21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I have to advise honorable members that His Honour Mr. Justice W. 0. Douglas, of the United States Supreme Court, is in the Speaker’s Gallery. I feel that I shall have the backing of every honorable member when I ask His Honour to take a seat on my right hand ou the floor of the House and extend to him a welcome on your behalf.
Honorable MEMBERS - Hear, Hear.
Mr. -Justice Douglas was seated accordingly.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture on behalf of the honorable member for Riverina, who is absent on parliamentary business overseas. Is it a fact that in the Mumimbidgee irrigation area the prices of grapes for wine making and distilling were reduced, as from the 1st May of this year, to below the levels applicable in other parts of Australia? If so, what stepS can be taken to relieve the position of the growers concerned?
– Early in the last grape growing season, there were negotiations between the grape-growers and the wine manufacturers. In accordance with recent practice, prices were agreed upon between the growers and the manufacturers for grapes used for the manufacture of wine. I understand it was intended that those prices should obtain for that growing season. Neither this Government nor, I believe, any State government has any status in this connexion. My information is that the processors began to buy grapes in accordance with the schedule of prices, but during the season there became available in the Mumimbidgee irrigation area a much larger crop of grapes than had been expected and the wine makers in that area felt obliged to say that, beyond a certain tonnage, they would have either to cease to take more grapes - I think that was their first intention - or to pay a lower price for them. As a result of representations that were made, Senator McLeay mediated between the parties concerned, but with no authoritative status. The outcome was that, at a lower price level, the growers were able to dispose of the whole of their grapes. Without that new arrangement, I believe they would have been unable to do so. It is my desire and intention that the good offices of the Government shall be employed during the forthcoming season for the purpose of promoting a satisfactory price arrangement for the duration of the season. .1 hope that such a result will be achieved.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the grave hardship and difficulty that people are experiencing in purchasing or building houses because the maximum amount of advance available from the Commonwealth Bank is only £1,750? Can the right honorable gentleman offer any hope that the maximum amount will be increased to the amount that will soon be available to ex-servicemen through the War Service Homes Division, or will he take the necessary action to arrange for such an increase ?
– This matter has received the consideration of the Commonwealth Bank on the administrative level. I remind the honorable member, and the House, that more money has been made available by the Commonwealth Bank and government instrumentalities for the purposes of housing under this Government than was made available under any previous government.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether, when a country telephone exchange is listed for conversion to a rural automatic exchange but the local post office keeper resigns before the work is due to commence, the Postal Department will give a higher priority to the work so that the installation of the rural automatic exchange can start immediately. Alternatively, is every effort made to keep subscribers connected to the telephone system by moving such exchanges to places where they can be operated by new operators? I refer particularly to the Mullengandra exchange.
– We endeavour to keep telephone connexions in service in such cases either by expediting the erection of a new automatic exchange or by providing a post office keeper who will carry on the manual service. Of course, when difficulties are created by the premature resignation of an officer, it is not always easy to arrange all other kinds of Postal Department work so as to enable the department to meet that contingency, but we examine any particular case that is brought to our attention.
– My question refers to the promise which -the Prime Minister made during the 1949 election campaign, and repeated during the 1951 campaign, to investigate a scheme of national retiring allowances for every one, without a means test. The right honorable gentleman., incidentally, promised to present such a scheme to the people at the last election. Has such an investigation been carried out? If so, what was the result, and will the Prime Minister table any report thereon? If no investigation has been made, will he reestablish the Social Security Committee to consider the practicability and cost of such a scheme, as well as the possibility of overcoming the various anomalies in our social services legislation?
– The matter has been the subject of a good deal of investigation, but there are no reports on it that are not confidential. Apart from that, the question seems to involve matters of policy, which will be dealt with as policy normally is.
– Is the Minister for Supply aware of a comment that has emanated from a well-informed source in South Australia to the effect that any duplication of uranium treatment laboratories by any authority in Australia would be a public scandal, not only because it would waste money, but also because there is insufficient technical staff available in this country? If so, does the honorable gentleman agree with that view?
– I am not aware of any such comment, and there is no such duplication.
– Does the Minister for External Affairs agree with the statement made by the Prime Minister to the Liberal party convention last Tuesday that the whole of Indo-China will be in red hands within a few years? If so, is he aware of the effect of this policy of despair on all Asians, particularly those in IndoChina who, having struggled to end European domination of their countries, are equally determined to prevent them from falling under Soviet imperialism? As social, political and economic freedom for Asians can be won only by Asians themselves, I ask the Minister, if he is not prepared to assist free Asia, whether he will at least prevent the Prime Minister from making statements that will discourage them.
– When the Prime Minister makes a statement, my instinct, based on certain intellectual processes and such thought as I am able to bring to bear on it, persuades me to agree with him. In this instance, I feel quite certain that the Prime Minister did not say the things that the honorable member has ascribed to him. I do not know where the honorable member got his information. If he would tell us where he got it - perhaps he gained it from any one of the public prints or just thought it out himself - I should be able to answer him a little more intelligently.
– Probably it was from the Tribune.
– Perhaps the Tribune, as has been suggested to me, or from another newspaper with a bias or slant. However, if one disputes the correctness of the honorable member’s premise, the remainder of the question falls to the ground.
– Will the Minister for the Interior inform the House whether the Commonwealth has approved the whole of the proposed war service land settlement scheme that was submitted by the Western Australian Government in relation to the Gairdner River area? If it has not done so, to what extent has the scheme been approved? How many settlers will receive farms? How soon will they be settled on those properties? Has the Minister any genera) information concerning the prospects of the war service land settlement applicants who have not yet received farms although they have been waiting for them for many years?
– While I was in Western Australia last week on another task, I took the opportunity to discuss with the Deputy Director of the War Service Land Settlement Division in that State a proposition which the honorable member had discussed with mc some time earlier. As a result of thai, discussion, and of previous investigations which had .been made by the head office of the division in Canberra, wo granted approval in respect of 50,000 acres of the Gairdner Creek scheme al, Jerramonyup. The whole of that area seems to be up and coming, although it is well down south. The chairman of the Gnowangerup Road Board was one of the people who were very keen on this proposal. We therefore gave authority for the allocation of 50,000 acres of the area to be proceeded with. The original proposal involved approximately 500,000 acres. From memory, the full scheme will enable about 60 sheep and wheat farms, and 40 cattle and wheat or cattle and pig farms to be established. I understand that most of the applicants for dairy farms in Western Australia have been satisfied, and the projects which are in hand will, I think, satisfy most of the applications for sheep and wheat farms. I think the Minister stated at a soldier settlement conference recently that about 220 or 300 applications remained to be satisfied. This project, which the’ honorable member has been very assiduous in pushing forward, is considered to be’ a good one. It is bringing in good lands. We are going ahead with improvements to 50,000 acres, which should be completed within the next three or four years. The improvement of the whole of the 500,000 acres would involve considerable time, and I therefore doubt very much whether it will be undertaken.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the success that has attended the operations of the Fullbright scheme, by means of which goodwill between the United States of America and Australia has been cemented, it will be possible to have the scope of the scheme widened so that a greater number of exchanges of students of the two countries may take place.
– I shall have aa examination made of the honorable member’s suggestion.
– I direct to the Minister for the Interior a question about voting, in general elections, by patients in hospitals. I have been informed that about 50 bed patients in the Sydney Eye Clinic were eager to vote in the last general election, but that at no time prior to, .or on, election day were facilities made available to enable them to do so. I ask the Minister, therefore, whether, in the interests of all political parties, it would be possible to devise a scheme that would provide an opportunity to such patients to exercise their right to vote?
– Having been a patient in the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg at a time when a general election took place, I am familiar with the difficulties that hospital staffs experience in connexion with voting by patients at elections. I think it was a State election which took place when I was a patient in the hospital. As I am a member of the Federal Parliament it did not affect me personally. However, I went round the ward assisting people with their postal votes. I know thai that action will be criticized by the Opposition.
Opposition supporters interjecting,
– Those people asked me what they had to do and I told them.
– No wonder the Labour party slipped in Victoria.
– Of course, I did not tell them, as a member of the Labour party would have told them, whom to vote for but only how to vote. I merely informed them of the method by which they could cast their votes. There is considerable difficulty in hospitals, particularly largo hospitals, in getting somebody to do the job to enable bed patients to vote in elections. Members of the hospital staffs are all busy. In most hospitals, however, proper arrangements for voting are made. Although I had not heard of the particular case to which the honorable gentleman has referred I shall be pleased to have the Commonwealth Electoral Office investigate it in order to see what can be done to assist in the matter.
– In answering a question concerning the double dissolution of both Houses of the Parliament on a previous occasion, the Prime Minister stated that he did not propose to table the papers during the term of office of Sir William McKell as Governor-General. The Prime Minister admitted that the subject was of historic and constitutional interest. In view of the fact that Sir William McKell vacated his office on the 8th May, 1953, will the Prime Minister inform the House when he proposes to table the papers which relate to the double dissolution ?
– I think that this matter is of interest but I believe that it was the Leader of the Opposition who raised it originally and it would be courteous for me to have a talk with him about it:
– Will the Prime Minister indicate when legislation to provide assistance to the gold-mining industry will be- placed before the Parliament?
– The matter is under very close examination in the Treasury. I understand from the Treasurer that he hopes to bring the legislation before the House during the present session.
– Has the atten tion of the Minister for External Affairs been drawn to reports that United States policy is now less inclined than formerly to support full security commitments in South-East Asia? Would such a change in outlook be seriously regarded by Australia as being prejudicial alike to the maintenanceof Asian freedom from Communist aggression, to the maintenance of freedom throughout the world against Communist aggression, and to the maintenance of the freedom of Australia against Communist aggression? Would certain attempts to confuse public opinion by minimizing the seriousness of the Communist threat, and advocating a policy of direct or indirect appeasement, have contributed to any such possible change in United States public opinion in the direction I have indicated? May I say that I refer to statementsmade both inside this House and elsewhere by both Australians and other nationals who have tended to play into Communist hands and to follow the old discredited-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is now making a statement.
– The statements to which I refer-
– Show a tendency to follow the old discredited Institute of Pacific Relations line-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman cannot go on ignoring me.
– I ask whether the Minister is aware of any such change in the outlook of the United States of America and whether he will endeavour to advocate a policy of firmness at the forthcoming conference of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization.
– I know of no bases for any story that the United States of America is weakening in its resolve to combat communism in South-East Asia or elsewhere. I believe it would be a sorry day for the free world if the United States were to weaken in its resolve to support democracy throughout the world. We all know the remarkable part that America has played by pouring out billions of dollars a year in support of democracy in all parts of the world where democracy shows signs of supporting itself. I believe that individuals who spread stories which are contrary to the truth with regard to the American attitude towards communism do no public service to Australia or democracy.
Publication of Confidential Report inthe”century”.
.- I raise a matter of privilege. I believe that a serious breach of privilege has occurred and I wish, as briefly as possible, to outline the facts and conclude with a motion covering the breach. I refer, first, to an article on page 5 of the newspaper, Century, published on Friday, 20th August. The article deals with proceedings in this House on Thursday, 12th August, and is a verbatim report of remarks made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in outlining the methods by which the members of the Royal Commission on Espionage were appointed. I am one of the members of this House who are privileged to receive a copy of the unrevised and confidential Hansard “ flats “, and on reading this article I was struck by the similarity between it and the “ flat “ that I received which covered the relevant debate. Therefore, yesterday, together with another honorable member, I compared the Hansard flat most carefully with the article in the Century, and I now say with complete certainty that the article in the Century is not so much based on the “ flat “, as lifted bodily out of it. The reports are not quite identical, because there is one minor difference. However, there is only the one difference, and apart from that, the report and the Hansard flat are identical down to the very last comma and semi-colon. As a journalist myself, I assure the House that the report which appeared in the Century could not have come from any source other than the confidential Hansard “ flat “. The “ flat “ was issued to members privileged to receive it on the 13th August, but the matter in it did not appear as a corrected official Hansard report until this morning. The article to which I have referred was published in the Century on the 20th August, and we may have no doubt that the “ flat “ upon which it was based was made available to the Century some time before that date.
Therefore, I believe that a breach of privilege has occurred. All honorable members know that the “ flats “ that we receive are marked -
Unrevised and confidential. This issue is for the immediate convenience and sole use of recipients. As its contents have not been edited or checked, it is not to be quoted from or used in official files.
All honorable members understand that. The advantage of having “ flats “ made available is considerable, and the privilege is highly valued by the honorable members of this House. The circulation of the “ flats “ is restricted for the protection both of honorable members of the House and of the public. Any breach of this privilege must be regarded in a most serious light. I believe that such a breach has occurred, and that a full investigation should be made to discover the honorable member, or the member of his staff, who has made the “ flat “ available to an unauthorized concern. Therefore, I move -
That the article appearing in the Century of Friday, August 20th, be referred to the Committee of Privileges for full investigation.
– I second the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I understand that the annual grant made by the Commonwealth to the Australian Road Safety Council is £100,000, and that the amount has not been altered since 1947. In view of the increased cost associated with the work of the council, and also the importance of that work, will the right honorable gentleman be good enough to increase substantially the grant of the Commonwealth to the Australian Road Safety Council ?
– The matter raised by the honorable member was considered and decided by the Premiers of the States in association with the Australian Government. That decision will be embodied in legislation that will be placed before this Parliament.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question arising from his recent statement that the Government has given up the control of hides and leather. Does the Government intend to repeal the Hide and Leather Industries Act, seeing that producers of hides and leather are given certain statutory obligations under that act - some of which are enforceable by penalties - which cannot be discharged when the Australian Hide and Leather Industries Board no longer operates? Will the Minister inform the House when the Hide and Leather Industries Act will be repealed ?
– The announcement of policy that I made on behalf of the Government does imply that the act which set up the Australian Hide and Leather Industries Board will be repealed ; hut that does not mean that it will be repealed instantly, because the board still owns a substantial number of hides, and still has property in the industry. Therefore, there should be an early winding up of the board. That will proceed without any delay at all, but it is intended that the Hide and Leather Industries Act shall be repealed.
