20th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Dr. EVATT presented several petitions from certain officers of unions and associations of Commonwealth public servants praying that the Parliament will provide increases of 50 per cent. in the marginal rates for skill of all Commonwealth public servants.
Petitions severally received and read.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to tomorrow, at 10 a.m.
– During the absence abroad of the Minister for External Affairs, the Minister for Defencewill act for him. The Minister for National Development will be represented in this House by the Minister for Supply.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether it is a fact that, the Australian Government has promised to make a grant of £50,000 to the University of Sydney Nuclear Research Foundation? If so, when was that decision made? Was it made prior to or subsequent to an announcement that was made by the Treasurer very late in the evening at a dinnerthatwas held to commemorate the inauguration of the foundation and at a time when it was stated that the Treasurer was in a very convivial mood?
– Order ! Personal reflections are distinctly out of order.
– Is there any truth in the rumour that the Treasurer also stated that he had not intended to make the promise but that the managing director of Consolidated Press Limited, who was also present at this very hilarious gathering of professors and experts of other kinds, had made him do so ?
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in commenting on the gathering, which was not a responsibility of the Government.
– Finally, if the Government is making this grant to the University of Sydney, does it intend to treat similarly every other Australian university which may desire to enter this field of research?
– Directing my attention to the aspects of the question which were designed to get publicity, I should like to say that the promise of £50,000 was made by my colleague, the Treasurer, on the same evening, in the same company, in the same place and at the same dinner as those at which the Premier of New South Wales made his speech.
– But not the same number of drinks.
– Order ! The honorable member is distinctly out of order.
– The honorable member for East Sydney has made it his stock in trade to accuse his betters of his own irregularities. On the night in question in Sydney the Labour Premier of New South Wales offered £50,000 to the University of Sydney for this purpose and the Treasurer of Australia made a promise of £50,000. The promise made by the Treasurer was instantly ratified by the Cabinet, which thoroughly approved of his decision. It seems to me to be regrettable that the honorable member for East Sydney should be so hostile to the action taken by the Labour Premier of New South Wales or to the University of Sydneyas to suggest curious motives for the Australian Government’s gift; or, perhaps in the alternative, he is troubled because the Government of which he was a distinguished hut not particularly scholarly member did not provide grants to the universities in Australia whereas this Government is providing them with grants at the rate of £1,500,000 a year.
Mr.CREMEAN. - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of the intention of the Government to make a special grant of £50,000 to the University of Sydney for atomic research, is it also intended to make a similargrant to the University of
Melbourne? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the Department of Physics at the University of Melbourne pioneered this type of research and that it has received practically no encouragement from this Government? Have representations for such a grant been made to the Treasurer or to the Government by the universities of Melbourne and Western Australia? If so, will the right honorable gentleman indicate the result?
– I am fully aware of the work that 1ms been done at the Melbourne University in this field under Professor Martin, who I think is beyond the highest of praise. At one stage it was the practice of the Commonwealth to make a special research grant, but under the legislation that has been passed those grants have been amalgamated and the Government now makes a first level gran and a se::on( level grant to the universities concerned. The University of Melbourne shares fully in the grants that are made, the total of which is approximately £1,500,000. I should not like the honorable member to think that I in particular arn unaware, or that the Government in general is unaware, of the merit of the research that is being conducted.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been directed to remarks made by the Victorian Minister for Health concerning allowances for patients in mental institutions in which, with characteristic exaggeration, he criticized the Minister alleging that the right honorable gentleman had failed to reply to certain requests?
– The position in respect of victims of mental diseases is that five years ago the Chifley Government made an agreement with the State governments in relation to the assistance that it would provide in respect of mental patients. That assistance was of a beggarly nature. It amounted to sums of Sd.,” lOd., ls. and ls. 2d. a day. In return for such assistance, the States had to agree to adhere to certain policies.
A9 soon as this Government assumed office. I stated that the Chifley Government’s action was the most miserable that
I had ever heard of; and at conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers I offered, on behalf of the Australian Government, to cancel that arrangement and to increase the rate of assistance.’ That agreement will lapse this year. The Prime Minister, some time ago, informed the State Premiers that the Government was prepared to examine the whole position if a factual examination of the situation in each State could be made by an expert psychiatrist. “We have received replies from five States up to the present time, and we thought that we had better go ahead with that number, because it seemed that years might elapse before the sixth State would participate. Accordingly, the Prime Minister has written to the Premier of Victoria, and asked him to second one of his experts in mental diseases, who was an expert psychiatrist in the Department of Repatriation for many years and had travelled throughout Australia, in order to enable him rapidly to make this investigation which will occupy approximately three months. So far, we have not received a reply to that request.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration been directed to the abnormal number of crimes, many of which are major crimes, that have been committed in Australia by European immigrants during the last twelve months? Has his attention also been directed to the fact that during the past six months, no fewer than 70 European immigrants have appeared in the Queensland courts and have been convicted of major crimes? Is the Minister aware that it is estimated that 10 per cent, of the tubercular patients in the sanatoriums in and around Brisbane are New Australians? In view of that alarming position, is the Minister satisfied with the screening methods adopted by his officers overseas? Furthermore, will he take immediate steps to have the whole position regarding the screening of immigrants investigated ?
– The incidence of crime ‘ and tuberculosis among immigrant settlers in Australia has been examined by responsible bodies on previous occasions. The conclusions of the committee which was appointed to investigate the incidence of crime are public property, and I refer the honorable member for Brisbane to them. The conclusion of that committee, over which Mr. W. R. Dovey, now Mr. Justice Dovey, presided, was to the effect that the incidence of crime was certainly no greater among immigrant settlers in Australia than among the Australian population.
– That is no excuse.
– I am not suggesting that it is an excuse. If the honorable member for Watson will be patient, he will hear the full answer to the question of the honorable member for Brisbane. I think that a similar position obtains with respect to the incidence of tuberculosis among immigrants in Australia. However, the real substance of the honorable gentleman’s question is whether the Government is satisfied that the present screening methods are as secure and stringent as we can reasonably make them. I point out to him that the screening methods which were originally adopted by this Government were those applied by the Labour Government of which the honorable gentleman was a supporter, and I can assure him that complaints were received to the effect that our screening requirements were the most stringent of those applied by any country that was receiving immigrants and were much too severe. Those views were expressed by responsible critics overseas. Tuberculosis is not always evident at the time a prospective immigrant is selected to come to Australia. The disease sometimes develops after the person has settled here. The same applies to mental diseases, and could, apply to criminal acts.- A person could have been completely healthy before he came to Australia, and could have had a blameless record with the police, yet these troubles develop. The same thing happens in our own community. I assure the honorable member for Brisbane that the screening standards imposed when the Labour Government was in office have certainly not been relaxed. If anything, they have been intensified.
Mv. ALLAN FRASER. - I wish to ask the Minister for Immigration a question about the British immigrant hostel at Goulburn. T should not have raised the question in the House but for the fact that my repeated endeavours to obtain information from the Minister outside the House over the last eight or nine days have failed.
– The honorable member has not spoken to me about the matter.
– I have written to the Minister urgently, and personally, and I have telephoned his office.
– Order ! The honorable member must now ask his question.
– The British immigrant hostel at Goulburn is to be closed on the 1st May, and the immigrants who live there have been offered transfers to other parts of Australia. Will the Minister not reconsider the position of those immigrants who are employed at Goulburn and who do not wish to move to other parts of Australia? They have settled themselves in that city but cannot obtain housing there outside the hostel. Why will they not bc allowed to remain there?
– Whilst I do not doubt the honorable member’s statement that he has tried to communicate with me, the fact is that his inquiry did not come to me directly. However, I gather that my department has been looking into the matter, because some information in relation to it was given to me yesterday. I understand from this information that, when it was announced that the hostel would be closed, there were only eleven families remaining in it, that arrangements had been made to transfer all but three of those families to other accommodation, and that a considerable period of notice, which would have assisted the remainder to find alternative accommodation, had been given. The honorable member has said that there is no other accommodation available for these families in Goulburn, but I want him to know that this Government offered the hostel to the New South Wales Government. The conditions on which the State Government would be prepared to take over the hostel, as they were reported to us, were unreasonable in our view. For example, one condition was that the hostel should be used exclusively for the accommodation of Australians and that no part of it should be made available subsequently for immigrants who might come into that district. I think the House will agree that this was not a reasonable proposition. If the New South Wales Government, considering that there is an accommodation problem in Goulburn, is prepared to take over this hostel from the Commonwealth on a reasonable basis - and the Commonwealth would not be difficult about the terms - we would examine its proposition with complete sympathy. However, we cannot maintain what is clearly and utterly an uneconomic proposition in relation to three families, when the maintenance of the whole of an establishment would be involved.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to inform the House when the report of the Royal Commission on Television will be presented to the Government, and made public?
– I am informed that the report has not yet been received. There will be no delay in making the terms of it available to honorable memberg and the public as soon as it is available.
– Will the Minister for the Interior give some protection and assistance to local orchardists by taking immediate action to restore the system under which, during the local reason, preference was given to local fruitgrowers in the purchase of fruit for’ departmental hostels and institutions? In considering this request, will he have regard for the fact that holders of orchard leases in the Australian Capital Territory arc not permitted to use the land for any other purpose?
– I shall have inquiries made.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to give early and favorable consideration to the granting of export permits for maize and grain sorghum because of the lack of local demand for these products and because there is a surplus of grain available. Will the Minister have regard to the need of the growers to secure early payment for their crops by selling the grain for export ?
– The only justification for the imposition of export controls on maize and grain sorghum lay in the fact that, at the time, export parity prices were far in excess of local fixed prices. At the present time, I understand, there is little difference between export parity prices and fixed Australian prices. In these circumstances, the Government has no intention of requiring growers to hold their grain unsold in Australia against the contingency that somebody may decide later that he wants to buy it. Export permits will be freely available unless there is a wide disparity between local and export prices. I am sure that, under present conditions, export permits will be granted readily.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth is negotiating for the purchase of the Sun building, the offices of Associated Newspapers Limited, in Elizabeth-street, Sydney. Have departmental officers reported on the suitability of the building for Commonwealth purposes, and, if so, what is the nature of their report? What is the basis for an allegation made recently by the honorable member for Melbourne, who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this House, that there is an understanding between the Sydney Morning Herald, Associated Newspapers Limited, and the Government, that if the organs controlled by those newspaper interests support the Menzies-Fadden coalition in the forthcoming general election, the Commonwealth will acquire the property that I have mentioned, irrespective of the report that may be given by the departmental officers?
– I read something about this in a certain organ of the press in Sydney.
– A democratic one.
– Witu which, of course, the honorable member for Melbourne has no bargains whatever, except those made over the table of Prince’s. Anyhow, let us forget about that for the moment.
– Where is Prince’s?
– Prince’s is in somebody’s ward. I shall not dwell on that matter although it is a fascinating subject. However, I did observe in this great organ of unbiased public opinion that the honorable member for Melbourne was alleging some improper bargain regarding the purchase of a building from an organization which I shall call, compendiously, “ the Sun “. So 1 made some inquiries, and I think it is fair to the other alleged conspirator, the chairman of Associated Newspapers Limited, that I should read to the House his statement, every word of which can be vouched for from the department. In a letter to mc he said -
You may have read an article in a recent issue of the Daily Mirror -
I had not, but, as he had attached it to the letter, I did - in which, according to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, it seems that we are parties with you in a conspiracy, and that “questions will have to be asked about it all when Parliament meets in Canberra in April “.
– Who is that? Mr. Irish?
– It is Mr. Calwell, “Mr. C”, the fluent Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who has not put a question after all. I shall resume my reading of the letter. It continues - 1 will not touch on the question of the conspiracy, but, as questions are to be asked -
Sir John Butters was a little optimistic ; and as I was the only individual connected with this company who had anything to do with the matter, it seemed to me desirable that von should be informed as to the facts.
Some months ago, John Fairfax & Sons Pty. Ltd. disposed of the Herald building; they were able to do this as a result of the arrangements which that company and Associated Newspapers Ltd.. had made regarding the merging of our production facilities.
Some time afterwards, the Managing Director of a real estate company approached me and asked whether Associated Newspapers would sell the Sun building and, if so, at what price.
– They would sell anything.
– Anything of value. The letter continues -
I informed him that the Sun. building was not available for sale at present, that it might be four or live years before it won id be available, and that we did not contemplate taking any steps towards its disposal lor some time to come.
He informed me that there were- certain governmental authorities which had expressed interest in negotiating for the purchase of the building, and asked if he could bc allowed to show their representatives over the building.
My answer to this was that I had no objection to their inspecting the building, so long as it was made perfectly clear to them that the property was not on the market, that it would be some years before it was available, and that no commitment of any sort could be made in this regard.
Furthermore 5 asked that the whole matter, including the inspection, must be treated as confidential, as J. did not want to be pestered with a series of such requests. In this case I was agreeable as a matter of courtesy in two Government departments.
He informed me that possession in u few years’’ time might suit his clients, and asked if I could give him iia idea of the sort of price we should expect to get.
In reply to this I informed him that we h;ul given no consideration to this, but obviously we should expect to get at least the amount of the valuation which waa made for us quite recently, plus an adjustment to v.over any change in the cost of building and the value nf the land between the date of that valuation and the date we were ready to sell.
That represents the total conversation which I have had with this gentleman, and nobody else in this Company has discussed the. sale of this building with any one.
Sir John Butters, a man whose reputation needs no advocate in this place since among his many activities, he has been most honorably associated with the establishment of this city, signed this letter, which I, of course, unhesitatingly accept as a statement of fact. At the same time as this statement was made in the Daily Mirror - I think that is the name of the newspaper - no doubt with a semi-nude photograph on one side and a full-nude photograph on the other, I made inquiries of my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, and ascertained that on the 18th March his department had reports against buying this building, and that on the 24th March my colleague had completely accepted that advice. Yet, this great story of the conspiracy, cooked up after lunch at Prince’s, appeared in the Daily Mirror of the 31st March. It is a perfect example of the truthfulness of that newspaper.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it correct that the head of a well-known internal airline operating firm is visiting the United States of America to purchase immediately a super-Convair aircraft of the long-range type and, at a later date, an additional aircraft of the same make? If so, is part of the 21,000,000-dollar allocation for the purchase of American aeroplanes, from the 54,000,000-dollar loan, to be used for that purpose? If it has been agreed by the Government to provide dollars to meet the requirements of private corporations to purchase American aircraft, can the Minister say whether the necessary dollars’ are being provided at a more favorable rate of interest than that paid on the government dollar loan? “Was Trans-Australia Airlines refused permission to purchase a D06 aircraft for use on the Western Australian service, and, if so, will Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited be permitted to operate on the Western Australian service while Trans- Australia Airlines has no aircraft of DC6 range and capacity?
– I did not hear the name of the company that the honorable member mentioned.
– I referred to the head of a well-known internal operating firm.
– It is true that Ansett Airways Proprietary Limited has been given permission to import a Convair aircraft, to be paid for with its own money. No government assistance at all is involved in the transaction.” The only question that arose for the Government to consider was whether this company should have dollars made available to it. The Government has endeavoured to keep a balance between TransAustralia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, and so much success has attended our efforts that both concerns are now operating efficiently and profitably. TransAustralia Airlines made a request to be permitted to import aircraft from America at one time, but changed its mind and asked, for -permission to charter a Dutch DC6 aircraft for about six months. That permission was given, and I believe that the charter has now expired, or is about to expire. Trans-Australia Airlines has been given authority to purchase six Vickers Viscount aircraft from the United Kingdom, which it considers is a much better proposition than purchasing DC6 aircraft. As Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited preferred, on the other hand, to place its faith in DC6 aircraft, there is no reason why that company should not have been given a permit to import them.
– Will the Minister for Social Services inform the House of the most recent official estimate of the value per week to each age and invalid pensioner of the free medical, chemist and hospital services that are provided by this Government ?
– I cannot give an estimate of those figures. As far as I know, such an estimate is not in existence, but I shall discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Health, to ascertain whether I can obtain an estimate. The last figures that I saw indicated that the value of the pensioner medical service was between 5s. and 8s. a week, but, of course, its real value cannot be assessed in money. The value of the pensioner medical service lies in the fact that it gives security to old people who know that sooner or later they will be sick. A. tremendous burden is removed from their shoulders when they know that, if sickness comes, free medical service and free medicine will be supplied by the Government.
– Who is the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization?
Mi’. SPEAKER.- He is not in this House.
– I want to ask him a question. Who is the Minister who represents him in this chamber?
– A question of that nature should go on the notice-paper.
– Ask me the question.
– That cannot be done ; it would not be in order.
– The Prime Minister says that I can ask him the question.
– Well, I say that you cannot do so.
– Will the Minister for Air inform the House whether any date has been set down for the transfer of No. 11 Neptune Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron from Pearce, Western Australia, to the eastern States? If a decision has been made, will the Minister also state the type of aircraft that will replace the Neptunes at that aerodrome?
– The date for the movement for the Neptune squadron has not been fixed. Consequently, it has not become necessary to decide the type of aircraft that will replace the Neptunes at Pearce.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Will the right honorable gentleman state the amount of money that remains in the hands of the Government from the 7£ Per cent, levy on wool sales which was to form the basis of a reserve price plan? Will the Minister state the amount that has been refunded to growers and will he also indicate the steps that must be taken by those growers who have not received a refund in order to obtain their money?
– In accordance with the assurance that was given in this House when provision for the retention of this money was embodied in legislation, a sum of approximately £45,000,000 was returned to the wool-growers immediately after they had voted on the proposed wool reserve price plan for which they had asked and which they had designed but which was rejected by the majority of growers. After the repayment through the wool-selling brokers of a sum that was a few thousand pounds short of £45,000,000, there remained in the hands of the Australian Wool Realization Committe an amount of £9,185. That amount of money is still held because, although the wool-selling brokers and the Australian Wool Realization Committee have made diligent attempts to trace the owners, they cannot do so. If any grower thinks that he is entitled to a refund, he should apply to the Australian Wool Realization Committee, 540 Little Collins-street, Melbourne, set out his claim, and state particularly the name of the broker through whom he sold his wool. If he is entitled to it, he will receive his money promptly.
– Will the Minister for the Navy deny or confirm the statement that radio-active fish that were caught by Japanese fishermen- were spawned at Monte Bello and that their flesh became radio-active as a result of swimming in those waters? Did one of Her Majesty’s ships which was on duty at Monte Bello become contaminated with the result that on its return it was discovered that two ratings or dockyard workers- showed signs of burns?
– I am informed by the scientific adviser to the Department of Defence that the most probable explanation of the radio activity of the fish caught by the Japanese is that they were left in an open hold shortly after the explosion and that radio activity could not have occurred as a result of the fish swimming in those waters. Radio activity does not occur in the flesh and an officer of the Royal Navy has advised that the fish that were caught at Monte Bello were just as edible after the explosion as before it. One of Her Majesty’s ships was thoroughly tested for contamination, and it was discovered that there was no radio activity. Therefore, it is completely untrue to allege that any ratings or dockyard workers at Garden Island were burned a3 a result of radio activity.
– Will the Government favorably consider making additional allocations to the States following its receipt of approximately £50,000,000 in taxation from wool-growers as a result of a decision by the Privy Council that profits received from the Joint Organization scheme are taxable? As the additional taxation has been derived from primary producers, it is felt that at least some of the money should be returned to municipalities in which it was earned in order to facilitate the construction and maintenance of much needed roads.
– The request of the honorable member is based upon an allegation that the income of £50,000,000 was a windfall, which is not true, and therefore it does not hold water.
– In view of the completely misleading and unprincipled propaganda which has been uttered recently in certain quarters regarding the condition of Manus Island as a forward defence base, will the Minister for Defence make a statement comparing the position that exists at Manus to-day with that which existed when the Government took office a little over four year3 ago?
– I can say, offhand, that when this Government came into office, naval and air force establishments at Manus Island were practically non-existent. Since that time, -certain construction work has been undertaken, and it is now nearing completion. That work will convert Manus Island into a satisfactory forward air and naval base.
– With respect to the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s report regarding the loss of popularity of broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings, can the Postmaster-General say whether it is to be the policy of the Government to compel the paying listening public to listen to such broadcasts whether they desire to do so or not? If that is to be the policy of the Government, in the event of television being introduced, will the further horror be thrust upon the public of being compelled to view happenings in this assembly as well as to listen to speeches of honorable members?
– The Australian Broadcasting Commission has ascertained as a result of an investigation that the popularity of parliamentary broadcasts has decreased. Perhaps, that has been owing to the deadly nature of many of the speeches that are made in this House. As a result, the commission has made certain suggestions. It will be a matter, I hope, for the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee to consider those suggestions.
– On several occasions I have made representations to the Postal Department for the provision of a new post office at Huonville, which is the centre of Tasmania’s famous applegrowing industry. Can the PostmasterGeneral say when the present inadequate post office at that town will be replaced with a modern structure?
– The honorable member has repeatedly interviewed me about the matter that he has just raised ; and he has now given a “ plug “ in this House for the apple-growers at Huonville. I regret to have to say that at this stage it is not possible to build a new post office at Huonville. However, the department recognizes the necessity of improving postal accommodation at that centre, and arrangements are in hand to take over the postmaster’s residence and to reconstruct it and add it to the existing postal facilities there. When other projects that are of greater urgency have been attended to, attention will be given to the provision of a new post office at Huonville.
– In view of the fact that the Government has announced a grant of £500,000 to Ceylon for the construction of certain irrigation works, and also in view of the fact that the Government has made available only the sum of £80,000 for the relief of victims of recent floods in New South Wales and Queensland, who suffered losses estimated at £7,500,000, I ask the Minister for Defence as Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs whether the Government will make a special grant to New South Wales and Queensland of some millions of pounds for the purpose of providing irrigation and flood prevention works in the river systems of those States with a view to obviating similar loss’ when cyclonic disturbances occur in the future.
– It is true that under the Colombo plan certain grants have been made to Ceylon. It is also true that at the request of the Premier of New South Wales, .the Government made grants for the purpose of relieving the distress of victims of floods in northern New South Wales. I have not the slightest doubt that if the Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland applied for financial assistance for the construction of works of the kind that the honorable member has mentioned, the Government would consider such applications.
– As chairman, I present the following reports of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Severally ordered to be printed.
Debate resumed from the 9th April (vide page 291), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the. hill be now read a second time.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - before this House gives final approval to the Bill, there should bo appointed in investigating authority vested with power to report to Parliament as to the subjectmatter of the Bill and especially as to the precise effect the proposed reduction will have upon (o) shipping freights and (ft) the efficient performance by the Stevedoring Industry Commission of its functions and powers in relation to the provision of port and harbour facilities relating to shipping and stevedoring and to the provision of adequate amenities for those employed in or about the industry of stevedoring “.
.- Under the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act a levy is made on the payments made to waterside workers by their employers for the purpose of financing the activitiesof the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. The costs incurred by the board are principally made up of payments to waterside workers of attendance money on days when they attend at pickingup places but are not employed. In 1952, attendance money was increased to 16s. a day, and that increases added considerably to the costs of the board. Consequently, the board fell into heavy deficit. As a result, the Government was obliged in 1952 to increase the levy to lid. per man-hour. That was a considerable increase and, at the time it was made, the Government gave an undertaking that as soon as the board’s deficit was wiped out it would reduce the rate of levy. This bill has been introduced in pursuance of that undertaking. Under the measure, it is proposed to reduce the levy by 6d. to 5d. per man-hour. It is gratifying to learn that the financial position of the board has been restored to such a satisfactory degree that the charge can be reduced to 6d. a man-hour which, in view of general rises in costs throughout the world, compares more than favorably with the original rate of 4+d. a man-hour imposed when the Australian Stevedoring Industry Commission, the predecessor of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, was established in 1947. The requirements of the board must, from the nature of things, vary from year to year, because the volume of trade in Australian ports affects the demand for waterside workers which, in turn, affects payments of attendance money. The board also also bears considerable expense for the maintenance of pick-up centres and for the provision of amenities in ports. Those charges are fairly uniform from year to year. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has explained, in his second-reading speech, that the sum of £300,000 has been set aside in the current year to enable the board to continue its programme for the provision of amenities in ports. . All those facts mean that we must expect that the Parliament will be asked in future years to consider similar bills to vary the amount of the charge. The bill now under consideration makes the fourth variation of the levy since the Australian Stevedoring Industry Commission was established in 1947.
This bill would have no special interest for the House if those were the whole circumstances, but the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) chose to make an electioneering speech last Friday on the subject of this legislation. He used the bill as a vehicle for extravagant, illinformed and irresponsible criticism of the Government. He put two propositions to the House. He pointed out that the bill proposed to reduce the stevedoring charge from11d. to 6d. a man-hour, and he contended that an immediate corresponding reduction should be made in overseas and interstate freights. He proceeded to argue that the Government, because it has not enforced such a reduction on the shipping industry, is slavishly subservient to shipowners. Presumably, the right honorable gentleman had in mind compulsion by legislation, because no other form of compulsion would be available to the Government. Both arguments are false, andI believe that the Leader of the Opposition knew perfectly well that they were false whenhe advanced them. I believe that the right honorable gentleman used them solely for electioneering purposes. Does he not know that this charge is only a small part of shipping costs? Indeed, it is only a small part of stevedoring costs which, in themselves, do not by any means constitute the whole shipping costs. The last increase of overseas freights came into operation in September and October, 1953. Actually, a series of increases was made in the various contracts for overseas shipments. Those increases followed negotiations which had been proceeding between the shippers and the shipowners for more than a year, and the application of the shipowners was based on their costs in 1952. So it follows that overseas freights have not been increased because of any changes in shipping costs, and the cost of operating ships, since 1952. In the interval, the wages of waterside workers have risen by an amount which is probably greater, on an hourlybasis, than the reduction of the charge now under consideration. From October, 1951, to October, 1953, the hourly rate for waterside workers in major ports in Australia rose from 6s.10½d. to8s. 10d., an increase of 1s. 11½d. This bill provides for a reduction of one stevedoring charge from11d. to 6d. a man-hour, yet stevedoring costs rose by1s.11½d. an hour between 1951 and 1953. It is reasonable to suppose that at least half that increase is attributable to the second half of that period, but shipping freights have not been increased since 1953 and the increases at that time were based on costs prevailing in 1952. I hope that I have made my explanation clear to the House. The substance of it is that the reduction of the stevedoring charge has been more than offset by increases of shipping costs since the last increase of freights. Yet the Leader of the Opposition says that the Government is slavishly subservient to shipping interests because it does not immediately oblige them to pass on the whole of the reduction of the stevedoring charge without any regard to all the other factors that make up their costs, or to the increase of their costs in the interval. It is hard to suggest that a minor reduction of shipowners’ costs should be passed on entirely without any regard to their increased costs as a whole.
-The poor shipowners!
-Iamnothereto defend the shipowners. I am trying to ensure that the House has regard to the facts, in view of the irresponsible criticism levelled at the bill by the Leader of the Opposition last Friday. Does the right honorable gentleman imagine that this charge is the only varying element in the shipowners’ costs? Has he considered depreciation? I have some figures that should interest him. A ship built in 1953 cost 40 per cent. more than a similar vessel built in 1949, and the estimated costs of a similar vessel built in1956 is 100 per cent. more than the figure five years ago. It is obvious that we must take into account depreciation, which has increased in the shipping industry far more than in most industries ashore. Let us also examine stevedoring costs. The following table shows progressive increases in the wages of waterside workers over a period: -
Honorable members will see that the wages of waterside workers have risen by 221 per cent, since 1938. An examination would reveal that increases in overseas and coastal freights bear a rough resemblance to that figure. The Leader of the Opposition speaks of scandalous increases of shipping freights in Australia, but we find that they approximate to the general increases of costs in the same period. The argument by the Leader of the Opposition that the benefit of the reduction should be passed on immediately could be valid only if freight rates varied continually as costs varied, which is not the ca?i’. Does nol the -Leader of the Opposition know of the mechanism by which variations of overseas freight rates a re effected ?
