIranian company, there is, to all intents and purposes, an equal partnership. The partnership was entered into because there was a danger of exploitation. To-day, that danger is as great as, if not greater than, it was when the company was formed. But it is at this moment that the Government has removed the safeguard. I say that, having regard to the existence and activities of the international oil cartel, with which the major oil companies are associated, the retention by the Commonwealth of a half share in this oil refining and distributing business is not only justified but is essential. No financial loss has occurred. On the contrary, the undertaking has been a great financial success. It is a safeguard against exploitation in the form of unfair or excessive prices. It is a contribution to a vital oil refining industry in Australia.
Let me meet the Minister on his own ground. I say that the public interest requires not the sale but the retention of this asset. This sale was not mentioned by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech, although almost everything else in the world was mentioned in that speech. I shall not deal with all of the promises that he made then. He was silent upon the sale of the Commonwealth’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. He made no promises to the people about it. Therefore, the Government has no mandate for this action. If a referendum were held, the proposal would be rejected by twenty to one, as everybody knows. That is why the Government is in a hurry to complete the sale. It will affect, not only the customers of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, but also the customers of all the oil companies. Once this safeguard is removed - ^
Mr. Osborne interjecting,
– The agreement provided that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited could not be linked in any way with any major oil combine or trust. If we get rid of that clause, as the Government proposes, we shall get rid of a safeguard.
Mr. Osborne interjecting,
– Order ! I must ask honorable members to maintain order. The right honorable gentleman had a pretty good hearing for the first twenty minutes of his speech. That must continue.
– Last year, the House decided that commercial broadcasting in this country should be subject to a certain principle. The following resolution was passed : -
That, in the opinion of this House, it is undesirable that any person not an Australian should have any substantial measure of .ownership .or control over any Australian commercial broadcasting station, whether such ownership or control be exercisable directly or indirectly.
The Opposition opposed that resolution. “We did not agree that We should exclude overseas investment in Australian enterprises, especially British investment. What is proposed to be done in this instance is to hand over the complete ownership and control of an Australian oil refining and distribution business in such a way that every .particle of interest in it will be owned outside of Australia. I understand that not a single share in any of the major oil companies is beneficially owned or controlled by an Australian. If that be so, this sale will result in the three largest oil companies in Australia being completely controlled and dominated by interests outside of Australia. Applying the test to which the Minister ref erred,. I ask : Will that be in the interests of the people of Australia? We must guard against the exploitation that could result from such a situation. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited is a better purchaser from our point of view than any other major oil company would be, because the British Government has a half interest in it, but I hope that, even now, the grave concern with which this transaction is regarded in Australia will be considered by the company and by the British Government.
The Minister, in his speech, attempted to decry the activities of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If we want to say that something that we are offering for sale is not worth much, we understate what it has done. The Minister said that he ventured to believe that, if the Government that was responsible for the initial investment in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had known how the enterprise would turn out, it would not have participated in it. I do not know whether he did believe it, but he said that he was venturing towards believing it. It was a very big venture. I hope that, before the matter has been finalized in this House, the right honorable member for Bradfield will be able to give him the answer, because that is a challenge to the view expressed by Mr. Hughes himself. It is perfectly correct, as I have said, that during the war, as a result of war conditions and acute tanker shortages, the only practical way to obtain petrol for Australia was by means of the limited tanker supply of refined oil. Of course, the Minister has used that fact as the basis of a statement that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited did no refining between 1942 and 1946. Naturally the company did no refining in those years, because it was not obtaining from overseas any crude oil to refine. It would have been absurd for Australia to demand crude oil during the war period. That is the answer to the Minister’s statement. After 1946, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited recommenced refining, which is now being carried on at Laverton, Victoria, Australia’s first oil refinery. As a matter of fact, the situation could have been developed in favour of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited by appropriate action twelve months ago, when the Government announced a new agreement with Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who announced the agreement, said that under the proposed arrangements Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited would establish an oil refinery in Western Australia at a total cost of ‘£40,000,000. He added that the Go- vernment had decided to participate in an increase of the capital of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited by an amount of £12,000,000, of which the Government itself was to contribute £6,000,000. At that time, the Government apparently intended to retain its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and, presumably, to keep the refinery at Laverton in operation. It certainly intended to take a half interest in the capital expansion of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, made necessary by the increased activity of the company in relation to distribution which would result from the completion of the great refinery in Western Australia. The Minister for National Development said -
The storage for crude oil, compared with the present total seaboard storage in Australia, will increase by about ] ,300.000 tons. That is to say, the increased storage will be an important contribution to Australia’s reserve stocks of petroleum products for defence purposes.
So that Minister saw the significance of the industry for defence purposes ! Then Ave come to the somersault. The Government has been guilty of many somersaults, but none of them is more striking than is this one. First, the Government announced an agreement, under which it would expand its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited by £6,000,000, and would have half the representation on the directorate, as the late Mr. Chifley had wanted. Then it decided not to participate in finding the capital required for the construction of the proposed refinery in Western Australia. I pointed out in a previous statement that it would have been perfectly proper for the Government to join Wit] the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in financing the construction of the great project to be erected near Fremantle. After all, the very purpose of the agreement under which Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was established was to extend the’ oil-refinery business in Australia. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited needed the Commonwealth’s consent to that development. That was the situation. A newspaper report stated that a section of the Cabinet wished to sell Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Limited outright, hut that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) had been successful in restraining the Prime Minister and other Ministers who wished to sell the whole business. Subsequent events seemed to support that press statement, which was never contradicted or commented on by any Minister.
In my opinion the Government neglected the interests of this country in not carrying out the agreement to extend Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and in not extending the Commonwealth’s shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited so as to include collaboration in the Kwinana project. Participation in the Kwinana project would not necessarily have meant that the Commonwealth would have had to take up 50 per cent, of the capital required to finance the Kwinana project, although it could have taken it up. When I suggested that course in a previous statement some voices opposite, particularly one strident voice, called out “ More treasuryhills “. This Government has issued £25,000,000 worth of treasury-bills in the last month. Honorable members opposite object only to people talking openly about treasury-bills. The Government also issued £45,000,000 worth of treasury-bills last year. It is perfectly true that the Government need not have participated in any risky venture if it considered that the risk was too big, but such a venture as participation in the Kwinana project would have been an absolutely safe and secure investment, as the history of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited proves beyond doubt.
Then comes the mystery in this matter. Everything had been arranged. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited was to have the project near Fremantle, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited’s capital was to be expanded by £12,000,000, and the Commonwealth was still to own half the shares in it. Then what happened? According to the Prime Minister, some one conceived the idea that there might be a constitutional difficulty about the situation. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had been constitutionally good for 30 years as a refinery plus a distributing organization. Then the bright idea was advanced by some person particularly interested in the matter from his own point of view, that the proposal might be unconstitutional. It was on the basis of legal opinion that the Government decided to walk out of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. That is hard to believe, but that is the view put forward and, I accept it. We must, however, carefully, examine the grounds for that legal opinion. The Prime Minister, in a statement to the House, said that under the arrangement Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would be “merely an agent for the distribution of the Anglo-Iranian products “. Those words are the basis of the legal opinions referred to by the Minister. It is pretty obvious that the only way in which a legal opinion could be obtained on whether it was beyond the defence power of the Government to collaborate in such an arrangement was to announce that there was to be no more refining by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in the future. That is exactly what the plan was, and that is why the Prime Minister said that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was to be merely a distributor. It could only be “ merely a distributor “ if the pioneer refinery at Laverton was about to be disposed of by the Government. Of course, if the Government got rid of that refinery, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would then be simply a distributor of petrol, and the Government could ask, “ Where is the legal power for the Commonwealth to buy and sell petrol which has nothing to do with defence? Any merchant can do it “. That is the way it was done. That Ls the basis of the legal opinions.
I have asked repeatedly for those legal opinions to be produced, but they have not been produced. Why not ? Is not the House entitled to have them? After all, are not the men who gave them the law officers of the Crown ? In England, if an opinion of the law officers of the Crown is asked for, it is produced. The opinions in this case should be produced. We wish to see them. On what basis of fact did the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) and Mr. Barwick, Q.C., found their opinions? I am not questioning the legal ability of these gentlemen, but I wish to be informed of the factual basis on which they advised the Government. Did some one suggest that if the refinery at Laverton could be closed down, the Commonwealth’s participation in the activities of a company that merely distributed petrol would not be. justified by the Constitution ? I submit that the clear inference to be drawn from the statements of the Prime Minister and the Minister is that that happened. That is why I say that this sale is not merely against the public interest, but is also the result of a scandalous and disgraceful attempt so to organize the company that it will be nothing hut a distributing agency. It will lose its refinery, which has been in existence for more than twenty years, will be merely a buyer and seller of petrol, and the Government’s participation in it will therefore be unconstitutional.
Emphasis in this matter has been placed on constitutional invalidity. If you are going to sell a long-established asset, which nobody has regarded as unconstitutional and which has been enormously successful and also has protected the people against exploitation for 30 years-
– Listen to the raucous voice saying “ How ? I suppose it is necessary to say something six times to the honorable member, and when he has asked “How?” and has been told how, the next thing he will ask is “ Why ? “ We also wonder “why” when we hear such interjections. I have given the facts on this matter and I consider that I have proved them. Is it denied that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been enormously successful, financially? No voice is raised in contradiction from, the other side of the chamber. I quoted from the remarks of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, and from the report of a royal commission, to the effect that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has protected the people against the exploitation that would have resulted from higher prices for oil. Do honorable members opposite challenge the words of Mr. Bruce? Of course they do not! Only a fool would do so. It is perfectly true that during the period of price fixa tion the price of petrol was controlled by law. I am referring to the protection that was accorded by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited during an earlier period.