– I wish to know whether it is a fact that, some years ago, the Prime Minister appeared, in his legal capacity, before a Commonwealth royal commission to represent the Shell Company of Australia Limited? Is it also a fact that the representative of the company, acting on the advice of the right honorable gentleman, refused to assist the commissioner by answering certain questions or producing the books of the company for examination? If so, will he state whether he has now changed his mind and believes that all witnesses who are called to give evidence before Commonwealth royal commissions, irrespective of the subject-matter of the inquiry, should be compelled to answer all relevant questions that are directed to them, or does he still believe that wealthy and powerful business interests should continue to be regarded as entitled to exercise a special privilege?
– This is a very interesting piece of ancient history, because, for once, the honorable member is right in his first statement. I did appear, and was one of the counsel for the Shell Company of Australia Limited, before a Commonwealth royal commission 22 years ago, before I became a member of the Commonwealth Parliament. I know of singularly little reason why I should not have appeared professionally for that company. That has always puzzled me. It is quite true - and I am glad to be reminded of it - that I was sufficiently alert, legally, in those days to advise my clients that they were not, as the law then stood, obliged to answer questions on certain matters, but I am also bound to point out to the honorable member the one thing that he has forgotten. It is that the then government of the Commonwealth was equally alert and introduced a bill to alter the law for the purpose of compelling my clients to answer relevant questions.
– Order ! I think I should call the attention of the House to the practice, which is growing, of asking Ministers for expressions of opinion. I have heard at least two such requests this morning. The Standing Orders provide that members may not ask Ministers to express opinions. The questions directed to them should deal with the ministerial duties for which they are responsible to this House.
-Has the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization any knowledge of reports that work is being carried out by the Soviet Government in relation to bacterial fertilization? Can the Minister say whether the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has conducted research in that subject, and can he also inform me whether any of the reported discoveries by the Soviet are of potential value in the treatment of Australian soils, particularly alkaline soils?
– I have not heard of the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred, but the’ -Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has done a very great deal of work, over the years, concerning the general effect of bacteria on soils. I am sure that the officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization are aware of this recent Soviet work in connexion with bacterial fertilization. Those officers, through a variety of means, are in touch with cognate scientific research in all parts of the world. I shall discuss this matter with them, and I have no doubt that if this Russian work has any relevance to Australian primary production, they will not only become aware of it but will also use it to such purpose as is relevant.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Army. As he is no doubt aware, a coroner accepted the uncorroborated testimony of the’ commanding officer of the Stockton Bight amphibious manoeuvre, that he had gone to sea prior to the convoy moving off and, having tested the sea, found it to be comparatively calm. In view of the fact that there is a conflict of opinion on whether tests of the sea were made, will the Minister take statements from the personnel who accompanied the commanding officer in his duck on that occasion? In addition, will he release the names and rank of such personnel, together with their statements, so that the suspicion, in the minds of relatives, that the sea had not been tested, may be removed ?
– Let me assure the honorable member that I do not propose to hold a post-mortem on the findings of the coroner.
– What is the honorable gentleman hiding?
-Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney must not interrupt.
– The coroner conducted his inquiry, and he was assisted by the police who in turn were given every assistance by the Department of the Army in order to present all the evidence that the coroner might wish to hear. I am satisfied that the commanding officer went out.
– Well, I am not.
– And I am satisfied that the coroner made’ a finding to that effect. I will not have a post-mortem on the findings, and I regret very much that the honorable member is trying to do a great disservice, first, to the coroner and, secondly, to the relatives of the lads who lost their lives.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform the House whether, after the new Vickers Viscount aircraft have been delivered to Trans-Australia Airlines, that instrumentality will have any DCS aircraft available for disposal? If so, will the Minister suggest that Australian airline companies that urgently require medium size aircraft have first option over the purchase of such aircraft?
– Probably. TransAustralia Airlines will have some surplus DC3 aircraft after the Vickers Viscount aircraft are delivered. I should not like to interfere in the domestic workings and affairs of Trans- Australia Airlines, but I shall be very pleased to convey to that authority the honorable member’s suggestion that, if DC3 aircraft become available for disposal, airlines such as those which operate in country district? of Queensland shall be given first offer.
– Will you, Mr. Speaker, prepare for the House a complete list of the recipients of the document known as the Hansard “ flat “, both in the Parliament and the departments or agencies of the Commonwealth?
– There is always « list in existence. As a matter of fact, in either the first or second week of this session I rejected an application for an increased number of copies for one authority. I see no reason why the circulation list should not be made available to honorable members, and I shall make it available next Tuesday.
– -I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question concerning the debate on the motion for the adjournment of this House on Wednesday evening of last week. You, sir, will recall that some disagreement and some doubt arose yesterday about the particular words used by the honorable member for Hindmarsh in that debate in a reference to the supply of certain parts for Canberra bombers. You will recall, also, that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition yesterday produced in the House the notes used by the honorable member for Hindmarsh when he made his original remarks on Wednesday evening of last week, with the suggestion that the words appearing in the notes must have been the words used by the honorable member in debate. In order to clarify the matter, will you, Mr. Speaker, inform the House of the words taken down by the Hansard reporter and of the alterations, if any, that were made in the Hansard proof by the honorable member for Hindmarsh?
– I shall ask Hansard to prepare a report duringthe week-end.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. The quotation that I handed to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was the quotation that I used in the correction of the proof of Hansard.
Government Supporters. - Ah !
– Am I to be heard in silence?
– I rise to order. A personal explanation implies that an honorable member has been misrepresented. The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) asked you, Mr. Speaker, to inform the House of the words that were actually used and whether any correction had been made in the Hansard proof. How can the honorable member for Hindmarsh be misrepresented when no report is before the House ?
– The House has not heard me yet.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hindmarsh may make his personal explanation.
– I desire to make the explanation that the Hansard officer who took my remarks on the motion for the adjournment of the House on Wednesday of last week met me outside the chamber and told me that he had not got my speech correctly.I gave him large slabs of quotations.
– Order ! The honorable member is now getting beyond a personal explanation and is asking for an inquiry.
– I think that I am entitled to explain that the imputation that has been made in the question of the honorable member for Evans is not correct. The imputation, which was supported by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), is clearly that the corrected Hansard is not in accordance with my remarks.I desire to make it clear that the Hansard officer admitted to mo outside the chamber that he had not got what I said, and he asked me to tell him what I did say.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are now quite outside the scope of a personal explanation.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in relation to the Australian dried fruits industry. Does the Minister know that prior to 1939 the preference rate on sultanas and lexias in the United Kingdom was £10 10s. a ton, which was approximately 25 per cent. of the selling price, and that the preference now is £8 10s. a ton, or 8½ per cent. of the selling price? As the present preference rate is approximately one-third of the pre-war preference rate, will the Minister endeavour to have the pre-war preferential tariff rate restored and make special representation on the subject to the forthcoming meeting in relation to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade?
– One of the problems in Australia is that certain preferences that were obtained by virtue of the Ottawa Agreement were on a fixed basis rather than on a percentage of the value of the particular product. The most notorious example - and I am not using that term improperly - was that of wine. The Government is quite aware of the problem, and the country has had no more vigorous advocate of an adjustment than the Prime Minister himself. It is well known that the Prime Minister has advocated the cause of the wine industry in relation to which the problem is quite similar. The honorable member may be assured that that statement represents the attitude of the Government.
– During the sittings of the last Parliament, the Minister for the Interior announced that he was having an investigation made into alleged malpractices by a building contracting firm in respect of work that the firm was undertaking for the Australian Government. When does the Minister expect to be able to announce to the Parliament the result of the investigation?
– I have no desire to keep the matter secret, but I am not aware that I gave an undertaking to make an announcement to the Parliament on this question. The result of the inquiry depends on what was discovered by the Commonwealth Investigation Service. I am glad that the honorable member has raised the matter again. It is only one of a multitude of questions with which I am concerned, and at present I do not know the exact position in relation to it. The investigations are still in progress. They are complicated because they entail the examination of a large number of accounts, particularly up-country accounts, for work done outside the Sydney metropolitan area, and it is difficult to get all the details. The investigation will continue. I shall ascertain the position this afternoon, and shall give the honorable member a detailed reply to-morrow morning.
.- I move-
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913- 1953, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing
Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, viz.: - -The extension of the water supply storage system for Canberra.
This matter goes further than the question whether the water storage system should be at. the Cotter dam or a new proposed storage area near Queanbeyan. I propose that the Public Works Committee should consider the whole matter of the water supply storage system for Canberra in general. Canberra is rapidly outgrowing the existing water supply storage system and it is anticipated that additional storage will be required by 1956 or very shortly afterwards. As honorable members know, the original domestic water supply for Canberra waa to be taken from the Cotter River catchment area. Principally, the existing system is not a gravity feed system but a pumping system. Therefore, if the electricity supply should break down at any time, Canberra would be in grave danger of being cut off from its water supply. When Canberra was originally planned, there was a suggestion that a secondary water supply should be obtained from the Queanbeyan River in the neighbourhood of the Googong property, about 11 miles from Canberra. The original intention was that that water supply should be used for topping up the lakes that were to be constructed in Canberra.
However, when the future water supply needs of Canberra were the subject of a departmental investigation, it became apparent that another source of water might be needed for the development of Canberra itself. As a result, an inter-departmental conference was called on the 26th May last and it considered the problem of the Canberra water supply. As very often happens in such departmental inquiries, there was immediately a conflict of opinion between the Department of Health, and the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior.
It was not a serious difference of opinion, but the Department of Health considered that while the supply from the Cotter River is one of the purest in the world, water from the Queanbeyan River would have to be treated by chlorination or a filtration process because of a percentage of silt and the possibility. of contamination. Therefore, the Department of Health was in favour of increasing the supply from the Cotter River. Of course, many cities in the world do not have a water supply as pure as that which is obtained from the Cotter River. The advantage of having the supply coming from the Queanbeyan area is that it would come by gravitation and would not have to be pumped. It is not only a matter of the costs involved but also a question of having an alternative supply in the event of breakdowns occuring. I admit that such breakdowns do not occur often. However, Canberra is a great and growing city. Its population is expected to reach 45,000 by 1956, or 1957. We cannot afford to go on with systems of organization which were all very well for Canberra in the old days when it was a small country town growing into the National Capital. That fact is evident not only in respect of the water supply but also in many other respects including the brickworks, which are being run down and are experiencing difficulty in maintaining adequate production. It is also evident in respect of the electricity supply which we cannot afford any longer to run in an offhand way but which will, perhaps, have to be handled by an independent commission. The provision of an adequate water supply is a great and growing problem in Canberra. Canberra has been planned as a garden city and, consequently, residents are using a greater quantity of water per capita than is used by residents in other capital cities. However, we desire, as far as we possibly can, to maintain the beauty of Canberra; and as there is plenty of water in this region the question of the water supply was brought up at this stage.
I am proposing that this matter should be referred for investigation to the Public Works Committee, because I believe that committee is the appropriate body to report on whether the supply should be increased at this stage from the Cotter River or whether we should go ahead with the development of the Queanbeyan source. One difficulty that arises is that if we decide now that we shall not bother about the source from the Queanbeyan area, Canberra will probably develop and its population in crease to such a degree by the time that that source of supply is required that it will then be very difficult to utilize it. However, I shall not discuss those aspects in detail. I have indicated the different viewpoints that will have to be studied by the Public Works Committee which, I believe, is the most competent body to furnish a report to the Parliament at this stage. The choice lies between increasing the supply from the Cotter River by constructing a dam further up the river or building a dam on the Queanbeyan River for the storage of water for domestic use in Canberra and Queanbeyan. I remind honorable members that we have an understanding with Queanbeyan that we shall keep that town supplied with water from the Australian Capital Territory. As a matter of fact, I do not think that it will be very long before the two centres, for all intents and purposes are joined together, particularly insofar as the supply of water is concerned. My home in Kew, Melbourne, is not less distant from Spencer-street station than Queanbeyan is from Canberra. It will be realized that in some respects it was a pity that Queanbeyan was not included in the Australian Capital Territory. I have outlined the position that exists at the moment. I have stated the differences of opinion that have arisen. There is the question of future requirements if we do not go ahead with the Queanbeyan area, and also that of the advantage of the gravitation method, whilst the Cotter River source also has advantages. In the circumstances, I think that the best course to follow is to ‘refer the matter to the Public Works Committee to investigate it and report upon it to the Parliament. I table the plans for the alternative schemes, copies of which I have handed to the Clerk of the House so that they may be available to honorable members.
– I am glad that the Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) proposes to refer this matter for inquiry to the Public Works Committee. As he has pointed out, the National Capital is growing rapidly not only in area but also in population. Citizens of Canberra have been gravely concerned for some years about their water supply not only in respect’ of its adequacy but also in respect of the reticulation of the water throughout the city area. The proposals that the Minister has mentioned and on which he has stated the differences of opinion that have arisen should be submitted to the Public Works Committee for inquiry. I hope the committee will have regard to all the details that tha Minister has outlined and, in particular, to the health aspects of the water supply. It will be recalled that, in 1948, when my colleague the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) was Minister for the Interior and the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) was Minister for Works, the Chifley Government took action to have the wall of the present Cotter Dam raised by about 26 feet. That work has now been completed. At that time there was also under consideration a proposal for the construction of a second dam upstream from the existing one. I think- these proposals all need careful consideration but most of all, I think the committee might have regard to the reticulation system throughout the city and suburban areas to make sure that the new mains will be of a size adequate for future development. The installation of small mains was one of the mistakes made in the early planning of Canberra, and one that has caused considerable inconvenience and in some cases expense, to people in the higher areas who depend on the Canberra water supply for household purposes, orcharding, and other minor farming pursuits. In some areas of the salubrious suburb of Red Hill, residents have had difficulty in securing a continuous supply of water. I hope all those points will be taken into consideration.