– Of course not !
– Well, he ought to know of it, because this Parliament has ratified by legislation the system by which those rates are varied. In 1930 the Parliament amended the Australian Industries Preservation Act in order to make legal a system which otherwise would have been an infringement of that act, whereby the Australian Overseas Trade Association makes arrangements with both the shippers who export goods from Australia and the shipowners who carry the goods abroad, for the negotiation of freight rates. The Leader of the Opposition ought to know of that fact, but he spoke in this chamber last Friday as though he were completely ignorant of any such arrangement. He said that “ the supreme authority for fixing freight rates in Australia is the shipping combine”, as though the Australian people were simply held to ransom by some merciless body, over which they had no influence. However, the facts differ greatly from that version of the situation.
Of our total shipping bill, about twothirds is paid in overseas freight charges, and about 80 per cent, of that amount is paid for the carriage of Australian goods to and from United Kingdom and European ports. All the freight rates for all the major articles of trade are settled by a procedure which has been in force for the last 25 years. This system of negotiating and approving of charges has applied under Labour governments and Liberal governments alike. Longterm contracts are concluded between theshippers’ representative bodies and theshipowners’ representative body. First of all, a contract is negotiated for each classof goods. These negotiations often occupy a considerable period of time. I shall give the House examples of the different sorts of contract. The contract that fixes the freight rates and the conditions for the carriage of wool from Australia is negotiated in the first instance between the shipowners’ representatives and the Australian Council of Wool Growers. The contract for the carriage of fruit is negotiated separately between the shipowners and the Australian Apple and Pear Shippers Association. The arrangements on behalf of the shippers of dairy products are made with the shipowners by the Australian Dairy Produce Board, which is a government body. The meat carriage contract is negotiated with the shipowners by an association of meat shippers.
When each contract has been negotiated, it must be ratified by a full council meeting of the Australian Overseas Trade Association, to which I referred earlier. The membership of that association includes two representatives of each of the shippers’ bodies, as well as representatives of the producers’ bodies. Thus, each freight contract for the shipment of Australian products overseas is negotiated between shipowners on the one hand and the shippers and producers of goods on the other hand. The Australian Overseas Trade Association has the right to supervise negotiations and must ratify any contract before it can become effective. Yet the Leader of the Opposition had the audacity to tell us that the Government was deficient because it did not enforce on shipowners an immediate reduction of freight rates corresponding to the reduction of 5d. an hour in the stevedoring industry charge. If he does not know of the system that I have described, he should know of it. His comments were irresponsible to the degree to which he ignored it. How does he suggest that the Government should enforce on the shipowners this proposed reduction of freight rates? Does he want it to be done by legislation which will override at one stroke all those contracts which have been negotiated so painstakingly between the representative parties and endorsed by a body which represents all the shippers and producers?
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether it is in order for an elected member of this Parliament to come here and argue a brief on behalf of-
– Order !
– I want to explain my point of order, Mi-. Speaker. The legal company to which the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) is attached is the legal representative of the shipping companies. I want to know whether it is in order-
– As far as I can see, the honorable member for Evans would be in order to argue any case that he wished to argue. The same freedom applies to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron).
– It does not surprise me that the honorable member for Hindmarsh should seek to prevent a discussion which discloses the serious irresponsibility of the arguments that have been advanced by the Leader of the Opposition. How does the Opposition suggest that a reduction of freight rates should be forced upon the shipowners? I imagine that the Labour party, if it had the power and authority, would enforce the reduction by legislation that would impose a breach of contract upon all the parties to the various freight agreements. I suppose that, according to the socialist beliefs that all honorable members opposite profess, they would consider that to be right and proper. The shipowners undertake obligations under the contracts which I have mentioned. This is by no means a one-way affair by which shipowners levy certain freight charges without accepting any obligations. They undertake, for instance, to maintain regular services from all usual Australian ports to a number of United Kingdom and continental ports. Between March and May this year, a total of nine ships will arrive in Australia in ballast in order to shift the heavy cargoes that are expected during this period. In fact, the shipowners accept onerous obligations under the contracts.
Interstate freight rates are not fixed on a long-term basis, as are overseas freight rates. No elaborate machinery is needed in this instance because the whole trade is within the boundaries of Australia. Therefore, the system of fixing charges can be flexible, and negotiations can be conducted much more quickly than is the ease with overseas freight rates. The coastal shipping of Australia is in constant competition with rail and road services, and that competition has a continuing effect on the rate of the freights that can be charged. Members of the Opposition frequently tell us of the virtue of the government shipping line as a competitor in keepingfreight charges down. They cannot have it both ways. If the government shipping line is effective in keeping freight rates down, it can scarcely be said that the Australian people are being held to ransom by a group of companies over which they have no control. The Leader of the Opposition cannot have it both ways, though I know very well that he often tries to do so. There are more than 30 ships of the government shipping line in competition with private ships around the Australian coast, and, if there be any virtue in the Opposition argument, that should have a very considerable restraining influence on freight rates. The body which fixes interstate freight rates includes in its membership a representative of the Government shipping line. Therefore, in that respect, the Government itself is a party to the fixing of interstate rates. This was true also of the former Labour Government, of which the Leader of the Opposition was a member. That Government, too, was a party to periodic arrangements for the fixing of freight charges. That hardly indicates that there is a free-for-all in the interstate shipping field.
We all have an interest in obtaining lower freight rates. We know the degree to which this country is dependent on efficient and adequate shipping services, both overseas and interstate. I have taken up the time of the House again and again in the past in order to point out that Australia, more than any other country, needs efficient coastal shipping services. All our industries are located round the fringe of the continent. The distances between them are great. Our harbours are many and good. If there is any country in the world which should have effective and cheap coastal shipping it is Australia. Yet we have not got it.
We all have a strong interest in effective and cheap shipping around our coast. Similarly, every Australian has an interest in adequate and efficient shipping services for the transport of Australian goods abroad. But there is no point in trying to make this matter of shipping freights a political chopping block for electioneering purposes. We shall arrive at proper conclusions on this matter only when we have regard to all the facts. It is with that end in mind that I have put before the Opposition to-day certain facts that show how irresponsible was the speech that we heard last Friday from its Leader.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). 1 shall read it to the House in order to refresh the memories of honorable members. It reads -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting in lieu thereof the following words : - “. before this House gives final approval to the Bill, there should be appointed ari investigating authority vested with power to report to Parliament as to the subject matter of the Bill and especially as to the precise effect the proposed reduction will have upon [a) shipping freights and (6) the efficient performance by the Stevedoring Industry Commission of its functions and powers in relation to the provision of port and harbour facilities relating to shipping and stevedoring and to the provision of adequate ;i infinities for those employed in or about the industry of stevedoring”.
The approach of the Opposition to this measure has been clearly set out by the Leader of the Opposition. We say definitely that, first, anything that might improve the costs position in the shipping industry is worthy of consideration. Secondly, however, we believe that the opinion that exists, particularly among members of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia and its officials, that the proposed reduction of charges will have a detrimental effect on. waterside workers, has given rise to the disquiet that is so much in evidence in the industry at present. I consider it fit and proper that, before we commit ourselves to the present proposal, we should receive some firm assurances from the Government first, that the reduction will operate as the Government says it hopes it will operate, so as to achieve a reduction of freight; and, secondly, that it will not operate to the detriment of employees in the stevedoring industry. The Government’s case was far from assuring us in that direction.
It has been suggested that this reduction will operate to the benefit of the shipowners alone. Notwithstanding the statements of the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) to the contrary, there is abundant evidence available that that will be the case. While he was attempting to defend the position of the shipowners the honorable member said that he hoped the House would not think that he was defending the shipowners. He protested too much. Even such an authority as the Sydney Morning Herald would not lend him any support. When this matter was raised some months ago a representative of overseas shipping interests in Australia went to great pains to defend the attitude of his principals. His defence of the activities of the overseas shipowners, however, was such that it. did not even convince the Sydney Morning Herald, which, in a. sub-leader, dealing with reduction of freights, accused him of having evaded the issue.
The honorable member for Evans attempted to support his case with figures. Significantly, during the whole of his speech he did not adduce one authority to substantiate any statement that he made. It is obvious that the proposed reduction of charges will benefit the overseas shipowners in particular. Those shipowners have themselves admitted that their contracts will not expire until September. When these reductions take effect the overseas shipowners will benefit by no less than £130,000 on their existing contracts. In one bold stroke, therefore, they will gain that amount, on their existing contracts alone, as a result of the action of the Government.
The stevedoring industry is in a badly run-down condition as a result of neglect. Nobody has attempted to improve the position. In fact, this industry could be truly described as going from bad to worse. The shipowners have certainly made no attempt to improve its working standards and conditions. A report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board frankly and clearly set out that in a number of cases there has been reluctance, particularly on the part of the shipowners, to meet any responsible approach in this matter. This has led to the deterioration of conditions in the industry. The shipowners cannot escape their responsibility in this regard. When the question of providing suitable amenities for employees in the industry is raised there is always a conflict of authority or, to use the vernacular, an exhibition of “ passing the buck “. The result is always that the employees are no better off than they were before. That has been going on for years. The board’s report states that the trade union concerned has exercised creditable restraint in its approach to this problem, but that the men are fast reaching the stage when their patience is becoming exhausted, and that it is impossible to continue working under the present conditions. In fact, it has been stated in some quarters that if the same conditions applied in other industries they would be subject to State acts and the owners would be compelled to provide proper amenities for their employees. The board is the only authority that has made any attempt to have amenities provided for the employees. It has been so disgusted with the lack of co-operation from all authorities connected with the matter that it has stated in its latest report to the Parliament that if the union makes representations to the court the board will not hesitate to support the application.
I think that in debating a bill of this sort we should have a proper understanding of the industry, its background, the neglect to which it has been subjected, and the bad conditions under which workers in it have been compelled to work for years. We have now reached the stage at which the only authority which proposes to do anything in this matter is the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board itself and, of course, its contribution to a solution of the problem must be limited. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated that the board proposed to expend £300,000 to provide amenities for waterside workers. I do not know how it proposes to do that, because its income will be reduced by five-elevenths. That, of course, must involve a reduction of some kind of expenditure. Significantly, we find that the board stated in its report to this House that 71 per cent, of its income was expended on attendance money for waterside workers. It is also well to point out, because some people make a joke of attendance money, that the recipients of this form of remuneration are not allowed to participate in any unemployment benefits that are available to the general public. Although the board stated that 71 per cent, of its expenditure was in providing attendance money, it also stated that approximately £331,000 was expended on administration, and about £36,000 on the provision of amenities. This division of expenditure indicates that when the board’s income is reduced, the first item of expenditure to be pruned back will be the expenditure on benefits for employees. The Treasurer, when he introduced this measure, did not give a firm assurance about the reduction of expenditure in relation to employees, and consequently honorable members may well understand the disquiet that exists in the stevedoring industry.
The Government’s assertion that the measure will reduce costs is not borne out by facts. The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) accused honorable members on this side of the House of electioneering during the debate on this measure, but I believe that the measure itself and the stated views of the Government are merely electioneering tactics to convince certain people of the Government’s bona fides. I have proved conclusively that those who will benefit mostly from the reduction of expenditure are overseas shipping interests, and this Government cannot take any action to prevent that. To indicate that there is no doubt about the Government’s inability to deal with overseas shipping interests. I refer honorable members to a letter written by Senator McLeay on the 23rd October, 1953. to Senator Armstrong. The letter reads -
Yon will appreciate that it is particularly difficult to encourage any overall freight reduction on specific commodities, particularly as most of the shipping companies which comprise the eastern conferences are owned by overseas companies, and final decision on reductions of freight rates are made overseas and not in Australia.
That admission by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) indicates that all decisions relating to overseas freights are made outside Australia, and that proves conclusively that this Government is not prepared to accept its responsibility to the people, and has admitted its inability to do anything about overseas freights. These freights are most important to our shipping industry, because the voyages of overseas ships constitute about half of our total shipping activities. The overseas shipping combine has been severely criticized for its approach to Australian shipping problems, because it has established a state of affairs that has had a detrimental effect on our economy, particularly on our merchants who have been attempting to find overseas markets for their goods. Most honorable members are aware of the information that has been made available in recent months about the ridiculously high charges imposed by overseas shipping companies on Australian goods, in comparison with the freights on goods from other parts of the world. It is quite correct to say that as a result of the ramifications and the influence of the overseas shipping combine, Australian goods are being priced out of overseas markets.
I do not blame the overseas shipping combine for looking after its own and its allied interests, but it is the responsibility of everybody in public life in this country to ensure that our own Australian interests are not prejudiced by its actions. We have found recently that we are losing overseas markets, and that we are lagging hopelessly behind other countries in our international trade. We are finding that we are unable to compete in overseas markets close to us, particularly the eastern markets, because of the exorbitant freights imposed by the overseas shipping combine on Australia goods compared with the freights on the goods of other countries. The Government has stated that this bill will cause a reduction of freights. It is true that there has been a small reduction of interstate shipping freights, but the Government has not attempted to answer the charge that any action that it might take will have no effect on the rates and charges of overseas shipping companies. This country is vitally concerned with all such rates and charges, because if our industries are to expand we must find new markets and retain our old ones. If we are to be priced out of world markets because of the discriminating freights imposed on our goods, we shall suffer unemployment and all its attendant bad effects.
The approach of this Government to our overseas trade is typical of its approach to all important matters. It says that it wants to try to reduce freights, and when honorable members on this side of the House ask it to do something about overseas freights and charges it remains silent and does nothing. Perhaps we shall again see the sorry spectacle that we saw when the Government abolished entertainment taxes, when certain vested interests refused to make corresponding reductions of their charges. Surely the Government cannot, on the one hand, claim that it has reduced taxation, and on the other hand refuse to do anything to prevent its attempted taxation reductions from being frustrated by private interests. Whatever attempts the Government might make to reduce freights imposed by overseas shipping interests, it has made it clear through the Minister for Shipping and Transport that it is powerless to do anything in that regard.
I shall now refer to conditions under which waterside workers have to work. While the Chifley Government was in office, the conditions of waterside employment became a propaganda vehicle for members of the then Opposition. Not a day went by that they did not attempt to discredit the Chifley Government because of conditions on the waterfront. It is now interesting to remark that while there has been a certain improvement in the industry, the waterside workers still have not received the reward that their services should command.
The subject of costs seemed to be a very burning question for supporters of the Government when they were in opposition. They stated frequently that increased production would mean reduced costs, but that has not been so. They said that the slow turn-round of ships was one of the reasons for high shipping- costs, and they argued from day to day in this House that, if it was possible to reduce the number of days that ships spent in port and to increase the loading rate, freight charges would be reduced correspondingly. What has happened in this industry? In 1952 and 1953 the stay of ships in port was reduced in some instances by 50 per cent. I am using figures that have been taken from the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. If honorable members read that report, they will find that what I am saying in relation to the improved handling of cargoes in Australian ports has occurred. However, despite the fact that the waterside workers have made their attribution by turning ships round faster, costs have not been reduced but they are higher to-day than they have ever been. The Government proposes to reduce freight charges. The vital problem is in relation to overseas shipping, which represents 50 per cent, of shipping in Australian ports, but the Government has run away from that problem and Australia again is completely at the mercy of the overseas shipping combine.
– What powers does the honorable member suggest the Government possesses in order to deal with overseas shipping rates?
– It is not a question of the powers of the Government. It is a question of the Government’s responsibility, if it makes a promise or submits a programme, to make sure that it is in a position to honour that promise or implement that programme. It is of no use to us for the Minister to state that the Government has a programme for reducing freights when, on its own admission, it is not in a position to implement the programme. I have proved conclusively to the House that the Government is not in a position to implement the programme and that it is not willing to curb the power, interest and influence of the overseas shipping combine. As I pointed out earlier, the attitude of the overseas shipping combine proved to be too much for even the Sydney Morning Herald. That newspaper published a special leader in which it condemned the attitude of Mr. Graham, the spokesman of the overseas shipping combine in this country, when he attempted to justify its attitude on this important matter. The attitude of the Government is very important because, as I stated earlier, it affects the whole economy of Australia. Australia must obtain markets, because upon theobtaining of markets depends the continuance and expansion of our own industries and the maintenance of employment. If Australia is being priced out of overseas markets - and we are being priced out of many overseas markets because of the exorbitant and differential freight rates that are being imposed upon our commodities - it is the responsibility of the Government to safeguard our industries and to take steps to protect them. It is obvious that the overseas shipping combine does not operate in the interests of this country. I do not object to its operating in the interests of the countries that it represents, but, when it is obvious that the operations of the combine are detrimental to Australia, the Government should shoulder its responsibilities and state quite frankly and definitely that it is not going to allow the industries and the future of this country to be prejudiced.
The Opposition has stated clearly its attitude towards the bill now before the House. Because of the fear of employees that a reduction of freight charges would result in the curtailment of the amenity programme that has been planned by the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, the Government should prove that it will be able to give effect to the proposal. If Australia wishes to compete in overseas markets, it cannot have a combine operating against it in any way in which the overseas shipping combine has operated in the past. The condition of the industry is such that no man will attempt to defend it. Just when the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board is about to implement a programme that will give some measure of relief to the employees in the stevedoring industry, this measure, which will reduce the income of the board by approximately five-elevenths is introduced. It is not surprising that, because of the lack of assurances by the Government, the employees should think that the reduction in expenditure would react against themselves. This industry has been neglected. It is a disgrace to any country and it does not reflect any credit upon those people who, over the years, have allowed it to get into its present condition. The Opposition wants a definite assurance from the Government that the proposed reduction in freight charges will he for the benefit of Australia, that the Government is not electioneering in relation to this matter, that it will take steps to ensure that the proposed charges shall have overall effectiveness, and that it will do something to curb the activities of the overseas shipping combine. The Opposition asks the Government to give an assurance that any reduction of income to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board will not affect the provision of amenities and that it will h no way act to the detriment of the employees.
4.9] . - The measure now before the House is a simple measure which has been designed for a comparatively simple purpose. It is proposed to reduce the rate of hourly charge that is levied upon the wages of waterside workers in order to finance the operations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, the payment of attendance money to waterside workers, and the provision of amenities for waterside workers. On other occasions it has been found necessary, in accordance with the financial obligations of the board, to reduce or increase the charge that has been levied and that course has been followed in this instance. Some time ago when, because of import restrictions and a falling off of overseas traffic in particular, there was less work available on the wharfs and it was necessary to pay more attendance money, it was found necessary to increase the charge. As conditions altered as a result of the relaxation of import restrictions, the stepping up of shipping from overseas and the necessity to make smaller attendance money payments, the finances of the board improved and it became practicable to make the reductions that are contemplated in this measure. That, briefly, is the nature of this legislation.
The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has sought to make the whole question of freights a vehicle of political propaganda and to use it for an attack upon the Government in relation to its handling of shipping matters. I think that I should say something in reply, because the right honorable gentleman and, to some degree, the honorable member for Martin (Mr. O’Connor) gave the House a very unbalanced presentation of the position. I do not think there can be much argument in relation to our views on freight rates as they operate on interstate and overseas services. The Government regards those rates as being unduly high and thinks that there is scope, if all sections of the industry pull their weight, for some useful reduction of freight rates. That appears to be the view of the Opposition; it certainly is the view of the Government. I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Martin that there is room for considerable improvement in efficiency. The stevedoring industry, as it has been well described by one of the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, is a turbulent industry. Its whole history has been one of turbulence, but I do not suggest that the fault lies on one side. After a long experience in industrial matters, I have discovered that where industrial relations are chronically bad in any establishment or in any industry, the fault cannot be placed on only one section of that industry. I offer it as a criticism which I think can be directed fairly against the employers in this industry, that I do not know of any other industry in which the provision of amenities is less satisfactory or in which there is les3 co-operation between the management and those who work at the lower levels. At the same time, it is generally recognized by members of the Parliament that much of the turbulence that exists within the “Waterside Workers Federation under its present Communist leadership has not a general industrial basis but is motivated very strongly from time to time by the political objectives of the Communist party as they are expressed through its members who lead some sections of the federation. But, I take it that the House does not desire to spend a great deal of time considering details of that character. I prefer to come to grips with the particular aspects with which the
Lend or of the Opposition dealt. Both the Opposition and the Government can start from what appears to be common ground, namely, that this is a turbulent industry and that there is great room for improvement in the industrial relations that obtain in it. I believe that there is also considerable room for improvement on the managerial and operational side of this industry. The Government, doing what it can on its own resources and through the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, is endeavouring to bring about, improvements;. I welcome the tribute paid by the honorable member for Martin intentionally or otherwise, that a very noticeable improvement has taken place in the industry during the term of office of this Government in respect of both the turn-round of ships and the rate of handling of cargoes on the wharfs. I shall give details in that respect later.
The Leader of the Opposition pointed an accusing finger at the Government and said that freight rates had shot up enormously and were unduly high. They may be unduly high, but let nobody get the impression that that process has taken place, or has been exaggerated, during the term of office of this Government. The very sharp increase of freight rates occurred when Labour was in office.
Mr. Duthie interjecting ,
– I shall give the relevant figures, and the honorable member can take what change he likes from them. For the purpose of convenience I shall r-ite the figures in respect of Melbourne and Sydney, but they reflect the general position. The freight rate immediately prior to the war was 20s. a ton on general cargo, and by the 14th June, 1949. when the last adjustment was made prior to this Government taking office, it had increased to 82s. a ton, an increase of 310 per cent, during the term of office of the Labour Government. It is true that following the sharp increases of prices, caused by factors which have been debated in this chamber from time to time, and as a result of the inflationary spiral in recent years which, however, was already in motion when this Government assumed office, freight charges have increased from S2s. a tons to 131s. Gd. a ton, which rate will apply following the shipping companies’ recent announcement. However, that increase in total is smaller than the increase that occurred during the term of office of the Labour Government and, in proportion to the rate that previously obtained, it is an increase of only 60 per cent, compared with an increase of 310 per cent, that occurred during the period of office of honorable members opposite.
I propose to give to the House figures that show the improvement that this Government has been able to influence by its policies. I shall not go back beyond 1951. I think that the figures in respect of that year and subsequent years will be sufficient to indicate the improvement that has since transpired. Dealing first with the port of Sydney, in 1951 cargo handled averaged 313 tons a day and the average number of days that vessels spent in port was 10.3, whereas the figures for late 1953 were 446 tons and 5.1 days respectively. That is a very useful improvement. The corresponding figures in respect of overseas ships fluctuated rather more noticeably, but here again there was a worth-while improvement. In 1951, an average of 262 tons was handled each day and overseas vessels spent on the average 11.3 days in port. By early 1953, the average number of tons handled had increased to 326 and the average number of days spent by vessels in port had decreased to 7.6. By late 1953, owing to the larger cargoes being handled, the average number of days spent by vessels in port had increased ; but the important point is that at the same time the average number of tons handled each day had increased to 393, which was precisely 50 per cent, more than the average number of tons handled daily in 1951.
I shall now give the figures with respect to the Port of Melbourne which reflect an equally impressive picture. The average tonnage of interstate cargoes handled daily increased from 332 tons in 1951 to 478 tons by late 1953; and during the same period the average number of days spent by vessels in port decreased from 11.4 to 6 days, while the average tonnage of overseas cargoes handled daily increased from 276 tons in 1951 to 459 tons by late 1953. During the same period, the average number of days spent by vessels in port was reduced from 15.7 to 5.3 days. Those figures reflect the best improvement to be effected in any port in Australia. In respect of the discharging rate, an examination of the figures which are published in the annual report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board show3 that in Melbourne and Sydney, in respect of both overseas and interstate cargoes, there was a very useful improvement.
I should now like to give to the House some figures which, whilst they may be difficult to memorize, can usefully be placed on record. They deal with the number of man-hours lost through industrial disputes on the waterfront during the last three years. Here again, I do not claim that the present position is entirely satisfactory. It is far from being so. The industry still remains turbulent. Perhaps, a greater proportion of time is lost through industrial disputes on the waterfront than in any other industry with the exception of the coalmining industry. However, the Government can claim at least that there has been a worth-while improvement. Whereas in 1950-51, 2,201,000 man-hours were lost on the waterfront throughout Australia, that figure had been reduced to 1,883,000 in 1951-52. In 1952-53, the figure had been still further reduced to 1,066,000, or rather less than half the total man-hours lost in 1950-51 in Australian ports as a whole.
Worth-while improvement had also been effected in the turn-round of ships. Delays that have occurred during the last three years numbered 227 in 1951, 137 in 1952 and 114 in 1953, whilst the figures in relation to ship-days lost were 2,382 in 1951, 891 in 1952 and 51.5 in 1953. The average days lost in respect of each ship decreased from 10.5 in 1951, to 6.5 in 1952 and to 4.5 in 1953. Whatever criticism honorable members opposite may care to direct against the Government, those figures indicate that a steady improvement has been effected on the waterfront and in shipping activities in this country. One would have hoped that as a result of such improvement some useful reductions of freight rates would have taken place. On this point I shall deal with another aspect of the matter in order to get some guidance as to what it is practicable for the shipping companies to do in that direction. I have already indicated that I hold no particular brief for those companies. They are capable of speaking and acting for themselves. But we have some experience to guide us in the activities of the line of ships that is operated by the Australian Shipping Board. I trust that the memories of honorable members opposite will be sufficiently fresh to enable them to recall their own experience in this field when they were in office, because, although, at that time, those vessels operated on the same freight rates as those charged by private shipping companies and although, as I have pointed out, freight rates had increased markedly during Labour’s term of office, at no stage was Labour able to conduct the operations of the Australian Shipping Board on a profitable basis when charges, which might reasonably be levied against the board’s finances, were taken into account. During the last full year in which Labour was in office, that is the year ended the 30th June, 1949, the losses incurred by the Australian Shipping Board, after charging interest on capital at the rate of 4 per cent., amounted to over £2,000,000; and those losses exceeded £6,000,000 for the three financial years ended as at that date. The operations of the board under the general supervision of the Labour Government resulted in an accumulated loss of over £6,000,000 during a period of three years, when interest on capital was charged at the rate of 4 per cent. As a result of the improvement in efficiency that the Government has effected, a very interesting record has been achieved also in this sphere. As at the 31st March, 1953, the Australian Shipping Board owned 34 vessels and operated four vessels under charter. During that year it made a gross profit of £630,000”. After providing for payment of interest at the rate of 4 per cent, on the total value of the fleet, there remained a net surplus of £275,000, of which sum the chartered ships were responsible for £210,000, leaving a net profit of £65,000. I do not know whether honorable members opposite claim that the Commonwealth line of ships is being run inefficiently. I have not heard them make that suggestion at any time. In fact, they have repeatedly argued that the Government should not dispose of the line because it acts as a check on freight rates charged by private shipping companies. The fact is that the Commonwealth line, operating on precisely the same freight rates as those charged by private shipping companies, and after allowing interest at the rate of 4 per cent, on capital, showed a net surplus of only £65,000. Speaking subject to correction, I think that the capital book value of the vessels controlled by the line is £8,000,000. Most honorable members will agree that a net profit of £65,000 in respect of that capital outlay is not a very great margin and that, in such circumstances, substantial economies or reductions of freight rates are not practicable. Is it now argued that private shipping companies operate much more efficiently and make a much greater profit than does the Australian Shipping Board ? That case has not yet been established by any honorable member opposite who has yet spoken in this debate. The great proportion of cargo that is carried by vessels that are under the administration of the Australian Shipping Board is not generaly realized. Those ships carried in the year under review 3,318,000 tons of cargo, or 36 per cent, of the total cargo transported interstate by sea. I think that our own ships were operated efficiently, because I believe that the House will agree that Mr. Dewey has done a good job since he has been associated with this work. However, if we put to one side the provision which should be made to pay a low rate of interest on the capital invested, a surplus of only £65,000 becomes available for some economy or reduction of freight rates.