I have asked for the production of the legal opinions because it seems to me to be clear from the Prime Minister’s statements that it was decided that if Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has nothing to do with petrol, except to buy it from, the Anglo-Iranian company and sell it, the Government’s continued interest in it might be held to be unconstitutional, because the company was not formed for the purpose of buying and selling petrol. Under the oil agreement which the Government proposes to tear up, the company was formed to establish and develop in Australia the industry of refining petrol. The Government practically tore up the agreement when it would not agree to share with the Anglo-Iranian company in the project in Western Australia. In spite of the rejection of that opportunity the Government could have continued on the former basis with no suggestion of constitutional invalidity. However, if the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited’s establishment at Laverton were disposed of, the company would be left high and dry as a mere oil merchant, and lawyers would be enabled to say, “ It is merely a merchant, and has nothing to do with defence “. I understand the basis of such an opinion, but it is not a true factual basis. Was the proposal to get rid of the Laverton refinery decided on before the recent agreement was signed? I ask the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) to answer that question, “ Yes or “ No “. He says nothing, either because he does not know the answer or does not want to give it for the reason that whatever answer he might give, the Government would stand condemned, as I shall explain. If it was the intention of the Government to get rid of the Laverton establishment, what was the justification for that intention, because that refinery was engaged in refining oil in accordance with the agreement? If it were not intended to get rid of the Laverton establishment, then the legal opinions had no constitutional backing. I consider that this is a matter on which there should be more inquiry. The House should, in justice to itself as the guardian of the people, who own the Government’s assets in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, look into the facts and have a proper assessment made of the true value of the shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Is the Parliament going to take the say-so of some valuers of shares, and allow those shares to be. sold? That is not sufficient, in. any matter as vital as this. There should be a proper investigation of it. I have suggested one method of investigation, which is by arbitration before a judge. The legal basis for this action could then be thoroughly examined. I contend that the facts on which the legal opinions given to the Government resthave been brought into existence by the Government itself, and also as a result of its failure to take an interest in the establishment of the “Western Australian project and I say that the Government stands condemned for its action in connexion with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. So it goes on. One national asset after another is sacrificed. We had at Glen Davis the only source of shale oil in Australia. It was a great undertaking for the production of shale oil, and it has gone. It was not ii financial success, -but it could have been made a success had there been the will, and had we obtained the latest equipment for the job. I think that it could still be made into an important branch of the oil industry of Australia. The Government also got rid of its shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Its connexion with defence, through the science of electronics, is obvious. The Government sold it one fine day without the approval of the Parliament. What authority had the Government to take that action? None whatever! The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did not mention it in his policy speech during the last general election campaign. [Extension of time granted.]
The people supposed, and the Minister for External Affairs suggested in his second-reading speech, that the project at Kwinana, in Western Australia, was the result of a recent suggestion by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. Nothing of the kind! When this deal was announced, the representative of
Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited on the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited said that the project had been planned in 1938, when the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited were in full partnership. In other words, that is the project which Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would have started, controlled and owned, because it is strictly in accordance with the basic agreement for the establishment of oil refining in Australia. The Labour party pledges itself to the furtherance-
– I rise to order. I should like to know, Mr. Speaker, whether the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Ereeth) is in order in moving about the House, and going on like a “ giggling gertie “, so as to disturb honorable members generally.
-Order! I ask the honorable member for Port Adelaide to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it.
– I think that an apology is called for.
– The point of order is properly taken. I have called the attention of the honorable member to his conduct several times. I shall have to act more strictly shortly.
– I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you are not referring to the conduct of the honorable member for Port Adelaide.
– Oh, no.
– I believe that this Government should be condemned for not taking out its interest in the Western Australian project.
– It is not nonsense.
Opposition members interjecting,
-Order! Honorable members to the left of the Chair must remain silent, too.
– The proper course would be for the Government, if it could not take up the full half interest in the Western Australian project, to take out a part of it. I know that it is desirable to maintain the original partnership on a 50-50 basis, and that should have been done. Similarly, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited refinery should not have been interfered with and legal opinion should not have been sought on the basis that it was to be dissolved. In my view, this is a completely wanton and unjustifiable piece of legislation, which is not demanded by public opinion. No doubt the only people in Australia who would be very pleased with the measure would be the major oil companies. There is no question about that. They have always been the enemies of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, with the Government shareholding, and a charter requiring independence and a determination to keep clear of any internal trust, combine or monopoly. The Government is responsible for the factual situation on which the legal opinions were asked. The Parliament should never approve the agreement without the fullest investigation of the whole matter.
The final point made by the Minister in his second-reading speech is that this bill is based on the assurance that the project in Western Australia will be completed. The bill, however, uses language that is couched in very general terms. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited does not undertake this in the sense of a contract. There is no firm obligation. Clause 5 of the Schedule reads as follows: -
After the completion of the sale of the shares’, the Oil Company will use its best endeavours to procure the completion as soon as is practicable of the erection and equipment at or near Fremantle … of a modern mineral refinery. . . .
It is well-known phraseology, and Kwinana is a great > project, but we are giving up something which is sure and certain for something that is uncertain. In the meantime, the Australian consumers who buy their petrol not only from Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited but also from every oil company, are to be “ handed over as it were, to the control of a number of oil companies, and the Government has no voice whatever in the control of any of them. It has had an important voice in the matter during the last 30 years. The sale of the shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is a step backward, for which the Government should be condemned by this Parliament, and certainly will be condemned by the people of Australia.
– I have listened with great interest to the speech by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), but I think that it would have been more interesting, and certainly more valuable, if he had stuck a little closer to the facts. If ever a speech was delivered in this House which bristled with half-truths and dodged the real questions at issue, it was the speech of the right honorable gentleman. Let me give the House just one illustration. He used the phrase that the Government had “taken no interest whatsoever in the establishment of the refinery in Western Australia”. The fact is that the whole of these arrangements are designed for one main purpose, which is to ensure that, for the first time, we shall have within our shores a vast refinery capable of producing 40 per cent, of Australia’s requirements of petrol.
– In Western Australia, too!
– Yes, it will be in Western Australia, which may be an additional advantage. The point is that we are ensuring that there shall be a great refinery, yet we are told that the Government is taking no interest in the establishment of the refinery in Western Australia. May I just recapitulate for the benefit of the House, because some honorable members may have been misled by the half-truths that have been uttered by the Leader of the Opposition, the real facts in this case. In the first place the bill provides, in effect, that we shall sell to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited 425,001 shares of a nominal value of £1 each for £6 10s. each, totalling the handsome sum of £2,762,506 10s.
– A mess of pottage !
– The sale of shares of a. nominal value* of £1 each for £6 10s. each is described as a mess of pottage. It is regarded as a mess of pottage by the arch-socialist in this House who, if he is true to his principles, does not believe in profit-making at all ! ^
– To whom does the Minister refer?
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is another arch-socialist in this chamber. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) would be proud to wear the badge of socialism. As I have stated, the shares of a nominal value of £1 each have been sold for £6 10s. each. In addition, an amount of approximately £440,000 has been earned by the Commonwealth in dividends.
Notwithstanding anything that may have been said by the Leader of the Opposition or anybody else, it is crystal clear that we have obtained the unequivocal promise of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited that it will establish in Western Australia a vast oil refinery at a cost of between £40,000,000 and £60,000,000.
– Mr. Speaker, will you request the Minister to address the Opposition benches occasionally, instead of turning his back on us?
– Order ! The Minister should address the Chair.
– I was not aware that I was not addressing the Chair. I thought, Mr. Speaker, that you might object, because I was addressing you so loudly. I am sorry that the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has not been able to hear me. I shall speak a little louder for his benefit, in order to help him to absorb the facts.
Another advantage of this deal is that we shall obtain £2,760,000 in cash, which will be available for the further development of the Commonwealth of Australia. All that money is not easy to obtain in Australia in these times, but it becomes available for the expansion and development of Australia in other respects. The amount of between £40,000,000 and £60,000,000 will be obtained in cash from abroad for investment in a great enterprise in Australia. That money will be provided, not out of our own resources in whole or in part, but will be contributed entirely from sources outside Australia. If that is not good business, I do not know what good business is. An amount of between £40,000,000 and £60,000,000 is to be expended in Australia at a time when we urgently require the investment of foreign capital. By this enterprise, we are to obtain no less than 3,000,000 tons of refinery capacity, or 40 per cent, of Australia’s present needs, compared with 120,000 tons capacity from the refinery of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited at Laverton, which is only 2 per cent, of Australia’s refinery needs. By this arrangement, we shall increase our refinery capacity from 2 per cent, to 40 per cent, of our needs, and obtain from outside Australia all the capital required for that project. Yet Opposition members regard such a deal as a mess of pottage! It should not be forgotten that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited refinery at Laverton is reaching the end of its useful life. In order to produce 2 per cent, of our needs, the plant must add benzol and tetra-ethyl to its output. It is 28 years old. It has no cracking capacity, which is most desirable in this country. Tt produces no aviation spirit. The refinery at Kwinana, in Western Australia, will supply those deficiencies.
Another advantage is that we shall end the situation in which <-ho Commonwealth as a majority shareholder, did not have effective control over the operations of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
– It is of no use the honorable member for Melbourne snorting about that. I have heard the former Prime Minister, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, complain bitterly in this House about the fact that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was not under the effective control of the Government. Honorable gentlemen who were members of the last Parliament will recall that this matter arose again and again, when reference was made to the abolition of petrol rationing, and that Mr. Chifley complained that the Government had not sufficient power under the oil agreement. It is true that we were proposing to improve that situation to a certain degree, but I suggest to the House it was not adequate, and so that state of affairs is now to be terminated.
Another advantage of the arrangement is that permanent employment will be given to approximately 1,200 Australians in the working of the refinery in “Western Australia, whereas only 40 persons are at present employed in the refining section at Laverton. I should now like to take the House through the course of events, because the Leader of the Opposition, by a series of half-truths and distortions, has obscured what has really happened. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited was interested in establishing, an oil refinery at Kwinana, in Western Australia, but it did not decide to do so until this Government came to power. That is something that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) will never be able to explain. Although the company first considered this matter in 1938, nothing was done until this Government assumed office. Probably the oil refinery would never have been established at Kwinana if the previous socialist Government had remained in office. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited made two offers, and two only, to the Australian Government. The first was that the Government should contribute half the capital for the Kwinana refinery and half the capital for the expansion of the distributing section of the project at Laverton. If we had accepted that offer it would probably have involved us in an expenditure of between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 for the Kwinana refinery, and about £6,000,000 for our half of the expansion of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited at Laverton.
– It would have been a good investment.
– If any honorable member of this Parliament ever did anything to prevent outside money being invested in this country the honorable member for E’ast Sydney is the person who did so. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited then stated that, if the Government could not find the money or decided that it was not desirable to find it, as an alternative to the first offer the company would finance the whole of the refinery in Western Australia and the Australian Government could bear a half share of the additional cost of £12,000,000 that would be expended at Laverton. The Government decided to accept the second proposition, and in due course documents were prepared and the matter was examined by government law officers and by lawyers. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has accepted the general proposition as it was then pointed out to us, that it was one thing for the Commonwealth to have gone into Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in 1920, but it was another to put £6,000,000 into a proposition in 1952, which would not be anything more than a bowser distributing business. That was the advice that the Government received from its officers and from the most distinguished lawyer in Australia.
– Who ‘is he?
– He is Mr. Barwick, Q.C.
– What did he say?
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is extremely deaf to-night. Not only have I told him what was said by the Government’s advisers, but his own leader has also explained it. In these circumstances the Government is asked why it does not continue with its minority shareholding, in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. That was a shareholding of about 500,000 shares, and the company’s shares were to be increased to about 13,000,000. Therefore, the Government would have held a very small proportion of the shares and would have had very little say in the company’s activities.