.- I should like to know whether the investigation undertaken some years ago, of the scheme for harnessing the Cotter River at its upper reaches, has been completed. Does the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) know whether such a scheme could provide water by gravity feed to Canberra ? I think it is wise that we should not rely purely on pumping to provide water for Canberra because pumping requires electric power. An endeavour should bc made to provide a dual supply. I hope the Minister will ask the Public Works Committee to consider the harnessing of the Cotter River higher up, not only to increase the volume of water that can be supplied to Canberra, but also to provide a gravity feed in addition to the present pump supply.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
REFERENCE to Public Works Committee.
.- I move-
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1013-1953, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for- investigation and report, viz.: - The construction at Canberra of a new bridge over the Molonglo river to replace the existing Commonwealth-avenue bridge.
The proposal envisaged consists of seven 100-ft. spans and two 50-ft. end spans in steel and concrete giving a waterway of 700 feet, together with appropriate approach embankments and pavement, the exact nature and dimensions of which are to be in accordance with the PublicWorks Committee’s recommendations. The necessity for the new bridge arises from the inadequacy of the present structure to cope with peak hour traffic aud its limited life on account of the decay of timber members. I should not like anybody to think that, like London Bridge, the Commonwealth-avenue bridge is falling down. It is not. But to keep it in repair and up to a high standard of safety it is becoming very costly. The authorities in Canberra, including the Canberra Advisory Council, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Works consider that it will be necessary in the very near future to reconstruct the Commonwealth-avenue bridge. I am asking the Public Works Committee to investigate this proposal, not so much with the idea of recommending whether it should consist of this, that or the other from the engineering’ viewpoint, but very largely to give its opinion regarding the size of the bridge, and whether the traffic lanes are considered sufficient to cope with the traffic that will use the structure, not five years hence, but fifteen, twenty, twenty-five and thirty years hence. If we are to build a new bridge, we should construct one that will be suitable and satisfactory to Canberra for a long time. Therefore, the inquiry will be largely into traffic requirements, and, from that standpoint, into the future plan of Canberra itself. The Public Works Committee may even recommend certain alterations in respect of the planning when it investigates the matter of traffic. Perhaps it sounds silly to some people who come from more densely populated areas than Canberra, but there is already a traffic problem on this bridge at peak hours. The low level bridges at Acton and other places are handling the traffic satisfactorily, but they are entirely cut off in flood-time, and floods do occur here occasionally. Therefore, I consider that, in order to deal with the whole matter properly, I should refer the proposed work to the Public Works Committee.
The preliminary estimate of cost for the whole proposal, including the approaches and associated works is £600,000. I have handed to the Clerk, and, therefore, lay on the table of the House, drawings concerning the proposal. The Department of Works, in the notes which it has supplied to me, states that the type of bridge to be constructed suggets itself in broad principle from a consideration of the general characteristics of the waterway, notable amongst which is the extent of flooding, which determine the length, and, to some extent, the height. Other aspects include foundation conditions and modern design trends, utilizing special methods of construction to suit best the materials readily available.
I have received from the Institute of Architects a proposal that we should conduct a competition for the design of this bridge. I realize that many people are in favour of having competitions for designs of structures of this kind, but the position is that we have been undertaking a large amount of bridge building work on country roads and we have many competent engineers who, I think, are in world class in regard to projects of this kind. Therefore, I feel that it is not necessary to hold a competition for the design of the new Commonwealth-avenue bridge. When I was a member of the Victorian Parliament, we held a competition for the design of the Spencerstreet bridge, in Melbourne. The design was very fine, but after consideration, it was decided that the cost had to be reduced and the ultimate result was quite a nice bridge, but the “lights on it were aptly described as pumpkins on gas pipes. I hope that no representatives of Western Australian electorates hear me say this, but I am not very enamoured of the lighting on the new bridge across the Swan River in Perth. I thought that the glare was dangerous to motorists, and. that the standards themselves looked like rockets ready to be sent off by the first small boys who came along with boxes of matches. We can have all sorts of things in the designs of bridges. Some people may like a particular design, and others may dislike it. I may be entirely wrong, hut in view of all the circumstances, I do not think that it is necessary to have a competition for the design of the Commonwealthavenue bridge. We have the engineers, and, if necessary, we can call on other very competent engineers on matters relating to strength, design and everything else.
What I am really asking the Public Works Committee to do is to investigate this proposed work, from the standpoint of the size and capacity of the bridge itself, the traffic lanes and approaches. Whilst the existing bridges and low-level crossings over the Molonglo River cope, although somewhat inadequately, with the present traffic, it is considered that the new bridge will be necessary in approximately five years, which is the time estimated for the design funding and construction of this bridge, if a start is made reasonably soon. The swimming pool on the north side of Canberra was supposed to be ready by last summer. I hope the estimate in the case of the bridge will be more accurate than that in the case of the swimming pool. No financial provision has been made for the work in the 1954-55 works programme. I hope that when the Public Works Committee has considered the proposal and is making its recommendations, it will express some views on the other aspects of the Griffin plan that I have mentioned. I refer, not only to the capacity of the bridge and the number and type of traffic lanes, but also to the general question of bridges over the Molonglo River and traffic connexions between the two halves of the city. If, by so doing, the committee is able to give broad leads which future planning should follow, that will be advantageous to all concerned.
– I commend the decision of the Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) to refer this matter to the Public Works Committee. For many years, residents of this city and officers charged with the construction and administration of the city, have expressed the view that the present bridge should be replaced. It is on record that the Commonwealth Bridge was washed away in the great flood of 1925 and that it was put out of action again in, I think, the summer of 1945-46. Honorable members who have travelled round Canberra know that in a time of flood or even of freshet in the Molonglo River there is no link other than the Commonwealth Bridge between the north and south sections of Canberra. That could have very serious consequences. For example, our fire brigade and our ambulance service are stationed on the south side of the city, and if some accident were to put the Commonwealth Bridge out of action during a time of freshet in the river, neither of those services would be available to people residing on the north side.
In 1950, 1 think, the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council suggested that this work should be put in hand to mark the jubilee of the Commonwealth. Mr. A. T. Shakespeare suggested at that time that a competition be held for the design of the bridge and that the structure should be one that would not only meet the needs of the community, but also mark the great occasion of the Jubilee of the Commonwealth. However, the suggestion was not accepted. I am inclined to agree with the Minister that if a competition for the design pf the bridge would delay its construction, no competition should be held. I believe that in the Public Service there are competent engineers who are able to design and build bridges. A competition might produce a design for a bridge as attractive or less attractive than the Spencer-street Bridge in Melbourne or other bridges throughout the Commonwealth. But what we need is an efficient and strong bridge, designed to carry the traffic, not only of five, ten or twenty years hence, but of 100 years hence.
I hope the Griffin plan will not be varied lightly, and that the Minister will pay close attention to any recommendations made by the Public Works Committee about that plan. There is too much of a tendency to tamper with it, although I admit that some alterations must be made in the light of modern developments. The site for the bridge in the plan is one that will permit the continuation of the two-lane traffic way in Commonwealth Avenue across what is known as the billabong and the river itself. At present, the river is spanned by the wooden structure that has proved to be so unsatisfactory. I hope the Minister will follow up his decision to refer this work to the Public Works Committee by giving some consideration to the provision of proper high-level bridges at Lennox Crossing, near the hospital at Acton, and at Scott’s Crossing, on the road leading to St. John’s Church from the Administration Block, as well as to the final construction of King’s Avenue, where the roadway crosses the river on a concrete causeway, below the weir and upstream from Scott’s Grossing.
Those are all important matters. The Minister still has time to make his name in this territory as a bridge builder. I hope he will devote his talents not only to bridges in the city area, but also to those which are needed across the Murrumbidgee River, in the vicinity of what is known as the Point Hut Crossing, and across the Naas River, to provide access to farms in that area. Those are all matters worthy of the Minister’s consideration, and it is not inappropriate to refer to them now. I hope that work on this bridge will be put in hand speedily, and that it will be completed before the period of five years mentioned by the Minister has elapsed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 25th August (vide page 645), on motion by Sir Arthur. Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1. - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £20,000 “, be agreed to.
Upon which Mr. Calwell had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- It is a little over four years since I listened for the first time to a budget debate in this chamber. I was amazed to learn that, by and large, a budget debate is not a debate on the budget at all, but a series of political dog-fights carried on for the edification of party supporters outside the Parliament. It is alarming that, in the situation with which this country is faced to-day, that tradition apparently is still carried on. I listened attentively, as I think other honorable members and people throughout the country did also, to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) when he opened the Opposition’s attack on the budget last night. I admit that the honorable gentleman was labouring under some difficulties, but I think his most significant remark was made towards the end of his speech, when he said “ There is so much that can be said “. It is regrettable that he did not say it. ‘[Quorum formed.] Although I listened quietly and with close attention to the honorable member’s flow of eloquence, I had great difficulty in following the line of argument that he tried to develop, and, indeed, in discovering the line in the first place. It seemed to me that the honorable gentleman adopted the practice, which has become habitual with members of the Opposition, of endeavouring to establish the authorship of the document in question. However, beyond that fact, it was difficult to understand exactly what the honorable member was talking about.
The budget provides for the expenditure of the colossal, and even frightening, sum of £1,015,000,000. Many definitions of the purpose of government have been attempted. Some, perhaps, are perfect, but most, of course, are imperfect. At least, it can be said truthfully that, by and large, the purpose of government, and of presenting a budget to the Parliament and the people, is to establish means of obtaining funds with which to carry on the services that the people require, to maintain the security that is essential to the preservation of the nation, and to provide for the development that must take place. The purpose must extend to the provision of services which are effective but which are supplied at costs compatible with the financial circumstances of- the nation. This is an aspect of government that has received very little consideration from those members of the Opposition who have token part in the debate up to the present. 1 remind the committee that Australia is forced to re-act to the pressure of world events. We are obliged to do so by our geographical situation as a nation of 9,000,000 persons isolated in that part of the world which once was described as the Far East, but which now is our near north. Our economy re-acts not only to world events, but also to world economic trends. That re-action is the more marked because most of our trade is based on our exports of primary products, which are the only goods that we can sell profitably overseas, largely because, as a community, we have costed our secondary pioducts out of the world’s markets.
The budget demonstrates that the Treasurer has recognized all the problems that arise from the circumstances that I have mentioned. The proposed additional vote for defence of £35,000,000 will provide for the first essential of national security. After all, self-preservation is the prime responsibility of the individual and, therefore, of the Government, which is responsible for the advancement of our welfare. The Government will also contribute towards our security by the provision of an increased sum for immigration and the absorption into the community of our new citizens. We must have more immigrants if we are to hold Australia. Thus, defence and immigration are two essential items of the Government’s programme. Up to the present at any rate, the Opposition has not challenged the Government’s plans for defence and immigration, although in the past it has been accustomed to object to defence expenditure on the ground that it is unnecessary. The force of circumstances beyond the control of the Government has made it necessary to provide for the needs of an expansionist economy for as far into the future as it is possible to foresee. If we are to survive as a nation, we must expand. The pressure of our swelling population, which has grown by over 14 per cent, in the last few years, obliges us to increase all branches of industrial activity. In such circumstances, no intelligent person with any knowledge of the science of economics could agree to apply to our economy the inevitable restrictions of socialist doctrine.
The honorable member for Melbourne reminded us, as honorable members opposite almost invariably do, of the Chifley Government’s budgets and legislative programmes. I remind the committee that, when the Chifley Government was defeated in 1949, Australia was faced with the inevitable consequences of the application of socialist theories to the problems of government. We suffered from shortages of all sorts of essential and non-essential goods throughout the country, we were harassed by continual disruption in industry, and every major city suffered from blackouts at frequent but unpredictable intervals. The only factor that was consistent at that time was the failure of our machinery of production and distribution to function effectively. The bank nationalization proposals of the Chifley Government were an inescapable consequence of. the restrictive practices of a socialist economy. I realize that the subject has been canvassed in this chamber on many occasions and in many ways, but I make no apology for raising it again because the honorable member for Melbourne introduced it into the debate last night. As I have said, nationalization of the banking system would have been the inevitable outcome of the Labor Government’s policies. Nobody could accurately predict what would have happened next. One man’s guess is as good as his neighbour’s, and my own opinion is that the result would have been chaos, with increasing shortages and more numerous blackouts until finally, in all probability, the very machinery of government itself would have broken down under the weight of socialist theory applied without a proper appreciation of its practical effects.
I remind the committee again that the budget provides for the expenditure of £1,015,000,000, an enormous sum which, a decade or two ago, would have been thought to be incredible. Yet, throughout the 45 minutes of the speech made by the honorable member for Melbourne, I heard no suggestion of any means by which expenditure could be reduced. Indeed, I do not believe that anybody will dispute my statement that his proposals in relation to various items of budget expenditure would, if put into effect, require the outpouring of more and more money. I do not challenge the right of any individual or political party to submit proposals for government that involve increased expenditure, and therefore increased taxation in one form or another, but I maintain that a man who occupies the position of leadership in a political party, however brief his occupation of that position may bo, has n grave responsibility to observe due care in discussing a budget which will affect the standard of living and the welfare of every citizen in the community. The people are entitled to expect from such a man, not a. biased party political approach to the subject, but the expression of a broad and fairly objective viewpoint. The honorable member for Melbourne in that respect failed to fulfil the responsibilities of his present position.
I direct attention in particular to his comments on sales tax. Those honorable members who listened to his remarks will agree with me that he dealt with this subject in characteristic fashion by referring in a humourous vein to only one or two items. That is not the way for a man who is temporarily at the head of one of the three major political parties in Australia to discuss sales tax, which is a basic cause of cost inflation in any economy. It is not a joking matter. The simple fact is that the budget includes provision for some reduction of sales tax. I consider that sales tax is inflationary and that the policy of the Government should be to abolish it eventually, but, at any rate, in this budget the Treasurer has continued to follow the policy that this Government has maintained during the last few years by providing for the lightening of sales tax on individual items. The reductions will amount in the aggregate to about £10,000,000 a year. Many people consider that this concession is inadequate, but nobody will deny that it is a move iii accordance with the general policy that the Treasurer outlined, designed to ensure a continuance of the stability that we have enjoyed for some time past.