Having said that, I turn for a few minutes to the special situation of Tasmania. That subject has loomed large in comments made by honorable members opposite, and has been developed by the Leader of the Opposition in this debate. The right honorable gentleman has rightly pointed out the importance of interstate freight rates to an island such as Tasmania, which has to import so many of the commodities required for its economy, and export its primary products and manufactures. The Government recognizes that position. I assure honorable members on both sides of the House that we have been concerned and active at all times to do anything we can to assist with this special problem. I should like to be able to think that the Tasmanian Government had been equally active and effective. I shall cite a few instances to show that we, at least, have done what we can to improve the position. The figures which I have already revealed to the House show improvements that we have brought about, when we have been able to take a direct line in dealing with problems that have come within our purview. There has been no comparable evidence of activity on the part of the Tasmanian Government
– That is ridiculous.
– I am sure that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) is disposed to echo the comment of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua). I shall cite an instance to illustrate what I mean. It is true, as I have already stressed, that there is more industrial trouble in the waterfront industry than in most other industries. The average working time lost through industrial disputes in this section of industry is 3 per cent., which is a high figure when compared with the statistics for industry as a whole. The industrial position throughout Australia has improved during this Government’s term of office. Less than one-half of one working day a year is lost through industrial disputes over the whole field of Australian industry. That is a matter for which this Government can rightly take some credit. However, working time lost on the waterfront through industrial disputes is 3 per cent. I am sure that the honorable, member for Wilmot considers that this figure is too high, but I should like him to know that working time lost in Hobart through that cause is 8 per cent. No other capital port in the Commonwealth has such a high percentage. The loss at Launceston is 6 per cent., and at Devonport, in excess of 6 per cent. That position obtains in Tasmania at the present time.
Towards the end of last year, I made a special visit to Tasmania so that I could speak with union officials, and go ro the wharfs. Arising out of that visit, I. emphasized that the Tasmanian economy was dependent to a greater degree on freight rates than was the economy of any other State, and that more than twice the amount of working time was lost in Tasmania through industrial trouble than was lost in any other State. 1 said that I thought that it behoved the waterside workers, in fairness to their fellow trade unionists, whose living costs were affected by freight rates, to give a better deal. I emphasized that their fellow citizens were suffering, through the pocket, as the result of the indiscipline and unsatisfactory conduct of the branches of the Waterside Workers Federation in Tasmania.
Following my visit, I wrote direct to the Premier of Tasmania. I pointed out those matters to him, and stressed the importance of a better work performance. 1 asked him whether he and his colleagues would use the personal and political influence that they could exert upon the trades hall, and through it, upon sections of the federation, to get a better performance. Can the honorable In em.ber for Wilmot tell me what was done following my appeal?
There is another matter. The Premier of Tasmania made a lot of capital, through the press, of his discussions with Dutch shipping interests. He said that Dutch shipowners had manifested an interest in conducting shipping services between Tasmania and the mainland. In fact, he painted for the people of his State quite an interesting picture of the prospects. He wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to ascertain whether the Commonwealth would concur in such an arrangement. The Prime Minister replied on the 14th December, 1953, as follows : - (f, after examination, you feel that the Du toll shipping interests have taken into their calculation the conditions which have been prescribed in the Navigation Act for overseas ships entering into the coastal trade of Australia and you are also of the opinion that your suggestion would not prejudice the employment of Australian seamen, then you might feel disposed to suggest to the Dutch shipowners concerned that they should apply for licences to outer the interstate trade.
The letter in a later passage stated -
My government has given consideration to this proposal and has noted that subject to compliance by the Dutch interests with the provisions of the Navigation Act, there would be nothing to prevent the issue of a licence for trading on the Australian coast.
I do not know whether the Premier obtained useful results from the publicity that he gained from his announcement, but what has been done in a practical way to improve the position of the people of Tasmania?
I also recall the efforts that the Commonwealth was making in December, 1952, to facilitate the shipment of the Tasmanian apple crop. This is a seasonal problem in Tasmania every year, yet no action had been taken by the Government of that State, either by itself or in co-operation with shipping interests, to provide the temporary accommodation required every year for the additional waterside workers who are engaged to load the fruit. In December, 1952, I attended a conference of representatives of shipowners, the Australian Apple and Pear Board, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, the Waterside Workers Federation and the Tasmanian Government. On behalf of the Commonwealth, I offered to have a hostel established at the Hobart showgrounds. It was to be fully equipped and operated throughout the export season. We received very little encouragement or co-operation from the Tasmanian Government in that matter. At first, the State Government insisted that the whole cost should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth, although we were trying in a practical way to be of some assistance to that State and the apple-growing industry. Finally, we were told that the Tasmanian Government was prepared to provide only £3,000 of the £4,500 that was estimated to be necessary for the work, although the cost to the Commonwealth of equipping and operating the hostel for the waterside workers would have been considerably more than that sum.
I shall cite another illustration. One of the shipping interests which operate between the mainland and Tasmania informed this Government that if the branches of the Waterside Workers Federation in that State would agree to a twilight shift, the company would take action to reduce freight rates by £1 a ton. Such a reduction would have been most useful, and I thought that it would be welcomed by the Government and the people of Tasmania. I have not the precise details of the subsequent developments, but my information is that the proposal was quashed by the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, although members of that organization in Tasmania were prepared to fall in with the arrangement. I am not aware that the Tasmanian Government made representations direct or through the Australian Council of Trades Unions or any other source, to remedy that position.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– The purpose of this bill is to reduce the stevedoring industry charge from lid. to 6d. a man-hour. The charge is payable by shipowners to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, and from the collections, attendance money is paid to waterside workers when employment is not offering. Any visitor to the House, who listened to the speech of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), could have been excused for thinking that the charge was levied only for that purpose. Neither the Minister nor the honorable member for Evans (Mt. Osborne) mentioned that in 1951, the Government engaged Mr. Basten, an overseas shipping expert to inquire into waterfront conditions in Australian ports. Every person in Australia at that time was hoping that the expert’s recommendations would be given effect, and that the shipping industry would function smoothly in future. The Government invariably blames the Waterside Workers Federation for shipping delays, and the slow turn-round of ships, and was considerably dismayed when the expert reported that our harbour facilities were 20 or 30 years behind the times. The Government then began to realize that something was fundamentally wrong in our ports, and promised to provide amenities for waterside workers.
The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has submitted an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill, and in effect, asks the Government to issue a report upon the progress that has been made with the provision of those amenities. The Minister has announced to-day that the amendment is not acceptable to the Government. Before a. division is taken on the amendment, I should like to read to the House some of the functions of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. They are as follows : - [a) To regulate and control the performance of stevedoring operations . . . ;
to develop, or (subject to the approval of the Treasurer) to make advances to port authorities for the development of port facilities . . . ;
If the Government could show that all those amenities had been provided for waterside workers, perhaps it would be reasonable to ask the Parliament to agree to the reduction of the stevedoring industry charge. The charge should not be reduced until proper amenities are provided for these men, who work both during the day and at night. Men in my electorate, for example, who work on the wharfs at Pyrmont, Miller’s Point and Woolloomooloo, have to go at least a mile in order to reach a shop where they can obtain food. If the Government can prove to me that adequate amenities are provided at the wharfs for such men, and that the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board still has plenty of funds available, I may agree to consider its proposal to reduce the levy. However, waterside workers still remain badly in need of amenities. The Government has set aside £300,000 with which to overcome the deficiency, but it is of no use to set aside funds unless the work is done.
Waterside workers have a right to be employed under decent conditions. It is not astonishing that the honorable member for Evans, who is a member of a legal firm which is represented in court day after day on behalf of shipowners, should come to their rescue in this House. The honorable gentleman said not one word about the working conditions of waterside labourers or of their need for decent amenities. He spoke entirely from the point of view of the shipowners. The shipping companies are not poverty stricken. For the year ended the 31st March, 1953, Burns Philp and Company Limited made a profit of £350,000. ‘ Yet I have heard Government supporters shedding crocodile tears for the company because, they say, it is going broke and may not be able to carry on .’ I well recall how the company treated the residents of Lord Howe Island in my electorate last year. A delegation of residents came to Canberra to interview Ministers because Burns Philp and Company Limited had refused to continue its service to the island, although it charged £10 a ton to carry freight the 400 miles from Sydney whilst its charge from Sydney to Melbourne was only about £5 10s. a ton. The company told the islanders point blank that, after Christmas 1953, there would be no shipping service at any price. As the residents of the island were expecting over 200 visitors at the Christmas season, they were at their wit’s end to know what to do. Finally they decided that a delegation should come all the way to Canberra to see members of the Government. I accompanied one deputation to a Minister, who asked his visitors, “You don’t think the company would be silly enough to run a service to the island at a loss ? “. The fact that a shipping company can deprive the workers of what they are justly entitled to claim and can discontinue a vital service to an island with a permanent population of 200 and a visiting population of an approximately equal number, takes much of the force from the arguments adduced by the Minister for Labour and National Service. For the year 1952-53, the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited made a profit of £128,000. Over the same period, the Melbourne Steamship Company Limited made a profit of £41,000, and Huddart Parker Limited made a profit of £122,000.
– What are the capital assets of those companies?
– The honorable member wants the shipping companies to have all the privileges regardless of the welfare of the men who work on the waterfront.
– That is not true.
– It is true, and the honorable member will know on the 29th May that it is true. I have here a copy of a letter written on the 22nd January last by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) in which the honorable senator asked shipping companies to reduce their fares. He said in that letter that the cost of shipping was entirely out of proportion to reasonable charges. However, only a few days later, the Melbourne Age reported a request by the shipowners to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board for a reduction of the number of waterside workers in order to decrease the expense of attendance money. That is the sort of agitation that led to the introduction of the bill now before the House.
The Minister for Labour and National Service and other honorable gentlemen on the Government side of the House have said that this is a political issue. Well, any party political issues that have intruded into the debate have been raised by the Government and its supporters. Nobody on the Government side of the House has mentioned the report of the expert whom the Government brought to Australia to investigate waterfront working conditions. This expert recommended the installation of amenities at ports throughout Australia, but his recommendation has been ignored. Because there is full employment on the waterfront, the Government has taken the opportunity to declare that the revenue collected from the stevedoring industry charge of lid. a man-hour is excessive. It has said- that the only way to provide for a reduction of freight charges is to reduce this levy. The reduction, of course, is to be made at the expense of the waterside workers. We read in the newspapers from time to time that wharf labourers are leaving the industry. How can the Government expect them to continue in the industry if it does not provide proper amenities for them? Waterside workers often leave the industry when they can obtain other employment. In 1952, when the payment of attendance money was needed to retain men in the industry, there was no talk by Government supporters about the stevedoring industry charge being too high. I warn the Government that a similar situation may arise again. It should accept the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition and call a round-table conference to consider how much progress has been made with the programme for the provision of amenities on the waterfront. The Government and its supporters have called those good men who work on the waterfront by all sorts of unpleasant names in the past. They have accused waterside workers of being Communists and supporters of Soviet Russia, and now, when the shipping industry is operating smoothly, they propose to. pursue a policy that the men probably will not tolerate. I appeal to the Government to accept the amendment and give the whole community a better deal. It should postpone consideration of the bill at once and give attention instead to the need for amenities in all Australian ports.
The Government must realize that it has not done the job that it should do in the ports. It has set a§ide the report and recommendations of the English expert, who informed it that Australian shipping facilities were 30 years behind the times, and it has not bothered to tell the House whether or not any port improvements have been effected. In other words, it has not even attempted to justify its proposal to reduce the stevedoring industry charge. Therefore I appeal to it, on behalf of the shipping industry and the Australian people, not to run wild by reducing the levy, because money is badly needed in order to provide fair and decent conditions for men who have to work on Saturday and Sunday as well as every other day of the week.
Mr. GEORGE LAWSON (Brisbane) “ 4.53]. - I make my attitude to the Government’s proposal for the reduction of the stevedoring industry charge from lid. to 6d. a man-hour perfectly clear at the outset. I wholeheartedly support the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) because I believe it to be strictly in accordance with the spirit of the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act. Everything contained in the amendment is provided for in the act. The Leader of the Opposition has asked the Government to appoint a committee to investigate conditions in our ports before its permits any reduction of the stevedoring industry charge. This levy was instituted by the former Labour Government in order to finance the payment of attendance money to waterside workers and the provision of certain amenities in Australian ports. The levy, when it was introduced in 1947, was at the rate, of 4½d. a man-hour. The rate was reduced to 2-Jd- in 1949, but increased again to 4d. in 1951. Eventually, in 1952, it was raised to the present level. The bill now before the House provides that the levy shall be reduced to 6d. a man-hour. The Opposition would not object to the proposed reduction if the revenue available at the lower rate were sufficient to fulfil the purposes of the original Stevedoring Industry Charge Act. However, I cannot understand how the Government hopes to continue the payment of attendance money to waterside workers and to provide much-needed amenities for the men with the reduced income that would be received from a levy of 6d. a man-hour. I have visited all the wharfs in the Brisbane electorate at various times over a long period of years, and I am well acquainted with the conditions under which waterside workers are employed. Those conditions are shocking. It is true that, since the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act was passed by this Parliament in 1947, the ship-owners have attempted to improve certain amenities on the wharfs. Nevertheless, conditions on wharfs throughout Australia are still deplorable.
The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has described this as a simple little bill. It may appear to be a simple measure, but its ramifications will be widespread and it will not benefit the people whose interests the original act was intended to protect. I am convinced that the bill will merely serve to advance the interests of shipowners instead of those of the waterside workers. I acknowledge the fact that many improvements have been made to our ports during the last two or three years, but many amenities are still needed. The Government has claimed that the enactment of this measure will lead to a reduction of freight charges. I am sure that everybody in Australia agrees that such reductions are desirable, but, for the life of me, I fail to see how charges can be reduced if adequate attendance money is to be paid to members of the Waterside Workers Federation and if decent amenities are to be provided for them. The latest report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board is an interesting and illuminating document, as was the report of Mr. Basten, the expert who was brought to Australia by this Government to make a thorough inspection of our ports. The board’s report shows that attention should be directed to the provision of improved amenities on the waterfront, which are long overdue, instead of a reduction of the levy. In a reference to the sugar ports the chairman says in his letter to the Minister for Labour and National Service which accompanies the report -
Whatever the advances made elsewhere, however, no appreciable improvements were made in organization or rates of work in the sugar ports. You will remember that when increased labour forces for sugar ports were ordered by the board early in 1 953, we obtained assurances from employers that organization would be improved and that more and better supervision would be provided. The assurances have not materialized. It has been demonstrated in other ports that better results are achieved when organization and supervision are improved, and it is impossible to understand why these fundamentals are neglected in the ports which have the important task each year of despatching the sugar output.
Frequently we hear complaints about the waterside workers and their handling of sugar cargoes in these ports. The chairman’s report shows that the slow turnround of sugar ships is the fault not of the waterside workers, but of the employers because of their failure to provide necessary amenities and to honour the promises they made to the Australian Shipping Board and the Minister. The chairman states further -
It is characteristic of the stevedoring industry that the more active the board is, the more local opposition it encounters. Many shipowners have set themselves against the board and have succeeded in rallying the support of some allied commercial organizations.
So it is easy to see that because the shipowners know that the board was established in the interests of the employees in particular and to improve the general working of the ports, they have decided to do everything possible to hamper the board’s work. The report continues -
In those quarters, “ abolish the Board “ has been adopted as a slogan . .
The shipowners also ignore, whenever possible, all the instructions given by the board regarding the provision of amenities. The report gives a long list of amenities, which I shall not weary the House by reading, and states, in paragraph 3 . of the section headed “ Amenities “ -
There was also a wide belief that a garden tap, plugged into a water pipe on a shed wall, constituted a satisfactory washing facility. The fact that little else had ever existed on many_ wharfs may explain the genuine surprise of some managers when it was suggested that something better whs required.
Conditions on the waterfront would not be tolerated in any other industry. Paragraph 4 of the same section of the report says -
For example, in some ports employers supply no special facilities for tea making, but insist that waterside workers should get hot water from the galley of the ship on which they work. This is much more than a point of principle: it neither breathes nor breeds fairness in the industrial relationship that waterside workers - who have been employed at the wharf for as long as ships have called ami will continue to be employed there - should be denied permanent and satisfactory facilities. The indifference by some employers to waterside workers’ first-aid requirements derives from the same perplexing attitude. In last year’s report the board observed that … in many cases first-aid facilities consist of a dust-covered box of soiled bandage and rusted pincers, hidden away in some remote corner “. It is sufficient to say that, in the event of accidents, the very use of some of these kits would have invited infection.
As I said earlier, I cannot see how the board will obtain sufficient revenue to enable the provision of extra amenities that are required if the levy is reduced. I have made it my business to visit the wharfs and see for myself the conditions that prevail there. They are deplorable. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. O’Connor) dealt with the actual revenue of the board. Page 27 of the report shows that when the levy stood at lid. a man-hour last year the total revenue of the board was £1,143,850, which was derived by States, as follows .-New South Wales, £357,627 ; Victoria, £255,052; Queensland, £202,575; South Australia, £144,908; Western Australia, £101,221; Tasmania, £76,679; Northern Territory, £5,788.
The total expenditure for the same period was £1,185,042. If the levy is reduced, from where is to be derived the revenue for the payment of attendance money and the provision of amenities, which must be provided if watersiders are to work under conditions equal to those in other industries? Attendance money during the period covered by the board’s report increased considerably because of slack periods on the waterfront. T wish to be assured that the reduction of the levy will not affect the availability of revenue to pay attendance money and to provide amenities. As honorable members on this side of the House have pointed out, the main benefit of this legislation will be enjoyed by the overseas shipowners. I listened with interest to the statements of the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne). His whole speech consisted of advocacy for increased freights, or at least for a. retention of the present freight rates, particularly for overseas cargoes. I say sincerely that, instead of the arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members on this side of the chamber having been’ propaganda, the bill itself is propaganda. It is a sop to all shipping companies, particularly overseas shipping companies, on the eve of the general election. The overseas shipping companies have stated definitely that their freight rates cannot he altered until next September. Between now and September they will receive £130,000 as their share of the benefits to be provided by this legislation. That huge sum will, in effect, be handed over to the overseas shipping companies before they can even attempt to make any reduction of freight rates. For these reasons I believe the amendment should be accepted by the
Parliament, and, in order, first, to guarantee that the amenities that have been promised, and are long overdue, will be provided ; and, secondly, to ensure that the fund for the payment of attendance money in slack periods on the waterfront will be maintained.
– I -found the remarks of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) interesting. First, he told us that some time ago the waterfront industry was one of the most turbulent industries in this country. He then spoke of the improvements that had been made, and introduced the subject of man-hours and the length of time that ships spend in port. He cited the big improvement which, he claimed, had taken place since the Government took office. At least one of his comparisons was unfair. He said that the freight rate between Sydney and Melbourne, which, before the war, was 20s. a ton, had risen, during the regime of the Chifley Government, to, I think, S2s. a ton or an increase of 310 per cent. Then he indicated the general nature of the amended freights if this bill should become law, and said that under the proposed new rates the increase on the rate of S2s. a ton would be about 60 per cent. I suggest that we are not so much interested in the percentage reductions as in the actual sum by which present freights will be reduced. If honorable members calculate the proposed reductions they will find that they are not as great as might be expected. The Minister mentioned certain rates that prevailed during the regime of the Chifley Government, and compared them with rates during this Government’s administration. I point out to him that the figures that he cited in relation to the Chifley Government were for a period of nine or ten years, but that the figures cited in respect of activities under this Government’s administration were for a period of only four years. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister’s comparison was hardly fair.
We do not want turbulence on the waterfront, but both students of economics and the Government have indicated that doubtful economic conditions may be ahead of us. Soon after this Government assumed office its supporters complained bitterly about the waterside workers’ refusal to increase the membership of their union. They said that the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia was hundreds below strength, and that the ports could hot function properly unless its membership were increased. I stated at that time that should there be a recession the waterside workers would be among the first to feel the effects of difficult times. The Minister really supported what I said at the time the Government was complaining about the waterside workers, when he recently stated that during the recession on the waterfront caused by import restrictions, the levy had to be increased from 6d. to Hd. a man-hour to meet the needs of the board and to provide some amenities for the workers. I suggest that in the future it may be necessary to adjust the levy again to provide for further increased payments of attendance money. We have only to consider the latest reports of the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Barley Board, as well as the statements of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), to realize that the Australian Government has not made sufficient money available to the States to increase our storage capacity for wheat and harley, and that in the near future it is likely that we shall not be able to ship those cereals in the quantities that we have shipped in the past. If that position should arise, fewer ships will call at Australian ports and fewer men will be required to load them. That decline in shipping activity will consequently have a bad effect on the waterside workers in general.
Only a week or so ago about 100 men were added to the waterfront labour force in Port Adelaide to meet the needs of shipping, but a few weeks before that there were only enough ships there to employ a small number of the available workers. Therefore, I suggest that the Government, by introducing this measure, is giving the waterside workers just cause to feaT the future. The Minister said to-day that very little had been done for waterside workers for many years. I have been connected with the waterfront since I was a boy. I remember going with my brother-in-law to his work on the wharfs 50 years ago. He had to leave his home at 5.30 in the morning, and the Customs House was the only shelter from the weather that he had while waiting for unemployment on the wharfs. There was no provision at all in the way of amenities except a garden tap fitted against a shed, where the men were allowed to wash after the day’s work. That state of affairs continued until World War II., when the waterside workers began to get some amenities. Those amenities were not provided through the levy that we are now discussing, but were given by the Chifley Government in an attempt to improve the conditions of waterside workers. If honorable members could visit the wharfs and watch the men working on the ships they would see that even now there are very few amenities for them. If the big cargo sheds are locked, there is very little other shelter from the rain for the men on the wharfs. Moreover, there are few canteen services. The Chifley Government introduced canteens, and considerably improved the conditions on the wharfs, but they are still not comparable with the amenities provided in other industries.
I have visited the great majority of the industries in my electorate, and I have discovered that the amenities that they provide for their employees are quite good. One large concern in South Australia not only has an excellent canteen for its employees, but it also has a retail store within its precincts. A big city firm sends some of its employees to serve in that store during the lunch hour of the factory workers, so that they may save their own private time by obtaining the goods that they require at their work. The administrators of that concern consider that actions of this kind tend to foster good feeling between the employees and the management. The statement made by the Minister to-day, that the distance between the executive heads of the shipping companies and the men on that job is too great, is unfortunately quite true. However, I disagree with his charge that the waterside workers are dominated by Communist leaders. I say quite definitely that these men are not led by Communists. For years the whole of the executive of the Port Adelaide branch of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia has been non-Communist. In all that time, only one member of the executive has been a Communist. Howover, that branch held an authorized stopwork meeting on the 6th April, and its president sent a letter to me in which lie said that his members had adopted the following resolution : -
We. the members of the Port Adelaide Branch >f the Waterside Workers Federation, view with very great concern the action of the Menzies-Fadden Government in making a reduction from lid. to Od. in the hourly rate of the levy placed on the employers of waterfront labour and we condemn the handing back to shipping monopolies some hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I think that the sum involved is about £750,000. The letter continued-
It is our opinion that this Government has acted once again solely in the interest of shipping companies, and by so doing has deprived the members of the Federation of any benefits from this money such as pensions and amenities which we consider are justified and very long overdue.
We have heard it said that waterside workers are now seeking pensions for nothing. These men want to be put on the same basis for pensions as the coal-miners and men in other industries, who receive pensions at a certain retiring age. There may not be much, prospect at the moment that they will be granted pensions, but they consider that if the fund which is designed to provide amenities is to be whittled away, as this Government contemplates whittling it away, there will be no chance at all of them ever getting these pensions that they seek so earnestly. I do not believe that any honorable member on the Government side wants to cause trouble on the waterfront. I believe that all those who have spoken were sincere when they said that the measure is designed to reduce freights. However, the Minister has admitted that this Government cannot reduce freights charged by overseas shipping companies, although it believes that it can reduce freight rates between Melbourne and Sydney by ls. lOd. or 2s. a ton. But are we to attempt to make such a, saving at the expense of the men and put them in a position where they may believe that once again nobody is interested in them? If the Minister says that the Waterside
Workers Federation of Australia is Communist controlled, surely the workers are entitled to say that the shipping companies and the stevedoring companies are capitalist controlled?
I fully agree with the Minister that those at the top of the ladder and those at the bottom should be drawn closer together. I do not say that every waterside worker is a saint, and that none of them would ever idle away his time, but I do say that there are idlers in every industry, even in the Public Service. Much has been made about waterside workers wanting time off for a cup of tea, but honorable members have only to go round government departments to find out how much time is lost through morn-‘ ing tea and afternoon tea. It may be said that these officers make up the time afterwards, but in any event, while tea is being taken work stops. The waterside workers know all these things go on, and they believe that they are entitled to similar amenities. Now may I enlarge-
– You already have.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was not in the House to hear what I had to say previously.
– I heard the honorable member from outside the House.
– Well, that is not my fault. Some years ago I was a member of a rather important committee. We were discussing superannuation for men on high salaries. A member of the committee, who was the head of one of the biggest Adelaide business concerns, said, “ In industry we put so much away each year to provide superannuation for these high officers, so that when they retire they may receive a very nice sum “. I am not complaining about that, but I do suggest that the waterside workers are only asking that similar principles be applied to them. If an industry that sells electricity wants to provide a superannuation fund for its officers, it charges a little extra, for its product. The same principle applies to retail firms. We ask that it should apply to the waterside workers. Consider the case of a man who enters the waterside industry in his twenties and remains there until he is
I return to my remarks about the wheat and barley harvest. There has been an increase in imports, but it is possible that there will be some curtailment of imports in the coming year. I have not before me the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board from which the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) quoted, but he told the House that the income from the levy for the year ended the 30th Tune, 1953 was £1,143,850 and that the expenditure was £1,185,042. The waterside workers should be given the amenities to which they are entitled. As I visit the wharfs I do not see very many extras being provided for the employees. I think that the Government could well accept the amendment which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition. It is all very well for the Government to say that it wants to reduce freights, but, as has been stated already, it cannot reduce overseas freights. A reduction of interstate freights may mean as much as 2s. a ton to shippers from Sydney to Melbourne, but does the irritation that it will cause the waterside worker justify that reduction? The amendment which was moved by the Leader of the Opposition reads -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “, before this House gives final approval to the Bill, there should bc appointed an investigating authority vested with power to report to Parliament as to the subject matter of the Bill and especially as to the precise effect the proposed reduction will have upon (a) shipping freights and (fi) the efficient performance by the Stevedoring Industry Commission of its functions and powers in relation to the provision of port and harbour facilities relating to shipping and stevedoring and to the provision of adequate amenities for those employed in or about the industry of stevedoring”.