– The Government should have continued its shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
– I have just pointed out that such a shareholding would be very, very small, because we held about 500,000 shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and we would still continue to hold those 500,000 shares when the company’s share-holding had been increased so tremendously. Our position would have been futile. The Government therefore had the shares valued and decided to sell them.
I shall now detail to the House some of the advantages that will accrue to Australia because of the course followed by the Government. The Kwinana project in Western Australia will use 60,000 tons of steel and 20,000 tons of cement. During its construction it will give employment to 3,000 men, and when completed its operating staff will total 1,200 men. The Labour party is at present squealing about unemployment, and yet when the Government proposes to put in train works that will absorb such a great number of men the Labour party does not cease its howling. There will be greatly increased construction of wharfs in Western Australia, financial assistance will be given to the Western Australian Government by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, and about 1,000 new houses, which will cost £2,500,000, will be built. Fifty-two thousand man-weeks of employment spread over two years will be created by the housing project, and yet honorable members opposite still howl. A railway project connected with the refinery will cost £15,000 and will involve 1,500 man-weeks of employment. There will be increased harbour construction, and so on. Therefore, the State of Western Australia will have the benefit of a great expenditure of money and a great increase of employment by this project being put in hand as quickly as possible. The Leader of the Opposition suggested a series of alternative moves for the Government,’ and said that perhaps the Government should have taken certain action notwithstanding the advice of the lawyers. The right honorable gentleman is an ex- Attorney-General ; surely he does not believe that it is proper for a government to go into a great project, knowing perfectly well that what it is doing is wholly against the law? I do not believe he puts that argument forward seriously, and certainly it is not a proposition that commends itself to any serious-minded member of the Parliament charged with legislating for the country according to the law. The right honorable gentleman said that we should hold on to our interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If we had done so we should have held 500,000 shares in a petrol bowser distributing business whose capital was about £13,000,00*0.
– What about the Laverton refinery ?
– That refinery did not operate during the war, and after the £40,000,000 project is established at Kwinana it will not be refining at all. If the Government had not sold out its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited it would have been merely a very minority shareholder in a petrol bowser business. At present we complain that we do not have sufficient control over Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, but we would have no control at all under the circumstances envisaged by the Leader of the Opposition.
– The money would be earning good interest.
– That is not the point. The question is whether the Government can use the £2,750,000 to better advantage in Australia, when an outside company will find all the necessary money,, build a great project on its own initiative, and carry out work of benefit to the whole of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition next said that we should have gone into the whole of the refinery business. The Kwinana side of it will cost from £40,000,000 to £60,000,000 and the Laverton side about £12,000,000. The right honorable gentleman suggested that we should put about £30,000,000 into, the Western Australian project and £6,000,000 into the Laverton project. Where is the Government to get that money? Is it to get it from taxation? Honorable members opposite are continually bawling about taxation not being reduced, and yet they want it increased to finance this proposition. Perhaps the Opposition wants us to get the money from the printing presses. It wants us to issue treasury-bills and turn the printing presses a little faster. That is certainly not the way to keep our economy on a sound footing.
– It could be taken out of the money to be devoted to war preparations.
– If we listen to the honorable member for East Sydney we shall be up to “ the Brisbane line before long. Shall we take this money from the money available to the States? I am sure the .States will have something to say about that. Shall we take it from the pensioners ? Surely not. The plain fact of the matter is that a company from outside Australia is willing to contribute 100 per cent, of the cost of this enterprise, and the Government would be mad to discourage such a proposition. It has been said that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has a great defence value. As the Leader of the Opposition himself has been compelled to admit, the company did not operate at all during the war. Its refinery was closed completely during the war.
– For what reason?
– Because it was not adequate for our purposes, nor was it necessary in our defence effort.
Honorable members interjecting. ,
– Order ! I must ask the House to come to order. For some time it has been verging on a state of gross disorder, and the penalties for that are well known to honorable members. If they wish me to inflict them, I have no objection to so doing.
– It was found more practicable and convenient during the war to bring refined oil into Australia from overseas, rather than to try to get 2 per cent, of our requirements from the Laverton refinery. Consequently, the Laverton refinery was closed. Therefore, the proposition that it has a defence value can be laughed out of existence. The Leader of the Opposition knows that in time of war or defence emergency the Australian Government has adequate power under the Constitution to do all things and take all steps necessary to organize the economy in general, and the oil industry in particular, to meet Australia’s needs. Indeed, that was done during the last war. It is interesting to hear the Leader of the Opposition denouncing our proposal to sell our interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited because if honorable members refer to what the Labour party stated in 1920 they will find that it said exactly the opposite from what it is saying to-day. In 1920 the Labour party said -
The agreement between the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited gave the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited an exclusive right to refine indigenous grade oil and would therefore have the effect of discouraging other interests from exploring for oil in Australia. The Government’s hopes in regard to the future of the Commonwealth
Oil Refineries Limited could not be realized because technical and commercial management was left in the hands of the company.
The Leader of the Opposition said that he was not prepared to hand the people of Australia over to another combine, but in 1920 the Labour party said that the Government was handing the people over to a combine when it entered Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. In 1920, one honorable member opposite, I think it was the Leader of the Opposition, said that this was “ an iniquitous agreement which should never have been entered into “. In 1920, the Labour party denounced it for the very reason that it is now supporting it. Therefore, one wonders where the consistency and sincerity lies in honorable members opposite. It has been said that if the Commonwealth steps out of the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited we shall have no power to protect the Commonwealth from trusts and combines, yet I quoted a moment ago a statement by the Labour party in 1920 that if the Government entered into Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited it would have no power to protect the country against trusts and combines. We have been told that the Government intends to forfeit the benefit of a clause which says -
No action or question or decision shall be taken by the company relating to or affecting the policy of the Commonwealth in connexion with naval or military or external affairs.
That was a clause in the oil agreement whereby the company binds itself not to take action through its majority directorate contrary to the policy’ of the Government in matters of naval and military defence. We have been told that we are abandoning that safeguard. We are doing nothing of the sort. We have that authority under our defence power. We could pass any legislation and take any steps to protect the interests of the Commonwealth during war or a time of preparation for war. The Government has full control over the Kwinana project for defence purposes. It has been suggested that we should have bought into part of that project. There was no offer made to us to do that. We were invited to take a 50 per cent, shareholding only. It was said that we should go in on a 40 per cent., 20 per cent. or 10 per cent. basis. What benefit could the Government obtain out of a 10 per cent. shareholding when it can keep adequate control over this undertaking and all other great defence industries by means of its defence power ? Perhaps the worst feature of the Opposition’s attitude was expressed in some very ugly and disturbing words that the Leader of the Opposition uttered when this matter was debated in the House some time ago.
– When was that?
– On the 26th September the right honorable gentleman said -
It will be the duty of a future government to restore the position which exists to-day.
There is a plain threat that the Opposition, if it gains power, will endeavour to shackle the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited and interfere with the Kwinana enterprise. The people of Australia ought to be warned that, whereas this Government has endeavoured successfully to establish a great defence industry that will produce over 40 per cent. of Australia’s total petrol requirements on the basis of to-day’s figures, the Opposition has threatened that, if it gains power, it will pull down that great edifice. These socialists are always the same. They cannot be changed. They are socialists for socialism’s sake. We say that the test of a great enterprise is, not who owns it, but who manages it best. Here is a great enterprise that will add to the defensive strength of Australia, and nothing that has been said by the Opposition will affect the sense of relief in the minds of the people that at last, after all the years, we shall have some effective petrol refining capacity for the defence of the nation in the years to come.
.- It is significant that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did not introduce this bill, and it is equally significant that he has not entered the House to-night in order to defend it but has sent in his place one of his junior Ministers to do as good a job as possible, with his legal training but lack of debating capacity, on an issue that is of tremendous importance to the people of Australia. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has dragged out the socialist tiger. When the Opposition returns to power, it will try to restore the position that existed when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was first established by the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes), with the support of Mr. S. M. Bruce, now Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, and members of the present Government, until they changed their minds a few months ago. It cannot be said that the right honorable member for Bradfield is a socialist, or that Viscount Bruce of Melbourne has ever had the slightest inclination towards socialism !
The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) read portions of the agreement between the Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited when he introduced the bill, but. he omitted certain relevant clauses. He did not read this one, for instance -
That the Refinery Company shall not enter into or be in any way concerned in or a party to or act in concert with any commercial Trust or Combine but shall always be and remain an independent British business;
– That is gone.
– It will be scuttled by this bill, and every member of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party who votes for the measure will vote to destroy that principle of the agreement. Another clause that the Minister for External Affairs did not read is as follows : -
That no action or question or decision relating to or affecting -
1 ) the policy of the Commonwealth in connexion with Naval or Military or External affairs; or .
any proposed sale or disposition of the Refinery Company’s business or any part thereof; or
any proposed change in the status powers business or constitution of the Refinery Company; or
any proposed sale of refined products to aliens or for export from the Commonwealth; or
any proposed sale of refined products on long contracts or under circumstances which might endanger the ability of the Refinery Company to meet requirements for consumption within Australia; shall be taken determined or made without the consent of the Commonwealth as expressed through its representatives on the Board of Directors ;
That other things being equal the Refinery Company shall give preference to goods manufactured in the Commonwealth when purchasing machinery plant and supplies.
All these things will go if this bill becomes law. Do Government supporters stand for all the things that can happen when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited becomes a part of the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited, one of the seven big cartels which were condemned by the Sparkman Committee of the United States Senate as a menace to the oil business of the world and the well-being of the peoples of the world?
– But the British Government owns a half share in the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited.
– Yes, and that is our sheet-anchor. The United Kingdom will soon be governed once more by a socialist Labour government, and the future Labour government of Australia will deal with that government in order to protect the people of the two countries against the activities of the oil magnates who, to-day, are able to demand any price they like to fix and lay down any conditions that suit themselves.
Government supporters need not accept my word, but they cannot ignore the views of their colleague, the right honorable member for Bradfield, who has placed his opinions on record. Let them stand and be counted on every issue that he has raised. What are these issues? He has said - . . We must have oil, and if we sell out interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, where shall we get it? . … Any one who wishes to buy oil to-day must buy it from one of the “ Seven Companies of the Oil Cartel and must pay the price fixed by the cartel or go without oil ! . . . Are we to fall into the grip of this giant octopus? The cartel rules the oil world. What it says goes. So we know now just what the “ private enterprise “ is, to ‘which we are to sell Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited! … If Australia disposes of her interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited she must inevitably fall into the clutches of the giant cartel that controls the oil interests of the world. … I am bound to say that I do not understand why the Government should sell our interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited! . . .
Even if Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited were to be sold to the British Government instead of a private monopoly, we could not have the same effective control over its production of refined oil as we have now. . . .