I come now to the subject of pay-roll tax, to which the honorable member for Melbourne did not refer. This tax is basically inflationary ; it increases the cost of almost every article that is produced, transported, and used in this country. The aim of the Government should be to attain a condition of affairs in which that tax can be totally removed. It has gone a part of the way in that direction, and now proposes to raise the annual exemption. The Treasurer stated -
It is proposed to raise the annual exemption from £4,160 to £0,240. On a weakly basis, this is an increase from £80 per week to £120 per week. The higher exemption will operate in respect of wages payable on or after the l6t September, 1954.
This amendment will exempt a further 10,500 employers from Pay-roll Tax and reduce the amount of tax payable by those still subject to this tax.
This important concession is consistent with the general policy of the Government of providing in a private enterprise economy checks and balances which are essential to maintain competition, which gives our economy life and dynamic force. As a result of the removal of the burden of pay-roll tax from a further 10,500 small employers, the pressure of competition from the smaller, or middle group of employers on other sections of industry will be increased, and their own security - which i3 so essential to the retention of life, energy, and vigour in this country - is thus assured. The honorable member for Melbourne did not refer to those matters, although I have heard him deal with them vigorously, forcefully, and fluently on other occasions. Perhaps, due to the position in which he found himself, he considered that, as a self-imposed task, he should concentrate on only one or two items and leave the remainder until the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) returns to the fold.
I come now to another matter, which is, perhaps, of greater importance than is generally realized. The background of a serious budget debate must be government action designed to reduce cost inflation and encourage people to produce essential goods and services. In a modern economy, particularly in Australia - which is a country of long distances between the capital cities - transport is a major item of cost of many commodities. The provision of good road services has an important bearing on development, production, and cost. As the committee is aware, Commonwealth legislation makes provision for payments to the States for roads purposes. In accordance with the promise that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the last general election campaign, the budget proposes to increase Commonwealth aid road grants from a total of about £15,000,000 in 1953-54 to approximately £24,000,000 in this financial year. To a degree, that provision will contribute to the kind of balanced economy that all of us seek.
The Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement, which was drawn up some years ago, was confirmed in substance by this Government three years ago. It provides for the distribution annually to the States of 65 per cent, of the amount paid into the Commonwealth Aid Roads Trust Account, in accordance with a formula, under which 5 per cent, of that amount is paid to Tasmania and 95 per cent to the other States - 57 per cent, according to their respective populations, and 38 per cent, according to their respective areas. I think it is admitted by all honorable members who have devoted a reasonable amount of study to this subject, that the over-riding consideration of the Commonwealth is the financing of its obligations and responsibilities. I am sure that many honorable members, particularly those representing Victorian electorates, consider that the present formula is unfair, in that it operates extremely harshly against Victoria, which receives from the Commonwealth only about 35 per cent, of the petrol tax collected in that State. It receives a lesser amount than do two other States, which have smaller populations but larger areas. Victoria is confronted with the problem of a relatively close-knit, highly developed industrial community, in which the cost of road transport is an ever-increasing item. I urge the Government to pay particular attention to the needs of Victoria, which does not receive appropriate assistance under the formula.
The honorable member for Melbourne also referred, briefly, to the subject of housing. His technique was perfectly obvious. As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, there are two main aspects of this problem, but there are others which are not directly connected with the budget. The Parliament makes appropriations for the purposes of the War Service Homes Division, and the Australian Loan Council allocates loan moneys for housing. The Commonwealth proposes to increase the allocation to the War Service Homes Division to £30,000,000 in this financial year. Some honorable members consider that that increase will be insufficient, while others believe that the present allocation should be reduced. The honorable member for Melbourne dealt with the other aspect of housing. He said, if I remember aright, that it was tragic that the Australian Loan Council had decided to allot to the States only £32,000,000 of loan moneys, pursuant to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, because the States had requested an allocation of £37,000,000. The agreement, which was entered into by the previous Labour Government, is, I believe, purely socialist in concept and practice. I am prepared to concede that the agreement has not worked, in practice, quite in accordance with the ideals of the framers of the legislation. However, the truth is that the Commonwealth, through the Australian Loan Council, has poured large sums of money into Victoria, but with all those millions of pounds only about 24,000 houses have been built. Fewer than 100 of them have been sold. It is true that in States other than Victoria the position is more satisfactory, but the result of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in Victoria has been that the Commonwealth is, in fact, renting houses to thousands of people. I believe that the present bousing problem, which is a human problem, is to a great degree the result of the way in which the agreement has operated. The concen- tration on building houses for renting has monopolized the labour, materials and finance needed by people who would have built homes for themselves through private enterprise. Again, I say that there is no indication in the budget speech about the Government’s plans after the expiry of this agreement. I suggest to the Government that, when the existing agreement expires, it should change the emphasis, which at the moment is on the building of houses for renting. I believe that the community has a responsibility to provide homes for people who cannot afford to buy them; but I also believe that it has equally a responsibility to provide homes for people who can afford to buy them. Therefore, proper encouragement should be given to people who wish to buy and live in their own homes. The provision of such encouragement is, I think, in the final analysis the responsibility of the Government. I hope that in the months to come the Government can, and will, encourage private home building.
I return to one last matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the committee. I hope that I shall not be considered guilty of wearisome repetition by mentioning it again. We are discussing a budget that provides for the raising of £1,015,000,000. We must remember, however, that it is not the only budget that is presented to a parliament in Australia. The six State governments also bring down budgets that are, in relation to the responsibility of the individual States, similar in magnitude to the magnitude of the Commonwealth budget. I hope that something definite will be done in response to suggestions that have been freely -made for the appointment of a committee to consider the establishment of a constitutional convention which would have the task of bringing the Constitution up to date and removing its existing anomalies. I think that a review of the Constitution is a matter to which we should all give serious consideration. It ‘ is not a political problem, as such. It is a national problem.. The convention will be able to determine how much overlapping and duplication exists as between the Commonwealth and State Public Services. I, in common with other people, have heard wild statements, on that subject, which
I know to be exaggerated; but, in common with every one else, I have heard other statements that are not exaggerations. I do not suggest that the various Public Services needlessly duplicate activities, but I do say that existing conditions lend themselves to such duplications. It is only necessary to examine the Commonwealth budget and the various State budgets in order to realize that duplication of responsibilities exists. I hope that, when the Constitution is reviewed party politics will be laid aside, so that in the end it may be possible to save considerable sums .of money without impairing the efficiency of the services that the Government is called upon to provide for the people. I support the budget.
.. - I think that most honorable members will agree about the necessity for a review of the Constitution, as has been stated by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis). Everybody would also agree that a budget which proposes the raising of £1,015,000,000 for the carrying on of the government of the country is a colossal budget. One would expect that a document of such great importance would place before the committee some indication of a plan for the proper conduct of government, the economic development, and the defence of Australia, and also would put before the people some inspiring plan concerning the future of the nation. However, an examination of the budget, and a study of the speech made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), force one to the conclusion that the budget provides no safeguard against the economic perils that the Treasurer himself portrayed in his speech. The document certainly lacks imagination, and by no means gives inspiration to the Australian people. It is noticeable that the Treasurer stressed, in certain portions of his speech, the subject of costs and prices. He seemed to indicate that those two factors are stresses, to use his own words, “ that are again threatening the development of our country “. I shall quote some of the remarks made by the right .honorable gentleman in order to demonstrate that certain conditions which have developed during the last few years could have been prevented from developing had the Go vernment had a proper plan for economic control and economic co-operation. The Treasurer said -
Were inflationary conditions to return we could expect at a fairly early stage the beginning of a new upward thrust of prices and costs. That, I suggest, is about the last thing any of us wishes to see. During the inflation years our general level of COStS was raised inordinately high. - far too high for a country like ours which, on the one hand, depends upon selling so much of its products in markets abroad and which, on the other hand, has been rapidly establishing new industries’ to compete in our own markets with the products of other countries.
At a later stage of his speech he said -
If the general forces which influence costs can be kept stable, then the particular factors which normally work towards the reduction of costs will have a chance to operate, lt is through these factors that higher national productivity will be achieved1 - and the obverse of higher productivity is lower cost levels.
I submit to the committee that the present condition of affairs in Australia, which was so lucidly outlined by the Treasurer in his speech, is entirely due to the lack of proper effort by the Government during the four and a half years it has governed this country. Those factors were recognized in war-time when, in order to prevent the economy becoming depressed, thus putting the people of Australia in a difficult position, controls of various descriptions were put into operation which enabled prices and costs to be retained at a fairly stable level. The Government has failed to appreciate that peace has its economic perils just as war has its economic perils. If an examination were made of the conditions that existed in this country and other countries at the end of the war, one would see to what extent Australia, whose price levels during the war compared so favourably with those of other countries, has retrogressed because of the lack of a positive policy in respect of economic controls and economic cooperation. When the war ended Australia, from the standpoint of prices and costs, had the world at its feet. It had the opportunity to capture and build up markets. For a period of two or three years up to 1950, because of our low level of prices, we were able to build up fairly extensive markets in the South Pacific, the Middle East and elsewhere. That state of affairs arose solely from the fact that, because of our effective war-time control, we were able to keep prices and costs fairly level.
The Annual Labour Report, published by the Commonwealth Statistician, gives the price index numbers for the six major English-speaking countries for the quarter ended the 30th September, 1945, at the conclusion of the war. In Australia, between the beginning of the war in 1939 and the 30th September, 1945, prices rose 27 points. In Canada they rose by 20 points, in England by 25 points, in South Africa by 35 points, in the United Kingdom by 33 points, and in the United States of America by 28 points. Australia then had a relatively stable price level which enabled us to produce and export on competitive terms. Last night, I listened to a speech by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), in which he suggested that the back-room boys of the Labour party should do a bit of thinking. I suggest that, not only the back-room boys of the Government parties, but the Ministers who constitute the Government might do a little bit of thinking in regard to their attitude to costs and prices. They should ask themselves what they have done to keep price levels stable and prevent inflation and maintain Australia in the position that it enjoyed in 1945. The Labour party recognizes the dangers of inflation. When the war ended, the Labour Government appreciated that there were bound to be shortages and bottle-necks. It was not possible to convert the whole economic life of the community to the production of war-time goods and services and depress ordinary consumption without leaving a great economic problem as soon as the war was over. Realizing that fact, the Labour Government tried to keep the war-time controls in operation in order to overcome shortages and’ break bottle-necks.
The Labour Government endeavoured to induce the people to realize the dangerous position that Australia was in by suggesting, on two occasions, that the Australian Government should be given the power to control prices and charges. Without that power, there was no possibility of inflation being curbed. What was the attitude to those proposals of those who now govern the country ? They opposed to the fullest possible extent any power being given to the National Parliament to direct our economic life so as to give the greatest security to our people. When, in 1949, these people formed the Government, what effective action did they take to prevent inflation from further increasing? When they were elected their catch-cry was that they would put value back into the £1. In the four and a half years that they have been in the Government the price level has increased by almost 70 per cent. By the end of 1952, because there was no planned co-ordination and no planned economic development, our overseas markets were gradually being smashed. The exceptionally fine market that we had built up in the Middle East, the East, and the South Pacific in processed milk products gradually disappeared.
During the past few weeks, honorable members opposite have mentioned the dangers imperilling our dried fruits industry and our canned fruits industry, because of the level of costs and prices in this country as compared with others. From the authority that I have already quoted I have secured information that indicates that, whilst all other countries in the world achieved stability long ago, Australia, under the present Government, has failed to achieve price and cost stability which would enable it to hold its own against the rest of the world. The price level in Australia between 1939 and March, 1954, rose by 162 points. In Canada, it rose by 84 points, in New Zealand by 95 points, and in South Africa by 97 points. In the United Kingdom, where the figures are not quite comparable, apparently the price level rose by about 70 points. In the United States of America it rose by 90 points. The present Government, instead of preventing inflation in Australia, instead of safeguarding our cost level, instead of enabling our exports of manufactured goods to hold- their own on a competitive basis, has allowed tha export markets for our secondary goods to disappear.
From time to time, honorable members opposite suggest that the workers in industry are not pulling their weight. A report which has been issued by the Division of Industrial Development, Department of National Development, states that there has been a marked increase in the productivity of labour in secondary industries since the conclusion of the war. This report indicates very clearly that the increase in production has occurred as a result of increased capacity in industry. Those who consider that, if the sweat were to pour from the body of the worker more quickly, this would result in increased production, have no idea of the causes of increased production. Scientists and technologists have shown that the man who works with his hands for eight hours can only produce the equivalent of one-tenth horsepower. It is clear that every additional unit of horse-power that is put into production in Australia gives to our productive capacity the equivalent of the labour of ten men. In Australia during the last 50 years, but more so in the last ten years, the horse-power and laboursaving devices used in industry have increased tremendously. If one cared to investigate the matter he could point to numerous industries where the introduction of machinery has enabled production to be increased tremendously. The fruit-canning industry, with which I was associated for many years, is one of Australia’s most important industries. To-day it is perhaps the most highly developed and. mechanized industry that we have. The manual labour used in that industry in the past has now disappeared and the most modern machinery has taken its place. Because of that mechanization the cost of production of a tin of fruit has markedly declined within the last seven or eight years. But, notwithstanding efficient production, the Australian prices of that industry’s products have increased, and it has great difficulty in finding markets overseas.