Much more up-to-date facilities are required on our wharfs. In many States facilities have been improved. In South Australia the State Government has done good work in the reconstruction of wharfs at Port Adelaide, but when people from other ports visit that port they say, “ You have not the facilities. You have not the cranes. You cannot do the things that are done in other ports and you will do them only if you have some authority to take charge of these matters “. When we hear some of the shipping companies and those people who are associated with them say, “ Do away with the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board “, it is because they are rather afraid that the board might insist on the installation of more up-to-date facilities. I have been closely associated with the work on the wharfs and am aware of the lack of amenities. I have seen the little improvements that have been made and the manner in which they have been welcomed by the employees. But I also know the turbulence that has been caused because the men have thought that nobody in authority cared about them. I ask the Government to accept the proposed amendment. Perhaps the matter could be considered again at a future sitting of the Parliament.
– I wish to reply to some of the arguments that were advanced by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson).
The honorable member seems to think that, if the levy is reduced, the provision of amenities for waterside workers will be prejudiced. I do not think that it would have any effect on the provision of amenities, because the honorable member will remember that the original increase in the levy was for the purpose of liquidating an accumulated deficit caused by the payment of appearance money. That deficit has been liquidated and the Government desires to reduce the levy. I am very familiar with the port of Launceston, and I should say that the amenities that are provided there are not nearly as bad, apparently, as are those at Port Adelaide. The waterside, workers at Launceston have quite good facilities; they have an excellent canteen that is run on modern lines. I think they should have those amenities. They have adequate showers, but I am informed by the Marine Board that they do not make full use of them. The concern of the honorable member for Port Adelaide about amenities seemed to constitute the major portion of his argument. He mentioned also that waterside workers lacked a superannuation scheme, but they could remedy that situation themselves if they agreed to direct and permanent employment on the wharfs. That, of course, envisages the complete abolition of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, which I have already advocated in this House. That would make a considerable contribution towards a reduction of freights. The waterside worker himself would be much better off if the Waterside Workers Federation agreed to direct and permanent employment on the wharfs. At one time the shipping companies were not prepared to accept that proposal, but I have been informed recently that they are now prepared to consider the proposal for direct employment. Under such a scheme, waterside workers could have not only a proper superannuation scheme, but also long leave and various other benefits that are provided in other awards. The present position in relation to casual employment on the wharfs is chaotic, and that is the main reason why freight rates are so fantastic.
I refer now to a dissection of figures in relation to trade to Tasmanian ports. A ship with general cargo, even on a long voyage such as that from Hobart to Brisbane - and I am referring to the D class vessel, which is a Commonwealth-owned vessel - is in port for 65.2 per cent, of its time as against 34.8 per cent, of the time at sea. The cargo that is carried to Brisbane fills only 78.5 per cent, of the ship’s capacity. On the return journey only IS. 3 per cent, of the ship’s capacity is utilized. The cost of the crew’s wages and stevedoring costs eat up 63 per cent, of the voyage costs and £4 18s. lid. of the freight rate of £7 10s. It is fantastic to talk about reducing freight costs unless there is greater co-operation between waterside workers and seamen and all other employees whose wages affect labour costs, which are the major factor in high freight charges - not that the shipowners themselves are entirely free from blame. I refer now to the D-class vessels, about which we hear so much from honorable members opposite, that are engaged in carrying wheat. The wheat ships are in port 55.2 per cent, of their time as against 44.8 per cent, at sea. Cargoes to full capacity are carried, but ballasting voyages are undertaken from other States before loading the wheat. The crew’s wages and stevedoring costs eat up 54.1 per cent, of the voyage costs and £3 5s. 3d. of the freight rate of £5 9s. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) recently made the fantastic claim to this House that 8,000,000 super, feet of timber was stacked on the Launceston wharfs because there were not enough ships to move it. When the secretary of the Tasmanian Timber Association was required to produce the correct figures, it was revealed that there was only 3,000,000 super, feet of timber and that it was spread over all the northern ports of Tasmania. But we are accustomed to hearing this ubiquitous little ex-parson-
– Shame on you!
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it in deference to you, Mr. Speaker.
-Order ! The honorable member will withdraw without qualification.
– I withdraw the remark. It is not unusual for the honorable member forWilmot to use extreme exaggeration for highly political purposes. When the secretary of the Tasmanian Timber Association had amended the figures, it became quite clear that the Tasmanian shipping position was being used for purely political purposes. I shall cite some figures in relation to shipments of timber. Timber ships are in port for 84.2 per cent. of their time as against 15.8 per cent. of their time at sea. The cargoes that are carried amount to only 71.4 per cent. of the ship’s capacity, and ballasting voyages are undertaken from other States before loading the timber. The crew’s wages and stevedoring costs eat up 58.7 per cent. of the voyage costs and £311s. 7d. of the freight rate of £411s. 8d. Those figures illustrate quite clearly where the fault lies in relation to freight costs and the sooner we get an unbiassed approach from honorable members opposite the better. Their criticism does more harm than good to the shipping industry. This Government has done more than any previous government to facilitate the turn-round of ships. The Minister for Labour and National Service cited figures about the improved shipping position which cannot be refuted, but the output of the men employed on the waterfront is still far below that of 1939. It is a disgrace that to-day a gang of 22 men unload only 11 tons of average cargo per hour compared with 24 tons by a gang of fifteen men in 1939. The rate of output on the wharfs has dropped to less than one-third of the rate in 1939. It is interesting to note that in 1939 a 56-hour week was worked on the wharfs, whereas to-day only a 30-hour week is worked. I am not including overtime, of course. One should have thought that with a 56-hour week there would have been a lower output per man-hour, but the position has been just the reverse. Shamefully slow movement on the waterfront is tying up our ships and keeping freights at arecord high level.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon.Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Dr. Evatt’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– A few minutes ago the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Kekwick) alleged that I had made exaggerated statements regarding the quantity of timber that is now awaiting shipment from Tasmanian ports to the mainland.
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in referring to a debate that took place in the House.
– Last week, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, I stated that 8,000,000 super feet of timber was awaiting shipment from five Tasmanian ports to Adelaide and Melbourne. That figure was supplied to me by the secretary of the Tasmanian Timber Association. The honorable member for Bass said that I had exaggerated the matter because not more than 3,000,000 super feet was awaiting shipment at present. Naturally, I accepted as being correct the figure that was supplied to me by the secretary of the association that I have mentioned.
– Order ! The honorable member should have taken the opportunity to make a personal explanation at the appropriate time. He is not in order in proceeding along those lines at this stage.
Mr.DUTHIE. - As the Government gagged the second reading of this measure I was not given that opportunity. In these circumstances, I shall make my reply to the honorable member for Bass when I return to Tasmania.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
.- by leave - It is my unpleasant duty to convey to the House some information which I this morning laid before the Cabinet for the first time, and which we decided should be dealt with as soon as possible.
Some days ago, one Vladimir Mikhailovich Petrov, who has been Third Secretary and Consul in the Soviet Embassy in Australia since February, 3951, voluntarily left his diplomatic employment and made to the Australian Government, through the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, a request for political asylum. The DirectorGeneral of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, acting under the authority of myself, the AttorneyGeneral and the Department of External Affairs, received this request. The request has been granted and, following the established diplomatic practice, protection has been provided for M. Petrov. The Soviet Embassy has been notified accordingly.
I wish to ask the Australian Government for permission to remain in Australia permanently - I wish to become an Australian citizen assoon as possible - I ask for protection for myself and assistance to establish myself comfortably in this country.
I no longer believe in the communism of the Soviet leadership - I no longer believe in communism since 1 have seen the Australian way of living.
As would be expected, I do not propose to mention names of people until the investigations have so far proceeded that a coherent case, of proper probative value, can be prepared. There will, of course, be continued surveillance of persons named, most of whom, incidentally, had already come under the notice of the security service. The Government therefore proposes to set up a royal commission of investigation into what I may call espionage activities in Australia. This will be done as soon as possible. Naturally it may take some little time to secure the services of a suitable royal commissioner and prepare the precise terms of reference. Moreover, as I am informed, much detailed work will have to bc done on the material provided to us before the commissioner could proceed with his investigation. But the Government thought that an announcement of the central fact and our intentions should be made at the earliest possible moment.
I think that I should, on the foundation of the material already before us, make two things clear to honorable members. The first is that the growing efficiency of our own Australian security organization during recent years has made it. muchmore difficult than in the past for espionage to succeed - a point upon which I would congratulate the officers concerned.
The second is that, while it would have been agreeable for all of us to defer an appointment of such importance until after the new Parliament has been established, there can, as I am sure all parties here will agree, beno avoidable delay of investigation into what are already beginning to emerge as the outlines of systematic espionage and at least attempted subversion.
Legal investigation shows that the Royal Commission Act needs amendment in order to authorize a royal commission to compel the attendance of witnesses and the giving of evidence. 1 give notice of the introduction of an amending bill and will invite the House to pass it to-morrow.
Debate resumed from the 6th April (vide page 43), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The main purposes of this bill are to provide an increase of the pensions payable under the Superannuation Act 1922-1952 and to raise the maximum number of units of pension from 26 to 36. I think that the House will have a better understanding of the proposed amendments if I make a brief survey of the background of the act. The first Superannuation Bill was introduced by the AttorneyGeneral of the day, Mr., later Sir, Littleton Groom, in 1922, and the aim was to provide, by means of contributions paid by public servants and the Government, a fund from which public servants would receive pensions that would give them economic security in their retirement. The purpose of the legislation could not be better expressed than Sir Littleton Groom expressed it when he moved the second reading of the bill. He said -
The object of the scheme now submitted is to provide payments for those who have given a life-long service to the State, so that when they reach the age limit for retirement they will not find themselves in a position of pecuniary embarrassment. Moreover, should they, during their term of service, become permanently incapacitated, they will not be altogether without men ns of support, neither will their widows or dependants, should death overtake the bread-winners, be penniless. The Commonwealth should have an efficient, capable and contented Public Service, and should be able to retain in its ranks the best men available.
So the purpose which underlay the Superannuation Act was to give public servants security in their retirement, so that they would be free from want. The bill now under consideration proposes to correct certain weaknesses in the act, and to provide more liberal pensions than are paid at the present time. Frankly. T. approach this bill with some sense of dissatisfaction, because I believe that it does not give to superannuitants the economic security that was so eloquently described by Sir Littleton Groom. The value of the unit at the present time is 15?., and this hill increases it to 17s. 6d.
Pensions payable in respect of children of deceased contributors are to be increased from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week and pensions for- orphaned children from 12s. 6d. to 15s. a week. This bill does not meet the wishes of public servants. Many Public Service organizations advocated that the value of a unit be increased from 15s. to £1 a week, and that pensions payable for children be 17s. (id. a week and for orphans £1 a week. The Public Service organizations also asked that widows who now receive one-half the pensions to which their husbands were entitled, should receive five-eighths of the amount. None of those requests is effectually met in this bill.
I remind the House that the basic wage in 1.922, when the original act was passed, was £4 a week or £20S a year. The invalid pension was 15s. a week. I mention these facts because later I shall deal with the impact of social services on superannuation. Conditions have changed vastly since 1922. The basic wage today is £12 a week, which represents an increase of 300 per cent., and the age and invalid pension rate has increased to £3 10s. a week. However, the value of superannuation units has by no means kept pace with the purchasing power of wages and social services pensions. The Superannuation Act has been amended twice in order to increase the value of units. In 1947, the Chifley Government increased the value from 10s. to 12s. 6d. At that time the basic wage was £5 7s. a week, having increased since 1922 by a little over 25 per cent. In 1951, the present Government again raised the value of units, this time to 15s. The basic wage at that time was £7 2s. a week. The Government now proposes to raise the value to 17s. 6d. a week. The basic wage to-day, calculated on the average for the six capital cities, is £12 a week. The rate for children under the bill will be increased from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week. The rate for orphan children will be raised from 12s. 6d. to 15s., and the pension for a widow will remain at one-half the amount that would have been received by the husband.
Tt is true that the bill will effect some improvement, but the improvement cannot be regarded as satisfactory because the changed conditions of the times have not been taken fully into consideration. 1. take very strong exception also to the second proposal embodied in the bill, which is to amend the scale of units. When superannuation was introduced, the act provided that, after the salary of a public servant had reached £156 per annum, every additional £52 per annum that he received by way of increment or promotion placed him under the obligation to take out an additional unit of superannuation. Obviously, a public servant tries to take out as many units as possible in the early stages of his career because, at that time, each unit can be purchased for a very low fortnightly contribution. The requirement for the compulsory purchase of units continues until a public servant reaches the age of 40 years. Thereafter, he is not compelled to take out additional units because, by that time, the contributions for additional units in many instances would be altogether too great for him to pay out of his salary. This bill, like the bill of 1(151, will increase the difficulty of taking out units, instead of providing greater opportunities for a public servant to elect for additional units while he is young in years and young in the service, by raising the scale for each additional unit. In 1951, the scale was increased from £52 to £62 per annum for each additional unit. In other words, an additional unit could not be taken, out until a public servant had received a salary increase of £02 per annum. This meant that the average public servant had to wait longer before he could take out an additional unit, and so the chance of taking out additional units while he was still young was considerably decreased. The bill provides that the scale shall be increased from £02 to £65 per annum for each extra unit. I n other words, £13 per annum has been added to the amount originally agreed upon as the basis upon which extra units could be taken out. The result is that, although the value of each unit will be increased from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a week, in fact a person may receive less at retiring age than would have been the case had the scale of £52 per annum been retained.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the effect of the provision so that honorable members will be able to appreciate its seriousness is to refer to the situation of a man who is in receipt of £676 per annum. I have chosen that salary rate because it is equivalent to £13 a week, ,and the average low-paid public servant to-day receives about that amount. Under the original Superannuation Act. by which an additional unit was taker out whenever the contributor’s salary was increased by £52 per annum, a man in receipt of £676 per annum contributed for thirteen units of superannuation. This provided for him a weekly pension of £6 10s. a week. As a result of the amendment of the act in 1947, under which the unit scale remained unchanged, a public servant in receipt of that salary still contributed for thirteen units, but, because the unit value was increased from 10s. to 12s. 6d. a week, he was eligible for a pension of £8 2s. 6d. a week.
The 1951 amendment of the principal act under the regime of this Government raised the unit scale from £52 to £62 per annum. This meant that a man in receipt of £676 per annum contributed for only ten units, so that he was entitled to a pension of only £7 10s. a week, although the unit value had been increased from 12s. 6d. to 15s. a week. Had the original unit scale remained in operation, he would have contributed for thirteen units, and, therefore, would have been eligible for a pension of £9 15s. a week. This bill will produce a similar result. The man in receipt of £676 per annum will be able to contribute for only ten units and so will be eligible for a pension of £8 15s. a week although the unit value will be increased from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a week. If he were able to contribute for thirteen units, under the old unit scale, he would be entitled to a pension of £11 7s. 6d. a week. Thus, it is obvious to those who have studied the measure that, although the value of units will be increased by 2s. 6d. a week, the higher nit scale will prevent public servants from taking out units as quickly as they would do if the figure remained at £62 per annum. What is to be given with one hand will be taken away with the other. From the standpoint of public servants, this measure, whilst it provides for a. slight increase, will place undeserved disabilities upon them and will frustrate the intention of the late Sir Littleton
Groom at the time when he introduced the first superannuation legislation. I consider that the increase of unit value is unsatisfactory and unnecessary, and I consider also that it is dangerous to increase the scale of units in a way that will result in loss of pension value.
Another important factor that should he taken into consideration arises from the great change of economic circumstances during the 33 years since the superannuation scheme was instituted. This change indicates the necessity for a review of the Superannuation Act at the earliest opportunity. Two factors very seriously affect the system. The first is the inflation of a most extraordinary character that has occurred in Australia in recent years. During the last four years, retail prices have increased by 65 per cent. This means, of course, that the purchasing power of the superannuated public servant has been considerably reduced, so that his standard of living is below that which was envisaged when the original act was passed. The second factor is that the extent and class of social services in Australia have been increased to such a degree and in such a way as to have a serious impact upon superannuation. Former low-paid public servants often receive in superannuation less than they would be entitled to receive under the social services scheme if they had not contributed to the superannuation fund. In such circumstances, the former public servant receives his superannuation pension with an addition in the form of a part social services pension. Although this bill will increase the value of each superannuation unit from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a week, such persons will receive no benefit. I can best illustrate this situation by quoting a letter from a superannuated public servant in Victoria. The letter states -
I desire to bring under your notice an anomaly (concerning pensioners on Commonweal tl superannuation. and like myself are also in receipt of the old agc pension) which will take place under the bill introduced into the House »f Representatives last Tuesday, covering increase in superannuation payments. Now my complaint is that as in the past any increases in the superannuation payments means ii corresponding deduction in the aged pension, which means that we are in exactly the same income position as before. Now, sir, o;> behalf of the many pensioners in like circumstances would you, if you thought this complaint worthwhile, ask the Government to consider during the debate on the bill some means by which the above pensioners could enjoy the increase intact. I might add that this matter mainly concerns the lower pension groups.
– Will the honorable member give details of the way in which this man is affected ?
– The point is that his superannuation pension, even at the new rate, will not exceed the rate of the age pension. In addition to superannuation, he and his wife would receive some portion of the age pension. The proposed increase by 2s. 6d. of the value of each superannuation unit will increase the superannuation pensions of many former civil servants and correspondingly decrease their rates of age pension, and they will be no better off than they are now. I point this out because social services legislation has a tremendous impact on recipients of superannuation.
In addition to making payments into the superannuation fund many public servants have also contributed, through the payment of taxes, towards the provision of social services. Now, having made provision for their old age, they are unable to claim age pensions if their superannuation pensions are above a certain rate. So we have the extraordinary position developing that a public servant who resigns from the Commonwealth Publice Service before he reaches the retiring age can receive a lump-sum payment of the amount he has paid into the superannuation fund, and is able to use it for the purchase of a home and still receive the age pension for himself and his wife. Conversely, a public servant who remains in the Commonwealth Public Service until he roaches the retiring age receives a superannuation pension that is considerably less in actual value than he envisaged when the principal act was passed in 1922, and does not give him the standard of living to which he looked forward, and finds that, as a result of the operation of the superannuation legislation that was designed to help him. and the expansion of social services legislation, he is unable to obtain much assistance in the way of social services. This pi aces him in a most difficult position. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), who is at the table tonight, appreciates the difficulty of that position. In my opinion, because of the combined effects of social services legislation, inflation and the alteration of the scale of superannuation units, the time has come when it is necessary for the Government to appoint a committee of investigation in order to bring the legislation into conformity with present-day requirements and to frame such amendments to it as are necessary to induce public servants to remain in the Commonwealth Public Service to the date of their retirement with the assurance that they will not lose anything as a consequence of inflation. The committee should, above all, ensure that some consideration should be given to public servants in respect of the payments that they have made to social services revenue and from which, under present circumstances, they can expect no return.
These are the dying hours of the Twentieth Parliament, so I suppose it is too late at this stage for any action to be taken along the lines I have suggested. However, I sincerely and earnestly press upon both the Minister for Social Services and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who introduced this bill, that the time is ripe for such an inquiry. I hope that, when the Twenty-first Parliament meets, instead of this matter being pigeonholed or neglected, consideration will be given to a comprehensive review and amendment of the Superannuation Act in order that some of these anomalies may be satisfactorily overcome.
The Opposition does not intend to vote against the measure. We consider that public servants and former public servants are entitled to receive the benefit of the increase of value of the units that they have taken out, but we also feel that, from the standpoint of justice to public servants and superannuated public servants, the proposals contained in the bill are not so reasonable as they could he, and have not taken into consideration all the factors and circumstances of the case as it affects former public servants, all of whom have given good service to their country. I hope that during the next Parliament a measure will be in- troduced to give a greater sense of security and more justice to public servants than are given in this measure.
.- This bill represents another step forward taken by the Government to give justice to Commonwealth public servants, who have rendered magnificent service to this country. Retired public servants have, in the main, been thrifty people, and have either voluntarily, or by virtue of the compulsory provisions of the Superannuation Act, made provision for their old age. When they first took out superannuation units they calculated the amount of retiring allowance that would be necessary to keep them in comfortable circumstances. Some of them took only four units, while others took as many a.« 26 units. Owing, however, to the changing value of money, many of those who took out the number of units that they considered sufficient to maintain them in comfort in their old age have since found that that amount is inadequate for that purpose. The Government took a magnificent step last year in order to remedy that position, by easing the means test and enabling superannuated officers to receive increases of age pension that ranged from 12s. 6d. to 32s. 6d. a week in the case of a single person, and from a minimum of 25s. to as high as £3 a week in the case of a married couple. There were, however, many former public servants who had been thrifty and who. in addition to having provided for superannuation benefits, had saved and invested money. As a result of the operation of the means test they were disqualified from receiving the benefit that was made available by last year’s legislation. For example, a single superannuated officer who has saved more than £1,250 is disqualified by the operation of the means test from receiving any pension. Similarly a married man who has saved £2,500 is ineligible to receive a pension. Superannuated officers who took up a larger number of units than was compulsory, and whose incomes therefore exceeded £5 10s. a week in the case of a. single officer, and £11 a week in the case of a married officer, have found that, notwithstanding the liberalization of the means test and the increase of pensions provided for in last year’s budget, because of their thrift they are 3till ineligible to receive a pension. Ever since the last budget was introduced, therefore, I have been making representations to the Treasurer to right that injustice. As I mentioned before, the liberalization of the means test last year was of tremendous help to the great majority of public servants and former public servants, but to those who had been most thrifty, or who had taken up a large number of units, the liberalization provided no benefit. It was for that reason that some of us requested the Treasurer to consider taking steps to meet the situation which, I am delighted to say, he is doing by way. of this measure, which provides for an increase of superannuation pensions payable to persons who were disqualified, as a result of the operation of the means test, from receiving the benefit of the change made by last year’s budget.
When this Government came into office in “1.949 the value of the superannuation unit was 12s. 6d. The Government introduced legislation in 1951 to increase it to 15s. When the present measure becomes law the value of each unit will he increased to 17s. 6d. There are few, if any, public servants who have taken up fewer than four units, which means that the minimum increase of pension as a result of the bill will be 10s. a week. When we realize, however, that manypublic servants have as many as 26 units, we can appreciate the tremendous help that the bill will be. The measure provides another example of the Government’s progressive policy of taking one step after another to remove injustices to various sections of the people that have occurred in the past. Last year we were aldo to help mainly the lower-paid public servants who had only a small number of superannuation units. Now we are able to help them again and, in addition, to help former public servants who have been thrifty and others who have taken out a large number of units. As 1 have mentioned in this chamber on numerous occasions, there is only one real remedy to this whole problem. It is the total abolition of the means test. Until we arrive at that point we are really patching up one piece of legislation after another.
I am delighted that the present Government has done more towards the liberalization of the means test than any other previous government has done. In addition to providing for an increase of the value of superannuation units from 15s. to 17s. 6d., the bill will also increase the maximum number of units that may be taken out from 26 to 36. The allowance for children is to be increased from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week, and the allowance for orphan children from 12s. 6d. to 15s. a week. The maximum percentage of pension to salary will be increased from approximately 63 per cent, to 70 per cent. It will be seen, therefore, that the bill removes many of the anomalies and injustices that have occurred. I welcome it and urge the House to give it its wholehearted support. On all sides superannuated public servants are expressing appreciation of the fair treatment that they have received from this Government. Only last week I received a gratifying message front the branch of the Commonwealth Superannuated Officers Association in my electorate, thanking me for the improvement in their position that will be produced by this bill. I should like to read to honorable members a letter dated the 30th March last which was received from a superannuated officer, in which he deals with the provision of section 50a of the Superannuation Act. He said -
In spite of numerous representations made by me on behalf of re-employed superannuated officers, previous governments shielded them?elves behind section 50a of the act. Only the Menzies-Fadden Government did what previous governments refused to do. Sir Arthur Fadden at all times gave me his helpful assistance, and the Menzies-Fadden Government repealed section 50a of the Superannuation Act, which previous governments could have done, and paid in a lump sum to those re-employed superannuated officers the superannuation which had been withheld under previous governments. “Actions speak louder than words.” I suggest, therefore, that we, together with all our relatives and friends, should express our sincere thanks to the Mennzies-Fa elden Goovernment.
It is quite clear that superannuated officers have had a much better deal from this Government than they have had from any previous administration. There are still anomalies in the superannuation scheme that must be corrected, but the officers concerned can rest assured that where injustice is proved this Government will take all the necessary steps to remedy it.
.- The hill before the House concerns the superannuation scheme introduced for the Commonwealth Public Service in 1922. That scheme was initiated at the request of the Commonwealth Public Service unions, and at that time was one of the best in the world. Indeed, it was the pride of every Public Service organization in Australia, and of every public servant. However, I disagree with the evaluation by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) of the scheme as it 1]OW stands because if he asks Public Service organizations, of which there are eighteen, representative of about 100,000 public servants, for their opinion of this Government’s attitude to the superannuation scheme, he will discover that every one is disappointed and disillusioned because the scheme has been ruined by the Government’s policy of inflation. Instead of the public servants now regarding the scheme as a benefit, they regard it as a burden. Not only has the Government’s galloping inflation ruined this scheme, but it has also ruined every other long-term scheme of investment. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) said that it is compulsory for public servants to pay into the superannuation fund. It is compulsory for those under the age of 40 years but after that age the new units become so expensive that their cost is almost prohibitive. For instance, many men receive salary increases at the age of 60, hut if a man should wish to take out a unit of superannuation at that age, which is worth 17s. 6d. a week on retirement, he would have to pay £3 8s. 6d. a fortnight for it. Therefore, honorable members will perceive that this scheme is by no means cheap for participants in the higher age groups who wish to take new units. This Government has stated that it is opposed to any compulsory scheme, particularly compulsory unionism which is a greater benefit than the superannuation scheme to many public servants such as those in the Postal Department, but it is not opposed to compulsory superannuation. This scheme is compulsory for participants to the age of 40-
– Superannuation must be paid by participants who are over 40 years if they entered the service before the age of 40.
– Yes, that is so. Contributors to superannuation funds deprive themselves of social services because of the iniquitous means test which has not been ameliorated to a very great degree by this Government. In 1949, under the Labour regime, the means test for the age pension stood at 30s. a week. This Government has increased it by 10s. a week, but only belatedly, and at the urging of Public Service organizations. Not only do public servants make heavy superannuation contributions, but they also pay the same taxes as everybody else. Yet, although they pay taxes for social services many of them receive very little, if anything, out of the social services schemes. If honorable members would inspect the pay assessments of public servants they would find that the reductions for taxes and superannuation make a very big hole in the fortnightly pay of every public servant. This Government promised to stop inflation, but inflation galloped past the Government and the Government was not able to catch it. In 1922 the basic wage was 80s. a week, and some time later it became less than 80s. a week. In 1922 the age pension was 15s. a week, but that 15s. bought much more at that time than the present age pension of £3 10s. a week will buy now. In 1922 the superannuation unit was 10s. The basic wage is now £12 a week, or 300 per cent, more than it was in 1922. The age pension is now 70s., or 366 per cent, more, but the superannuation unit is only 17s. 6d. or 75 per cent, more than it was in 1922. Surely that shows beyond doubt that there has been a tremendous deterioration in superannuation benefits since that time.