If the right honorable gentleman were not sick to-night and could take his place in this House, he would say precisely what every honorable member of the Opposition says. He would stand with us, and not with those honorable members on the Government side of the House who, under the pretence of desocializing a great industry, propose to do a great disservice to the Australian people. When the Government plans to desocialize Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, whom does it propose to desocialize? None other than the right honorable member for Bradfield ! When it desocialized the Glen Davis shale oil project, whom did it desocialize ? None other than the present Prime Minister, who established that undertaking! The Government is doing what anti-Labour governments have always done. It is sacrificing the property of the people. It proposes to sell their assets because it has almost bankrupted Australia with its financial policy. This Government is the greatest sell-out government in Australia’s history. The sell-out for which this bill provides will be the worst and most notorious of the series for which the Government will stand condemned, and on which it will be finally judged. I warn the Government that the time is later than it thinks. This will be the worst and the most suspicious transaction ever undertaken in the history of federation.
The Minister for Supply misrepresented the position when he tried to gain a point by referring to the late Mr. Chifley’s remarks about the Government not having effective control of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The former Prime Minister wanted to have effective control because the Government, under the terms of the agreement, was represented by only three of the seven directors of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.
– Although it owned a majority of the shares !
– Yes. The late Mr. Chifley wanted to have a really effective control. This Government wants to surrender all control and let the cartels exploit the people. The cartels will be able to produce as much oil as they wish, and, without effective prices control, they will be able to force the people to pay whatever prices they fix. This Government claims that it is defending private enterprise. There is a place for private enterprise, and there is a place for social ownership. Those who are so fanatical in their devotion to the cause of private enterprise that they would sell the town hall clock, or even Parliament House if they could do so, now propose to do something for which they will soon be severely judged. I invite the Minister for Supply to examine the facts again. He said that, during World War II., Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had not refined any oil because it could not, or would not, do so.
– I did not say that. 1 said that its refining capacity represented only 2 per cent, of our requirements, and that it was more efficient to bring refined petrol in by tankers than to import crude oil for refining.
– The Minister quibbles again. The truth of the matter is that, when the Curtin Government came to office, there was virtually no petrol in Australia. We had only 36,000,000 gallons - not 36,000,000 tons. When the late Mr. Beasley took office as Minister for Supply, there was scarcely a smear of petrol in the country. There was nothing for Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to refine. The few tankers that came to Australia in those days - and the “ beat-Hitler-first “ mentality ensured that no more came to thi3 country than were absolutely necessary - brought no crude oil. We had to take refined spirit.
That is why Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited did not function during the war. But it began to function after the war, and it is functioning now. It has helped to protect the price structure because it has not been owned and controlled by big outside interests. Had the Government stuck to the agreement with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, it would have been able, constitutionally on its own reasoning, to carry on the refinery at Laverton. However, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, it set out first to destroy the refinery at Laverton and, when that was gone, it said: “We have no consti tutional right to carry on the agreement because there is no refinery in existence. Now we shall let the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited build a new refinery in Western Australia, and, because we shall be unable to take part in the refining of oil at that establishment, we shall dispose of our assets in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited “. That sort o£ reasoning may be acceptable in somequarters, but it will be rejected at thebar of public opinion. It is the bounden; duty of every government to ensure that; the people shall have adequate supplies* of oil, because that is the one commodity that every country needs in war and in peace. No country without oil in a time of war can survive for many days. Government supporters will have to stand and be counted on this issue. They will have to say whether they believe in Australia being made completely dependent on private enterprise - and a partly foreign enterprise at that - for supplies of this vital commodity. Was the pressure that was applied to this Government in order to persuade it to conclude this deal applied to it by the Shell Oil Company Limited? If not, by whom was it applied ? One of the top executives; of the Shell Oil Company Limited is the federal president of the Liberal party of Australia. That is not merely coincidental. It is not just due to adventitious circumstance. It is all a part of the plan. The Shell Oil Company Limited owns this Government and directs its policy. The Prime Minister from time to time has attacked the Leader of the Opposition because he has appeared in court actions in his capacity as a lawyer. So has the Prime Minister. On one occasion, when he was Attorney-General in the Victorian Government, he appeared on behalf of the Shell Oil Company Limited before a royal commission that had been appointed by the Lyons Government. A close association exists betweenthe members of this Government and that company. I have not the slightest doubt that the Shell Oil Company Limited has been responsible for the reversal of form that the Government had displayed in introducing this measure. On the 16th January last, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) made the following announcement which was published in the press on the following day:-
Under the proposed arrangements, AngloIranian Oil Co. Ltd. will find the whole of the capital required for building and equipping the refinery and its subsequent operations . . . The storage for crude oil, intermediate and refined products attached to the refinery would be approximately one million tons compared with the present total seaboard storage in Australia by approximately 1,300,000.
When the Shell Oil Company Limited completes the construction of its plant at -Altona it will provide storage for an additional 1,000,000 tons and the plant that is being constructed by the Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited, at Geelong, will provide for another 1,000,000 tons storage. The Minister for National Development continued -
This increased storage would be an important contribution to Australia’s reserve stocks of petroleum products for defence purposes.
In view of that statement, no honorable member can deny that the retention of the Government’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is of direct defence value. It may be all right for the wandering Minister for External Affairs to. say that the defence aspect of the matter is being well cared for. If it was necessary for 30 years to keep Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited going as a defence instrumentality-
– But that was not necessary.
– Mr. Bruce, when he was Prime Minister, said that it was ; but, apparently, “ latter-day saints “ on the Government benches have converted their colleagues to their conception of real private enterprise. Close association has existed for a long period between representatives of the major oil companies and leading members of anti-Labour governments. It is clear from statements that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made in a previous debate on this matter in this chamber that the Government deliberately created a certain legal situation and then sought the advice of leading counsel to whom it said, in effect, “ These are the facts. Give us an opinion about whether we can continue in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited”. I have not the slightest doubt that if Mr. Barwick, the counsel concerned, had been asked to give his opinion as to how the Government could protect this instrumentality constitutionally, he would have advised the Government of a method by which the nation would have retained its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It is significant that the Minister for External Affairs has not produced the questions that were submitted to Mr. Barwick, or Mr. Barwick’s replies to those questions.
The Government has not been given any authority whatever by the nation to sacrifice this undertaking as it now proposes to do. No mandate, implicit or explicit, is contained in any decision that the Australian people recorded at the last two general elections.
– Not to de-socialize?
– Does the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) suggest that a mandate to de-socialize certain undertakings in Australia gave to the Government authority to sell this great instrumentality? If that contention be correct, it could be said that the people have given the Government authority to hand over the Postal Department to private enterprise. Government sup-, porters claim, apparently, that they have been given unlimited authority to carry out this particular policy. The Opposition says that the Government has not been given such a mandate by the people. As Government supporters used to be so fond of suggesting referendums until the people rejected their proposals at the last referendum that was held in September, 1951, let the Government hold a referendum on this matter. However, Government supporters will be obliged to face a referendum of another kind next Saturday. It is appalling that an anti-Labour majority in this House should contemptuously and in defiance of the public interest perpetrate this gross anti-social act. In due course, the Australian people will come to realize the full meaning of this proposal because they will feel its effects on their pockets in respect of prices and supplies of oil and petrol. It is all very well for simple souls like the honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Brown) to suggest that nothing of that kind is likely to happen.
In the world in which we live, particularly in respect of the operations of monopolistic capital, the people always suffer.
– Calamity howling again.
– In due course, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) can attempt to justify this proposal. The Government stands condemned out of the mouths of its supporters in the persons of the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder). Those honorable members have expressed the real feelings of the Australian people in this matter. Under this proposition, Australia will get a raw deal ; and a future government must accept the responsibility of restoring the position that exists to-day. Government supporters have challenged what I have said in respect of the essentiality and efficacy of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I remind them that Mr. Bruce, when he was Prime Minister in 1926, stated -
The progressive reduction in Australia has been largely influenced by the competition of the Commonwealth oil refineries in the Australian market - competition which the oil trust recognized as genuine, continuous, ami designed to prevent the exploitation of the Australian public. If the Commonwealth oil refineries were not in existence, and this Parliament were doing nothing to protect the Australian public against exploitation, would petrol consumers be as well off as they are to-day? The history of the last few months indicates that greater toll would have been taken from them by other companies.
The position has not changed since 1926 because the leopard does not change his spots and the Ethiopian oil magnates do not change the colour of their skin. Their acquisitive instinct is still as sharply developed as ever it was. It was becau.se of this practical achievement in keeping down prices through Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited that the amending legislation that the Bruce-Page Government introduced in order to extend the existing agreement was unanimously supported by all parties in the Parliament. We have had to wait from 1926 to 1952, a quarter of a century, to hear honorable members contend in this House that we must scuttle this magnificent organization which has rendered great service to the nation. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has earned substantial profits and, at the same time, has protected the people from exploitation. It could have performed even greater service from a* defence point of view in association with the great project that has been commenced in Western Australia. The Minister for Supply made- a puny and miserable point when-, he sought to justify the proposal*, contained in this bill by saying “that 3,000 men will be employed on the erection of the proposed refinery in Western Australia and that 1,200 men will be required to staff that plant. Similar numbers would be employed in any event if Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited continued side by side with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. The latter company ‘ did not say that unless the Government destroyed Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited it would not be able to proceed with the project in Western Australia. A plan to build a big refinery was drawn up in 1938, and it would have been proceeded with but for the outbreak of World War II. Had that been done, no one would then have said that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should be destroyed. The reason why the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has decided to establish a refinery in Australia is because two other major oil companies have decided to do likewise; but it has been influenced to do so mainly because it has been obliged to vacate the oil-fields that it previously operated in Iran. It seems to be a matter of good business for the company to establish a plant in Western Australia, and the Opposition wishes it success in the project. Members of the Labour party do not oppose the establishment of plants in this country by any of the major oil companies ; but it is not essential that a body that has protected Australia’sinterests should be sacrificed by being handed over completely to the control of private oil companies. The case that has been made by the right honorable member for Bradfield on previous occasions in this House and by the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber to-night is supported by every member of the Australian Labour party. We believe that the Government is acting wrongly in introducing this measure and that the people will accordingly hold it responsible. Even if there were not any other issue - there are hundreds - upon which the Government will be destroyed, it will be destroyed on this issue at the first opportunity that the people are given to express their views on the Government’s policy. As I remarked earlier, that time is nearer than the Government thinks; and it will not be long now.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said that the Government had no mandate from the people to dispose of its interests in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Whilst the Government may not have received a specific mandate, it received a general mandate to do so, because the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in the joint policy speech of the present Government parties during the general election campaign in 1949 said -
Wc ave concerned with the public interest, and that interest must prevail.