This Government has spoken at length of reducing costs, and about co-operation to this end between governments, employers and the people. But is it doing anything to bring about that desirable state of affairs? I suggest that it is not. The Government, in its own budget, has failed to deal with the problems and difficulties of secondary industry. The Government has imposed additional taxation on secondary industry, and has consequently greatly increased the cost of its products; worst of all, it has prevented industry from expanding as it should. I remind honorable members that a wide expansion of industry would of itself increase production and reduce costs. Let us consider the pay-roll tax. The budget will provide some amelioration of the effect of that particular tax, because employers who have a pay-roll of £120 a week or less will not have to pay it. But the big industries, those which arc producing the essentials of life, particularly bricks, cement and steel, which are used for the construction of homes for the people, will have to continue to pay pay-roll tax. That tax has an effect on the whole structure of industry, until finally it has to be paid by the consumers through the increased cost of manufactured goods.
What is the Government doing to enable our productive capacity to be increased? The Opposition realizes that it is essential that we should have the best means of production, in order to produce goods to be sold here and overseas. Moreover, when a Labour government attains office, it will be prepared to re-introduce the initial depreciation allowance for industry. That allowance was introduced by a Labour government, because the Labour party realized the necessity for increased production, and for consequent lower costs. This Government, which was elected to combat inflation, removed, as one of its first acts, the initial depreciation allowance which was so useful to manufacturers to enable them to expand their activities. The budget at present before honorable members stresses above everything else that costs in industry should be reduced. But the Government has still done nothing to help manufacturers to remodel their factories, introduce the latest labour-saving devices and, incidentally, increase the standard of living of the people. Indeed, the Government is shelving the whole matter of the reduction of industrial costs; it has no positive policy, and gives neither hope nor inspiration to those who would co-operate with it to reduce costs and increase production.
Knowing these things, and considering the-inertia of the Government during the last four years when inflation was rampant, we realize that the Government has taken no effective steps to keep inflation under control. On the contrary, every action that it Las taken has made the condition of the Australian people worse. It removed all credit controls, then it reimposed them; then it modified them. It allowed the importation of an enormous quantity of goods from overseas. Indeed, I remember the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in October, 1951, glorying in the fact that in order to overcome certain shortages of consumer goods his Government was pursuing a policy of maximum importation of such goods from overseas. What happened? The Australian textile industry was almost driven out of business, and our overseas balances dwindled to almost nothing. Then on the 8th March, 1952, the Government, in order to save the remainder of its overseas balances from the effect of its entirely wrong import policy, had to introduce the harshest import restrictions that we have ever experienced. Because of the actions taken by the Government - a spasmodic step in one direction, then a step back, and then a step in another direction - from the middle of 1952 to the end of the year this country suffered from an economic recession. But recessions generally cause a reduction of prices. This one caused an increase of prices and costs, and inflation remained unchecked. Unemployment was growing. Finally, in spite of all that the Government had done, economic affairs gradually righted themselves. But now we have higher costs and lower effective protection than we have ever had before. ‘
The Government should take no credit for having achieved any sort of stability. The Government’s talk of costs and prices indicates a total lack of appreciation of the governmental actions necessary to enable this country to recover from the effects of war and recession. The Government has no plan at all. It talks of co-operation between governments and people, but it puts forward no suggestion about how that co-operation may be achieved. It talks and talks and talks, but never acts. One becomes uneasy when one contemplates this type of government being allowed to continue in the future. Production in Australia is increasing in spite of the Government’s lack of policy, and it is essential to allow that increased production to be shared by the people within the next twelve months. Not only should those who work in industry receive a share, but a share should also be given to those who, because of sickness, unemployment or old age, are unable to participate in the production of our increased volume of goods. I believe that those persons are certainly entitled to a share in the benefits of our increased productivity. This Government fails to appreciate that if our home markets are to be built up to the highest possible standard, it is essential that the purchasing power of the Australian people should be maintained at the highest possible level. It is the high purchasing power of the American people that has enabled the American economy to grow as strong as it is to-day. This Government has applied a policy of wage pegging. When honorable members on this side of the committee put forward a motion which was designed to unpeg the salaries of Commonwealth public servants, honorable members opposite indicated their lack of sympathy for the workers by voting against the motion.
I suggest to the Government that the best incentive it can give to the people is a greater share of national production. The Government should ensure that those who do the skilled work receive proper payment under a system of margins. This Government has no real policy in that connexion. It should appreciate that it is only by adequately compensating the skilled workers in industry that a high standard of workmanship can be maintained.
As the budget now before the Parliament indicates, the Government has failed to recognize the importance of linking defence with development. I very much regret that no proposal has been made concerning the standardization of railway gauges throughout Australia. If our security were threatened - and recent speeches in this chamber seem to indicate that it may be - standardization of railway gauges would be essential if the movement of troops and supplies were to be facilitated. Standardization would mean that such movements could be effected much more rapidly and efficiently than was the case during World War II. In addition, it would enable areas such as the rich Barkly Tableland and other parts of northern Australia to be opened up, populated and developed. I suggest that that is the kind of development that Australia needs most at the present time. Yet, no reference to standardization of railway gauges was made in the budget speech. For that and other reasons, I suggest that the budget must be regarded as totally unsatisfactory. It lacks imagination and gives the Australian people neither hope nor inspiration.
.- Many of the statements made by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) during his speech were of great interest to honorable members on this side of the committee. I am sorry that I did not hear the whole of his speech, but the portions of it that I did hear seemed ‘ to follow the line taken by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) in this chamber last night. I know that the honorable member for Bendigo admires the honorable member for Melbourne, and that may explain why he followed the example of his colleague. The speech made by the honorable member for Melbourne was one of the most disappointing that he has delivered since I have been a member of the Parliament. He did not concern himself at all with matters that affect the social and economic welfare of the country, but preferred to play with income tax figures in order to illustrate, in my opinion unjustly, that the budget disclosed that the greatest income tax concessions would be given to those with the highest incomes. He stated that although the Government would collect a great sum of money by way of income tax this year, individual taxpayers would not be given greater concessions. The honorable member made no reference to the fact that our work force increased considerably during the last twelve months, nor did he refer to our increased population. His arguments were of the specious kind that one might expect the honorable gentleman to make on a street corner in his electorate. They insulted the intelligence of his listeners inside and outside this chamber. It was deplorable that he should utter such balderdash. No doubt, he feels that the mantle of greatness at present worn by the Leader of the Opposition, who is absent from the Parliament, may soon, fall upon his shoulders. He may even think that one day he may be the Prime Minister of this country.
The attack made by the honorable member for Bendigo to-day was of the same pattern as that of the honorable member for Melbourne, but at a different level. An analysis of the remarks of the honorable member , for Bendigo will show that, if his suggestions were to be adopted, the country would run into inflation very quickly. This is the fifth budget to be introduced by the Menzies Government. Each budget has been severely criticized by the Australian Labour party, in its usual destructive fashion. Whilst I admit that it is the the function of the Opposition to oppose, I contend that its criticism has been founded on a most illogical basis on each occasion. An analysis of the progress that this country has made during the last four years should convince any one that the socialists were right off the beam in forecasting the future of the country. It is not surprising that so many supporters of the Australian Labour party now appreciate that it is useless to follow the recommendations of the party. There must be many electors who supported the Opposition during the last general election and who now see how impossible it would have been for Labour to carry out its pre-election promises. The force of that contention has been increased by the recent remarks of the honorable member for Bendigo.
I remind honorable members opposite that it is only a few weeks ago since the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) declared that our obligations to our near neighbours in South-East Asia might involve not only military commitments, but also financial commitments. On that occasion, many honorable members opposite joined with honorable members on this side of the chamber in supporting that declaration. It is true that the Leader of the Opposition was a notable exception, but of course his mind was occupied with thoughts about how best he might attack the Royal Commission on Espionage.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! I understand that arrangements have been made for the sitting to resume at 2.30 p.m. instead of at 2.15 p.m., so that honorable members may have an. opportunity to listen to an address by Mr. Justice Douglas in the dining room.
– Just before the suspension of the sitting for luncheon 1 drew attention to the similarity of the speeches of the honorable member for Bendigo and the honorable member for Melbourne, and I prophesied that, if effect were given to their proposals, the country would experience a period of greater inflation than it had experienced in the past. I was about to say that, following the statement of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) in relation to South-East Asia, most honorable members on both sides of the House agreed that Australia quite easily could become involved not only in military commitments but also in very heavy financial obligations. It is very difficult to foresee what Australia’s commitments will be, but one thing is certain and that is that the Government has been very wise in giving a cautious lead to the financial community. Tt may well be that, because of international conditions, last year’s handsome credit balance will be absorbed and a considerable deficit will be shown for this financial year. It seems that Opposition members have great difficulty in reconciling their remarks in relation to the military und financial obligations that Australia may be forced to accept, and their statements in relation to the reckless spending of money. The defence vote alone provides for the expenditure of £200,000,000. To that must be added the expenditure of £12,000,000 for the supply of defence equipment. The spending of that money in a community that is enjoying overemployment, and in which trade is buoyant, could easily touch off a burst of inflation that would be more serious than that which we experienced in 1951. To disregard those facts completely, as some honorable members opposite have done, would invite trouble and could quite easily upset our economic stability. I agree with the statement of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that that is one of those things that our enemies would like to see occur.
In spite of what the ‘Opposition may say, a reduction of £31,250,000 in income tax is an item that will still meet’ with the approbation of the community. It is well to remember that this year’s reduction, together with the previous reductions- that have been made by the Government represent altogether 30 per cent, of the income tax rates that were in force when the Government assumed office in 1949. It is true that an easing of the burden of taxation makes saving easier and the earning of wages and profits worth while, but the Government must ensure that those advantages do not evaporate under the scorching winds of inflation. That is why I think the Government must be careful in relation to Australia’s future economy. An unwise and dishonest Treasurer could encourage savings and stimulate inflation. The effect of inflation on the taxpayer could be more serious than if that person were taxed to the limit in the first place, because the Treasury is enriched considerably in a period of inflation. When one looks at the recent policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), to which the honorable member for Bendigo referred this morning, he realizes more than ever the hand-outs that would have been made to all and sundry if the Australian Labour party had occupied the treasury bench, and just how quickly the cost of living would have been increased. The wages of the taxpayer would have moved into a higher tax group, but the pensions, to which honorable members opposite have referred so often in this debate, would have become less valuable to those who were most in need of more money.
The Treasurer “has shown a wise’ and honest appreciation of the problem with which the country is faced. One can see the effects of the large amount of money that is floating about in the community. The sales of luxury items such as refrigerators, washing machines and motor cars are reaching record heights. The State, of Victoria, in which Tattersalls lottery is conducted, is fast reaching the stage where a lottery will be drawn each day of the week. That is an indication of the amount of money in the community. When that stage is ‘ reached, approximately £12,000,000 annually will be passing . through the lottery of that State alone. I repeat that the Government is very wise in presenting a cautious budget, and I hope that it will not hesitate to take early action to curb any growth ‘ of the present inflationary tendencies.
The building industry is one cf the best examples of those industries that are likely to return very quickly to the conditions that obtained in 1951. Last week, some honorable members who are new to this chamber referred to the necessity of providing cheap and easy finance for the home- builder. I believe that such a provision is advisable, but it must be remembered that the lack of easy finance is not the cause of the lag in home building. There is a complete bottle-neck in the building industry, and we have been told by different people in the industry that it has been caused by a shortage of labour and materials. The result has been a lengthening of the construction time-tables of contractors and in turn increased costs such as those which we experienced in 1951. The building industry does not seem to be operating on the most efficient basis. The delay in the delivery of popular materials is gradually becoming worse. I refer particularly to the supply of bricks, galvanized iron and roofing material. The demand for clay bricks is increasing, and brick manufacturers constantly complain of a shortage of labour, but I doubt whether any section of industry associated with the building trade has done less to modernize its methods than the brick manufacturers have done. The brickmaking industry still clings to methods of brick-making that date back almost to the time when the pyramids in Egypt were built. The production of bricks cannot be increased by the antiquated methods at present in use. It is only natural that any increase in the demand for labour will reduce the production of bricks, because the unpleasant working conditions in the brickyards will not attract workers. The building industry has a duty to the community to modernize its plant and increase production.
The demand for homes and other buildings has never been greater than it is at present. If Australia is to make rapid and sound progress as a free democracy its people must be housed and its industries must have factories. Any thought of continuing antiquated building methods just because the market is more secure while they exist, is to be condemned. Most industries other than those associated with building are bringing their plants up to date. Democracy is fighting for existence, and management and labour have an important part to play by ensuring that building facilities are increased proportionately with the increase in national wealth. The lag in the construction of homes, and of modern factories, offices, and schools, the need for which is equally as pressing as is the need for homes, can be overtaken only if the building trade comes to grips with the problem of reducing costs and increases the rate of construction by modernizing its plant. The industry must be invigorated if it is to keep abreast of the current demand for building, and it might even require government assistance similar to that given to some sections of the building industry in the United States of America. Productivity teams have left Australia on a number of . occasions to study, overseas building construction methods, and the most recent one, which went abroad early this year, has just returned, with outstanding impressions of the improved construction methods that are employed in the building industry in the United States. But it is not enough merely to be impressed by overseas methods. The productivity teams must describe what they have seen and impart the knowledge that they have gained to those who are responsible for the efficient conduct of Australia’s building programme. The reports of the productivity teams must not be pigeon-holed and forgotten. The members of the recently returned productivity team were representatives of free enterprise, and I trust that they will ensure that their reports are published, widely read, and, if possible, acted upon. If the overseas visits of productivity teams achieve no result, the people will lose confidence in them.
It is certain that in the past, when finance has been made more readily available to home-builders, the results have been higher payments to labour anc greater profits to contractors, without comparable increases in production. I do not believe that it is a sin for an industry to make a profit, though Opposition members preach that it is a sin. But the profit made must bear a direct relationship to the volume and rate of production and the urgent needs of the community. The people stand in more urgent need of homes than of anything else at present. Unless their needs for housing are satisfied soon, shortages of many commodities which have caused bottle-necks in building construction, might become greater than ever. The Estimates provide for a huge defence building programme, which will absorb much of the building material available at present. It is imperative that an all-out attempt to overtake the existing lag be made. I have noticed with a great deal of interest that, on Monday last, Mr. S. D. 0. Kennedy, the president of the New South Wales Building Industry Congress, told the congress that there was very great danger in firm contracts in the building industry. That may be so, and there may be fears for the future cost structure in the next six or seven months. But the building industry must not have the best of two worlds. It has great obligations to the people and it has a vital job to do for them in providing homes. In order best to do its job, it must ensure that plant is modernized so that it will be capable of doing all that .is asked of it. Much of the antiquated equipment at present in use is wholly incapable of meeting the demand placed upon it. Unless an all-out effort is made to solve this problem the conditions that existed in the building industry in 1950 and 1951 will return very soon.