I recently read the annual report of the Superannuation Board, and noticed that the average contributor contributes for nine units, which would give him £7 17s. 6d. a week on retirement. A married officer’s widow would receive 50 per cent, of that, or £3 18s. 9d. a week. However, those figures apply only to the average contributor, and honorable members will see that these ‘average contributors just deprive themselves of social services. If they contributed nothing at all, a married officer would get £7 a week age pension on retirement, and if he died before his retiring age his widow would get an A-class widow’s pension of £3 17s. 6d. a week. Therefore, an average contributor to the superannuation fund would be just as well off on retirement if he had contributed nothing at all. The total number of subscribers to the Commonwealth superannuation fund is 56,978. Eleven thousand odd of those subscribe for less than six units, so that about 45,000 subscribe for more than six units and so deprive themselves of all or part of the age pension. The more units that a subscriber takes up the less he gets from the age pension, until he reaches the point when he subscribes for more than twelve units. At that stage he deprives himself completely of the age pension, because the permissible income of a husband and wife under the Social Services Consolidation Act is £li a week. All Commonwealth public servants who receive more than this sum from the superannuation fund are deprived of the £7 a week that they have received if they had not subscribed to any fund at all. Moreover, those subscribers save the nation a vast amount of money through being forced to subscribe to the superannuation scheme. Of the 56,978 superannuation subscribers, 6,603 subscribe for more than twelve units and save the nation £2,400,000 each year. Forty-five thousand public servants save the nation a lot of money, and an increase of 2s. 6d. a unit is a very poor recognition of the financial advantage that the nation obtains from their participation in the superannuation scheme.
The provident fund is another section of the superannuation organization. That makes provision for officers who entered the service at 40 years of age, or in a temporary capacity, or who were not eligible to contribute to the superannuation fund itself. They pay ls. in the £1 on the wages they receive each fortnight, and on retirement they receive a lump sum benefit. They are paid two and twothirds times the total amount of their contributions, plus 3 per cent, per annum compound interest on their contributions. There arc 8,077 subscribers to the provident fund, whose average wage would be about £700 a year. At ls. in the £1 each contributor would pay about £35 a year. After 25 years’ service, and I suggest that that would be about the average length of service of a contributor to the provident fund, he would retire and receive about £2,600 in a lump sum. Again, because of the vicious means test about which this Government has done very little, they are deprived of any benefit under social services legislation. The property means test in respect of the age pension is £2,500 for a man and his wife. Therefore, the subscribers who obtain £2,600 would be completely debarred from getting the pension of £7 a week which they would have been paid if they had not subscribed at all. I estimate that the subscribers to the provident fund also save the Government more than £2,000,000 a year. Consequently, the contributors to the provident fund, and those to the superannuation fund who deprive themselves wholly or partially of pensions, save the Government about £6,000,000 a year; but the Government’s recognition of that saving is an increase of 2s. 6d. a week in the pension units ! This Government has a phobia about 2s. 6d., because it increased the pensions of war pensioners, age pensioners and invalid pensioners by that sum.
– Order ! The honorable member should confine his remarks to the bill.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker. There are many serious anomalies in the Superannuation Act, and the present would have been a good time to do something about them. But the Government has a crazy idea about the potency of 2s. 6d., and has allowed the opportunity to slip by. The act also provides that, when an officer is restored to health after he has become a pensioner and is able to perform suitable duties, he may be re-employed in the Public Service or elsewhere. On the other hand, the Public Service Act provides that, if an officer has reached the age of 50 years, he shall not be re-employed in the Public Service. A further anomaly exists in the fact, that, if the officer is re-employed by any authority at a salary of not less than two-thirds of his salary at the time of retirement, he forfeits his superannuation pension. A particular person whom 1 have in mind received a superannuation payment of £7 15s. a week on his retirement. He recovered and wanted to rejoin the Public Service, but he was not allowed to do so. If he were to obtain employment at two-thirds of the salary which he was receiving immediately prior to his retirement, he would forfeit the £7 15s. Let us assume that he retired in 1948 at a salary of £12 a week and that he got a job to-day at £S a week. He would forfeit his superannuation payment of £7 15s. a week, which would mean that he would be working for an extra 5s. a week. As the basic wage is now approximately £12 a week, this man cannot get a job anywhere. The Government promised last year to remove that anomaly. I shall deal with a further anomaly when the bill is in the committee stage. The Minister, in his secondreading speech, said that he would give a full explanation of many clauses that require explanation, and I hope that he will keep h is promise.
I have shown clearly that the act has bad features and that there are many anomalies which should be removed. I have shown also that the scheme has been ruined by the inflationary legislation that has been introduced by this Government and by its failure to carry out its election promises to put value back into the £1 and to stabilize prices. Contributors to this fund saved the nation millions of pounds, but the Government has given very little recognition to them in giving them a paltry increase of 2s. 6d. a unit. To grant such an increase is like putting a patch on a perished tube - the tube is still rotten. The scheme can be rehabilitated only by an examination of the means test in its proper perspective and an easing of its provisions. The Australian Labour party is the only party that would give it that attention, and it will do so when it is elected to office on the 29th May next.
.- 1 did not intend to participate in this debate, but because of the remarks of the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) I believe that I should do so. The honorable member unjustly criticized a good bill by being so partisan. This is the third occasion on which the Menzies Government has amended the Superannuation Act because of prevailing conditions. This Government has always been willing to remove anomalies or injustices that have occurred from time to time. The honorable member said that the aggregate increase is only 5s. If the honorable member is going to talk about increases, let me remind him that that 5s. increase has been granted by this Government within a period of four years. As we are making comparisons, I draw the attention of the honorable member to the fact that the Australian Labour party increased the unit by only 2s. 6d. in 25 years. As I have already said, this is the third occasion on which the Government has amended the act in order to provide for changing conditions.
– This is the second occasion.
– This is the third amendment that has been made by the Menzies Government since 1950. In 1950 the value of each of the first eight units was increased from £32 10s. to £39, a total increase of £52 a year for eight units. In October, 1951, in respect of all remaining units, the value of each unit was increased to £39, and the amount for each dependent child was increased from £13 a year to £19 10s. a year, with corresponding increases in lump sum payments to contributors to the Provident Account. Provision was made also for an alteration to the contribution scale, and a similar provision has been made also in the bill now under consideration. That amendment also provided that no officer would lose anything because he was re-employed after retirement. I draw the attention of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) to the fact that in that year another very important change was made. The honorable gentleman will remember that, if a retired Commonwealth employee accepted a position during the war, he lost his superannuation. Although many protests were made to the Labour Government during the four years from 1945 to 1949, it did nothing to rectify the position and it remained for this Government to correct the anomaly. It was a real anomaly, because those men were entitled to superannuation during the war, but because of their desire to do a job of work they re-joined the Public Service and as a result they lost their superannuation. On the third occasion, in 1954, the Government increased the value of the unit from £39 to £45 in addition to providing an increase for orphaned children and proportionate increases in the scale.
All sections of the community who are on fixed wages have suffered in relation to superannuation, and I agree entirely with other honorable members who have referred to that fact. Nobody can foresee world-wide economic changes, but it is to the credit of this Government that, when those anomalies have occurred, it has not hesitated to amend the act. In cases where Commonwealth officers have been compelled by law to contribute part of their salary towards financial provision for their retirement, such anomalies call for immediate consideration. The position of those officers is comparable with that of a returned soldier, a certain part of whose pay is withheld and is paid to bini when he leaves the service. It is unnecessary to draw attention to the plight and the disappointment of those people who have contributed over the years towards a superannuation fund and who have discovered that when they retired their pension did not meet their requirements although they had expected it to do so. It is very pleasing to note that the Government is willing to amend the act, and I have no doubt that when anomalies occur in the future it will be ready to do so again.
The honorable member for Bendigo pointed out that the increase for Commonwealth employees would preclude some of them from social service benefits. That is quite so, but one must not forget that that is not an isolated occurrence. Other people have contributed towards superannuation schemes in the same way, but the Commonwealth has not made any contribution. Therefore, they are in possibly a worse position. Why should there be discrimination in favour of the Commonwealth employees as against the outside person? There is only one cure and that, as the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has said, is to ease the means test. Over the last three years the Government has amended the qualification for social services benefits. It has increased the ability of the average person to qualify by liberalizing the means test and I believe that, if the Government is returned to power, it will continue to do so. I congratulate the Government, even at this late stage of the Twentieth Parliament, on its being ready to make this change, because other people think that it is fair and just to do so. As I have said, I am certain that when other anomalies arise this Government will not hesitate to amend the act and to do the right thing by those people who have given excellent service to the community and to the Crown.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Superannuation Act. 1922-1052, and for other purposes.
Resolution reported and adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
.- I direct the attention of the committee to clause 21, which deals with the rights of contributors who have been candidates at elections. A member’ of the Public Service who desires to contest a parliamentary election is obliged to resign from the Service. I have in mind the case of a public servant who resigned from the Service to contest a seat at the general elections for the House of Representatives in 1949 and also the case of another public servant who resigned from the Service to contest a seat at the State election held in New South Wales last year. Both those individuals were contributing to the Provident Account. As I pointed out in my second-reading speech, contributors to that account, upon retirement from the Service, are entitled to receive an amount in addition to the sum that they contribute to the fund, plus compound interest. One of those officers would normally have been entitled to receive £700 upon resignation from the
Service. He was defeated at the election at which he stood and upon application was re-appointed to the Public Service. He believed that he would be permitted to resume making contributions to the Provident Account as though he had not resigned from the Service; but soon after his re-appointment he was obliged, although he did not desire to do so, to apply for a refund of all moneys that he had paid to the Provident Account, and instead of receiving the sum of £700, which he would normally have been entitled to receive upon retirement he received only the sum of £300. Clause 21 remedies that anomaly in the case of officers who, in future, may resign from the Service to contest a parliamentary election ; but that provision is to be retrospective only to the 1st January, 1954. I suggest that the Government might see its way clear to make this provision retrospective to 1949 in order to enable those officers to benefit from it. So far as I know, they are the only, cases that have arisen since 1949 that would be affected by this provision if it were made retrospective to that year. I am sure that no similar case has occurred since the 1st January, 1954, and, therefore, insofar as retrospectivity is concerned, the provision will not benefit any officer.
.- I suggest that if the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) cannot give consideration immediately to the point that has been raised by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) the Government might look at the matter and, if possible, amend the bill along those lines when it is before another place. I appreciate that certain difficulties may arise that would prevent the bill being amended at this stage. Probably, as only two officers will be affected, their position could be covered by regulation.
– I should not be disposed at this juncture to say that the Government could accept an amendment along the lines that the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has suggested. As the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) pointed out, some difficulty might arise in ascertaining the real effect of such an amendment and? the implications of such a precedent if it were established. We have had unsatisfactory experiences in the past when, decisions have been taken without adequate opportunity being given to ascertain the real effect of amendments that have been proposed in circumstances of this kind. I shall direct the attention of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to the representations that have been made by the honorable member for Banks and ascertain whether action along the lines suggested by the honorable member for Bendigo can be taken. I believe that the Government has acted reasonably in this matter in making the measure retrospective to the 1st January, 1954. Of course, invariably, it happens that whatever date is fixed as a starting point some people unfortunately do not benefit; but a starting point must be determined. To the degree that this measure remedies a disadvantage which now exists, I believe all honorable members welcome it.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 6th April (vide page 44), on motion by Sir Philip McBRIDE -
That the. bil] be now read a second time.
.- The object of this measure is to increase rates of .pensions to members of the permanent forces upon their retirement and also their dependents. The Opposition supports the measure. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), in his second-reading speech, indicated that the rates of pensions payable to widows under this legislation would be increased in the same proportion to those payable to retired members of the permanent defence forces. At the same time, the rate of pension payable to orphans covered by this legislation is to be increased by only £6 10s. per annum, that is, from £32 10s. to £39 per annum. I submit that that rate of pension will be quite inadequate to compensate those who are responsible for the upbringing of children under the age of sixteen years of age who receive benefit under this measure. Therefore, I ask the Government to have a further look at this matter to see whether it will be possible to grant an additional allowance to guardians of such children.
– The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) has expressed the views of the Opposition on this measure. It is encouraging to the Government to know that these proposals enjoy the support of all parties in the Parliament. The honorable member has made a practical suggestion. However, I am not able to say at this juncture what the reaction of my colleague, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), would be to it. I shall direct his attention to the honorable member’s remarks. If the matter cannot be dealt with at this stage it will be carefully considered before this legislation again comes before the Parliament.
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. Holt) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit Act 1948-1953.
Resolution reported and 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.
Debate resumed from the 8th April (vide page 185), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now raid a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to provide for the return to the growers of wheat of a certain season of the moneys collected from the proceeds of export taxes paid into the Wheat Stabilization Fund. The season to which reference is made is 1951- 52, when such sums of money as were prescribed by law were deducted from wheat-growers’ export realizations and paid into the stabilization fund in order that growers’ returns might be increased to the cost of production figure in the event of a decline of export prices. I believe that it is correct and fair to say at this stage that those moneys would not be returned to the growers now had the Menzies Government succeeded in evolving and implementing a wheat stabilization scheme to replace the scheme which expired at the end of the 1952- 53 season. Under the Labour Government’s arrangements, Australian wheat-growers had an orderly marketing scheme in a peace-time era, a guaranteed price for wheat for export, and a fixed price at a specific .rate for wheat for home consumption, which fluctuated annually in accordance with any variations of the cost of production.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) failed to give the requisite leadership that the Labour Government had given. He did not obtain the co-operation of the six State governments. Had he obtained that cooperation, and had a majority of the wheat-growers approved the plan, the £9,000,000 would not be returned to them. It was the intention of the Menzies Government to hold that amount collected from sales of wheat from the 1952-53 season in order to form the nucleus of a new stabilization fund for the scheme that it hoped to implement. In order to do so, the Government had to obtain the co-operation of the State governments, and the consent of the growers. The Government failed in both respects, and, therefore, no good purpose was to be served in retaining the amount of £9,000,000 that belonged to the growers. It is unfortunate but nevertheless true that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party made a firm, unconditional promise to the growers and consumers of wheat that if they were elected to office, they would introduce a ten-year wheat stabilization plan. Their affirmations on that matter were many, and without qualification.
The Minister devoted the major part of his second-reading speech to an explanation of why the Government had failed to implement its pre-election promise to the growers and consumers of wheat. He informed the House that he had conducted negotiations with the States for nearly four years, that is to say, practically the lifetime of the Government. He also outlined to the Parliament what the growers wanted, and what the Government was prepared to give. He emphasized the opposition of the Victorian Government to the proposals which he had attempted to foist upon it. lie gave details of the bill which he introduced to make provision for a three-year emergency plan from 1952-53. That scheme was a stop-gap measure to fill the vacuum that was left at the expiration of the Labour Government’s scheme and pending the introduction of the scheme to which he hoped the States and the growers would agree. The emergency plan made provision for the constitution of the Australian Wheat Board as an authority to receive and sell Australia’s wheat crop on the home market and overseas. He admitted that the threeyear plan had been obtained painfully, and was supported reluctantly by the Victorian Government. He declared that it was then too late, as it obviously was, to conduct a ballot of growers, and he apportioned blame for the absence of a new stabilization plan to follow the Labour Government’s stabilization plan among a number of persons, but carefully omitted himself. However, he attached most of the blame to Mr. Cain, the Premier of Victoria. He did not utter a word about the anxiety of the growers, who had no long-term stabilization plan.
At the present time, approximately 120,000,000 bushels of wheat are in store, sales are slow, and overseas prices have fallen substantially. Not a word was said of the difficult financial position of the growers, due to the fact that no guaranteed price was available for export sales. He made no reference to the fact that, had the Government not bungled the International Wheat
Agreement negotiations at Washington, the United Kingdom would probably be within the ambit of the scheme as a consumerparticipant, taking no less a quantity than 177,000,000 bushels of wheat. Had the International Wheat Agreement not been bungled, Australia would be a supplier country under contract to the participating consumer countries for at least 75,000,000 bushels of wheat. The Minister did not say a word about his part in the failure of those negotiations. He did not refer to the fact that Australia has not a firm contract, at a price between a maximum and a minimum, for wheat supplied to the participating countries in the agreement. Not a word was said about the fact that Australia to-day has a quota under the Internationa] Wheat Agreement of only 48,000,000 bushels.
At this juncture, I remind the House that I asked the Minister a few days ago whether he would lay on the table the instructions that he or officers of his department gave to Australia’s representatives at the negotiations at Washington for a new International Wheat Agreement. The Minister refused to produce those instructions for the information of honorable members and wheatgrowers. He boasted that, in contrast to the policy of the Labour Government, he had allowed a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation to attend the negotiations at Washington. He also informed us that he had sent from London to Washington, to represent the Government, Mr., now Sir Edwin, McCarthy, a very able administrator, and Sir John Teasdale, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board. He did not point out that when the Labour Government negotiated an International Wheat Agreement for four years, and representatives of the wheat-growers were not present at the negotiations, Australia succeeded in obtaining a quota of between 80,000,000 and 90,000,000 bushels, and that the United Kingdom was a participant in the scheme as a consumer for 177,000,000 bushels. The Minister did not remind the House that under his system of having growers in attendance at the conference at Washington, Great Britain was not a participating party in the agreement, and Australia has a contract to supply the relatively small quantity of 48,000,000 bushels. ‘
Almost with tears in his eyes, the Minister complained that twenty years of work on the part of growers was in jeopardy through the reckless obstruction of the Victorian Labour Government. When somebody fails in a particular project, it is the common practice to seek a scapegoat. In the present instance, the Victorian Labour Government is the scapegoat. But the Minister is wrong when he speaks of twenty years of work on the part of growers in the interests of orderly marketing. My memory takes me back to 1921, in the early days of the representation of the Country party in the Victorian Parliament. At that time, the Hughes anti-Labour Administration in the Commonwealth sphere had virtually thrown Australian wheat-growers to the wolves. The growers had the open market system for the disposal of their wheat at home and abroad. That established a paradise for speculators, dealers and shippers. The Victorian Country party, which was a radical party, at that time announced in the State Parliament that it favoured the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. The Labour party in the State Parliament supported the Country party on that matter. An election was precipitated, and the supporters of the compulsory pool carried the day. Incidentally, I voted for the compulsory pool. Lo and behold, the Country party sold the growers down the drain by entering into a pact with the Lawson Administration to accept the weak alternative of a voluntary pool, which, of course, in no time collapsed. That was the situation in Victoria 30 years ago.
Everybody knows that growers, except during the period of World War II., suffered hard times and misery, and were threatened with bankruptcy until the Chifley Government produced its fiveyear stabilization plan. I hasten to inform any honorable member who may doubt the accuracy of my remarks that E have here an important press report of a speech made in 1940 by the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Sir
Earle Page. The right honorable gentleman was referring to the proposal of the Menzies Government to do something for the growers in those early days of the war, and explained that the plan made provision for the licensing of acreages, and a limited guarantee in respect of wheat for export. The report proceeded -
Sir Earle Page expressed the hope that some form of voluntary debt adjustment would result from the plan.
Just fancy! Some kind of sop was to be thrown to the wheat-growers to enable them to participate in a form of voluntary debt adjustment. The statement continued -
Now that there was some certainty of a reasonable annual return, many creditors would no doubt realize that it would be to their own interest, as well as that of their farmer debtors, to agree upon a plan.
Why was a debt adjustment plan proposed? The answer is simple. I have explained that wheat-growers were in a desperate plight between 1921, when the Hughes Government threw them to the wolves, until the Labour Government assumed office at the end of 1941. At the close of World War II. the Chifley Labour Government took steps to ensure that growers would not suffer similar hardships in future. Hence the five-year stabilization plan that was introduced by the Chifley Government in 1949 with the agreement of all State governments, regardless of their political complexion, and by the wheat-growers, who expressed their approval at a ballot. That plan has operated successfully for the last five years. The Minister, who has accused the Leader of the Opposition and myself of having engaged in a conspiracy, was himself on that occasion involved in what one might call a conspiracy. The right honorable gentleman was hand in glove with all the reactionary elements in Australia, and he endeavoured by every means at his disposal, persuasive or otherwise, to induce the growers to refuse to have a bar of Labour’s stabilization plan of 1948-49. Although I regard accusations of conspiracy as being sheer nonsense as a general rule, I recall that the right honorable gentleman had a colleague who was very interested in his point of view. It is well known that Sir John Teasdale, who was then an ordinary member of the Australian Wheat Board, wore a track between the office of the board and the office that the right honorable gentleman then used in the Federal Members’ Rooms, Melbourne. He was fully entitled to do so, of course. However, their machinations resulted in failure. The State governments and the growers accepted Labour’s plan as a first instalment of a happy marketing period in peace-time.
What did that plan provide? The State governments had agreed that the cost of production should be established every year for five years. The plan provided that, when the export price exceeded a certain level, there should be a contribution by growers to a stabilization fund. It further provided that, in the event of a deficiency in the fund at any time, the Consolidated Revenue Fund could be called upon to make good the deficiency. In addition, under the plan each State government agreed to fix a homeconsumption price for wheat. That plan, T repeat, had the approval of the State governments and the growers and it worked very well. But what did the Minister have to say about it in his second-reading speech. He proceeded to abuse people who, he said, were responsible for his failures, and made them the butt of his excuses. He referred to obstruction by the Victorian Labour Government, prompted by the Opposition in this Parliament, which had what he called the effrontery to pose as the originator of a new plan of salvation for the wheat industry. Much to his disgust and that of his supporters, no doubt, when he had been lulled into a false sense of security and thought that he could go to the people with the Liberal party Australian Country party plan and say, “ The wheatgrowers have no stabilization plan because the Premier of Victoria has refused to agree to certain price-fixing proposals “ ! The right honorable gentleman thought that he could gain support from the growers by that means, but there was more to be said on the subject.
The Opposition has a sense of responsibility, not only to the wheat-growers whom it has befriended in a practical manner in the past, but also to the consuming public. The Minister said that the Victorian obstruction had been based on party political motives so that the Menzies Government could be blamed for having failed, to bring the plan to fruition. He described Mr. Cain as a ready tool of the Opposition in this Parliament. I I suggest that Sir John Teasdale was a ready tool of the right honorable gentleman in his opposition to Labour’s plan in 1948 ! However, the growers and the State governments accepted the plan. Labour was successful where the Liberal partyCountry party combination has failed deplorably. I do not blame the Minister for having made an alliance with Sir John Teasdale, as a member of the Australian Wheat Board, in his opposition to Labour’s policy. Sir John Teasdale is a very capable man. However, the fact is that the Minister has failed where we succeeded. The Minister also asserted in his second-reading speech that the Labour party proposal was a deep-laid plan of cunning men who were callously prepared to jeopardize the whole future security of the wheat industry in order to secure a political advantage. Of course the right honorable gentleman has never been guilty of such conduct in his life! He declared that the Labour party was willing to endanger the whole wheat industry in order to promote its own political schemes. According to him, the Cain-Evatt idea was intended to frustrate every effort to reach agreement by governments on stabilization and to prevent a plan from being implemented. By this means, the way was prepared for the Pollard-Evatt plan to be put to the growers as a vision of the promised land where self-help by the industry would not be needed. The so-called Pollard plan,, he announced, was pure political propaganda and illustrated the extravagance of people bidding for votes.
– I thank the honorable member for repeating my remarks. My speech last Thursday was not broadcast.
– It is a remarkable fact that, throughout the life of this Parliament the Government has made arrangements for every important speech that the Minister has made on the wheat industry to be broadcast from this House at the most opportune time for the listening public, particularly the wheat-growers. “Was it not an exhibition of defeatism on this occasion that the right honorable gentleman’s speech was not broadcast? It indicates that the Minister realized that the growers and the State governments would again accept the plan which the Labour party, with a full sense of responsibility, has propounded for their consideration.
Let us consider the facts. Why has the Minister failed? The truth is that the wheat-growers and the State governments, particularly the Cain Labour Government in Victoria, have no further faith in the Menzies Government. Why have the wheat-growers no faith in this Government? I refer honorable members to the policy speech that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made in 1949. Referring to primary production he said -
We stand for the stabilisation of rural industries wherever practicable on the basis of guaranteed minimum prices. Schemes to this end will not be set up unless growers, by vote, approve. The guaranteed price covering not only the found cost but also a reasonable profit margin for efficient production will be ascertained by independent cost-finding Tribunals on the model of the Tariff Board.
Where is the independent tribunal ? The present Government has been in office for four years, but there is no independent tribunal ! The authority that has assessed costs is the authority that was established by the Labour Government - the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The present Prime Minister promised that he would establish some authority like the Tariff Board. Where is it? It does not exist. The right honorable gentleman also said in his 1949 policy speech - fu particular, we support a long-term stabilisation of the dairying industry for 10 years (by subsidy where the price is not raised) and believe that the Wheat Stabilisation Scheme should operate for a similar period.
Home consumption prices should be periodically reviewed, and losses on concession sales recouped.
I.’ ask honorable members to note in particular the final words of that quotation. In 1951, the Government parties were more guarded in their promises to the electors and the Prime Minister said in his policy speech -
We have been negotiating, and are reaching a satisfactory basis for long-term contracts for the overseas sale of other primary products on the basis of cost of production and a reasonable margin of profit.
I have always believed in allowing a reasonable margin of profit, and I shall deal with that subject later in my speech. These were the promises that the Government parties made to the wheat-growers : stabilization for ten years, a margin of profit, and a guarantee for exported wheat. No mention of a term of ten years was made in the plan that the Minister submitted to the wheat-growers recently.
Let us examine the promises made to the wheat-growers by the second principal partner in the mixture of parties now in power. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) wrote to the Australian Wheat Growers Union in 1949, after he had assumed his present office, in the following terms -
The difference between the export value of the product consumed in Australia, other than for human consumption, and the price determined by the Government, for sale to the other primary industries for production purposes shall be paid out of consolidated revenue to the Board controlling the marketing of the industry. This provision is to keep down costs to the consumer and to prevent increased costs to other industries without loss to the industry concerned.
He has not honoured that promise. Belatedly in 1951, after two years of office and almost on the eve of a general election, after he had planned and plotted and had been prodded by the wheatgrowers to honour his election promises on the subject of a subsidy, the right honorable gentleman brought down a bill that provided that the Commonwealth would pay a bounty in order to raise the price paid to growers for wheat used for home consumption to the International Wheat Agreement price of 16s. Id. a bushel, subject to the requirement that the State governments should raise the home-consumption price by 2s. a bushel. He had coerced the State governments to raise the local price, and so had seriously prejudiced the poultry and dairying industries. That was an essential condition of the Commonwealth’s undertaking to pay a bounty. In 1951-52, the bounty was at the rate of 4s. Id. a bushel. In the following season, it was at the rate of about 2s. a bushel. Then the Commonwealth said, “ No more subsidy ! “. This is the Government whose leader had said, “ There must be subsidies and a guaranteed plan “. The present Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture, as a member of the Opposition in 1946, said -
Wheat will be supplied on the present price basis for stock feed, but wheat-growers will not be asked to carry the cost of such concessional sales.
Explaining the Australian Country party’s outlook on price policy, he also said - its policy is to guarantee prices to cover cost of production and leave a reasonable margin of profit which will ensure the producers a comfortable Australian standard of living.
Why has the Labour party proposed a plan for the wheat industry? We have clone so because the Government has failed. We realize the anxiety of the wheat-growers, and we consider that we have a responsibility to them. We have a sound record, reinforced by experience of the operation of the first peace-time stabilization plan for the wheat industry, the expired Chifley five-year plan. We realize that anomalies inevitably arise from the operation of legislation which is enacted for the first time. Knowledge of the fact that anomalies would arise prompted us, in our 1951 election policy declaration, to undertake that, if we were returned to power, we would review the operation of the plan and take such steps as might be necessary to remove any anomalies. Furthermore, we are conscious that the wheat-growers are now preparing to sow their next season’s crop and we know that it would be foolish to expect them to wait in uncertainty until the time when the election policy speeches of the various parties will be presented. What does Labour’s new plan suggest? It suggests a basis for stabilization which should, and I believe will, overcome the disagreement between the various State governments. It represents the outcome of experience with the operation of the last five-year plan. It provides that, for the current season, home consumption prices shall remain as they are under the present arrangement, which was agreed upon for a period of three years by all State governments. It suggests that, after the election, with the co-operation of the State governments and the consent of the growers as expressed by ballot -
– The plan does not suggest that a ballot will be conducted.