The Government, in introducing this measure, is carrying out that mandate. The honorable member for Melbourne stated that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited was one of seven major oil companies that were exploiting the people of the world. When an honorable member asked him, by way of interjection, what interest the British Government held in that company he replied that it held 50 per cent, of the shares^ Did he mean to imply that the British Government was assisting in the exploitation of the people of the British Commonwealth of Nations and throughout the world? I do not think that the honorable member would be so foolhardy as to make such a claim. The speech that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), like that of the honorable member for Melbourne, who is his deputy, was nothing more than kite-flying for party political purposes in relation to the by-election that is to be held in Flinders next Saturday. The honorable member for Melbourne said that the Government was selling the nation’s assets and, in that respect, he cited the sale of the project at Glen
Davis. I remind him that when the Chifley Government was in office Senator Ashley, who was then Minister for Shipping and Fuel, told the employees at Glen Davis that if nothing was done to increase production the Government would have no alternative but to close the plant down.
I welcome the introduction of this bill. The proposed refinery will be established in my electorate. I commend, particularly, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who, in the first instance, suggested to the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited that it should establish a refinery in Western Australia. Fortunately, from my point of view, the company decided to establish the refinery at Kwinana. This project will represent the greatest single achievement in Western Australia since. Mr. John Forrest, later Lord Forrest, sponsored the gold-fields water supply scheme which, when it was completed, was one of the engineering wonders of the world. The Leader of the Opposition declared that under this proposal the Government was selling out on the people. However, like every other honorable member, the right honorable gentleman knows that when this refinery is established, the refinery that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited set up 28 years ago will be obsolete. That establishment has no cracking plant and is incapable of doing the job that it was originally intended to do. It does not lend itself to conversion to modern design. Obviously, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, after it had constructed its refinery at Kwinana would have strenuously pressed for the abandonment of the plant that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has established at Laverton. The reason for the Government’s action is to prevent any hold-up of the project at Kwinana. The establishment in Western Australia, not only of an oil-refining plant, but of other undertakings with a defence significance, is at stake. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government was selling out something of importance to the defence of this country. The right honorable gentleman should be the last person to talk about selling out anything to do with the defence of this country, ‘because honorable members on this side of the House remember what he did with respect to some of our outposts. I am referring particularly to Manus Island. What happened in connexion with our defence establishments there was one of the greatest sellouts that this country has ever known. Fortunately, the present Minister for External Affairs was able to restore the position to some degree.
It has been pointed out that in 1920 the Labour party voted against the establishment of this small refinery at Laverton. That happened before the conference of the party in October, 1921, when it adopted the socialization plank of its platform, and refused to take any notice of the plea of the late Mr. Blackburn. Then, when it found itself in trouble, it began to talk about the Blackburn interpretation. The agreement between the Commonwealth and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in connexion with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been condemned time and time again in this country. Although the Australian Government owns 51 per cent, of the shares of the company, it exercises only three-sevenths of the control. Honorable members on this side of the House, who were members of the Parliament When the Labour party was in power recently, remember the occasion when the late Mr. Chifley stated that he deplored the fact that, although the Commonwealth held a majority of the .shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, it had no voice in the management of the company. Therefore, the statement by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government is selling, as it were, some say in the control of oil refining in this country will not withstand scrutiny. Incidentally, we shall still have some measure of protection in this connexion, because the British Government has an interest in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. If an emergency arose, we could control the refining and distribution of oil in Australia under national security regulations.
My colleagues and I realize, and so, I think, do members of the Opposition in their heart of hearts, that it would . be waste cif public money to endeavour to keep Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Limited going when the oil refinery was established in Western Australia. That refinery will be able to produce 3,000,000 tons of refined spirit annually, compared with the 120,000 tons that i3 produced annually by the refinery at Laverton. Comparatively, the output of the Laverton refinery would be only a drop in the ocean. It is an outmoded establishment, with no modern equipment. The Leader of the Opposition said that we should adopt one of the three courses suggested by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, and retain our present shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. When the refinery in Western Australia was in operation, and when the plant at Laverton was falling into disuse, what kind of an interest would we have in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in those circumstances ? It would be a very small interest indeed, and we should have no say in the distribution of oil. Doe3 the Commonwealth want to engage in the distribution of petrol and petroleum products, or does it want to have an interest in the refining of crude oil, which is essential for defence purposes?
The need for the original agreement in respect of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited disappeared when it was proposed to establish a refinery at Kwinana. Because that plant will be able to produce a huge quantity of petrol, the need for the old scheme . has gone by the board. One of the proposals made by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited was that the Commonwealth should retain its present interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. According to the Prime Minister, whose word I accept much more readily than that of any member of the Opposition, there is a doubt whether that interest can legally be retained. The people of Western Australia are vitally interested in the establishment of a refinery in that State, and they do not want anything to be done that would jeopardize that major project. If there is a doubt about this matter, it has been hanging over our heads since last January. The people of Western Australia were told then by the Minister for “National Development (Senator Spooner) that that arrangement would be finalized shortly, and that in the next session of the Parliament money would be made available for increasing the shareholding of the Commonwealth in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, so that the company would be able to proceed with the necessary works in Cockburn Sound. But the project was delayed, and the delay caused some disquiet in Western Australia. The’ disquiet was accentuated by the fact that, dependent upon the establishment of the refinery were the establishment of rolling mills by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and the establishment of cement works and fertilizer works. The Imperial Chemical Industries organization was interested in establishing a factory in that area. Recently. the managing director of the organization said in Fremantle that it was very interested in this refinery, because it proposed to utilize the waste gases from it in chemical works. Therefore, the refinery is of major importance to the people of Western Australia. I congratulate the Government upon having proposed this action, which will remove any element of doubt that exists. If the Commonwealth had retained its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the retention might have been declared to be unconstitutional.
The action of the Government has brought £60,000,000 of new capital’ to this country. What would the Opposition have said if we had adopted one of the proposals advanced by the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited, which would have involved us in an expenditure of between £26,000,000 and £32,000,000? The Government has been criticized because it has expended money on certain projects. If it had adopted that proposal of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, there would have been a howl from all members of the Opposition. I believe that the Government has acted properly. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited is not, as was suggested by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), a member of the international oil cartel. That fact gives us a great measure of protection. One of the results of this decision is that the Western Australian Government has already signed an agreement with Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for the establishment of a rolling mills next to the refinery. The Prime Minister made a statement upon this matter one Friday, and within ten days that agreement was signed. The Leader of the Opposition has alleged that the Government, by getting out of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, is selling a defence project. I maintain that it is establishing a much more important defence project. This refinery will be established in Cockburn Sound. Two channels, each miles long and 500 feet wide, will be dredged through the Success and Parmelia Banks in the Sound. The dredges that will be required for the work left Holland for Fremantle on the 10th October. In 1911, Admiral Henderson, having explored Cockburn Sound, recommended to the government of the day that a naval base be established there, but, as yet, nothing has been done to implement that recommendation. All that we have in the form of a naval establishment there is a “ moth ball “ fleet in Careening Bay. Since 1911, the Crown has been holding 600 acres of land, within 1 miles of my own home, for use as a quarry when work upon the base is commenced. Probably the action of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited will convince some government - I hope it will convince this Government - that at least a start should be made upon the construction of a naval base in Cockburn Sound.
The establishment of the cement works, superphosphate works and chemical works to which I have referred is dependent upon an arrangement being made quickly with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, because private enterprise will not waste time in talks with governments that cannot make up their minds what to do. That brings me back to the suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that we should retain some interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. If we had only a small interest in that organization and if this refinery were completed, we might find that we had only an interest in distribution, about the validity of which there was some doubt. Then, the establishment of the refinery at Cockburn Sound would be jeopardized. We must bear in mind that before companies will agree to expend millions of pounds upon a project they want to be certain that all the arrangements that they have made are watertight. Whilst there was an element of doubt about this matter, neither the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited nor any of the other interests were prepared to establish themselves in Western Australia.
I am happy to support this measure. I do not believe that there is any validity in the argument of the Opposition that we shall not maintain some interest in the refining of oil. Honorable members opposite have urged the Government to keep the refinery at Laverton in operation. Heaven forbid that we should waste money upon an obsolete or obsolescent plant when we shall have the most modern plant in the world for the treatment of all the crude oil that can be brought to Australia. The Government has done the right thing. It has settled this matter once and for all. As a supporter of the Government, I shall not be af raid to stand at the bar of public opinion. The Government is implementing the policy that it enunciated at the 1949 general election. It is getting out of commercial undertakings, but, at the same time, it is ensuring that the interests of the taxpayers will be protected. I visualize that, when the Kwinana oil refinery has been established, Guildford airport will be the international airport of Australia. That will happen as surely as night follows day.
.- I oppose this bill strongly. There is not a scintilla of justification for it. Government supporters have tried to bolster a very weak case, but their efforts have been singularly unsuccessful. The crux of the matter is that the Government proposes callously to dispose of an asset of the Australian people that has served Australia well. The Minister could not adduce any argument against the success of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited as a business proposition. In his secondreading speech, he said -
Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has been a profitable enterprise. The company has earned considerable profits, the great bulk of which were invested in the business.
The profits earned by the company since its inception and distributed as dividends have totalled £869,000.
It is apparent to members of the Opposition that the Government cannot shelter behind its usual excuse for disposing of government enterprises, which is that each enterprise to be disposed of is losing money. Obviously such an argument would not hold water in this instance, because Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is a very successful enterprise financially. The Government, therefore, was forced to seek for another excuse in order to justify a palpably weak case. It trotted out the excuse that the continuation of its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, under the present conditions, was probably unconstitutional, and that therefore it must get rid of it as soon as possible. I find it difficult to follow the Government’s logic because, as far as I am aware, the question of unconstitutionality has never before been raised during the period of existence of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Admittedly, the company has been assailed at various times by various critics, on other grounds. The alleged doubt about the constitutionality of continuing the Government’s interest in the company is an excuse for the Government’s unjustifiable and unpardonable action in disposing of its shares in the company. If the basis of the legal opinions given to the Government was that the company now has no connexion with the nation’s defence requirements of oil, I beg to disagree with the opinions. Of course I and other members of the Opposition are labouring under the difficulty that we do not yet know the reasons for the advice given to the Government by eminent counsel on this matter.
The constitutionality of the Government’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was not queried in the last 30 years. It should be unnecessary for me to stress the value to our national defence of having in Australia a petroleum refining organization of which the Government owns half. Oil is essential to our defence. In fact, it is more essential to it than it was in 1920 when Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Limited was inaugurated. Unfortunately for our defence potential, Australia is unable to find in its own territory any appreciable supplies of flow oil, and has either to import refined oil or refine imported crude oil. I am pleased to note that various oil companies have shown enterprise by establishing oil refineries here, or are in the process of establishing them. That is as it should be in any progressive community. When it was suggested, however, that the Government, as a partner in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, should participate in the modernization of our present oil refining capacity, the Government, which claims to be a “ go ahead “ government impregnated with initiative, decided, for reasons best .known to itself to retreat from the scene of activities.