I heard with great interest the remarks made by the honorable member for Bendigo this morning in his reference to social security. The social services estimates for the current financial year are among the most comprehensive estimates that have been submitted to the Parliament for many years. The National Welfare Fund makes provision for fifteen items with a total estimated expenditure of £193,372,000- almost £17,000,000 more than last year’s expenditure. Those items cover a multitude of services which include age, in- valid and widows’ pensions, sickness, unemployment, medical and hospital benefits, as well as the provision of lifesaving drugs, and benefits, such as child endowment and maternity allowances, for family responsibilities. A fair deal for the aged and infirm has always been a foremost part of the Government’s social services plan. Consequently, the budget has been designed to ease the means test to meet the needs of persons who, in the past, have been prevented from receiving assistance because their income and property have exceeded . the permissible limits. The budget will preserve the stability of the economy while affording this relief. We must avoid giving pensions, on the one hand, and, on the other, taking away the benefit by allowing our liberality to increase costs. Members of the Opposition, in attacking the budget, have made suggestions which, if they were adopted, would cause cost increases to cancel out the benefit of the relaxation of the means test. The Opposition during the recent Federal election campaign prepared some grandiose plans for abolishing the means test but it forgot the effect that such an abolition would have had on the economy of the country. It took no account of the tremendous burst of inflation that would have been started and the consequent increase of the costs of essential requirements of the people. In particular, the pensioners would have been seriously affected.
I believe that the Government’s national health scheme, which provides for better hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits, is gradually and consistently having a material effect upon many other social services to their advantage. One has only to examine the effects of the plan in connexion with tuberculosis that was introduced by this Government some years ago. It has been of material help to other sections of the health programme. In Victoria, some hundreds of beds that were previously provided for tuberculosis sufferers are now becoming vacant. They would not be available now had not a tuberculosis fund been provided through which patients were able to obtain financial assistance when they were admitted to institutions for care and treatment. The beds that have been vacated in Victoria and are no longer needed for tuberculosis sufferers, are to be used for the aged and infirm and to provide convalescent care for persons who would otherwise be without such treatment.
One of the features of this budget is the proposal to make available, on a £l-for-£l basis, government assistance to meet capital costs that are incurred by churches and recognized charitable bodies in the building of homes for the aged. I believe that that provision will be of considerable assistance to the organizations concerned, and I congratulate the Government upon taking that step and for providing such essential amenities.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Almost everybody in the community has been in a state of expectancy in recent weeks. Most people were led to believe that something worth-while would be brought forward by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) when he introduced the budget, particularly in view of the unprecedented prosperity that the Government claimed to have helped to promote. The electors thought that they might well share in that prosperity and that the budget would contain something for all sections of the community. Yet honorable members have found that it is the most depressing document that has ever been introduced into this chamber. The people have been offered stones instead of bread. The outlook is bleak for the Australian people, as a nation and as individuals, if this Government continues in office for any great length of time. From a national point of view, we might have expected something positive that would have inspired the nation to gird its loins for an all-out effort to cope with .the flow of events that has brought Australia closer to the world’s danger points.
Hence, we might have expected a plan to develop the resources of Australia and to strengthen its internal security so that it would be ready to resist any challenge from without. In view of the urgency of the situation, the Government might have been expected to go ahead quickly with plans for opening up and developing and populating the vast undeveloped areas of Australia, particu larly those in the north. It might have been expected to give attention to the development of the great State of Queensland, but as the- honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) stated last night, not one major Commonwealth developmental scheme is in progress in Queensland. That State has been allowed to remain undeveloped, apparently because the Australian Government allows its political prejudice and bias to operate against Queensland where a Labour government has been in office for many years. It could prove to be the Achilles’ heel of Australia, because Queensland is wide open and such a situation is a danger to Australia as a whole. Only some imagination and enterprise and some organizing capacity are needed to put these projects into operation. We need the best brains in the country or those that can be brought from oversea? to organize developmental plans.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) in order in reading his speech ?
– I was not reading my speech.
– Order .’ The honorable member for Reid is entitled to refer to notes.
– No financial barrier should be allowed to stand in the way of progress. If a war should break out to-morrow, money would not be the main consideration in planning and putting into operation a war effort. That was not the consideration during the second world war when a Labour government took office. It did not allow orthodox and out-moded methods of finance to operate against the war effort. Millions of pounds were found then and could be found now, and it is vital that they should be found because we are in the midst of a cold war, and if it develops into a more active phase, we shall not have a year or two to harness our resources for another war effort. We have been told that another conflict would be in the nature of push-button warfare.
The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) referred to-day to the necessity for overcoming the break in the railway gauges of Australia. The railways are vital to defence. At one stage during World War II. the forces of the United States of America seriously considered finding another country from which they could operate as a base because of the chaotic situation at the State borders where the break in the railway gauges occurs. Surely finance could be found to make the railway gauges uniform. As a concrete example of the method by which money can be found by utilizing the resources of the nation, I direct the attention of honorable members to the TransAustralia Railway. It was built across a desert. To the everlasting honour of the late Mr. King O’Malley, who was a Minister at that time in a. Labour government, he did not allow financial considerations to stand in the way of something that he considered to be vital for the future defence of Australia. The construction of that railway wa3 financed by the Australian government of the day by the issue of treasury-bills. En contrast with the financial situation of the State railway systems, it is entirely free of debt and carries no interest bill. I hesitate to think what the position would have been during the second world war had we not had the Trans-Australia Railway. If that project had been left to private enterprise, it would not have constructed a railway across the desert because there would have been no profits in it.
Developmental works must be undertaken by this Government immediately so that Australia can be opened up and populated quickly. Increased population is vital. As a. direct result of the financial policy of this Government and the restrictions that are placed upon credit for home building in particular, marriages in Australia last year were more than 4,000 fewer than they were several years previously. That is a vital matter in connexion with the future development, population and defence of Australia. It is all very well to enter into pacts with other countries that may or may not come to our help in time of need, but it is more important to strengthen our own internal state and also populate our empty spaces as quickly as possible. If that were done, the requisite population would be available to defend the country in the event of invasion. We should count our blessings and honour the trusteeship that has been handed down to us by the Almighty and by our ancestors. Retribution will overtake us, if we neglect our duty in that respect.
The Government has proposed the formation of a joint parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. If that committee were not subject to restrictions that the Government insists upon placing upon it, and if it were made answerable directly to the Parliament, members of the Opposition would be prepared to serve on it with members of the Government parties in order to consider matters that are of vital interest to the nation. In the event of invasion, all sections of the community, regardless of party political affiliations, would be menaced. I urge the Government to consider the formation of a committee along lines which would be acceptable to the Opposition. I agree with the view that was expressed by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) that the talent of rank and file members of the Parliament should be utilized through service on parliamentary committees. As members of such committees, honorable members would meet in a calm atmosphere, free from the bias and acrimony which, unfortunately, obtrude themselves into debate in this chamber. All honorable members, without exception, are eager to give of their best and to render real service to the community. Parliamentary committees invariably do much good work, and the committee system should be extended in order to utilize the ability of honorable members generally. To-day, however, the majority of honorable members, when they come to Canberra, feel frustrated.
As I have said, in the past, parliamentary committees that have since gone out of existence rendered very valuable service to the nation. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting, in its first report, submitted 72 recommendations all of which with only- one exception had been unanimously agreed to by members of that committee. That unanimity resulted from the fact that honorable members, when sitting as a committee, were able to consider the matters referred to them in a calm atmosphere. .Similarly, the War Expenditure Committee to which the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) referred did valuable work. I was a member of that committee for a considerable time, and I know that as a result of its investigations it saved the taxpayers millions of pounds which, otherwise, would have been wasted owing to inefficient methods and malpractices in war industries during World War IT. Indeed, that committee proved to be so effective that, in some instances, malpractices were remedied before it had an opportunity to investigate them. After the committee announced that it intended to investigate certain transactions, one large undertaking found it had overcharged the Government a.n amount of approximateyl £100,000 and voluntarily refunded that amount. It took that action in the knowledge that the committee was about to investigate certain of its transactions. When members of the committee visited the plant in question, the management entertained them at luncheon and made their job very easy.
The Government might well appoint a parliamentary committee to investigate the effect of the pernicious cost-plus system which is abnormally costly and opens the way to all sorts of abuses. If a committee were appointed to investigate defence expenditure, I am sure that it’ would do much good work and would effect considerable savings. To-day, the Government is content merely to say that it is expending a sum of £200,000,000 annually on defence. Apparently, it is unwilling to make available details of that expenditure. Even when the defence estimates are being considered in this chamber, those details are not produced. The Government should consider adopting the procedure that is followed in Great Britain in the examination of departmental estimates generally. In Great Britain, the heads of various departments are examined by members of a parliamentary committee with respect to the appropriations requested for their respective departments. I can see no reason why a similar system could not be adopted in this country. The Parliament could provisionally approve of departmental estimates until such a committee completed its examination of the details of ‘them. That inquiry might take some weeks in respect of each department. To-day, however, the Government guillotines the Estimates through the chamber and honorable members are not given adequate opportunity to consider them. It is well known that departments which find that they have an unexpended balance towards the end of the financial year, deliberately expend that money because if they fail to do so the Parliament might reduce their estimates. Indeed, that sort of this has happened in the administration of the War Service Homes Division. Whereas for a considerable period applicants were told they would have to wait for up to fourteen months before they could be allocated a war service home, the division, all of a sudden in April and May last, circularized applicants informing them that their applications would be dealt with before the end of the financial year. Such a system must inevitably cause inefficiency. If the parliamentary committee system were extended as I suggest, that state of affairs could be readily remedied.
The Government might also consider re-establishing the Social Security Committee which, when it was previously in existence, performed valuable work during the later years of World War II. and during the post-war years. Many of the recommendations of that committee have since been placed on the statute-book. Whilst organized sections of the community, such as traders, employ pressure groups and liaison officers to place their claims before the Government, many deserving sections are not able to place their claims before the Government. A parliamentary committee could examine representations that might be made to it on behalf of unorganized sections of the community. In this respect, I cite the agitation for the abolition of the means test, which was a vital issue during the recent general election campaign. All parties in the Parliament have committed themselves, more or less, to abolish the means test. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in the joint policy speech of the present Government parties in the general election campaigns in 1949 and 1951 promised that if those parties were returned to office they would investigate the possibility of abolishing the means test. During the recent general election campaign. those parties promised to introduce a scheme to provide for a national retiring allowance for all citizens without the application of a means test. Up to the present, however, although some inquiries have been made, no report has actually been made to the Government o.n the matter. The only point that was at issue in this respect during the recent general election campaign was what the ultimate cost of abolishing the means test would be. Various views were offered on that point with the result that the electors generally were confused. However, the fact remains that the majority of the electors indicated that they desired that the means test should be abolished, because 52 per cent, of them endorsed the Australian Labour party’s policy, whilst the Government parties, although they defeated the Australian Labour party, were virtually given a mandate to abolish the means test in respect of pensions. The Government should give urgent consideration to that matter. The means test has been abolished in New Zealand and Canada. A joint committee should be appointed to consider subjects of that kind.
Such a body could also determine the basic rate of pension. At the recent general election, a majority of the people expressed the view that the rate of pension should be substantially increased. That opinion was confirmed by the result of a recent gallup poll which indicated that a large majority of the persons interviewed considered that the basic pension should be at the rate of £5 10s. a week. The result of that poll was published in the Sun-Herald of the 25th July last. The report states that if the public had its way, age and invalid pensions would be increased from £3 10s. a week to £5 10s. a week ; yet the Government has not increased the basic pension at all. It may be all right for those who have been thrifty and have been able to save, but others who, because of family responsibilities or other obligations, have not been able to save, are given no consideration at all in this budget. The gallup poll submitted two questions to the people. The first was, “How much do you think age and invalid pensions should be each week, for Ifr. Morgan. each person? “ and the second was, “ How much do you think a pensioner should be allowed to earn each week before the means test begins to reduce his pension? “ The answers to the first question averaged . £5 10s. a week. Labour voters favoured £5 16s., whilst Liberal party and Australian Country party voters favoured £5 3s. 6d. So, even the stalwart supporters of the Government agree that the basic pension should be substantially increased. The poll showed that people of all ages and occupations, as groups, were in fairly close agreement. For instance, answers of professional men, executives and. their wives averaged £5 6s. lOd. a week; of clerks and shop assistants, £5 lis. 8d. a week; and of skilled workers, £5 16s. a week. To the question about permissible earnings, the average answer was £4 3s. 4d. a week compared with the £2 a week now allowed. Most occupational groups gave answers close to this average. Clearly, therefore, the increase of permissible income now proposed by the Government is not in conformity with public opinion, including the opinion of those who were misled into supporting the Government at the recent election.