– The right honorable gentleman should know that the Labour Government initiated the first peace- ] time stabilization plan for the wheat industry with the consent of the six i State governments and of the growers ex- j pressed at a ballot. He should know that it goes without saying that- I
– The honorable member is enlarging on the plan now. It is too late.
– The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) should not worry about that. The Labour party’s intention is obvious. He need not hope to hang his hat on that peg. The Labour party plan suggests that, for the first four years of the next five years, the already existing arrangement that the growers shall not receive less than 14s. a bushel will be preserved. However, it goes further than that and provides that for that period, and indeed for the remainder of the duration of the plan, a premium or subsidy of ls. 5d. a bushel shall be paid to growers. This will be in recognition of the right of the growers to a profit margin. After many year.? the growers have established, through the State parliaments, not through this Parliament, their right to receive a premium over and above the cost of production in consideration of the fact that they are required to sell wheat for stock-feed at a special home-consumption price. The honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Brown) wags his head, in effect, saying that t,]]e Labour Opposition is now proposing to give something that it never before consented to give. Quite true. But we have learned from experience something that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his followers have not learned. They have been the advocates of these things. They are also the people who have failed to honour their promises regarding a subsidy, and I have plenty of confirmation of those promises, which I can cite to the House. The plan proposed by the Labour party could be said to cover the first five years of the proposed period of ten years. For the second five-year period, it is proposed that the plan shall embody a provision under which the State governments shall fix the home-consumption price at the found cost of production and pay a subsidy or premium of ls. 5d. a bushel for that period. It fits in exactly with the propositions that have been enunciated by members of the Australian Country party, but which, as recently as six months ago, they announced to the growers and the people they repudiated absolutely. It was a policy that they had espoused and implemented for two years, but, as their price for remaining part and parcel of the Menzies-Fadden coalition Government, they repudiated it entirely. They held a gun at the heads of the- State governments and said to them, in effect, “ Put the price up to the growers. Never mind the men on the basic wage with large family obligations, that group winch consumes more bread, flour and wheat products than are consumed by any other section of the community. Do not allow the payment of any more subsidies”. Consequently, they are annoyed that, at this stage, we accept that policy and undertake to implement it, in contrast with their proposal and their infliction on the State governments of a price substantially above the cost of production, which imposed a heavy burden on the family man.
Now let us examine the export situation. We have said that our plan will run for ten years. Already I have quoted from the joint policy speech made by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, who is also the loader of the Australian Country party, the solemn promise that they believed in a ten-year plan and would legislate to provide for a guaranteed price for that period. We go further, than that. The Minister in his second-reading speechridiculed the proposal for a guaranteed price for a period of ten years. Let us hear what the Minister said with great emphasis about this subject as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 20th September, 1946. The report reads -
To achieve .stabilization over a cycle of seasonal fluctuations and the unpredictable but constant fluctuations in export market values, the County party contends that stabilization plans must cover a period of not less than ten yea r».
Then he added, with all the emphasis of which he is so capable -
And further, we will legislate to provide guaranteed prices for a minimum of ten years.
Now, he ridicules the Labour party’s proposal to negotiate a ten-year plan for a guaranteed price. He gives the wheatgrowers a proposition for a five-year plan. Recently, he became aware that those old ghosts might arise to haunt him, and he conferred with the secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, Mr. Stott, in the precincts of this House. Following the presence here of that gentleman, there was inserted in the text of the Minister’s second-reading speech a statement which constitutes what I call the great wriggle. It was -
The Government’s policy has been that stabilization, if desired by growers, should he over an adequately long period.
He is very meek and mild now. The statement continued -
Ten years has been mentioned.
He had promised faithfully that period before. He added -
This is in line with the growers’ own thinking.
I do not know whether Mr. Stott committed the growers or not. The Minister’s statement continued -
But all experience has shown that to write in precise details for too long a term is almost always found to be a grave mistake.
He did not find it to be a grave mistake until he had to sacrifice his party’s policy for a portfolio in the Menzies-Fadden coalition. The statement continued -
The growers have asked for an assurance that, if they desire it, stabilization as a principle -
The Minister did not promise principles, but material enactments - - would exist for at least ten years.
An airy sort of business ! - but that the legislation defining precise details should cover five years only. That is in line with the Government’s thinking.
This is the Minister’s great wriggle, after an interview with Mr. Stott, who apparently consulted the Australian Wheat Growers Federation ! 1 think I am pretty right in my guess, as the Minister does not deny it. But did Mr. Stott consult the federation ? I have said only “who apparently consulted the federation.”
Now let us look at the other aspects of the ten-year guarantee. A great meeting was held at Warracknabeal not long ago which, according to the press, was attended by 1,000 farmers. .Present were Mr. S. Lockhard, president of the Country party, Mr. J. G. B. McDonald, M.L.A., Mr. Hugh Roberton, who is the honorable member for Riverina in this House, and Sir John Teasdale. I shall read to the House the resolution passed by this meeting, to which apparently the honorable member for Riverina subscribed, because he was not listed as a dissentient.
Mr. Roberton interjecting,
– The honorable member need not make apologies here. He should make them in his electorate. The resolution reads -
That this meeting agrees that stabilization of prices for wheat over a period of at least tcn years is essential, and supports stabilization on the basis set down by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation.
When did the growers renounce that resolution? When did they authorize the Minister to make the apology that he made here in his second-reading speech, and to state that in agreeing to stabilization for ten years the growers were only affirming a principle ?
– The full executive came and asked for only four years’ details.
– The Victorian Parliamentary Liberal party even believed the promise for a ten-year stabilization plan because, according to the Melbourne Argus of the 18th June, 1948, when the Chifley Government’s plans were under consideration, it said its policy was for a minimum of 5s. a bushel paid for all wheat exported in the next ten years, the figures to be guaranteed by the Australian Government. Incidentally, Mr. McDonald said that the most the Commonwealth would lose would be £12,500,000. He is not a member of the Liberal party, but he made that statement at the same time as the Victorian Parliamentary Liberal party made its statement. We know that that sum is no more than the equivalent of £25,000,000 to-day, yet the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has attacked Labour’s proposal on the ground that it would involve a shocking obligation on the Consolidated Revenue Fund and again, almost with tears in his eyes, expressed his horror about what the taxpayers associations might think about it ! What did they think when the Liberal party enunciated its policy for a ten-year guarantee ?
Now, let us examine the wisdom of a ten-year plan. It is true that the Labour Government did not institute such a plan in 1948. We were facing this problem in peace-time, and we wanted to have a proper look around. However, we said in 1951 that if we were elected to office we would review the operations of our wheat plan and legislate as soon as possible to remove anomalies. The Labour Government’s plan has been successful, and has not cost the Commonwealth one penny. It is stated by the honorable member for Riverina, by Mr. Stott and others that the wheat-growers have sacrificed from £160,000,000 to £200,000,000 in order to supply consumers with cheap wheat.
– That is so.
– That may be true. It is part of the bargain. But, in the absence of a plan, no Premier in Australia, whatever his politics, would refrain from fixing a homeconsumption price for wheat sold in his own State. So, whether there was a home price plan or not, all the Premiers would have fixed a home-consumption price for wheat at a time when the world market prices were at fantastic levels. How otherwise could there be any attempt to stabilize the economy and lighten the burden on the basic wage-earners with families that would be imposed by a high price fixed on export values, which would be unfair to them and, incidentally, would lead the wheat-growers into having a false sense of values?
Now, let us turn to some authorities on a ten-year plan. One of the reasons why the Labour party decided on a period of ten years is that experience, and an objective view of the future, showed the wisdom of it. Honorable gentlemen opposite will surely accept the view of Broomhall, who is a very great authority on world wheat markets.
– What about the wheat that the Labour Government sold cheaply to New Zealand under contract?
– The honorable gentleman need not bring the New Zealand wheat agreement deal into it, because the wheat-growers, as he knows, did not lose a penny through it. Empty phrases do not make a convincing argument. Broomhall, who, as I have said, is the recognized statistical authority on world wheat markets, made a statement which is reported as follows : -
His close observation of records over 100 years proved it to be a fact that dividing that period into ten equal periods, each of ten years, the world’s total supply of wheat was exactly equal to world’s consumption for the same period, despite the fact that in some years of such period there was overabundance and hopeless over-production. This, however, was counteracted within the ten-year period by seasons of short crops wherein world’s wheat requirements were greater than world’s production.
These are some of the reasons why we decided on a period of ten years. As Broomhall says, it is possible to spread over the whole period losses that may occur in any one year of a ten-year period. The Minister attacked the unlimited quantity situation under the plan suggested by the Labour party. He cited the irresponsible guarantee of wheat for export over a period of ten years. Let us have a look at that. Australia’s wheat export record shows that in not one period of ten years has Australia exported more than an average of 100,000,000 bushels of wheat a year.
– It happened twenty years ago.
– I said an average of 100,000,000 bushels a year in a tenyear period. By taking a ten-year period there is no undue risk involved, and the grower is protected in a period such as we are now facing. We have available for export from this year’s crop alone 123,000,000 bushels. In the next season, or the one after, however, the wheat available for export may not exceed 80,000,000 bushels, or perhaps, only 40,000,000 bushels. Spread over the tenyear period there is no undue risk to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. and even if there were, surely we should be justified in taking a risk, with the support of the members of the Australian Country party, in a plan for the export of an unlimited quantity of wheat, especially in view of the statements formerly made by those honorable gentlemen that they believed in a period of ten years for guaranteed export parity. However, let us have another look at the ten-year period and the risk that the Minister was so concerned about. Let me point out to him that figures show that for the five years that ended with the 1938-39 season, Australia exported 136,000,000 bushels a year, on an average, but that in the five years that ended with the 1942-44 season the average was 60,000,000 bushels only. Averages for other five-year periods were - Period ended 1948-49. 72,000,000 bushels; 1949-50, 114,000,000 bushels; 1950-51, 127,000,000 bushels; 1951-52, 92,000,000 bushels, and 1952-53, 93,000,000 bushels. This season Ave shall have available for export, from this year’s crop alone, 123,000,000 bushels. ‘ [Extension of time granted.’] The great virtues of the plan that we have suggested to the people are that it will give justice to the wheatgrowers and ensure fair play for the consumers. It will shoulder a risk that probably we were not justified in shouldering in .1948-49, and it will shift the extra premium payment, that will be made to the growers, from the consumers on to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Moreover, the subsidy of ls. 5d. a bushel will be supplemented by shifting to that fund the cost of freight to Tasmania, with which this Government had burdened the consumers when it took 1-Jd. a bushel out of the pocket of the man on the basic wage, with perhaps six or seven children, in the same way as it took l£d. from the man with no dependants who was in receipt of £5,000 a year.
– The State governments decided that that should be done.
– But the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has been attempting to get the State governments into a pen for a long time. He failed to shepherd in one State government, and he has complained bitterly about that. The State governments did agree to burden the consumers with the extra cost, but only because the Australian Government informed them that it was no longer prepared to carry the cost of freight to Tasmania. For a time the Australian Wheat Board carried that cost, but then objected to continuing to do so, and the Minister had some trouble about that. It is quite true that we are faced with a rather difficult wheat marketing position at the present time. We are in this difficulty because of the lack of supervision by the Minister of the activities of the Australian Wheat Board. When the present season’s crop came in, the board found itself with a surplus of 35,000,000 bushels of wheat. The normal surplus is 16,000,000 to 20,000,000 bushels, and evidently the board misjudged the state of the market and did not believe that there would be huge crops in Canada and the United States of America. It now seems that the Australian Wheat Board, instead of selling at a reasonable cost, held out for what it considered would be a higher price in the coming year. Now it has found itself lauded with a very large carry-over plus a big crop. The Minister must have had great faith in the belief that because Australia is a sterling country and because the United Kingdom, being short of dollars, could not buy wheat from Canada or the United States of America, it would be forced willynilly to buy wheat from Australia. Now the Australian Wheat Board is having the greatest difficulty in selling wheat to the United Kingdom under the open trader system. All the reasoning that the United Kingdom would have to buy sterling wheat, reasoning with which the Minister expressed his agreement at that time, has proved to be false.
Honorable members will remember a Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Conference held in Sydney recently, and all the fine high-falutin’ statements made through the press by Government supporters at that time. Honorable members will also remember that in the House of Commons Mr. Butler, who had been a United Kingdom delegate to that conference, was challenged by the British Labour party on the matter of the United Kingdom buying wheat from dollar areas. A member of the Opposition in the House of Commons asked the British Government why it did not buy wheat from Australia or elsewhere in the sterling area, and Mr. Butler said that if the position grew too difficult the British Government would probably take some steps to ensure that the United Kingdom should come to the party and buy wheat from sterling areas. However, to the present time no substantial orders have materialized. This Parliament and the wheat-growers want to know what the Government is going to do, having spent much money and much time at the Commonwealth conference in Sydney some months ago, to ensure that at least some protection is afforded to the Australian wheat-growers as the result of its participation in that conference. At the moment the situation is almost desperate as far as the disposal of the huge carry-over is concerned. It is of no use for this Government to make excuses about the dangers of a ten-year guarantee plan, and there is no validity in its excuses about difficult State governments. I had to contend with all such difficulties, and I succeeded in lining up all the State governments and in introducing a plan which was successful for a period of five years.
This Government has failed where the previous Labour Government succeeded. The Minister will achieve nothing by disowning his policy, which is at the expense of the less affluent citizens and the workers with large families but small incomes. He has agreed to subsidy policies time and time again. It is no use for the Minister to appeal to the sympathies of the Taxpayers Association and to refer to the frightful burdens that could be incurred by the Government, because under the provisions of the plan that he promised he undertook to sell 100,000,000 bushels of wheat at the cost of production. We promised a guaranteed price on export wheat without quantity limitation. That meant that if t20,000,000 bushels of wheat became available the guarantee would cover it. The Minister has attempted to blame the Cain -Government of Victoria for his difficulties. His trouble there arose originally because the Australian Wheat Growers Federation asked for a cost of production guarantee to consumers, and the Minister affirmed his belief in a cost of production price, and some States prepared to increase the price to the consumers. He fell in with that suggestion, but came up against a difficulty when one State was not prepared to enter the agreement.
When the Minister refused a subsidy policy he ditched the stock-feeding industries of the country, in particular the poultry industry. The Labour proposal means a subsidy of Id. a loaf on bread, 1¾d. a dozen on eggs and ltd. on pig meats, which would total not less than £1,750,000 for the poultry and pig meats industries of this country. Everybody knows that our egg industry is in grave difficulties because the export market has collapsed. The proposed Labour subsidy will assist the egg industry, enable it to compete more successfully overseas and market eggs on the home market - perhaps under State prices control - at n lower price than will otherwise be the case. The same can be said about pig meats. I suggest that the wheatgrowers and consumers, in the light of the circumstances and the history of wheat marketing in this country, in view nf the promises of the Government which failed them, and in the light of the undertaking of the Labour party which implemented the first wheat stabilization plan in this country, will prefer to trust Labour.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has spoken for 55 minutes without referring once to the bill before the House. This measure is entitled the Wheat Industry Stabilization (Refund of Charge) Bill. The honorable member devoted the whole of his time to discussing his new wheat stabilization scheme, to criticizing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and to eulogizing the Labour party for its alleged implementation of a successful wheat stabilization scheme. But he has not told honorable members whether or not he supports the bill before the House. This measure was introduced to honour a definite promise made by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture that, in the event of certain proposals not coming to fruition, the £9,000,000 standing to the credit of the wheat-growers would be returned to them. The honorable member for Lalor, in the course of his speech, criticized the Minister for what he called his “ failure “ to implement some wheat stabilization scheme. There was no such failure on the part of the Minister; indeed, the defection was by the State Labour governments, which, well in keeping with the policy of the Opposition in this House, showed no particular sympathy for the wheat-growers at all. The Labour party voices sympathy for the wheat-growers until it is required to do something for them and then it fails them utterly.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has devoted much time and energy in trying to bring into being some organization between the States and the Commonwealth in conformity with the proposition approved by the wheatgrowers to introduce a wheat stabilization scheme. The Minister’s first attempt to stabilize the industry occurred within six months of his appointment to his present position. He met the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in November, 1950, and discussed the seventeenpoint plan which has been almost completely embodied in propositions for wheat stabilization put to the Australian Agricultural Council. The Minister met that council in June, 1950, and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in November of the same year. Since then, he has attended meetings of Commonwealth and State Ministers of Agriculture on twelve occasions, and either he or his assistant has attended conferences with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation on ten occasions in Canberra, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. Every possible attempt has been made to develop a workable plan for wheat marketing, one free from, political guile and one which will have the approval of the wheat-growers. The States have examined the plans that have been put forward, and some States have endorsed them. Two States practically frustrated the Wheat Marketing Bill and caused the dissolution of the Australian Wheat Board. Fortunately, before it was too late, an agreement was reached which was embodied in the Wheat Marketing Act passed in October, .1953. Through that legislation the orderly marketing of wheat is ensured for the next three years.
Following the policy of bringing the ideas of the wheat-growers before the States, the Minister has incorporated in legislation the agreement of the States to the benefit of the wheat-growers and Australia generally. The “Wheat Marketing Act 1953 was only part of the plan. The plan was again submitted to the State, but it is history that Victoria was the only State that did not accept it and which did not allow the plan to be submitted to the wheat-growers for their endorsement by ballot. The essential fact to be remembered is that, before any plan for the stabilization of the wheat industry can operate, it must be approved by the State governments. The honorable member for Lalor has proposed a plan. He was very modest on an earlier occasion and said that the wheat stabilization plan of 1948 was not the Pollard plan, but I note that he is prepared to lend his name to the Opposition’s latest plan. It contains certain proposals without giving any consideration to the basic principle that the State governments must approve a plan before it can be put into operation. The honorable member insinuated that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture wished to foist the scheme on Victoria.
– So he did.
– There was no suggestion of foisting the scheme on to Victoria. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who said, “ So he did ‘;, is entirely ignorant of wheat transactions and also of the fact that the Government’s plan was approved by all the other State governments before Victoria decided not to accept it. The honorable member for Lalor made great play of the suggestion that the Minister promised a ten-year scheme.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order !
– It is all right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Honorable members opposite do not know anything about the scheme.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– The honorable member for Watson will obey the Chair.
– I did not say anything.
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) knows nothing about the subject and has not the intention to learn. On the 15th March, 1951, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, in reply to a question asked by me in relation to the Government’s proposal to improve the wheat stabilization scheme, said -
The Government has in hand the matter that the honorable member has raised. The parties that comprise the Government announced as a matter of policy at the last general election that if returned to office they would be prepared to introduce legislation to extend the duration of the wheat stabilization scheme to a period of ten years.
It was not proposed that the Government would introduce a ten-year scheme but that it would graft on to the previous scheme, by way of modification, a scheme for a further period of five years. That would make a total of ten years. Why should the Government want to do that? The Government wanted to do so for the simple reason that the previous scheme had proved to be unsuccessful. During the period for which the scheme had been in operation the wheat-growers had been mulcted of approximately £145,000,000. The scheme contained the iniquitous provision that a wheat-grower who was also a stock-feeder could deliver his wheat over the weighbridge, become a recognized wheat-grower, receive full payment for his product and then buy it back at the homeconsumption price, which was considerably lower than the figure at which he sold it. That actually happened. That was one of the aspects of the scheme that the Minister had to correct. He corrected it, as honorable members know, by proposing that, in the first year of a period of three years, a subsidy of approximately 4s. should be paid, provided that the price to the consumer was increased by 2s. In the next year the price to the consumer was increased by 4s. and there was to be a reduction in the subsidy, and in the third year the full price was to be paid for stock feed. The purchaser of stock feed had ample time in which to learn of that proposition. The new Pollard scheme proposes to wreck that arrangement and once again to give Australia a system which, without any justification, will allow a farmer who is feeding stock to sell his wheat at a high price and buy it back at a low price. What an iniquitous proposition that is!
The honorable member for Lalor also said that, when the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture sent certain delegates to the international wheat conference in Washington, he would not announce the instructions that he had given to the delegates. That statement was completely answered in this House only a few days ago. The important point is that the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board was one of the delegates to that conference. He had the full confidence of the board and from time to time the board was informed about what was happening overseas. The suggestion is frequently made, not only inside but also outside the House, that the Australian Wheat Board is not representative of the growers. Again, the Minister had to amend the old scheme which the honorable member for Lalor does not acknowledge to be his, but which he introduced. The Minister amended the scheme by introducing an amendment which gave greater representation on the board to wheat-growers. Originally, some of the States had two representatives on the board, but three of the States had only one representative. . An amendment, which was introduced by the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, widened that representation so that to-day, of a board of fourteen members, nine are direct wheat-growers’ representatives. That fact should not be overlooked, because, it is important that the wheatgrowers should be fully conversant, through their representatives on the board, with what transpires in relation to such matters at the meetings held at Washington and elsewhere in order to decide issues that are of importance to them.
The honorable member for Lalor stated that he had befriended the wheat-growers and that the Australian Labour party had done likewise. We have had experience in this House of the friendship that has been shown by representatives of the Australian Labour party to the wheatgrowers. The h’onorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has stated that he is definitely a representative of the consumers in this House. He has no con sideration for the wheat-growers, who produce Australia’s second largest export commodity. The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens) has spoken in this House about other primary producers in a very disparaging manner. I am mentioning only those members whom I have heard express their views, but I have heard that, over the years, other honorable members have heard similar disparaging remarks from members of the Opposition.
– The honorable member should have heard the honorable member for East Sydney.
– I did not hear the honorable member for East Sydney, but I did hear the honorable member for Lalor accuse the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture of having encouraged the wheat-farmers to be greedy. I challenged the honorable member and he said that he did not care if he had made such a statement. The wheat-growers should read the report of what was said on that occasion so that they will know just how much the Opposition has defended them. On the 15th October, 1953, I said-
As a wheat-grower, I take strong exception to a statement by the honorable member for Lalor that the Minister is encouraging wheatgrowers to be greedy.
The honorable member for Lalor interjected and said, “ I do not care whether the honorable member likes that statement or not “.
I replied -
The honorable member for Lalor has said that the Minister is encouraging wheat-growers to be greedy.
The honorable member for Lalor replied, “ Of course “.
I went on to say -
That statement indicates that the honorable gentleman considers that the wheat-growers are greedy, and that the Minister is encouraging them to greater greed.
The honorable member for Lalor replied -
Of course he is.
I further said -
On behalf of the wheat-growers, I take strong exception to that statement.
The honorable member for Lalor replied -
I do not care.
Of course the honorable member does not care. As the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) has reminded me, no election was in the offing on that occasion and no election was in the offing when the last bill to refund money to the wheat-growers was before this House. On that occasion much was said about whether the wheat-growers’ money should be refunded or not. It was stated also that the wheat-growers have no faith in this Government. The remarkable thing is that the Government is proposing, and has proposed for some time to the States, that the very stabilization, scheme that should be introduced is one which has the absolute approval of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and the Australian Primary Producers Union, which are the two main wheat-growers organizations in this country. Those bodies represent the various State organizations which have been consulted and which have put their case to the Government. It is a remarkable coincidence that the Pollard plan should propose quite a number of the things that the Government has proposed. However, it includes one or two proposals which should be of very great interest to the taxpayer. It proposes that the plan should be for a period of ten years, but it entirely ignores the fact that State legislation and annual votes by this Parliament will be required before any subsidy can be paid. How could a plan possibly be submitted to the wheat-growers on the eve of an election which has not been sanctioned by the wheat-growers’ organizations and which does not contain any promise that it will be submitted to the growers for their approval by ballot? On every occasion that this Government has drafted a plan, it has stated distinctly that the plan will be submitted to the wheat-growers who will have an opporunity of deciding by ballot whether or not they approve of it. Is it likely that the Pollard plan will be submitted, to the wheat-growers? I suggest that the 194S plan, when it was submitted to the wheat-growers, was merely a halfbaked plan. When the plan was submitted to the them it was stated that it could be amended or modified. Exactly the same proposition is being made now.
– The Opposition supported the amendments and modifications in this House.
– Of course, the Opposition supported the amendments and modifications, but it did not introduce them. The Labour party was in office sufficiently long to have the opportunity of introducing them. The members of the Opposition supported the amendments when this Government introduced them, because they did not want to go back to the wheat-growers and say that they had voted against the amendments. On this occasion the Opposition has submitted an exactly similar proposition. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), in commenting on the Pollard plan, said, in effect, that the plan might require modification or explanation. The Opposition said that the previous plan could be modified if required. When this Government assumed office it found that the only way in which the plan could be modified was by agreement of all the States, and we know how friendly all the States have been towards any modification of the principles of the plan in order to give the wheat-growers their fair and just due. The right honorable gentleman also said not only that it might require modification or explanation but also that it was in accordance with the policy of the Australian Labour party.
– Hear, hear !
– The objective of the Australian Labour party is the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. If the Opposition’s plan is in conformity with the objectives of the Australian Labour party, the wheat-grower should remember that fact. The members of the Labour party are the very people who wanted the growers to support a referendum in 1946 designed to place marketing under the control of the Australian Government. The Pollard plan proposes that subsidies shall be paid which the Australian wheat-grower does not want, and to the payment of which the grower is definitely opposed.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– The honorable member for East Sydney may speak about wheat later, but at the present time I have th«i (door. The subsidies which Labour proposes to pay under the Pollard scheme would, of course, be financed by the taxpayers. In announcing that scheme, the Leader of the Opposition did not claim that it would enable a Labour government actually to reduce the price of flour. He merely said that it would “ stabilize or reduce “ - he was not quite sure which - the price of bread. As I pointed out on a previous occasion, a reduction of the price of wheat by ls. 5d. a bushel represents a reduction of the price of bread by only 4’d. a loaf. That would represent a benefit of less than 6d. a week, or 25s. a year, to the average householder. Although Labour claims that under the Pollard scheme it would he able to provide a benefit to the wheat-grower and, at the same time, reduce the cost of bread to the consumer, honorable members opposite cannot hide the fact that such benefits would have to be financed by increases of taxes. Possibly, Labour would finance such benefits by manufacturing money. That is a process which honorable members opposite strongly advocate. Or, perhaps, in this respect, they might have something else up their sleeve. I recall that when the measure under which the land tax was abolished was before the Parliament, honorable members opposite said that when Labour was returned to office it would reimpose that tax. Perhaps, those honorable members have the bright idea that they could utilize the proceeds derived from land tax, which amounted to £7,000,000 annually at the time that it was abolished, for the purpose of providing the subsidies proposed under the Pollard plan. If that is their idea, they intend to give to the primary producer a subsidy on the one hand and, on the other hand, to tax him in order to finance that subsidy. That is the falsity of the Pollard plan. I believe that when the wheat-growers examine that plan they will realize that Labour has put it forward simply as a means of catching votes at the forthcoming general election.
Under the Pollard plan Labour proposes to guarantee a price of 14s. a bushel for the first five years, and to guarantee the cost of production for the following five years, plus a subsidy of ls. 5d. a bushel, and in addition, during those ten years, to guarantee a price for all export wheat regardless of the cost of production. The wheat-growers will immediately recognize that proposal as a snare and a delusion. They know that after the general election is over Labour will forget about the promises that it has put forward in that plan. ‘In any event, Labour will riot have an opportunity to introduce its plan because it will be defeated at the polls. I congratulate this Government upon introducing a scheme which it knows it can back up to the hilt. This Government would not dream of introducing a plan of the kind that Labour introduced in 1948 and which subsequently required to be substantially amended before the wheat-growers were enabled to receive anything like a fair deal under it. If the wheat-growers have any doubt about whether Labour is genuine in putting forward the Pollard plan, they can resolve such doubts by recalling events that occurred in the ‘thirties when, after Labour had guaranteed a price of 4s. 6d. a bushel and urged the farmers at every opportunity to grow more wheat, it was unable to make good its promise. At that time, in response to the urging by the Labour Government of the day, the farmers put all their fallow land under wheat. However, when the stage was reached when the Government attempted to implement its plan it found that it had overlooked the vital point of making provision to finance the scheme. As a result, the wheatgrowers were obliged to sell their wheat, not at 4s. 6d. a bushel, but at ls. 6d. and ls. 7d., and, in some instances, at ls. 5d. a bushel.