An increase of the number of oil refineries in the Commonwealth will certainly improve our defence potential, because, in the event of war in the Pacific, our war effort would collapse overnight unless we had adequate supplies of oil. In view of that fact I fail to see how the Government’s participation in the modernization and expansion of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited could be held to be contrary to the Constitution. The Government has the responsibility to use every endeavour to ensure that the Australian petroleum industry is expanded. But it beat a hasty and cowardly retreat when such a suggestion was made. As far as the Labour party is concerned, and, more important, as far as the people are concerned, it is immaterial whether private or public enterprise extends the Australian oil industry, but such extension must he carried out in an efficient manner and must not cause any undue drain on the finances of the Commonwealth. Surely the Government cannot suggest that the expenditure of £6,000,000 on an expansion of the capital of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited would place an unnecessarily severe strain on our national revenues. Only recently the Government handed back a similar amount to wealthy city land-owners. So it had no excuse for rejecting the suggestion of the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited that it participate in the expansion of Australia’s refining capacity.
Honorable members are aware that when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited decided to increase its activities it suggested three different courses of action to the Commonwealth. The second of those courses was agreed to by the Government early this year, and I have yet to learn why it has retreated from its previous decision in ‘ that respect. That second alternative was that the AngloIranian Oil Company Limited should provide the capital required for the great refinery to be constructed in Western Australia, and that the Commonwealth should share equally with it in the provision of the capital required for the expansion of the distributing facilities of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. In view of the Government’s recent action of handing back £6,000,000 to wealthy city land-owners, it cannot sustain its present case.
The operations of the petroleum industry are inseparably bound up with our defence requirements, and I positively refuse to accept any contention that the activities of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, as laid down in the oil agreement acts, are unconstitutional.
– Then the honorable member claims to be a better lawyer than Mr. Barwick.
– I shall maintain my view until I hear the reasons advanced by Mr. Barwick and other eminent counsel for the advice that they gave to the Government. Mr. Barwick’s opinions on the Constitution are not the last word on the matter. I have vivid recollections of Federal and State governments having obtained legal opinions on constitutional matters from various eminent counsel, which were opposed by the opinions of other equally eminent counsel, so that the High Court finally had to give decisions on the matters concerned. My point is that in relation to such matters one or other set of legal opinions has necessarily been proved to be wrong in the opinion of the High Court. I repeat, therefore, that I am not prepared to accept Mr. Barwick’s opinion as the final word on the Constitution in relation to this matter. _ I admit that he is held in high esteem in the legal profession, but there are other eminent legal men, who are held in equally high esteem, who no doubt would advance a view contrary to that given by Mr. Barwick. Until such time as the reasons for the advice given to the Government that its continued interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is constitutionally invalid, are made available to the members of my party, particularly our honoured leader, who is held in such high esteem in the legal profession, I shall not accept the Government’s views on this matter. I have recollections of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) winning cases against the same Mr. Barwick.
– And losing them, too!
– All lawyers lose some cases, and that is all the more reason why the Government should not accept as final the opinions of a few lawyers. The fact is, however, that, realizing that the real reason for the sale of its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited cannot safely be made known to the people, the Government has hidden behind this cloak of constitutional invalidity. The real reason, in my opinion, is that the Government is determined to get rid of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited because of the pressure of private oil interests, which are amongst the Government’s most influential and affluent supporters. It has been proved times without number that the major oil companies have never been supporters of the Labour party. By deed and utterance they have always proved themselves to be supporters, through thick and thin, of the Liberal and Australian Country parties. I can understand what took place behind the scenes when the Government made its announcement, last January, that it was adopting the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited’s second suggestion that it find half the cost of expanding the distributing facilities of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I can imagine the consternation in the offices of the major oil companies, the hurrying about and the frenzied conferences, the journeys to Canberra to consult with members of the Government in order to persuade them to change its mind. I can understand the real reason for the Government’s action, but I can not approve the Government’s refusal to disclose that reason by admitting that it is taking its action at the behest of the major oil companies. The plea of constitutional invalidity is just a smoke screen designed to confuse the people, but it has been unsuccessful.
The practice of government’s participation in the oil industry is not peculiar to Australia, nor was it inaugurated by the Labour party. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is the creation of an anti-Labour government in 1920, which was some years behind an antiLabour British Government which in 1914 decided to take an active part, with private interests, in the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Succeeding British Government’s, whatever their political colour, have always maintained the British Government’s financial interest in that company, which later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. The reasons which induced the British Government in 1914 to purchase a controlling interest in that company apply to a greater degree to-day, and they are the same reason that justify the Australian Government in retaining its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Oil occupies a far more prominent part in the national and international spheres to-day than was the case 32 years ago. Successive Australian governments, until the advent of the present Government, upheld the partnership ‘with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited because they readily understood the vital implications of such an arrangement. We know what it means in these times of mounting international strain. “We live in a world of oil, as it were. Oil is becoming increasingly important in our international relations in peace and war.
I should have thought that this Government, which claims that its eyes are focussed on activities all over the world, and that it is constantly examining conditions in other countries with a view to improving its own legislative programme, would be influenced by recent disclosures in the United States of America about the control of oil in that country. Those disclosures demonstrate, beyond any doubt, the danger of allowing a small group of monopolists to control oil production and distribution. This bill will confer such power upon a small group of monopolists, and, therefore, it behoves the Parliament to reject the legislation. Two months ago we read in the newspapers that the United States Department of Justice had issued a criminal indictment against five major oil companies in America. After all, the major oil companies in Australia have not been free of suspicion in regard to practices that are not calculated to benefit the Australian economy as a whole. In 1933, the Royal Commission on Mineral Oils and Petrol, and Other Products of Mineral Oils, showed that oil supplies in Australia were dependent on two main groups, and expressed disapproval of that state of affairs.
In my perusal of the Minister’s secondreading speech, I have tried, very fairly, to find significant reasons adduced by him as to why the Labour party should support the bill. He repeated one statement several times, because he realized that he had such a poor case. He stressed the argument that the output of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had been small compared with the requirements of the Australian market. The Labour party has recognized for a long time the defects in the set-up of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and has not considered that the Government’s representation of three directors out of seven is satisfactory. In 1946, the Labour Government attempted to alter that state of affairs, and made overtures to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in regard to the matter. However, up to the time the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949, no decision had been reached on it. I mention those facts in order to prove that the Labour party realized the defects or disabilities of the set-up, and attempted to remedy them. But we should not murder an organization merely because some defects are apparent in it. The Government should attempt to eliminate the defects, and establish a more satisfactory basis. If a person has a minor wound in his arm, he does not cut his throat in order to remedy it. He treats the wound in the arm. For the Government to murder a successful commercial organization such as Commonwealth Oil
Refineries Limited, because it is not satisfied with the existing set-up, seems to me to be nonsensical. Undoubtedly, the set-up, as it existed, retarded the expansion of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I have no doubt that an expansion would have taken place years ago had the Commonwealth had an equal number of directors with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited in control of the organization.
At a time when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was likely to exert far more influence in the Australian economy than in the past, the Government decided to dispose of it. From the stand-point of defence, oil is far more important to-day than it was when the Government assumed office about three years ago. To-day, international tension in the Pacific is high, much to everybody’s discomfiture and distress. However, we must face the facts. I should have thought that the Government would take stock of its resources, and say, in effect, “ “We have to strengthen our oil resources, whether they be publicly or privately owned, for stockpiling purposes and making Australia independent of outside sources of supply as far as possible “. But the Government does not propose to to so. It desires to stultify one of the main sources of our defence potential. From the standpoint of industrial and commercial development, it is suicidal for Australia to allow its oil industry to be concentrated in the hands of two monopolist groups, yet that is what the bill proposes to do.
The Minister for External Affairs has attempted to justify the sale of the Commonwealth’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited by stating that that organization has not used its influence to keep down the price of petrol. It is true that, during the operation of prices control, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was not able to use its influence in that respect, but it was able to do so during the 1920’s. The Prime Minister of the day, Mr., now Lord, Bruce, has testified to that fact. But Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has always acted as a watchdog on behalf of the petrol users. “We have no proof that the company has kept the price of petrol down, or saved Australian petrol users a certain amount of money. But have we a definite assurance from the Government that the prices of petrol would have been what they were over a period of years if Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had not been in existence? That is the question which we should ask ourselves. “We maintain a police force in order to prevent crime. How much crime would there be if we had no police force? That is the question which the community asks itself when it pays for the maintenance of a police force. The same must apply to an organization like Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. At all times, it has acted as a watchdog in the interests of the consumers.
The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) made a desperate effort to justify the sale of the Commonwealth’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and repeated five or six times that the Government would receive an amount of approximately £2,763,000 for the shares. He seemed to think that it was the alpha and omega of the whole proposition, and that the Labour party should regard it as a satisfactory reason for the sale. When the Leader of the Opposition declared that the purchase price should have been nearer £10,000,000, his statement was greeted with derisive interjections from Government supporters. The Australian people, whilst they may receive nearly £3,000,000 from the sale of the. shares, will lose far more money in the future, because the oil monopolies will haven an “ open go “ to exploit the motorists. What will it cost them when they arc left to the tender mercies of the oil monopolies ? We may have been paid nearly £3,000,000 to-day, but how much will we lose in the future? The amountis incalculable. It will run into tens of millions of pounds over the years.
The Minister for External Affairs, in his second-reading speech, used these words -
The only criterion is the public interest.
We all agree with that opinion. After all, all political parties are supposed to legislate in the public interest, otherwise they should not be here. But
I should like to ask the Minis ter these questions: Will the public interest be adversely affected by the sale of the Commonwealth’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited? I think that it will. Has the public interest been adversely affected by the establishment of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited? The answer to that question must be an emphatic “ No “, because the public interest has certainly been favorably served by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. It has not been a losing concern. On the admission of an anti-Labour Prime Minister, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has kept the price of petrol down, and has supplied petrol to Australian users, although not in large quantities. Therefore, how can the public interest be adversely affected by the establishment of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited? I am still awaiting an answer to that question. All the evidence points to the fact that the Australian people will be the losers as the result of the sale of the shares. No reasons have been advanced by the Government to show how the people will benefit from the sale. The Minister for Supply has said that the Commonwealth will receive approximately £2,700,000 for its interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. That is the only reason that he has been able to advance in respect of public interest. But many reasons have been, and will be, advanced to show that the Australian people will lose far more than they will gain from the sale of the Commonwealth’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. In other words, the Government has completely disregarded the public interest in this matter. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech during the last general election campaign, did not inform the people of the impending sale. Indeed, I do not remember reading the reports of any speeches made by honorable members opposite, when they were imploring the electors to return the Government to office, in which they said that it would sell this profitable Australian enterprise. The Government certainly announced that it would dispose of certain non-profitable enterprises, but no mention was made of its intentions regarding Commonwealth Oil Refineries
Limited. The Minister for External Affairs made an incredible statement in an attempt to justify the Government’s decision. He said -
I venture to believe that if the Government responsible for the initial investment in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had known how the enterprise was going to turn out, the original .participation by the Government would never have come about.