There are various other anomalies that a committee could consider. For instance, from what I can gather from the Treasurer’s statement, the relaxation of the means test in relation to property income foreshadowed in the budget will not afford relief to people who have not been able to save money or to invest in property. I have had brought to my notice only recently the plight of a widow in my constituency. “While her husband was alive, they had, for health reasons, lived in separate homes. However, shortly before the husband died, he came back to live with this woman, and let his house to an ex-serviceman, at 30s. a week. “When the husband died, the widow found herself in ownership of two houses, one in which she was living and the other which was let. She could not sell the tenanted premises because the exserviceman stood on his rights and was not prepared to purchase the house except at a ridiculously low figure. The result was that, whereas previously the husband and wife had each been in receipt of a pension of £3 10s. a week, which meant that two pensions were available to provide household requirements, upon the death of the husband the widow found herself with no pension at all. The husband’s pension, of course, ceased and her own pension was cancelled, not because of the income she received from the tenanted house, but because ownership of both dwellings placed her above the property limit. The fact that her income from rent was only 30s. a week, whereas the permissible income bar is £2 a week, was not taken into consideration. The total value of the property she owned prevented her from obtaining a pension. So far as I can see, the relief now proposed by the Treasurer will not help this woman in any way. That is just one anomaly; no doubt there are many others to which consideration could be given by a committee in order that immediate remedial measures might be taken by the Government. Certainly the Government is offering some relief by the provision of homes for the aged, and I commend it for that action. It is a step in the right direction; but it is poor consolation to have a home if adequate provision is not made also for food and clothing. Surely it is not too much to ask that, for aged people particularly, adequate food, clothing and shelter should be assured. For that purpose the age pension should be increased to a reasonable amount.
There are other matters that could be inquired into. According to the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth), the Government has the aged and infirm in the forefront of its mind. But it should do something practical for those people, and not merely . keep them in mind. It is time we re-orientated our thinking about the compulsory retirement of men and women when they reach a certain age. There is an ever-growing army of retired people, who have to be provided for by those who are still in employment. Social services cannot bc paid out of loans or credit. They must he paid out of current revenue. It is tragic to see many people still in the prime of life and still with considerable productive capacity being compulsorily retired. The Minister for Transport in New South. Wales referred to this problem recently when he was present at a send-off to a prominent officer of his department who was retiring. The Minister said that workers should not be forced to retire at the present compulsory retiring age of 65. I realize that seniority rights and other factors have to be taken into consideration, but it is tragic to see energetic people thrown, on to the scrap heap. If the means test were abolished, superannuitants and pensioners would be able to perform useful work and so to supplement their income.
There is another very deserving section of the community that has been completely overlooked, and I just cannot understand why. I refer to the widows and dependants of totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners. In this connexion, I refer honorable members to a recent article written by Mrs. Preston Stanley Vaughan, president of the Feminist Club of New South Wales. By no stretch of the immagination can the writer be regarded as a supporter of this side of politics. Indeed, it is to her credit, that as a member of the Liberal party or the Nationalist party as I think it was then called, she was the first woman member of the Parliament of New South Wales. She is a very prominent and worthy citizen. The article to which I have referred states -
There are still 0,800 totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen in the Commonwealth, 8,000 of whom are married.
The wives of these men have led dedicated lives; gently and ceaselessly caring for their shattered husbands, with hearts no doubt fi’ 11 of unrevealed sorrows for “ totally and permanently incapacitated “ means just that.
These wives are denied free hospital and medical benefits. This strange and indefensible “’ economy “ is practised against women who, by their devotion, are saving the Commonwealth large sums of money. The alternative to wifely care is hospitalization for the great majority of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen - at a cost of £28 a head per week, in repatriation establishments.
Would it, therefore, be too much for this bountiful, rich, young country to provide free medical and hospital benefits to all dependants of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen - those men who kept Australia white and free?
Surely this section of the community should have been given some share in the social prosperity about which we hear so much talk. Other sections too have been overlooked. Invalid pensioners, perhaps the most helpless section of the community, are receiving a particularly bad deal at present at the hands of the Government. I do not know for how long the spirit of the horror budget guided the Government’s handling of social services, but it is a remarkable coincidence that, in the intervening period, many invalid pensioners have been called up for re-examination by government health officers, and some of them have had their pensions cancelled. After all, people who receive the invalid pension are classified on medical evidence as being at least 85 per cent, totally and permanently incapacitated. Many of them suffer from heart troubles, and other serious complaints. To my own personal knowledge, some of them, who live in my electorate, have been called up and have been informed, in a nice manner, that they are fit for work and that their pensions will be cancelled. About a year ago, I referred to the plight of an old digger of “World War I. He was one of those men who had not bothered to apply for a repatriation pension, and when he finally broke down with heart and other troubles, he was granted an invalid pension. He had been in a public hospital, and had undergone a major operation for a cancer which, in the opinion of his own doctor, was incurable. He had suffered two strokes, was blind in one eye, and was going blind in the other eye. His medical history was on record and could have been found by the local government medical officer. Yet the doctor said the man was fit for light work ! That occurred during the depths of the artificial depression caused by the horror budget. At that time, more than 100,000 persons were unemployed, and in the district in which this unfortunate man lived, approximately 5,000 able-bodied men were out of work. Of course, he could not get work. I protested at the time against the decision. I knew perfectly well what would happen. The unfortunate man died within two months of the cancellation of his pension. The medical officer still occupies the same position. It is all incomprehensible to me. I could well understand that some of those medical officers might take the view, “Well, a little bit of activity is good for every one, even an invalid “. If that is so, the attitude is’ wrong. It is all very well to say that a person is fit for work, and to cancel his invalid pension, but how is he to manage when work is not offering? The Government has fallen down on the job in its treatment of invalid pensioners and other physically handicapped persons. The position is brought out in a report of the Victorian Employers Federation, published in booklet form which, I think, most honorable members have received recently.
– Order I The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Like the walrus in Alice in Wonderland, I. propose to speak of many things. At the outset, I wish to say that I regard this budget as meritorious, in that it has fulfilled in the first year every promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the recent general election campaign. I consider, then, that the budget should be judged, not so much on the relief that it spreads over such a wide section of the community, but upon the reasons why it has not given greater relief. I propose to devote my remarks to that theme, even though. I may traverse some ground that has already been well ploughed over in the last couple of days, because it is relevant to the defence sections of this budget.
We have heard the first shots fired in what promises to be a very feeble campaign of destructive criticism directed against the budget. I shall devote a little time to criticism of the critics, merely as a test of sincerity, because I do not wish to be unjust or unfair to them. We understand that there are several divisions within their ranks and that dissension has broken out among them. If that is true, it may well be that they are dashing into the chamber and saying about the budget the things that they would like to say to each other, possibly with less pleasant consequences.
I consider that the Government is entitled to be highly gratified with the reception which the, general public has accorded this budget, particularly the people who feel some responsibility to the future of their country. Such titles as “It-takes-no-risks budget” are particularly pleasing when we realize that risk is associated with gamble, and that we dare not gamble when national well-being is the stake for which we are fighting. So I think we may take it that the general consensus of opinion is that the Government has wisely determined not to jeopardize the stability which has been won at such a high cost in mental and physical exhaustion, plus the fact that we are in no position yet to determine the extent, if any, to which we may be involved in the unpleasant situation in South-east Asia. So let us say, under present conditions, that the budget is balanced to meet all possible contingencies.
It is inevitable that there will always be expressions of disappointment with a budget. Some of those expressions are personal, but some are political, and I believe that the latter predominate on this occasion. While discussing that aspect, let me repeat the proverb, “He who pleases all pleases none”. It is a truism which can well be applied to a budget, regardless of the political colour of the government that introduces it.
The reception given to the budget by the press was good, and contributed articles on it were good, although one noted some worthy attempts to submerge personal disappointment with the budget in an appreciation of its wider applications. A notable exception was the characteristic, unrestrained and irresponsible tirade of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He expressed himself in language or epithets which, I believe, would be discreditable of any member of a national parliament and, indefensible when used by one who aspires to national leadership. The press and radio, we must remember, are the media which mould public opinion, and reflect public reaction, and are not the defence propaganda of a defenceless Opposition. One of the highlights of this tirade by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was his assertion that this budget was a second horror budget. That statement is so ludicrous that even the school kids are laughing at it.
The next statement brought us on to familiar ground. The honorable member regarded this budget as a “ starvethepensioners budget “. Criticism of that kind is familiar to us. I wonder how the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would describe the last budget presented by the
Chifley Labour Government, in which he was a Minister. It is fresh in the memories of all of us that in a period of rising prices, not one penny of relief was given to the pensioners on that occasion. Ever-increasing costs were imposing a heavy burden on them. I cannot say, in the words used by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports . (Mr. Crean) last night, that this omission was due to callous indifference to the fate of the pensioners. I am quite prepared to agree that the financial demands of that time possibly rendered it inexpedient to do something, but it ill-becomes Opposition members, who were associated with that budget, and meekly acquiesced in every one of its provisions, now to chide this Government for allegedly neglecting the interests of the pensioners, and to continue the time-honoured practice of accusing others of the things of which they themselves are guilty. It is on record that in every budget brought down by this Government, a noteworthy forward step has been taken in respect of the social services legislation. This budget may appear, at first glance, to be the least considerate of the five budgets presented by the present Government, yet a notable forward step is taken in this one. I refer to the provision of £1,500,000 as the first donation towards subsidizing homes for aged people. Further modifications of the means test are made which give 94,000 pensioners an increase of pension, and bring another 74,000 people into the pension scheme. We do not hear anything of those matters from Opposition speakers.
– Does the honorable member consider that a pension of £3 10s. a week is enough?
– I am coming to that matter.
– Will the honorable member answer my question?
– I shall make my speech in my own way.
– The honorable member will not answer my question.
– Order !
– The Chifley Labour Government, which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) supported, considered that £2 2s. 6d. was enough.
– Last year, we heard in this chamber ad nauseam from Opposition members completely misleading and false propaganda that pensioners would benefit by only 2s. 6d. a week in 1953-54. For the purpose of giving colour to that false propaganda, they very conveniently overlooked the incalculable benefit to the pensioners of free medicine, free medical treatment and free hospital treatment. I shall answer the question asked by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser). I think everybody will agree that, under present conditions, a pension of £3 10s. a week is a bare minimum. Whatever satisfaction the nation may derive from the knowledge that our pensions scheme is still one of the most generous national schemes in the world, we still must admit that cold statistics do not fill larders. Whatever government is in power, it is noteworthy that whether it gives the pensioners an. increase of 10s. a week or no increase at all, its action evokes exactly the. same criticism from exactly the same people, notable among whom are those members of the Opposition who, in a period of rising prices did not provide a single Id. extra for the pensioners.
This is a subject which, more than any other, should be above party politics. Recriminations between political parties are of no benefit to pensioners, who regard it as objectionable that their needs should be spotlighted at election times for the purpose of trying to gather in a few votes. Many of these old people contributed much to the building of this country and they still feel some responsibility for its future. They consider it as highly offensive to be regarded as people who are prepared to sell their votes for a few shillings. That is the Opposition’s estimate of their value. I remind honorable members opposite, who are expressing so much concern for the pensioners and are shedding crocodile tears all over the Parliament for them, that as recently as the last general election they said that if they were in power and had at their disposal a sum sufficient to double pensions, they would not do so, but would continue to give a totally inadequate pension to persons who needed more money to buy food, clothes and blankets and would give the other half of the money to people who did not need it, to many of whom it would be an embarrassment. On the one hand, extra money would be used to buy food and clothes: on the other hand, it might be used to buy petrol for week-end trips in a Bentley. That is the approach of the Labour party to this problem. If there were enough money to double pensions, it would not double the payments to people who needed extra money, but would give pensions to all. It would keep pensions at their present level and give the other half of the money to people who did not need it. I would do nothing of the kind. I would give the whole of any extra money, on a graduated scale, to the people who needed it to buy the ordinary comforts of life. I advise the Opposition to remove the beam from its own eye before it seeks to wipe the mote from the eye of its brother. When an opportunity presents itself to discuss ways and means to remove the means test and give pensions to all under some national scheme, I shall make myself heard on that subject. But in the meantime, the only test I recognize is the test of need, At the last general election, Labour said that need would not receive much consideration if it were in office.
The view is expressed frequently that national defence and national development, if they are not synonymous terms, at least are closely related. On a longrange view, that may be correct. We should not underestimate the value to a defence scheme of good roads, good railways and heavy industries. But the kinds of industry and development that we have in mind could not be established or carried out in one year, two years or even ten years, whilst the type of defence that we are talking about, which could involve resistance to an aggressor, is a matter for to-day. Our desires and ambitions for internal development and expansion possibly are overshadowed by our obligation to ensure our prosperity and continuance as a free nation. It is true, as many honorable members have said, that many pressing developmental projects are crying out for attention, but it is equally true, if we ignore the signs and the portents, that in 3954 we have freedom to begin, to do these things. I think the majority of the members of the Opposition will agree that our immediate task is to ensure that we shall still enjoy that freedom in 1964. We should be blind indeed if we failed to see the warning signs or the threat to our security. We should be criminally false to the trust reposed in us by our electors and by the other free nations of the world if we took the easy way out and left the fighting - if, unhappily, there were any fighting te be done - to our friends and reaped the reward of their sacrifices. That is not the Australian way, but that is the effect of the advice given by honorable members on the other side of the chamber.
The present Government is singularly unfortunate - this will delight the ears of the Opposition - in that after each general election its plans have been frustrated by influences over which. a3 everybody recognizes, it has no control. Immediately after the 1949 general election, we became involved in the Korean war in pursuance of our obligations under the United Nations Charter. We had to meet a challenge from the same insidious influence that is threatening the peace of the world to-day and causing unrest in the countries in our near north. But the Korean incident was- not without value. There was disclosed for our benefit a. part of the strategy by which the enemies of democracy hope to enslave the free world. It. is a careful blending of the cold-war technique with isolated shooting war incidents in order to obtain quick results. It is a strategy of careful planning behind an iron curtain, launching a powerful attack on a comparatively defenceless: portion of the world in order to get quick results, and presenting the United Nations organization with a fait accompli in order to throw upon that organization the responsibility of determining whether an attempt to dislodge the aggressor and restore the status quo would precipitate a third world war. These enemies of democracy know perfectly well that when a number of delegates from a number of nations are assembled together to consider a problem that is so highly inflammatory and dangerous, their decision probably will be to take no action, in the hope that the aggressor will not take further steps forward.