I regret that I have taken up so much time in dealing with this spurious plan that Labour has now advanced. I should prefer to have dealt with a plan that would really offer some benefit to the wheat-growers and that would have reflected thoughtfulness on the part of its prepounders and a real attempt to help the growers to put their house in order. The bill now before the House is definite evidence that the Government intends to keep faith with the growers by honouring the promise that it made in unequivocal terms that the balance held in No. 1.5 pool would be returned as soon as practicable to the growers. In the Pollard plan Labour proposes that the sum of approximately £9,000,000 being held in that pool should be repaid to the growers, but Labour does not say specifically that it will repay that money. Under this measure, the Government is actually setting in motion the process to refund that money to the growers. When this matter was considered in the House in November last, the Minister stated that the balance standing to the credit of No. 15 pool would be retained until the 31st March of this year in order to provide a period of six months to the States in which to reach agreement upon a home-consumption price and to conduct a ballot of the growers on that point. The Minister then stated that if such a ballot had been conducted and defeated, or if the States had failed to conduct such a ballot during that period, the Government would legislate to return that sum of £9,000,000 to the wheatgrowers. It is now honouring that promise by introducing this bill.
The honorable member for Lalor, in the course of his remarks, did not deal directly with the provisions of the bill. In a peculiar way, he simply discussed the Pollard plan. I have pointed out the anomalies in the plan, and that false promises that Labour has advanced in the guise of that plan, and that no practical suggestion has been put forward in it as to how those promises can be fulfilled. Worst of all, that plan does not even indicate whether Labour will refer it to the growers for their approval. If ever such a plan were submitted to the growers they would unanimously reject it because of the doubt that exists in their minds that the plan would be implemented in accordance with Labour’s policy of socialization of the means of production. A.t the same time, the growers realize that this Government has actually done all that it can do in the interests of their industry and that it will continue to do so.
.- The object of this bill is to authorize the repayment of the sum of approximately £9,000,000 which is held in the wheat stabilization fund to growers who supplied wheat to the No. 15 pool. It is evident that the Government has been scared into taking this action. During the recent by-election campaign in the Gwydir electorate, Government supporters did not even refer to this proposal. On the other hand, Labour has long since made it known that if returned to office it would repay this money to the growers because the Government has no justification whatsoever for withholding it from them. The Government decided to introduce this measure only after Labour promised to refund this money to the growers. The history of the wheat industry in this country is most interesting. Previous speakers have directed attention to the unstable conditions that have existed in the industry for many years. Anti-Labour governments have failed miserably to do justice, not only to the wheat-growers’ but also to all sections of primary producers. It was not until Labour assumed office in the early years of World War II. that real stability was given to primary producers generally. At present, the wheat industry is confronted with difficulties arising from the falling off of sales on the overseas market, but the Government is not doing very much to help the industry to overcome those difficulties. As a matter of fact, it was due to the obstinacy of the Government in the negotiations in relation to the International Wheat Agreement that Great Britain and other countries refused to become parties to that agreement as buyers. Indeed, only last week several buying countries announced their withdrawal from the agreement.
Last year, an advance of 12 s. a bushel was made to the wheat-growers, but an advance of only 10s.’ is now being made to them, whereas the cost of production is 12s. 7d. After allowing for freight charges the growers are receiving a net price of only 8s. a bushel, which is 4s. 6d. a bushel less than the actual cost of production. Many growers have been obliged to borrow money in order to finance their crops this year. The difficulties that now beset the industry have led the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sir John Teasdale, who is the nominee of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and, I have no doubt, acts in close collaboration with him, to propose that acreage should be reduced. The implementation of such a proposal would have helped the Government to extricate itself from its financial difficulties. However, the growers gave nhat proposal short shrift and the Government, consequently, was not prepared to back up Sir John Teasdale in that matter. When the International Wheat Agreement was being negotiated Great Britain was prepared to become a party to it provided that the wheat was sold at not more than 17s. lOd. a bushel. Today, the selling price overseas is 16s. 2d. a bushel. Had this Government’s representatives agreed to Great Britain’s request the wheat industry in this country would be in a much happier position to-day. In the early ‘thirties the antiLabour government of the day appointed a royal commission to inquire into the cost of production of wheat. At that time, the growers were in a parlous position. Anti-Labour governments did nothing substantial to assist wheatgrowers. It was not until the Labour Government assumed office towards the end of 1.941 that any worthwhile aid was given to them. The Menzies Government, because of the pressure of war conditions, introduced a wheat stabilization scheme in 1939, and acquired wheat at 2s. 9.9d. a bushel. The net return to the grower was less than 2s. a bushel. Additional payments which were made subsequently were not very helpful. Particular significance can be attached to statements by the Prime Minister and the then Minister for Commerce, Senator McLeay, about the measure of the financial assistance to be given. The Prime Minister said -
I am now able to announce that we have arranged not only that the amount of the advance shall be increased to 2s. 10½d. a bushel for bagged wheat, less rail freight, and 2s. 8M. a bushel for bulk wheat, less rail freight, thus giving an average return of 2s. (id. a bushel-
A magnanimous price when the cost of production was about 4s. a bushel -
I earnestly say that these financial proposals represent not only a fair but also a generous approach to the problem of the Government.
The wheat-growers were most unhappy about the Government’s offer at that time. Indeed, farmers will not forget the attitude of members of the Australian Country party in 1939 in supporting the wheat scheme and dodging their responsibilities. 1 remind honorable members that a move was made in the House in November, 1939, to secure for the wheat-grower a guarantee of 3s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. The Labour party endeavoured to obtain a vote on the matter, but all the members of the Australian Country party voted with members of the United Australia party to prevent the House from expressing a view. The Sydney Morning Herald, in a comment on the attitude of the Australian Country party on that occasion, said -
Gradually it began to dawn on the Party that they were “ on the spot “. They realized that they must either support the motion or leave themselves open to the accusation that all their talking for the farmers was mere sham lighting. Members cast round for a way out. They found it by persuading the Government to shelve the debate and breathed a sigh of relief.
It is interesting to recall some of those matters at this stage in order to demonstrate the almost complete lack of interest shown by previous anti-Labour governments in the welfare of wheat-growers. The Australian Country party which was led by the present Minister for Health years ago, did little for the farmers. You, Mr. Speaker, in a speech on the 21st March, 1945, made the following statement : -
It is because we went to the country without a wheat policy that we are now in Opposition. When the responsibility rested upon us to do what ought to be done for the wheat-growers, we did not accept it.
Evidently that remark was prompted by your own experience in the wheat industry, because you said in this House in November, 1946, that you had sold thousands of bushels of wheat for ls. 2f d. a bushel. Your words were significant, and they justified the criticism that was levelled against a government which had not done anything to assist wheat-growers.
The Government also showed a lack of interest in the welfare of wheat-growers when it appointed a stabilization committee and wa-s not prepared to give the industry proper representation on .that body. When the committee was being formed in December, 1948, a motion was submitted for the inclusion of a person nominated by the council of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. Members of the Australian Country party voted against the motion. Before the Labour Government assumed office, wheat-growers’ organizations took strong exception to the fact that the personnel of the Australian Wheat Board did not really represent the growers. The Menzies Government, with its appointments, in effect, handed over the control of the wheat industry to men who, for many years, had exploited the farmers. Sir John Teasdale, who is now the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, was an officer of a wheat-selling organization. I understand that for many years past he has placed only a nominal number of bushels - about half a dozen bags of wheat - in a wheat pool in order to retain his status as a producer of wheat. We do not know whether he begged, borrowed or stole the wheat, but the point is that he has not grown the wheat, but has acquired it in order to put it into the pool so as to retain his qualifications as a producer. That man has been appointed chairman of the board by the Minister.
You, Mr. Speaker, were also most caustic when you criticized primary producers who demanded grower representation on the wheat board. You said -
It is a pretty piece of impudence on the part of representatives of the growers to contend that the farmers should direct the operations of the scheme.
I emphasize at this juncture that an antiLabour government failed to assist the farmers by the provision of a stable price for their products, and did not give them an adequate voice in the marketing of their product. Such an unhappy condition of affairs was remedied by a Labour government when it assumed office at the end of 1941. It can be emphatically stated that the economic security of persons engaged in primary production is dependent upon the return of the Labour party to office this year. No political party has done more for the farmer than has the Labour party. The solicitude expressed by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party for the wheat-grower, and the electioneering concern which they have for his welfare at the present time, are most amusing. The House will note the contrast between what they did for the farmers in the course of many years when they were in office, and what they now profess should be done. When we are assessing the policy that is likely to be adopted, it is interesting and informative to analyse the history of Liberal party-Australian Country party administrations. The honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) said that the Labour party had given lip service to the support of the wheat-grower. I point out that it was the Labour party that introduced stabilization schemes, not only for the wheat-growing industry, but for all other primary industries. The political promises which were made by members of the Liberal party-Australian Country party were never properly fulfilled. It is well for the farmer to remember incidents so that he may realize how little reliance can be placed on the pious promises that Government supporters are now making. Some time ago, a primary producers’ journal published in a leading article the following caustic remarks concerning promises made by the Liberal party-Australian Country party in the past : -
Pre-election promises are worthless, it is actions that count. Therefore it would be preferable for Mr. Fadden to recite what he did for the primary producer when he led a majority in Federal Parliament rather than give nebulous promises for the future.
The article stated that at every general election since 1931, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party had assured the farmers that they would be able to stabilize the rural industries, and added -
Growers know how United Australia partyCountry party administrations broke this promise and failed to redeem this pledge.
If journals representing country interests condemn their parliamentary representatives when their party is in office, there must be sound reasons for complaint. I shall read a few criticisms, which have been published in country newspapers, of the attitude of the Australian Country party in connexion with wheat marketing. The Wheatgrower, which is published in Western Australia stated -
What traitors these Federal Country Party representatives have proved themselves to the people they claim to represent. Numerous representations to the United Australia PartyCountry Party Federal Government proved the futility of making representations to a party whose aim and objects were and are completely at variance with the aims of the primary producers.
– When were those comments published?
– I am glad that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has interjected, because I was about to read a criticism of the Australian Country party that appeared in the Ouyen and North-West Express, which is published in his electorate. I am delving into some ancient history, because I believe that the farmer should be reminded of the performances of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in the past, so that he will be able to assess their value to him in the future. Those two political parties have failed the farmer in the past and will fail him miserably again. The passage that I desire to read from the Ouyen and NorthWest Express was published on the 7th February, 1945, and is as follows: -
Desperate efforts are being made by members of the Country Party to discredit not only the Scully wheat plan but also the whole stabilization scheme and with it orderly marketing without which the wheat grower is doomed.
Over a number of years we have seen what portfolio seeking politicians have done to the wheat industry. The grower has been used as a “ political football “ especially by men such as Mr. McEwen, M.P., and other Country Party members.
The article proceeded -
The game is on again and God help the grower if he takes notice of the propaganda being poured out by these men who in the past have sold the industry again and again.
The Labour Government, despite the innumerable difficulties it had encountered during “World War II., came to the assistance of the wheat-growers, and many newspapers warmly praised it for doing so. For instance, one newspaper stated -
In the midst of pre-occupation with a fight for Australia’s existence and with the worst drought the nation has known, it has given the primary producer better treatment than he received from his “ alleged “ friends in normal times.
The Albury Border Mail criticized the Australian Country party in May, 1940. I” remind the House that you, Mr. Speaker, were the leader of that party at that time, and that the newspaper said of you -
He knows about the raw deal the wheat farmers have had in the past. For did not hi: Party desert the man on the land . . . ? So it all comes back to what the wheat grower has learned from hitter experience that the Country Party as n fighting organization is impotent.
As I have stated, the position of wheatgrowers before the outbreak of World War II. was most difficult. The Melbourne Herald stated -
The Farmers Debt Adjustment Board contended that 75 per cent, of Victoria’s 1,300 wheatgrowers were then facing a financial crisis.
In 1939, Mr. Simpson, then State president of the Victorian Country party, said that SO per cent, of Victorian wheatgrowers were bankrupt. Sir Albert Dunstan, the Premier of Victoria, said in 1940, that, at that period, there were 2,000 deserted farms in Victoria. Between 1,400 and 1,500 farmers in South Australia passed through the Bankruptcy Court in a few years. In Western Australia, the Minister for Lands said in 1936 that, at the 30th June of that year, there were 2,790 abandoned properties in that State. All this happened under Liberal and Country party governments ! In New South Wales, the Rural Bank’s report for 1943 showed that, in the previous year, the bank was in possession of 202 properties. The reason for this calamitous situation was the refusal of the United Australia party-Australia Country party governments to make any effort to place primary industries on an economic basis. To-day members of the same parties pose as the saviours of the farmers! The irony of it is that they let the farmers struggle on under impossible conditions in the past with the result that thousands lost their properties. Now, they have the audacity to ask the farmers to trust them again to implement a wheat stabilization plan.
In 1945, a Victorian representative on the Australian Wheat Board, Mr. Everett, referred to the propaganda of the Liberal party and the Australia Country party in these terms: -
Certain politicians have been particularly active lately to try and make the growers believe they are not being justly treated to try and smash your confidence in the Wheat! Board . . . They know they can never persuade me to twist and cog in with their filthy propaganda of inaccuracies.
Mr. Everett used very strong terms also in criticism of the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. He said - _ Mr. McEwen should be the last man to criticize those who are endeavouring to secure the,’ very best price for growers’ wheat; he should have demonstrated his sincerity when he was a member ot Conservative Governments . . . There was no action from Mr. McEwen until the Menzies Government was practically defeated by the wheat-growers at the 1940 elections. It was then they brought in their famous wheat stability plan to pay growers a pittance of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. for a limited crop of 140,000,000 bushels.
Honorable members will recall, too, that -all the costs of receiving, handling, railing, storing and loading on to ships had to be provided from that price of 3s. lOd. a bushel. So much for the magnanimity of the anti-Labour parties in the past in their so-called efforts to stabilize the wheat industry ! You, Mr. Speaker, an exleader of the Australian Country party land now a member of the Liberal party, declared that, in your opinion, that price was too high, and said that you were not enthusiastic about any wheat stabilization plan. It is very difficult now to understand why any farmer would be prepared to trust the present Government to carry out a stabilization plan. One of the most significant factors of the approaching election campaign will be the amalgamation of the two Government parties again. If they regain control of the Treasury bench, we shall find the same old clique in charge. The Liberal party, controlled by financial and commercial interests, will again dictate policy to the detriment of the primary producers.
The professed sympathy of many honorable member on the Government side of the House for primary producers in the past is interesting to recall. The Queensland Producer, referring to Australia Country party representatives in this Parliament, said -
It was unfortunately a fact that in the matter of wheat the Country Party representatives in the Federal House had given way to their political associates for the sake of preserving a sort of unity in the Government.
The policy of Australia Country party members has always been to consider jobs for themselves before the interests of the farmers. I remember how the Australia Country party squabbled with its partner after earlier elections over the number of portfolios to be allotted to it, regardless of :he fate of the primary producers. In 1.934, when I first came to this Parliament, the Australia Country party stood out from the Government because it could not obtain the Cabinet portfolios that it demanded. However, when the Labour Opposition submitted a motion in the House to put it on the spot, it arranged for an adjournment, during which the two parties got together again. The Australian Country party accepted the terms of the United Australia party in order to achieve unity and provide for its political self-preservation.
All these facts that I have presented to the House are enlightening. I could relate many more, but limitation of time would prevent me from doing so. They all confirm the same story. When the Labour party has been in office, it has done an outstanding job for wheatfarmers and other primary producers. Other governments have given nothing but lip-service to the primary producers at election campaigns and have failed to carry out their promises. Many members and supporters of the Government parties have little real sympathy for the farmers. Sir Thomas White, the Australian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, who formerly represented the electorate of Balaclava in this Parliament, once said in this House -
The cry of the “ poor farmer “ is overdone. Why should the Government come to the direct assistance of the farmers?
That clearly reveals the attitude of one. which is the attitude of all members of the present Government parties. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) even admitted in the Parliament that the primary producer was better off under Labour than he had ever been. The honorable gentleman said, according to a newspaper report in 1946, that the farming community at that time undoubtedly had more money than ever before. That was during the regime of the Chifley Government. Sir Louis Bussau ‘declared when he was chairman of the Australian Wheat Board that, had Labour’s wheat stabilization scheme been in operation between 1919 and 3939, the farmers would have been better off by £103,000,000. I have here a host of extracts from articles published in lending newspapers in all parts of Australia in which the great job that the Labour Government did in stabilizing the primary industries is praised. What Labour has done in the past for the primary producer it will do again. The wheat stabilization scheme that has been proposed by the Leader of the Opposition has been designed to give adequate security to the growers for the next ten years. It will help to maintain economic security, not only for the wheatgrowers, but also for people engaged in other industries that use wheat.
-Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– That performance by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) can only be described as a test of endurance. Quite obviously, the honorable member has not the slightest interest in the wheat industry, and he is typical of members of the Opposition. He confined his speech to the reading of newspaper cuttings. He read them badly and, as has been said before, they were not worth reading in any case. He was the second speaker for the Opposition during this very important debate. That was the best that the Opposition could produce on such an occasion ! On this side of the House there are dozens of honorable members who are eager to speak during this debate but, because of the poor performance of the Opposition, very few of us will have an opportunity to do so. In fact, five minutes ago I did not know that I would have this opportunity to address myself to this important subject.
Only those of us who have made an intensive study of the wheat industry can have any real appreciation of the gigantic task which confronted the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and which has been brought to a successful conclusion by the introduction of this bill. The right honorable gentleman had to compose the differences that exist in the wheat industry between those who understand wheat stabilization and those who do not, and between those who favour wheat stabilization and those who are opposed to it. He accomplished that task and, for the first time, we have a Minister for Commerce and Agriculture who has won, on sheer merit, the confidence of the wheat-growing industry as a whole. I speak as a man who has devoted his entire life to the industry. In addition, the
Minister had to mete out justice, in the teeth of the most bitter opposition, to those who had been required to pay an unnecessary tax on wheat that was grown three years ago in order to provide an unnecessary wheat stabilization fund for an alleged wheat stabilization scheme which expired by the effluxion of time last year. That is the measure of the confusion that has been visited on the industry by the socialists on the Opposition side of the House. Furthermore, the Minister had to recover the democratic independence of the wheat-growers from our socialist predecessors, and he had to protect the economy of both the industry and the nation. He has done so during five years of travail. He also had to defeat the vindictive trickery of socialist State Ministers, who devoted themselves to efforts to defeat every suggestion made by this Government in order to implement a policy that met with the wholehearted approval of the people of Australia only a few years ago. These, in my opinion, are very great achievements and the Minister is deserving of commendation. He certainly has my congratulations, and I describe this bill as his particular victory.
The measure provides for the repayment of a tax levied and collected under the terms of an alleged wheat stabilization scheme conceived in the tortured minds of the socialists who were in office prior to 1949. That scheme was designed by the socialists to allow them to escape from their constitutional responsibilities in relation to the acquisition of wheat. The Government has the right to acquire, but it must pay for what it acquires on just terms. The High Court of Australia has interpreted “ just terms “ to mean the value of that which is acquired at the date of acquisition. However, the socialists, anxious to gain control of all the wheat in our country and unwilling to stand up to their constitutional responsibilities, had to devise a scheme that would allow them to escape from those responsibilities. That is the primary purpose of the wheat industry stabilization scheme which terminated last September. It was designed to secure the absolute possession of every bushel of wheat in this country, and every bushel of wheat that was grown in this country for a period of five years, without paying for it. It was designed to permit unlimited selling of wheat by ministerial direction, at home and abroad, for political purposes, regardless of the economic consequences to the wheat industry. It was designed to tax all wheat sold on the export market at any price above a fixed minimum. It was designed to hold the proceeds of that tax indefinitely and use them for the purpose of equalizing the subsequent price, if and when the export parity price fell below the fixed minimum. Those, and no others, were the purposes of this stabilization scheme. But the worst feature of all was that it was deliberately confined within a space of years when the export parity price was not likely to fall below the fixed minimum. Admittedly, and I say this with a sense of shame, a majority of the wheat-growers voted for it after their fears had been excited by the perfidious predictions of the socialists opposite. If I and the organization that shared my views had not insisted on it, there would have been no ballot of the wheat-growers at that time, nor would there have been any suggestion of a ballot of growers to-day. It is my manifest duty, as one who represents one of the largest wheat-growing constituencies in the Commonwealth, to expose the operations of the socialist wheat stabilization schemes. No greater injustice was ever perpetrated by any socialist government in any other part of the world. In 194S, the wheat-growers delivered to the No. 12 pool no less than 175,009,360 bushels of wheat. The average export parity price that year was 15s. a bushel, but 59,025,216 bushels of that wheat were sold for local consumption at 6s. Sd. a bushel, or Ss. 4d. a. bushel less than its true value, and the industry lost £24,592,S40. The Opposition thinks it a laughing matter, but to the growers and the economy it was a direct loss of nearly £25,000,000. The growers delivered 202,927,932 bushels to the No. 13 pool. It was worth an average of 18s. 9d. a. bushel on the markets of the world, yet 61,242,806 bushels were sold foi- local consumption at 7s. Id. a bushel, or Ils. Sd. a. bushel less than its true market value, and the industry lost £35,724,970. The No. 14 pool took 170,105,506 bushels. It was worth an average of 19s. a bushel, but 67,400,821 bushels were sold locally at 7s. 9d. a bushel, or lis. 3d. a bushel less than the world was prepared to pay for it, and the industry lost £37,912,961. The growers delivered 146,018,940 bushels to the No. 15 pool. That year the average export price was 21s. 3d. a bushel, but 60,753,211 bushels were sold at 12s. a bushel for local consumption - entirely because this Government insisted on raising the price of stock feed to 16s. Id. a bushel, and that was outside the provisions of the scheme - but even then the loss was 9s. 3d. a bushel, and the industry was deprived of £28,098,360. Finally, 178,200,000 bushels of wheat are estimated to have been delivered to the No. 16 pool. The average export price can now be calculated at 19s. 6d. a bushel, but some 61,000,000 bushels of it were sold for local consumption at 13s. 2d. a bushel, or 6s. 4d. below its true value, and the industry has lost. £19,216,666 because of the socialist policy to get control of all wheat under an alleged stabilization scheme. During that fiveyear period, and excluding all the preceding years when the socialists were in office, the wheat industry lost £145,646,797, a sum greater by far than the total indebtedness of those who were engaged in the industry at the time when a royal commission was appointed in an attempt to save it from complete disaster. That amount was lost to the national economy all for the purposes of a spurious stabilization scheme. These losses were on local sales only. To them must be added all the sales effected under the International Wheat Agreement, which is now breaking down, as I warned this House it would. It could not stand the test of time. It is a revelation to see how the agreement is failing now that the importing countries have to meet their responsibilities. The bill provides for the repayment of the last of the obnoxious wheat taxes. That repayment would have been made long ago but for the decision of this Government not to levy the tax on wheat delivered to the No. 16 pool, and but for the insistence of a section of the industry which demanded the retention of this £9,166,000 to provide the nucleus of a new stabilization fund - a demand that can only be described as dishonest.
I want to end in the way that I began. This bill is a victory for the M’inister for Commerce and Agriculture. It will pay back a wheat tax that should never have been levied. It will cleanse our economy of the abomination that is called wheat stabilization and give to the wheat industry and the nation an opportunity to devise or adopt a marketing system free from blame, free from reproach and free from shame.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment : -
States Grants (Encouragement of Meat Production) Bil! 1W54.
Aluminium Industry Bill 1954.
Loan (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) Bill 1054.
Loan (Swiss Francs) Bill 1054.
Transferred Officers’ Allowances Bill 1054.
Papua and New Guinea: Incidents at TELEFOMIN and Mendi - Flood and Cyclone Damage - National Service - Political Propaganda - Banking - Brewer y Activities- Ho u sino.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I regret that it is necessary for me to speak to-night on a matter in respect of which the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) has failed to inform the House adequately, failed to promise an inquiry and disregarded valuable information readily made available to him. Last week, I directed a series of questions to the Minister about the disturbed state of affairs in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I asked the questions, first, for the purpose of gleaning information to pass on to a constituent; secondly, so that the House and the nation could be informed about conditions in an important part of a territory administered by Australia; and, thirdly, to ensure that, when mistakes occurred in the administration of the Territory, they could be rectified and the administration placed on a firm foundation. But the Minister was not concerned about the matters I raised, and tried to score off me. I regard those matters with the utmost concern. They are grave matters indeed. Surely the killing of two young patrol officers should agitate the mind of every person in this country. I wish to pay a tribute to the devotion to duty of those young men. Patrol Officer Szarka served in the forces during the last war and returned to the Territory to help this nation and do a job of work for the natives who eventually killed him.
It is remarkable that one has to read the newspapers to find out what is taking place in territories under Australia’s control. Whenever there is any information to be made available on important subjects such as those with which I am dealing, the Minister makes his statements to the press. We cannot elicit information from him in this chamber. That is to be regretted and deplored. Before I proceed further, I want to offer a word of praise for Mr. Elliott-Smith, a district commissioner who has been responsible for apprehending large numbers of natives alleged to have been involved in the killing of the patrol officers. It is a remarkable fact that, although Mr. Elliott-Smith was not the officer in charge of the area where the killings occurred, in the following week he was called upon to take charge of the situation and restore law and order. He is an outstanding officer who deserves the praise of members of this House. I feel certain the Minister will agree with me at least on that matter.
In my questions, I referred to the killing of a number of natives at Mendi. I make the strongest possible protest against the reply that was given by the Minister. Ho brushed my questions aside lightly and dealt with developments in the area from the imperial point of view. It appeared that the killing of a few natives was nothing to him. I intend to read the Minister’s reply so that the House can decide what his attitude was and is in connexion with the killing of natives at Mendi. I asked him to tell the House, first, how many natives had been shot, and secondly, how many had been killed. The Minister declined to answer either question, and sought to justify the killings on the ground that the natives concerned were savages or primitive people who lived in an uncontrolled area. That was the method he adopted to try to evade his responsibility as a Minister and a Christian. The replies that he gave to my questions were inadequate, not up to the high standards expected in this House and not good enough for the Australian people. We want something much better than we are getting if Ave are to be permitted to continue to administer this Territory. We cannot hold our heads up in the councils of the world if those happenings at Mendi represent our standards in the administration of such an area.
I referred also to the need for some definite statement about whether the Government had paid compensation to the relatives of natives drowned in a river tragedy. I understand that when natives lose their lives in such a manner, it is customary to pay compensation to their next-of-kin within approximately one month, but I have been reliably informed that in this instance compensation was not paid for at least three months. What was the reason for the delay ? Are actions such as those the cause of the unrest among the natives and their feeling that they have not been treated justly? I should like to know also the attitude of the police at Mendi. Were they out of control? This is a remarkable state of affairs, because I have been informed that, at Mendi a station has been in operation for at least three years, and that the natives who were shot were killed within a few hours’ walk of that station. If these matters are true, and apparently they are because they have not been denied in the House, the Minister for Territories should break his silence and tell the Parliament and the people just what really happened.