All I can say is that I fail to reconcile that extraordinary statement with the statement of the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes), who was Prime Minister when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was established. A few weeks ago, the right honorable gentleman let the Australian people know, definitely and unequivocally, what he thought of the Government’s proposal to sell Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Knowing the right honorable gentleman as I do, I express the opinion that he undoubtedly took the leading part in acquiring the Commonwealth’s interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in 1920. He has watched the company operate for 30 years, and his opinion of it has not changed. Therefore, how can the Minister for External Affairs claim that “ if the government responsible for the initial investment in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had known how the enterprise would turn out, the original participation by the Government would never have come about “. The government, in those days, was, to all intents and purposes, the right honorable member for Bradfield. He was the beginning and end of the government in 1920. In the light of the opinion that he expressed in this House a few weeks ago about the proposed sale of the Commonwealth’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the foolishness of the Minister’s statement becomes apparent.
In an attempt to bolster an undoubtedly weak argument, the Minister for Supply said that it was to the eternal credit of the present Government that the refinery would be established at Kwinana, in Western Australia. I do not think that the honorable gentleman’s heart was in his case, although he did his best under adverse circumstances. I remind him that the establishment of the refinery in Australia was first mooted in 1938. Had a Labour government been in office to-day, the project would go ahead in Western Australia. The explanation is simple. Last year the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited, unfortunately, was precipitated in a hurry out of Persia, and lost its big refinery at Abadan. Consequently, it had to find, without loss of time, a location for another refinery, and proceed with the erection of the establishment with all possible speed. That is why the project at Kwinana is being accelerated. The work will be hastened, not because of, but in spite of, this Government’s activities. The Persian situation is such that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited has been forced to take speedy action, and whatever the Government has done in the matter, it certainly cannot take the credit for that project.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), in the early part of his address, devoted a good deal of time to the advancement of the argument that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should be retained, if only for defence purposes. I impress on him that the fact remains that in a time of war, when defence was a paramount consideration, this refinery was closed because of the limited tanker facilities available for moving petroleum. These facilities were put to better use in transporting refined products, regardless of the fact that the closing of the Laverton refinery was entailed in the process. That should dispose of the argument that was advanced by the honorable member for Batman with regard to retaining, solely for defence purposes, the Commonwealth’s interest in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. The honorable member for Batman also questioned the constitutional authority of the Government in this matter. He may be well qualified to advance an opinion on that matter, but I do not profess to have any knowledge about the legal aspects of it and I prefer to accept the opinion of Mr. Barwick Q.C. in preference to the opinion advanced to-day by the honorable member for Batman. Not only has the sale of the
Commonwealth’s shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited brought forward the Opposition’s objection to the transaction, but it has also displayed the vital difference between the socialist thought of the Opposition and the Liberal philosophy of life. As has been amply demonstrated by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), the sale of the Commonwealth’s interest has flushed out into the open the socialist members who sit on the opposite benches. Those honorable members as a rule do not openly espouse the cause of socialism, because if they did it might cause a little flutter among the people and adverse opinion in the electorate. Consequently it is customary for honorable members opposite to give their socialist ideas a good airing only at Labour league meetings, or at the State conferences of their party, where they are away from the direct attention of the general public. It is novel to hear honorable members opposite openly affirming their faith in socialism and denouncing the system of private enterprise.
Earlier to-day the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) spoke against the proposed action of the Government as outlined in the measure before the House. He questioned, not only the action of the Government in this matter, but also the price to be realized by the sale of its shares in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. He made much play of the fact that the Government proposes to give away the assets of the people. A perusal of the balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited does not by any means establish that the right honorable member’s argument is a good one. By saying that the price of £6 10s. a share is not a fair price the Leader of the Opposition is merely indulging in another of his calamity howls. This Johnny Ray act of crying about everything gets a little monotonous, and it is time that the right honorable gentleman examined, without any political bias, the proposed action of the Government. If he should do so he would then acknowledge the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has completed a very favorable deal, and one which will be well received by the public. The Leader of the Opposition made some reference to half price. That argument was very effectively dealt with by the Minister for Supply, and I affirm that I believe that the right honorable gentleman’s statements were not firmly established having regard to the truth. He questioned the basis of the valuation of the shares, and his opinion of their value fluctuated between £3,000,000 and £10,000,000. Apparently the difference between those two sums is mere pin money to the right honorable gentleman. He also spoke of hole-in-the-corner business, and advocated the appointment of a judge to investigate this matter. I point out to the right honorable member that this is not a legal matter, it is a purely commercial transaction, and I fail to understand why the right honorable member should try r,o inject a legal aspect into what is merely a business transaction. I think that he is inclined to dwell too much on the legal aspect of everything and that lie pays too little attention to common business sense which is all that this matter requires.
I venture to say that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who spoke on wool earlier in the day, has again dealt with a matter that he does not seem to know too much about. The arguments used by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Melbourne were not logical, but that of course is not unusual. It has been established that in order to keep going, the true socialist will embrace any means to bolster up his cause and will use any argument that will make his cause look reasonably good. Honorable members opposite have used the argument that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited should be retained in its present form because it is vital to the defence of the country. I suggest that nobody will be deluded by that argument. A petrol-selling organisation is of no more defence value than any other kind of sales organization. Another argument of the Opposition is that the Government intends to give away the assets of the people, but that argument is as threadbare as a boardinghouse blanket and will not stand up to any sort of investigation. I shall have no difficulty in proving to the House that in concluding the deal as outlined in this measure the Prime Minister has been responsible for the best piece of salesmanship that could have been accomplished by any Prime Minister of this country. It is obvious that members of the Labour party in this House are clinging, with the desperation of drowning men, to the doctrine of what they call a “ planned economy”, and that they will not accept the truth of our present economic situation. They believe that socialism is the answer to all our problems and consequently they will not give any credit to the Government for a very satisfactory business deal. The reason for their attitude is not hard to discover, because by its action the Government is expressing confidence in the system of free enterprise and is showing its lack of confidence in socialist undertakings. That attitude is not acceptable to honorable members opposite, who, of course, try to make political capital out of the present situation.
The trouble with the Labour party is that it is 30 years behind the times. At present I am dealing with the present members of the socialist party, and it may therefore be pertinent to turn the page of political history and ascertain what was said when Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was first formed. I have studied the reports of the debates that took place in the Parliament in 1920 when the bill to establish Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was introduced. It is amusing now to hear honorable members opposite praise Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited when at that time they spoke very strongly against its establishment. In those days the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited, which was our partner in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, was the double-dyed villain of the piece, one of the world’s great oil sharks, taking Australia for a ride. Mr. Tudor, who was the leader of the Labour party in the Parliament at that time, although a man not usually given to verbal exuberance, actually broke into verse about the matter. It is reported in Hansard of the relevant date that he said -
There was a young lady from Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger,
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.
Mr. Tudor also said ;
The Prime Minister is absolutely inside the tiger as far as this agreement is concerned, and the tiger is the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
I shall read, without comment, an interjection by one of the honorable members at that time -
I am sorry for the tiger then.
The Prime Minister of the day was the present right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) - no doubt a. tasty morsel at that time. However, the Labour party is 30 years behind the times. In 1920 it was wrong about Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and it is wrong now, as honorable members from this side have clearly shown. In 1920 the Labour party adopted the tactics that it usually adopts when it desires to kill a bill and has not the courage to oppose it openly. It moved that the matter should be referred to a select committee. “When that motion was defeated the Labour party voted against the second reading of the bill. The Labour party is wrong again to-day about Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, and it has not yet realized the change in our circumstances. When Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was first established it filled a vital defence need, but it no longer does so. At that time Australia desperately needed an oil refinery, but now it has a number of thorn, and even bigger ones are to be built. In 1920 the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited had almost limitless supplies of crude oil from the Persian oil-fields. Now it no longer controls those fields, which would make it a rather hazardous business risk at the present time. In any case, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is now merely a petrol distributing agency, and could have had nopossible significance for defence purposes, even if the Government had become a partner in this business. It is true that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited intends to build a very big refinery in Western Australia, and that might mean as much to Western Australia as did the gold boom in earlier years. It will have a very valuable effect on our defence programme provided that the company can secure the supplies of oil that are necessary to keep it going. However, this refinery will be built whether the Government is a partner in the project or not, and it will he equally valuable to the country whether the Government is a partner or not. If one considers the matter from a purely material point of view one must realize that the Government will in any case be a partner in this enterprise just as it is in all Australian businesses. It will be a very fortunate partner, because it will take a slice of the profits without having to take any of the risks involved in earning them. This company may be expected to contribute substantial amounts to the Government in taxation and if it were run as a socialist enterprise, then instead of getting money from it the Government would have to pay huge sums to cover the inevitable losses that socialist businesses always suffer. As a taxpayer I can see no advantage in adding another to the growing list of mendicants which have proved a terrible drain on the country’s finances during the last few years. For instance, in order to meet the losses on our State-owned railways alone we have had to abandon some of our most cherished schemes, and have had to use money that could have been used to provide all the schools and hospitals that are so badly needed throughout the nation.
Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was formed for a certain purpose in 1920. That purpose having been served, the Government is able to sell out, as it sold its holding in Amalgamated “Wireless (Australasia) Limited, at a handsome profit. It is notable that both Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited were established by non-Labour governments in the face of harsh criticism by the Labour party. The Labour opposition of the day wanted Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to be a wholly government concern. One can well imagine that, if its wish had been granted, we should be forced to pay out millions of pounds a year to cover its trading losses to-day instead of being in a position to sell the Government holding at a profit of several millions of pounds. At least members of the Labour party in those days were more honest on the subject of socialization than are members of the same party to-day. They were socialists, and were not ashamed of the fact. They wanted to socialize Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and said so openly. They did not seek to introduce socialism by the back door.
– . We are socialists, and we are not afraid to say so.
– The electors of Flinders may be interested in the honorable gentleman’s statement. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is neither a socialist undertaking nor private enterprise. It is a half-socialized undertaking which the Government, although it owns a majority of the shares, does not control because it does not command a majority on the board of directors. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) espouses the cause of socialism. I have no hesitation in saying that I believe in private enterprise. Ordinary commercial operations should be left to private citizens, unless there are special reasons why the Government should intervene. We may thank our lucky stars that the non-Labour Government in 1920 founded Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited as a partnership with skilled private management instead of entering the oil business entirely on its own account.
I am strongly opposed to any plan to invest millions of pounds of new capital in a refinery in Western Australia when that money can be used to better purpose. The Opposition has suggested that the Government should increase its commitments through Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited by providing a share of the additional capital required for the establishment of the Kwinana refinery. The Government would have been very unwise to adopt such a course. It would have been open to severe criticism had it used public funds for such a venture at this stage, when Australia is vitally in need of outside capital. One of our greatest difficulties at present is to obtain sufficient local funds for investment in undertakings such as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited has in mind in Western Australia. In such circumstances, the Government would have acted unwisely if it had decided to use taxpayers’ money in order to engage in a commercial venture that could be financed in any case with outside capital. I do not subscribe to the view that investment in commercial undertakings falls within the province of governments. I see no virtue in governments meddling in commercial activities. Our experiences of such meddling have been costly. We have too many dead-head socialist enterprises in Australia already, and we cannot afford to start any more of them. No doubt honorable members opposite, in contesting this opinion, will say that the full fruits of their socialistic plans were never harvested. They will maintain that Australia was denied a successful programme of socialism because the Chifley Government was defeated in 1949, when the effects of socialism were only beginning to manifest themselves. The answer to their arguments, of course, is that, in New South Wales and Queensland, socialistic planning has resulted in many men being thrown out of work. The melancholy record of the Premier of New South Wales is a constant reminder of the evils of a planned economy.
– What has this to do with the bill?
– I am demonstrating the dangers of socialism.
To honorable members opposite, who consider that the Government should stay in the oil business with Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, I commend the example of their brother socialist, Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales. If ever there was a reason why governments should avoid socialistic enterprises, Mr. Cahill has provided it by the failure of his venture in the tile business at Blacktown in the electorate that I represent. This tile manufacturing business was to represent socialism at its best. Its backers proclaimed that it was to be a test case, in which socialism would prove the inefficiency of private enterprise. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, unlike the tileworks, is not 100 per cent, socialist. It is a partnership between the Government and private enterprise, a form of socialism to which, I regret to say, Liberal governments have occasionally resorted when, for special reasons, they have deemed it necessary to take a hand in commercial operations. One has only to examine the record of Mr. Cahill in the fully socialized undertaking at Blacktown in order to realize the hopeless weaknesses of socialism. The tile manufacturing project was doomed to failure. Two years ago in this House I made an appeal to Mr. Cahill to alter his methods, but he continued with his plans, with the result that nearly £1,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money was wasted. That money could well have been used to build schools and hospitals, which are badly needed in New South Wales. The inglorious result of the undertaking was that the State Government had to hand over the tileworks to private enterprise so that they could be put to work profitably. In the meantime, many workers in the electorate of Mitchell have been thrown out of work because, to the socialist politician who wants to prove his socialist theories, the worker is only a pawn. The professed concern of the Labour politician for the worker is sheer humbug and hypocrisy.
Just at the time when the Labour Government of New South Wales is banding over its tileworks, its tourist organization, and other undertakings to private enterprise in order that efficiency may be introduced into their operations, the Labour Opposition in this Parliament is howling to high Heaven because the Government proposes to leave to private enterprise a concern that no longer falls properly within the province of the Government’s activities. The Government should not engage in the business of petrol distribution. It is a highly competitive business in which ample facilities for the service of the public are already provided by private companies. The only factor of national significance in the proposition that the Government should increase its financial interest in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is the proposal to establish a new oil refinery in Western Australia, not by Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, but by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company Limited. The new refinery will cost about £50,000,000. While the New South Wales Government, headed by Mr. Cahill, is screaming for additional finance for its construction programmes and the Opposition in this House clamours for reduced taxes, and the loan market is reluctant to provide fresh capital for governments because of all the depression talk that we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition, where’ could we find the huge sums that would be needed for the Opposition’s socialistic projects? “Who would have to be deprived of money if the Government were to enter into this project that will cost about £50,000,000? I have pointed out already that socialistic ventures by State governments have wasted money that could have been used to better purpose.
The Opposition has complained about the price that the Government will obtain for its shareholding in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. Similar complaints were raised when government shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were sold for 45s. each. Honorable members opposite said that the price was too low.
– Hear, hear !
– I wonder whether the honorable member’s opinion is shared by the investors who bought shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited at 45s. but now find they are valued at only 26s. I have here a balancesheet of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited which contains some extremely interesting information that I commend to the Leader of the Opposition. The company had its ups and downs for many years and did not pay dividends from 1924 to 1930. Then it broke into the dividend list for two years, but paid no further dividends for ten years from 1933 to 1942. It appears from the balance-sheet that the net tangible assets of the company represent £3 6s. a share. The Government has arranged to sell its holding for £6 10s. a share. Does anybody suggest that it is giving away the assets of the people? In order to demonstrate how satisfactory that price is, I need refer only to the example of the Bank of New South Wales, a firmly established concern that was founded in 1817. The asset value of £20 shares in that organization is £36 2s. 3d. Yet such shares may be purchased on the market to-day at £36 each. The Government will receive £3 4s. more than the asset value of each share in Commonwealth Oil
Refineries Limited when it sells them at £6 10s. Those facts speak for themselves. I wish that the Leader of the Opposition, when he deals with such figures, would have some regard for the truth. During the last five years the average profits of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited have represented 30 per cent. of capital assets. At a valuation of £6 10s. for a £1 share, the average yield over the five years, if all profits were distributed, would have been about 4.6 per cent. Obviously, without going into further details, £6 10s. represents a very handsome sum having regard to the values of other shares on the stock exchange at the present time.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Bruce) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
Cotton Bounty Bill 1952.
Wheat Export Charge Bill 1952.
States Grants (Administration of Controls Reimbursement) Bill 1952.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1952, No. 86.
Lands Acquisition Act - Return of land disposed of under section 63.
Overseas Telecommunications Act - Sixth Annual Report of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) for the year ended 31st March, 1952, together with financial accounts.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Attorney-General - R. W. Brown, H. L.
Higginson, A. E. Ingle, J. P. Warry. External Affairs - F. J. Jacka, G. Major. Supply - R. W. S. Carlson, R. M. Huntington, H. McBride, R. J. Skevington.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determination - 1952 -No. 66 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’ Union of Australia and others.
Repatriation Act - War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals - (Nos. 1 and 3) - Reports for year 1951-52.
Whaling Industry Act - Third Annual Report of the Australian Whaling Commission, for period ended 31st March, 1952.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
h asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
What was the total number of persons in receipt of unemployment relief in each State for the week ended the 16th August, 1952, and for each subsequent week?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The total number of persons in receipt of unemployment benefit in each State for the week ended the 16th August, 1952, and for each subsequent week was as follows: -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following information : -
y asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Will he make available full details of the qualifications for membership of these organizations?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Shire of Morwell Hospital.
Heywood Bush Nursing Hospital.
Kyabram and District Bush Nursing Hospital.
Registration of the following organizations has been effected since the 21st May, 1952 : -
New South Wales.
Broken. Hill Proprietary Company Limited Steelworks (Employees and Staff) Hospital Benefit Fund, 56 Kerr-street, Mayfield.
Clerical Fund of the Archdiocese of Sydney, 35 Tranmere-street, Drummoyne.
Cessnock District Hospital Contribution Fund, View-street, Cessnock.
Upper Yarra Bush Nursing Hospital.
Irish National Foresters’ Benefit Society, A.C.A. Building, 118 Queen-street, Melbourne.
Echuca Hospital Contributory Fund, Echuca.
The Queensland Newspapers Proprietary Limited Employees’ Mutual Benefit Society, c/o Box 130b, General Post Office, Brisbane.
Sons of Temperance Friendly Benefit Society, South Australia Grand Division No. 24, 808 Savings Bank Building, King Williamstreet, Adelaide.
South Australian Grand United Order of Free Gardeners, 23 Byron-road, Black Forest.
The Eden Fund, Box 15, Post Office, Minlaton.
South Australian Harbours Board Employees’ Hospital Fund, Maintenance Section, Dockyards, Glanville.
The Advertiser Provident Fund, c/o Adelaide Newspapers Limited, Adelaide.
Collie Combined Unions Hospital Benefit Fund, Mechanics Institute Buildings, Collie.
United Ancient Order of Druids Friendly Society, Kings Chambers, Charles-street, Launceston.
Electrolytic Zinc Employees’ Hospital Fund, General Post Office, Box 034b, Hobart.
Patons and Baldwins Employees’ Hospital Benefit Fund, c/o . Patons and Baldwins (Aust.) Limited, Post Office Box 298, Launceston.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Cornwall District, Tasmania, Post Office Box 40, Launceston.
Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity Friendly Society, Tasmania District No. 79, I.O.R. Chambers, York-street, Launceston.
Tasmanian Government Insurance Office Hospital Benefits Plan, 80 Collins-street, Hobart.
St. Luke’s Hospital Benefit Association, 24 Lyttleton-street, Launceston.
Zeehan and Montagu Hospitl Benefit Society, Rosebery. .
A.A.P.M. Medical and Hospital Fund, Box 191, Burnie.
Queenstown Medical Union Hospital Benefits Fund, Cutten-street, Queenstown.
Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, Buckingham District, 180 Collins-street, Hobart.
Applications from many other organizations are being received and considered, and if approved will be included in published lists.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The information is given in the following table: -
Papua and New Guinea.
k. - On the 10th October, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked the following question : -
By way of explanation of a question that 1 address to the Minister for Territories, I state that under the ordinances that govern the Territory of Papua and New Guinea dealing with compensation for workers in respect of injuries suffered in the course of their employment it is provided that where a worker is an Asiatic only two-thirds of the amount specified shall be paid. Will the Minister state the reason for the discrimination f
I replied to the effect that I was unfamiliar with the details of the ordinance to which the honorable member had referred. It is an ordinance which I think existed during the time of the honorable member’s own administration of the Department of External Territories. I now supply the following additional information: -
The special reference made to Asiatics in territory legislation on workers’ compensation appears to have its origin in the Workers’ Compensation Ordinance 1941 of the Territory of Now Guinea. The reason given by the administration of the day for making the rate of compensation for the Asiatic workman twothirds of the rate for the European workman was that the amount of wages generally fixed the amount of compensation and, au the wages of Asiatics were lower than those of Europeans, their compensation would also be lower. The administration insisted on the inclusion of Asiatics in the Workers’ Compensation Ordinance in the face of some local opposition. This provision remained unchanged and was not touched by amendments made to the ordinance in 1947. In 1951, the newly formed Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea passed the Workers’ Compensation Ordinance 1951, which applies to both Papua and New Guinea, amalgamates previously existing laws and repeals the Workers’ Compensation Ordinance 1941-1947 of New Guinea. Many features of the old New Guinea Ordinance were retained, including the rate of compensation for Asiatics, but no special consideration appears to have been given to this section. I have asked the administration to examine the question whether the provisions of the act in regard to Asiatics accords with modern practice in workers’ compensation legislation and whether they are in keeping with the present-day conditions in the territory.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19521014_reps_20_220/>.