I invite the Minister to say whether it i ». not a rather terrible responsibility for two young patrol officers to be called upon to undertake patrols of the nature that has been indicated, which seems to bc in contravention of requirements and administrative directions. Who was responsible for that state of affiairs? Were the patrol officers sent out because the administration had broken down? I believe that to be so, and later I intend to read from some notes which will prove my contention. I believe that the Minister for Territories, and his administration, have the moral responsibility to ensure that the just and the fair thing is done in all matters of the kind that I am now relating. I have been informed that Patrol Officer Harris, who died through a number of spear wounds, did not receive any medical aid until eleven hours after he sustained his injuries. If that is true, it shows the existence of a shocking state of affairs because there can be no justification for neglecting a young man in the injured condition of Patrol Officer Harris. [ also desire to refer to the destruction of Patrol Officer Szarka’s building in which, his personal possessions and records were kept. How did that fire occur? The House has not been told anything about it, nor has it been told what sort of records were destroyed. Would those records if available be able to assist the Government and the Parliament to assess all the facts of the situation? I believe that perhaps they would, but I asked the Minister questions along those lines and he said -
Regarding the incident at Mendi, this position has been familiar in the history of the opening up of Papua and New Guinea.
He said the position has been familiar. Does he mean that it is the usual thing to go out and shoot natives when they are found to bc troublesome, instead of trying to deal with them in another and more humane fashion? What other conclusion could one reach from those words of the Minister? If he has another viewpoint t.o express he certainly has a responsibility to do so. The Minister continued -
The incidents at Mendi were no different from incidents o£ a similar kind which occurred on previous occasions.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh) J 1.54] . - I am very concerned about the way natives are being treated in New Guinea. I hope that the. Minister will indicate in his reply to-night that the Government proposes to make some searching investigations into the allegations that have been made about its administration. I have said “ allegations “ because that is all they are at this stage. I do not suggest, and I am sure that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) does not suggest, that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) is deliberately setting out to have natives shot and destroyed in our territories. However, I do suggest that the Minister is possibly being misled by his officers in New Guinea. If those officers are guilty of wrong-doing, one would expect them to try to hide it, and I believe that the Minister should make a personal investigation to ascertain for himself exactly what is happening in the Territory. I believe that the Minister does not know, and cannot know, the true state of affairs because if the allegations are true I am sure that he would not countenance such incidents. I have information on good authority which suggests that officers authorized to deal with cases against natives - magistrates in the Court of Native Affairs - have imposed penalties of up to three months’ imprisonment for minor offences. Moreover, in the case of a child of twelve years, ten cuts of the cane were given for some very petty offence. I have been informed of another case of natives being imprisoned for kicking a breeding pig that belonged to the Government.
– Who is the honorable member’s authority?
– I have some decency when making public statements, and I do not propose to use the name of my informant in this House. However, I shall inform the Minister of his name, and the source of my information, privately. I have been informed that 27 natives were kept in gaol, some of them having been put there on a charge of having kicked a breeding pig belonging to the Government.
– What was the date of the incident?
– The 14th September, 1953. My informant said that he did not have sufficient food for these natives, and despatched signals to try to ascertain whether he could send them to their village. The officer was not invested with power to try the natives, and he was keeping them until some one could hear their cases. For three months about 27 natives were kept in prison while the officer concerned was waiting for some one to try them. Towards the end of that time-
– They must have starved to death if they were without food for three months.
– That foolish supporter of the Government, who should be talcing more interest in the sufferings of his fellow men instead of making inane, silly suggestions, may be assured that this is a serious matter.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot make personal reflections upon other honorable members.
– Anybody who could live for three months without food is quite a remarkable person.
– That is a foolish conclusion, and shows that the honorable member was not listening to my remarks. This is a serious state of affairs which the Minister has no right to countenance. But I believe that if ho discovers that the allegations are true he will not countenance them. I ask him not to treat this as a party matter, and something which must be incorrect merely because it is raised by the Opposition. My information is based upon a reliable authority and cannot be lightly dismissed.
– I believe that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), in parts of his speech at least, has exaggerated considerably. I also believe that in a day or two, when he reflects on what he has said he will appreciate that he has exaggerated. Probably in the warmth of the moment he did not intend to do so. He referred to three separate matters. The first was the regrettable incident of Telefomin when two patrol officers were killed by natives. He made two sets of suggestions in regard to that. One was to the general effect that I did not give information to this House. The other set of suggestions related to an actual incident that took place. I feel obliged to point out that the incidents are at present the subject of proceedings before the courts of the Territory, and as they are sub judice, E am not at liberty to canvass in detail the incidents that actually occurred at Telefomin. They are being investigated by the court of the Territory. In due course the findings of the court will be made known. As to whether or not I have given this House sufficient information about the matter, I recall to th» honorable member’s mind that when this House met before Christmas I made a statement regarding the incidents at Telefomin. Shortly before completion of the sittings I attempted, not during the sitting of the House, but by an arrangement with the Vice-President of the
Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) to gain leave to make a statement in the House. That leave was not obtainable in the discussion which took place between the Minister and the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). I then arranged for the Attorney-General (Senator .Spicer), who represents me in another place, to present a full statement, which was published in Hansard on the 1st December, 1953. In order that that statement might be brought to the attention of honorable members, and as I also wanted to present it in this House, I arranged for it to be duplicated and very widely circulated. The only developments that I think occurred after the full recital of the facts in another place, were that investigations were carried out, first by the District Commissioner, Mr. Timperley, and, when he went on leave, by the man who relieved him, District Commissioner Mr. ElliottSmith. As a result of investigations, a number of natives were brought in and placed on trial, or held because of their implication in the affair. I gave that information to the House in answer to the honorable member’s question on the 6th April. There is no information to hand additional to that contained in my statement that was released in another place. I think that I have discharged my duty to the full in informing this House of the happenings at Telefomin, and I can go no further at the moment, because the matter is sub judice.
The honorable member for Macquarie also referred to an incident at Mendi. In order not to mislead the House, 1 shall seek an opportunity to-morrow to detail to honorable members the actual events at Mendi. I think the honorable member exaggerated when he stated that I had treated the matter as a casual affair. I said clearly, in answer to his question on the 6th April, that the sort of incident that happened at Mendi was typical of incidents that unfortunately, but perhaps necessarily in the course of the development of New Guinea, have occurred from time to time during the past half century. Those natives who are still in a primitive state are continually belligerent, one with the other. It is a part of the duties of our patrol officers to go out and try to pacify them and enforce law and order. When engaged on that duty they display great courage and devotion, of which this nation should be very proud.It sometimes happens that, in attempting to establish law and order, they incur or attract to themselves the hostility of the natives. When I say that that is a familiar incident, I do not say that is not regrettable, or that it does not affect us deeply and cause us much concern. lt happens in the nature of things and is brought about by the attempts of our young officers to pacify the belligerents and restore law and order. The whole sense of my remarks is that it is a part of the situation with which we are dealing. It is not as a result of some new element that has entered into the situation in recent years.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), quoting an anonymous authority, suggested that there had been some harshness in the administration of justice, or that perhaps there had been a miscarriage of justice. If he will give me particulars of the matters that he mentioned I shall, of course, see that they are investigated, and reply to him in due course. I may say that in my experience of the portfolio of Territories, I have never had any occasion to doubt that justice had been administered in the Territory according to the highest standards of British and Australian tradition.
– But these things happened some time ago. The information before me is dated the 13th September,1953.
– All I can say is that District Commissioner Timperley and District Commissioner Eliott-Smith made full investigations into all the surrounding circumstances of the attack on the patrol officers at Telefomin. I have read the whole of the papers, and nowhere in them are such matters mentioned. In the remarks of the honorable member for Macquarie and the honorable member for Hindmarsh, there were suggestions that dissatisfaction over compensation may have contributed to the incidents. The investigation carried out by our district commissioners showed that that was not a contributing cause, that there was no outstanding claim for compensation, and that full satisfaction had been given to the natives concerned. The facts were that on one patrol some natives were engaged from a village to carry, and when fording a river some of them were drowned. Compensation was paid in relation to that incident, and, as I have said, according to the information gleaned by the two district commissioners, that matter did not contribute in any way to the incidents at Telefomin. Similarly, there is nothing in the papers to suggest that the matters mentioned in the allegations of the honorable member for Hindmarsh had any bearing on the Telefomin incident. If he will give me the details, I shall cause an investigation tobe made.
Wednesday, 14 April 1954
. - I wish to make a few remarks in commendation of the Government, and, in particular, of the action of certain Ministers following a recent cyclone in Queensland. I refer to the period of the severe flooding of parts of New South Wales and Queensland when many areas suffered considerable damage. The area that I represent was one of those. Approximately a. dozen prawn trawlers, varying in value from £1,000 to £3,000 or £4,000, which are operated by members of the Prawn Trawlers Association at Scarborough, on the Redcliffe Peninsula, were blown from their moorings right across Moreton Bay onto the beach at Beechmere. As soon as I heard of the catastrophe I contacted the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), who immediately asked the manager of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool in Brisbane to do all that he possibly could to assist in having them put back in the water. He sent two of his men to make a survey of the position and they, upon finding that there was insufficient equipment available in their own handling equipment pool, asked the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Brisbane to make a bulldozer available. They ako asked the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) to make available an army barge. The three departments concerned, within a matter of a few days, did a magnificent job and rendered wonderful assistance to the people who had suffered so severely because of the cyclone. On my own behalf, and also on behalf of the members of the Prawn Trawlers Association, I extend thanks to the Ministers and the departments concerned for their speedy action, which undoubtedly saved those people considerable loss. I should also like to express my appreciation of the assistance that was given by Mr. Tuckwell, the manager of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool in Brisbane; two of his employees, Mr. Haile and Mr. McDonald, who were responsible for the operation on behalf of the pool; Mr. Faragher, the Director of Posts and Telegraphs; Mr. Wheller, who supervised operations; and Mr. Samuels, who operated the bulldozer; and the lads who manned the army barge. Without the co-operation of all those people, it would have been impossible to get the boats engaged in this new industry back into the water and in operation again within a relatively short time. I know that they would like me to offer to the Government and to the Ministers concerned their commendation for their assistance.
– I desire to draw the attention of the House to a tragedy which occurred in South Australia on the 27th March when a national service trainee, Trooper W. J. Lennie, of the 3/9 South Australian Mounted Rifles, lost his life when a heavy armoured car burst into flames. I have raised this matter at the request of the boy’s father. When I left Adelaide yesterday, the only information that that gentleman had received from the Army authorities was the brief message that his boy had been killed. The boy’s father would like to know why, in contravention of the regulations, this armoured car carried reserves of petrol, which exploded and caused that tragedy. The Parliament passed the legislation which compelled this boy to serve as a national service trainee. I suggest that at the inquest, which I hope will be held shortly, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) or the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) should make available to the boy’s father the services of learned counsel so that he will be legally represented and justice will be done if, as it seems, somebody has’ blundered in permitting the tins of petrol to be carried as a reserve in the armoured car when wagons could have taken the petrol to the camp.
I wish to refer to the activities of certain organizations which support members of the Government parties. It is history that at the 1949 federal election the supporters of the Government, without exception, were elected because of the financial and practical Support that was given to them by the private banking institutions of this country. In the few minutes at my disposal I shall prove that in recent times supporters of the Government have approved the use of written speeches that were given to them and paid for by the private banking institutions. I propose to show that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Allan), in his maiden speech, read a major portion of his contribution from literature that was given to him by the private banking organizations, a copy of which I have here.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman must not proceed along those lines. It is not customary to make other than kindly references to the maiden speech of an honorable member, and I ask the honorable member to observe that rule.
Opposition members interjecting,
-Order! I will not allow any argument about the matter.
– I rise to a point of order. I want to know where this rule is laid down and what right you, Mr. Speaker, have to determine!-
– Order ! The Standing Orders give me my authority.
– The Standing Orders do not provide that one honorable member cannot criticize the speech of another honorable member.
– Order !
– I challenge your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman will reserve his challenge. I do not propose to allow any discussion of the maiden speech of an honorable member during this session of the Parliament.
– In deference to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, with which I do not agree, I shall proceed on a different line.
-Order! I am not interested in whether or not the honorable member disagrees with my ruling.
– The point I wish to emphasize is that in the coming election -campaign certain honorable members whose political fate will soon be decided, will be supported financially and otherwise by the private banking institutions which will be fighting under a different name from that which they assumed on the last occasion. I have in my possession an original letter dated the 12th March, 1954, which was sent from the office of the general manager of the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, 394-6 Collins-street, Melbourne. The letter is marked “ Confidential “ and was sent to various employees and bank managers of this institution. The letter states -
I am writing this personal letter to you because there is every likelihood of your being contacted by representatives of a voluntary group of bank officers known as the Free Enterprise Group.
The associates of this movement act on their own free initiative, and are not subject to any prompting, control, or direction from the Bank. In all political matters, they enjoy, as do all bank officers, complete personal freedom which they choose to use in an effort to protect the free enterprise system. Personally, I consider that their organization and objectives are sound and commendable. If you agree, I am sure that they would appreciate any assistance you may care to render their cause.
The letter was signed by the general manager of that bank for Australasia. Attached to the letter was a personal memorandum which asked the recipient when he would be available for the distribution of literature in the coming election campaign, his telephone number, how much he would give and what he would do generally speaking, in an effort to defeat Labour. That letter was sent to certain men who are not in the position to resist the bank because their livelihood is at stake, despite the fact that the bank preaches the preservation of free enterprise and freedom.
I have in my possession a further document which is entitled “ The Free Enterprise System and Socialism”. The Free Enterprise Group is a fully established organization. The Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited in Sydney is paying more than 50 officers full wages and ls. a mile for their cars to participate in the noble excursion, to their minds, of endeavouring to undermine the efforts of the Australian Labour party to seek re-election at the next federal election. An honorable member, when he was speaking in this House recently-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not refer to debates of the present session during debate on the motion for the adjournment.
– I shall say that I heard an honorable member read a speech in this House and that I heard spoken words similar to those in the literature that has been distributed by this organization in an effort to defeat the Australian Labour party. The document sets out information in relation to Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated “Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and sets out the reasons why, in the opinion of the group, the Government sold those utilities. It states -
However, both C.O.K. and A.W.A. were successful concerns, and the reaction of the public is likely to be “ if this is socialism, it can’t be so bad”.
Then the document proceeds to give the answers. I have in my possession a personal circular that was sent to bank officers which states that their services were retained by the Liberal Government and the bankers’ representatives who occupy the Government benches and which asks for further support from bank officers because their only chance of getting anything from this Government is to cling to it in the hope that it will live up to the promises that it made. This circular continues-
To sum up, it does not matter who put us across the barrel or why. The fact remains that we are there. Keep in mind that Menzies does not believe he can stay in office for ever.
How true! That statement shows that the vested interests supporting the private banks are determined to return bankers’ representatives to this House. The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. “Wheeler), who owes his election to the private banks, has a campaign director called Mr. Lowe who was bank manager for the Commercial Bank of Australia Limited and who fought in 1949, a bitter campaign against the Labour party. His deputy campaign director at Blacktown is the manager of a branch of the Bank of New South “Wales. These facts show the link between this leading stock-broker and the private banks. Other honorable members opposite have been supported by private banking institutions throughout the length and breadth of the land. They will now be supported by conscripted campaigners not in a position to resist their wealthy employers who will sack them if they do not line up as they are told. Government members owe their election to the private banks who conscript people to work for them and at the same time preach free enterprise. They deserve to be condemned. They have ridden into power on the money provided by banking interests. They have behind them an inglorious record but are prepared to stay in office at all costs in order to represent the great vested interests behind them.
– The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) made an illuminating exposure but there is nothing very surprising about the fact that the bank to which he referred is supporting the Liberal party because the Liberal Government is doing a great deal for this bank and other private banking institutions, by protecting them and allowing them to destroy certain interests in this country with the great power that they exercise. Recently in this House I referred to the Springfield Brewery Limited in South Australia. Lots of people with bank overdrafts have believed the propaganda of the Liberal party to the effect that they were not in danger of having their overdrafts suddenly called up. Let us examine the case of the Springfield Brewery Limited’. We have heard a lot about a free enterprise economy from honorable members opposite. There is not much free enterprise in evidence if one wants to open a hotel, a newsagency or many other types of business because the owners of such businesses are only able to carry on by the good graces of the monopolies of this country which are backed by the private banks. What happened to the Springfield Brewery Limited in South Australia? This brewery did business with the bank that the honorable member for Grayndler declared was training its officers in order to secure the return of a Liberal government, if that is possible.
While the Springfield Brewery Limited was a struggling concern which was having difficulties, the bank and the Liberal party did not worry about it. But when the South Australian Brewing Company Limited, which has a directorate the members of which are prominent members of the Liberal party, began to meet serious competition from this new brewery the Liberal party directors of the company began to use their influence with the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited in order to force the Springfield Brewery out of business. These are the people who advocate a free enterprise economy. I could understand the position if the Springfield Brewery Limited had not been honouring its agreement with the bank, but the brewery was honouring its agreement with the bank in every detail. Then, without warning, because the Liberal party directors of the South Australian brewery monopoly wished action to be taken, the bank began to press this brewery. The brewery was in difficulties. Like many other organizations it had a large overdraft of about £65,000. It was agreed by the bank that the overdraft should be frozen at £65,350. It was to be reduced to £60,000 by the 9th September, 1954. We have not yet reached the 9th September so it is obvious that that part of the agreement had not been breached by the Springfield Brewery Limited. Under the agreement, the brewery was to open a No. 2 Trading Account and this was to remain in credit. It has always been in credit, so that part of the agreement has been honoured. It was agreed further that an Excise Account should be opened and that it could be overdrawn up to the amount of £3,000. It was to be dispensed with by the 31st March. However, the brewery had been forced into liquidation before the end of March so it could not be argued that that part of the agreement had not been honoured.
It is true that the Excise Account was overdrawn to the extent of £1,200, but the agreement provided that it could be overdrawn to the amount of £3,000 and as an offset against the amount of £1,200 overdrawn the brewery held £2,000 in excise stamps. So it is obvious that the breweryhad fully honoured its agreement with the bank. But because the Liberal party directors of the South Australian Brewing Company Limited willed it, the bank, in breach of its own agreement, called up the debenture that it had over the brewery and forced the company into liquidation. It is rather strange that we do not hear some of the champions of the free enterprise economy opposite protesting against the action of this bank. When the Labour party proposed to nationalize the banks, honorable members opposite declared that the private banking system would give security to the community. They told the people that they would have nothing to fear if they prevented the Government from obtaining a monopoly of banking operations. If honorable members opposite really believed in a free enterprise economy they would now be protesting that something should be done to prevent this bank from treating the Springfield Brewery Limited in the way that I have described. Why does not the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who was protector of the private banking monopoly and talked of its great advantage to the community, take some action to ensure that this business organization shall receive justice in this country. It is honouring the agreement which it made with the bank. The Government should ensure that no private bank shall be placed in a privileged position to breach agreements that it enters into with private enterprise. All that the Government will do, apparently, is to protect the private banking monopoly regardless of whatever organization it may attempt to crush. Every individual and every business organization is in dangerso long as the banking monopoly can use its great power in the way that I have indicated.
I turn now to another matter. During the approaching general election campaign a great deal will be said by Government members regarding the need to provide more housing for the people. We shall then hear repeated the statement that is so often made by honorable members opposite that State Labour governments are responsible for the shortage of houses.Iam interested to hear honorable members opposite say “ Hear, hear “ to that remark, because one of them happens to be a member of what Opposition members have termed “ the purity committee “. The object of that body, it is claimed, is to uncover all the rackets that might be in existence in this country, and, for that purpose, it has asked the people generally to supply any information to it that would enable it to achieve that aim. I have in my hand a letter which appears under the letterhead “ Cramer Brothers “ and is signed “ J. O. Cramer “. Although it was written on the 27th April, 1939, it remains a significant letter. It reads -
We are about running out of shares in the Mosman and District Building Society, and the Society has just opened a new issue of 100,000. The new regulations issued, however, prevent us from making direct applica tion, or anyone in our office doing so, as the Government wishes to issue shares, as much as possible to those who will require the finance for their own individual purposes. I shall be therefore personally grateful if you would call in at 27 Hunter-street, City, 7th Floor, see the Secretary there . . .
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speakeer - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the a ffirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Bankruptcy Act - Thirty-fifth Annual Report by the Attorney-General, for the year ended 31st July, 1053.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes - Mount Eliza, Victoria.
Postmaster-General’s Department - Fortythird Annual Report, for year 1952-53.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation - J. B. Davies.
Defence Production - A. A. Shevtzoff.
Supply- W. J. F. Somerville, G. B. Wheaton.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Canberra University College Ordinance - Canberra University College - Report for 1953.
Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act - Fourth Annual Report of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, for year 1952-53.
Sugar - International Agreement for the Regulation of the Production and Marketing of Sugar, signed at London, October. 1953.
United Nations - General Assembly - Eighth Session, New York, loth September to 10th December,1953 - Summary Report of Australian Delegation.
House adjourned at 12.4 1 a.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
z asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What assistance has the Commonwealth provided to the State of Queensland for the construction of roads and stock routes in the Queensland channel country?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
In 1949 the Commonwealth agreed, subject to certain conditions, to meet the full cost of certain roads and stock loading points in the Queensland channel country, and half the cost of improvements to specified stock routes serving the same area. The agreement was given legislativeeffect by Act No. 74 of 1949.
Up to 31st March, 1954, the Commonwealth had paid £732,653 in respect of roads and loading points, and £75,500 in respect of stock route improvements.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Neither the Commonwealth Government nor the Central Bank has power to exercise control over the Rural Bank of New South Wales, and it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on the affairs of that bank.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
a asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for Nationa1 Development has supplied the following information : -
Australian Prisoners of War.
s. - On the 6th April, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) asked the following question : -
In view of the misunderstanding that exists among the general public will the Prime Minister state whether it is true that a second payment is to be made to former prisoners of war of the Japanese? If such a payment is to be made, can the Prime Minister say when the payment is to be made?
I promised the honorable member that I would provide him with details of this matter and I now advise that the facts are as follows : -
First Payment. - On the 7th February, 1952, Cabinet decided, inter-alia, to distribute equally amongst former prisoners of war of the Japanese, without regard to the term of imprisonment, the proceeds of the sale of Japanese assets in Australia. Cabinet also decided that if further funds wore made available from the International Red Cross from Japanese assets in neutral countries, or from any other Japanese sources, the question would be further considered in relation to payments to prisoners of war and to civilians. The realizable value of Japanese assets in Australia was estimated at £730,000. It has not yet been possible to dispose of all the assets concerned, nevertheless the Government decided that prisoners of war of the Japanese who were entitled to participate under the Government’s decision should not wait until final action was taken to realize the assets. Accordingly, an amount was advanced from Consolidated Revenue which enabled an initial payment of £32 per head to be made to each of those concerned. The total amount involved is approximately equal to the full realizable value of Japanese assets. . i
Further Distribution. - Moneys for any further distribution will have to come from Japanese assets in neutral or ex-enemy countries. An amount of £355,000 has already been made available to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom arising out of the sale of the Burma-Siam railway. Negotiations me proceeding with a view to determining the portion of this sum which will be allocated to all interested countries, including Australia. Article Ki of the Japanese peace treaty provided that Japan, as an expression of its desire to indemnify those members of the armed forces of the allied powers who suffered undue hardships whilst prisoners of war. would transfer its assets and those of its nationals in neutral or ex-enemy countries, or the equivalent of such assets, to the International Committee of the Bed Cross, which would bc required to liquidate the assets and distribute the resultant funds to appropriate national agencies for the benefit of former prisoners of war and their families, on such a basis as the International Bed Cross determined to be equitable. The transfer of those assets has been fraught with many difficulties. The International Committee of the Bed Cross has not been able to secure final figures of former prisoners of war from all of the twelve governments concerned. The Australian Government has, of course, provided full lists of prisoners and these are satisfactory. It has also Droved difficult to ascertain the full value of assets in neutral and ex-enemy countries. Some of the countries concerned, for example, are behind the Iron Curtain. Others are withholding portion of the assets to cover claims for compensation by their nationals against Japan or Japanese nationals. The Australian Government has constantly impressed on other governments concerned and the National Committee of the Bed Cross the importance it attaches to an early settlement of this question. It is not possible to give any indication of the possible date on which these moneys will be received, but it is hoped that it will bc in the near future.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice-
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
It is understood that there has been a temporary seasonal shortage of tallow in southern States which should now be alleviated by supplies from Queensland consequent upon the increased killings in southern Queensland and the early resumption of activities at meatworks north of Brisbane. However from inquiries that my department has made in the tallow trade it appears that an export prohibition would not make any more tallow available to local users at the moment because local prices are higher than export prices and the only tallow going to export at the present time is collar-white -mutton tallow which is not required by Australian users.
Wednesday, 14 April 1954
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
T - (Barton Leader of the Opposition). - by leave - Last night the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a very important statement, and I greatly regret that I was not in the House when it was made. I had a very important engagement to fulfil in Sydney, but I did not leave Canberra until 5 o’clock and I would have cancelled the engagement had I bad any inkling that such an announcement was to be made. I heard of. the statement just before 9 o’clock, and I made a statement to the press which was unanimously endorsed this morning at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party. It was a short statement, which I shall read for the benefit of the House. It is as follows: -
The Federal Parliamentary Labour party will support the fullest inquiry into all the circumstances connected with the statement made by Mr. Menzies to-night and the matters contained in or relevant to the statement. If any person in Australia has been guilty of espionage or seditious activities a Labour government will see that he is prosecuted according to law.
Government Supporters. - Ha ha!
Mr. SPEAKER. - Order !
– How extraordinary it is, Mr. Speaker, that in a matter of supreme national importance we should hear a loud “ Ha ha ! “ from a few honorable members on the Government side of the House who are notorious for their activities in smear campaigns. My statement to the press last night continued -
That has not only been our established policy, but we have acted in strict accordance with it. In short, we shall see to it thatno guilty person escapes, that no innocent person is condemned, and that the whole matter is dealt with free from all questions of party politics and on the basis of the established principles of British justice.
I shall recall to the House very shortly the background of the operations of the Australian security service. The service was established by Mr. Chifley whenhe was Prime Minister, with my assistance and co-operation. We acted throughout on the advice of the British intelligenceservice because it was. notorious at that time that activities of certain countries, especially Russia, needed to be carefully watched. Mr. Justice Reed, a Supreme Court justice of South Australia, was placed in charge of the security service, and later Colonel Spry was appointed to succeed him when he resigned. As the Prime Minister pointed out in the House recently, it has always been the practice in important matters affecting the activities of the security service that not only the Prime Minister but also the Leader of the Opposition should be kept generally informed of its activities. That practice has always been honoured during the history of the service.
I shall notanticipate discussion on the royal commission legislation, which the Opposition will support,but I want to point out to the House and the country that the procedures indicated by the Prime Minister may cause certain difficulties. A royal commission was appointed inCanada, but at that time all the documents in the possession of the persons suspected and, indeed, in many instances those persons themselves, were seized. People were arrested so that there could be an investigation there and then into the facts by two justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. When that
Mr. BLAND and Mr. TIMSON pre sented petitions from certain employees of the Commonwealth Public Service, praying that the Parliament will provide increases in the marginal rates for skill of Commonwealth public servants.
Petitions severally received and read.
Mr. BRYSON presented a petition from certain officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, praying that the Parliament will take action to halt’ a proposal of the Postmaster-General’s Department to purchase a new telegraph system called Tress.
Petition received and read.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 April 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540413_reps_20_hor3/>.