Let me say in answer to some of the speeches that have been delivered by honorable members opposite that in most cases such tactics would be successful before the United Nations could even get its boots on. Yet we talk about referring everything for determination by the United Nations. The aggressor failed in Korea, not because of the United Nations, but because of the fortuitous circumstance that the United States of America had heavily armoured, highly trained and well equipped divisions stationed in Japan ready for quick action. That is the only reason why we succeeded in Korea. I have heard it said that Korea was a victory for communism, but I regard that as twisted logic. The Communists are back where they started from, and the South Koreans, still under their own government, are immeasurably stronger than they were before the incident. I believe the successful defence of South Korea by United Nations forces was a salutary rebuff to the aggressors. We and the other free nations cannot hope to retain our position in the world if we continue to retreat before the Communist menace. There is only one way to deal with the Communists, as the recent Geneva conference proved. Everybody had reached the conclusion that the conference had been a complete f ailure, and the delegates were packing their bags to go home, when the wires ran hot with the news that Churchill and Eden were going to consult President Eisenhower. When that news became known, the Russian delegate, M. Molotov, said, “ Let us have another try”, and so the conference was continued. As a result of the threat that the democracies would take action, we now have the uneasy peace that prevails in South-East Asia. Honorable members will recall, on another theme, that coincidentally with and as a direct result of the Korean incident, Australia was involved in an economic upheaval which threatened disaster on a grand scale. The disaster was averted by the exercise of courage, determination and physical endurance in the face of what a Sydney newspaper described as the most unscrupulous and mean barrage of criticism that the Opposition was able to bring to bear upon the Government. Some of us in this Parliament will never become accustomed to such political tactics. We shall never be able to understand how it is possible for men to exploit the pain and suffering of a nation for the sole purpose of enhancing their own election prospects. I have no doubt that much more will be said on this subject before this parliamentary session ends.
In 1954, we became aware again that an ever-growing population demands an ever-growing developmental programme. But again the Government’s best-laid plans were dislocated. The obligations that may be imposed upon us in the present South-East Asian situation will have the effect, I believe, of limiting our internal expansion. The need for development must give way to the much more pressing need for national security. We have been told by members of the Opposition that the situation in South-East Asia is none of our business. They postulate the idea that unrest in South-East Asia is brought about by the upsurge of nationalist movements, and that the oppressed peoples of that region merely embrace the dreadful tyranny of communism because they are trying to throw off the yoke of colonialism. Fortunately for all of us, we have the example of eight or nine small nations in eastern Europe which enjoyed national sovereignty until they were overrun by the armies of Nazi Germany. Communist armies then marched into those countries in the role of liberators, possibly to the cheers of men, women and children - cheers which turned to tears when the people realized that they had exchanged what would have been only a temporary oppression for a form of dictatorship that is equally harsh and possibly much more enduring. In the light of those examples, the idea that is postulated by the Opposition that communism is merely being .used in South-East Asia to foster nationalist aspirations is, to say the least, offensive to the intelligence.
I shall deal now with some of our economic problems, and the picture that I shall paint of the economic situation will be vastly different from that which has been presented to us by the Opposi- tion. The solution of these problems is just as much a responsibility of the people as it is a responsibility of the Government. The most pressing problem is that of maintaining Australia’s position in the markets of the world. Already some of our industries have been excluded from overseas markets as a result of the keenness of the competition of other countries, and, unless we have a national stocktaking, we are likely to find ourselves entirely on the outside looking in. For the purposes of illustration, I shall mention an industry that I discussed in this House recently - the processed milk products industry, which manufactures skim milk and full cream milk powder. This industry enjoyed an export market for 30,000 tons of its products annually, but to-day, although the demand has not diminished, it is unable to sell a single ton of its products overseas because production costs are too high. I believe the same problem has arisen in many other industries which I have not time to discuss in this speech. The seriousness of the situation can be fully appreciated only when we understand that not less than 80 per cent, of the wealth that we derive from our exports is earned by our primary industries. I want to impress this fact upon honorable members. The milk products business, if given time for a campaign of enlightenment, may be able to save itself by disposing of its entire output for use in bread manufacture. The loaf would probably cost a little more if that were done, but the increased price would be offset by the higher nutritive value of bread. However, pending such a development, we should all combine as Australians, instead of as groups of Australians, for the betterment of the nation in the years ahead.
Is it merely coincidental, in the present delicate economic situation, that at least one Communist-controlled trade union has submitted a log of claims for a wage of £1 an hour and a 30-hour week, which would mean a week of five days of six hours each for a wage of £30?
– What is wrong with that?
– Nothing could be more calculated to make confusion worse, confounded. . The significance of such claims for increased marginal rates lies in the timing of the applications. The demands are not for reasonable increases but for double the amount of existing margins and for higher base rates at the same time. Nobody will deny that a skilled worker is entitled to a margin of payment above the base rate commensurate with his skill. However, if all these demands were conceded at this time, with the world’s markets in the condition that I have described, the result would be to increase costs which, as I have demonstrated, are already too high. This would have ah adverse effect on the worker in industry, who would find in the long run that his position would become worse instead of better. Highly skilled men are employed in the processed milk products industry. Is this the time for them to ask for wages that will increase costs and so force the industry to close down, or is it, rather, a time for cooperation between employers and employees? The wages paid in Australia to-day are high in comparison with those paid to workers in other countries. I am told that the well-paid Australian who works on a Sunday receives, with double or treble rates, as much as is paid to his opposite number in a competitor country for a whole week’s work. Again I ask: Is this the time for these men to ask for more money? The Quiz Kids would answer “ No “. Some adults say “ Yes “, which proves that we expect too much from some adults.
I regret that shortage of time prevents me from discussing many other subjects that I have in mind. The facts that I have mentioned may be classed as straws in the wind, but they are straws that will grow into haystacks unless we, as a nation, take steps to conform to changing world conditions. If we ignore events, we shall find ourselves frozen out of the world’s markets, and then we shall reap the whirlwind that some people have been sowing for a long time. The time has come for us to co-operate intelligently in order to meet the threat to the security of our economy and to avert, if not another economic crisis, at least a very embarrassing situation. A reasoned approach to such problems, in my experience, has always produced reasonable results.
If we clamour for our pound of flesh, regardless of the consequences, those consequences may be more than we bargain for. All of these problems are soluble. “We have the capacity in this country to do anything that we wish to do. All that we need is the necessary will and inclination. We should express our will and inclination voluntarily rather than have a situation forced upon u3. It makes one sick to hear people who have not the slightest knowledge of, and do not care about, the threat that is hanging over us, in the economic sense, deliberately starting a campaign to increase costs, in order to start the inflationary spiral 2’olling again. It is not as though our workmen are not being paid good wages. They are paid good wages. It is better to maintain those good wages than to try to give them more and expose them to the risk of receiving no wages within the next twelve months.
– I should be called to order for using unparliamentary language, if I were to mention some of the names that this budget has been called outside the Parliament. I think that it is an expert’s budget. It was prepared by experts, who forgot all about human and social relationships that should be considered in a budget. It reminds me of a book entitled The Forgotten Man that I read recently. A budget should provide benefits for individuals. It seems that, in preparing this budget, the experts were more concerned about balancing accounts, and about overseas debts, than about providing benefits for individual men, women and children in the community. A glance through the budget shows conclusively that the real purpose of a budget has been forgotten entirely. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has referred to it as a horror budget. We all remember the horror budget of 1951-52. When that budget was introduced, the Government stated that, as there was too much money chasing too few commodities, it had decided to take money from the people by increased taxation. Accordingly, it took £114,000,000 from them. In effect, the Government said to them, “ We will see that YOU do not spend this money.” Simultaneously, the Government opened the flood gates which had restricted imports, with the result that the value of imports increased from £600,000,000 a year to £1,200,000,000 a year within twelve months. By that means, the Government kept foreign labourers in work and put Australian workers out of work.
– That will happen again.
– I agree with the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). This Government would do that any time that it felt so inclined, or if it thought that that would be advantageous to it. We had horror budget No. 1, which was followed by the chain store budget. I think we might call the current budget the horror budget No. 2 because, as I have said, benefits to individuals have been ignored. There is a grave danger that a government which concentrates its attention on adjusting international trade and commerce, and balancing its budget, in order to maintain national economic stability, will tend to forget to provide for the economic welfare of the citizens. The first duty of a government is to provide for the welfare of the community. An increase or decrease of the national debt is insignificant compared with the welfare of the people of the nation.
The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) claimed, in his budget speech, that Australia is at the highest pinnacle of prosperity. Yet pensions and allowances for men. women, and children, who depend on those benefits for their subsistence, have not been increased by even a penny. I cannot understand why the Government has neglected to make adequate provision for the pensioners. There has never been any difficulty in obtaining adequate money for the purpose of war. The previous Labour Government was able to obtain all the money that it needed during World War II., without neglecting the pensioners. Yet this Government is neglecting them in peace-time. There are some very funny paragraphs in the current budget. The Treasurer stated -
Altogether 1953-54 was a spread of stable, genuine and widely spread prosperity. Perilaps never before in our history have we had ii year to equal it . . .
Good though recent times have been, there can be no mistaking the signs that stresses are again threatening to develop in our economy.
There are certainly stresses .showing in relation to our economy, because our pensioners will get nothing from the budget. The right honorable gentleman then referred to ominous signs that have appeared. He stated -
I do not want to exaggerate the portents as seen at this time.
This is a hotch-potch budget, because of the contradictory .statements that it contains. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), in common with other supporters of the Government, was inclined to ridicule the 1949-50 budget which was brought down by the Chifley Government. Honorable members opposite ignore the great work that was done by both the Curtin and Chifley Governments at a time when we were engaged in a tremendous war. However, a glance at the financial statements that accompanied the 1949-50 budget shows that the position then was not so- bad as honor.able members opposite would wish us to believe. Figures do not lie. Should any honorable member doubt the accuracy of the 1949-50 figures that I shall quote, he may readily check them from the records. According to the 1949-50 budget, the expected yield from customs duties in that year was £60,500,000. In the present financial year, the expected yield from that source is £96,000,000, or almost 33 per cent, more than in 1949-50. The estimated revenue from excise in 1949-50 was £64,000,000, compared with £144,000,000 in this financial year, which is almost three times as much. The Government has seen fit to reduce the price of a nip of brandy, which benefits the wealthy sections of the community, but has added ls. per lb. to the price of tea, which is the favourite drink of the pensioners. This Government has had a lot to say about sales tax. The estimated revenue from sales tax in 1949-50 was £35,000,000, compared with £92,108,000 in this financial year, which is nearly three times as much. In the light of these comparisons, some of the comments that have been made by the honorable member for Gippsland were ridiculous. The Treasurer claimed that the Government was eager to reduce income tax on individuals, but that is .not borne out by the figures. The estimated revenue from this source in 1949-50 was £96,000,000, compared with £357,300,000 in this financial year. Labour was even more generous to the companies than is the present Government. The estimated yield from company .taxation in 1949-50 was £81,000,000, compared with £15.9,000,000 in this financial year. Coming to pay-roll tax, the estimated revenue from that source in 1949-50 was £22,000,000, compared with £41,242,000 in this financial year. Estate duty which was estimated to yield £5,000,000 in the last Chifley budget is estimated to yield £10,000,000 under this budget. Every tax revenue figure in this budget is double or treble the amount provided for in the 1949-50 budget. Even gift duty, which was estimated to yield £500,000 in the last Chifley budget, is estimated to yield more than £1,500,000 in, this budget. The aggregate tax revenue estimate in the last Labour budget was £471,000,000 against the estimate .of £901,000,000 in this budget. Those are conclusive figures. We know that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies.) said to the people in effect during the 1949 general election campaign, “ If you elect me to office, as national income increases, I shall decrease taxes “.
– So he has, by 30 per cent.
– I shall :show the committee how he has reduced taxes. The Government took an extra £114,000,00.0 from the people as a result of the horror budget, and, by its vaunted tax .reductions it is merely returning to the taxpayers a small portion of the amounts it has taken from them in increased taxes. It is similar to taking £1 from a man, giving him 10s. of it back later, and saying, “ I am a good chap, am I not “’?
I shall now deal with aggregate tax figures to show how taxation has definitely increased progressively since this Government took office. It gained power on a promise to reduce taxes-
Mr.. Leslie interjecting,
– I have the printed booklet of the Prime Minister’s 1’949 policy speech which contains that promise. The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) is a member of the Public
Accounts Committee. I do not know how he calculates figures in .connexion with his work on that committee, but I know that he should certainly examine the budget figures closely. I do not know how he convinces himself that his wrong ideas .are right. The Chifley budget -of 1949-50 provided for the raising of £471,000,000. Immediately this Government had the opportunity to increase the tax yield it took it, and jumped it up to £676,000,000, which is an increase of more than £200,000,000 over the Chifley figure. The budget for 1951-52 increased the figure to £718,000,000. Then we come to the horror budget of 1952-53, when the figure rose to £919,000,000. Yet honorable members opposite claim that the Government they support has reduced taxes. In the following year the figure came down to £874,000,000. This year it is estimated at £901,000,000. That is more than twice as much as the figure in the last Chifley budget. It is beyond my comprehension how honorable members opposite have managed to convince themselves that this Government has reduced taxes.
I shall now indicate how individuals have been affected by the Government’s tax reduction policy. The 1953-54 budget reduced taxes on the income of a man with a wife and child who earned the basic wage, by £7 2s. a year. But the big fellow, whom this Government represents, the rich man who -earns £6,000 a year, had the benefit of a reduction of £301 that year. That is the .kind of tax reduction this Government boasts .about when it says it is helping the family man. The same principle applies in the present budget. The basic wage-earner with ,a wife a.nd child is to have the benefit of a reduction which will amount to £4 .5s. a year; but the man who earns £6,000 will enjoy, as a result of this budget and the last budget, a reduction of £461. That is the kind of thing that this Government does. It does not help the little people. There is nothing for the pensioner in the budget.
I am not against the expenditure of money for the adequate defence of this country, because the Labour party believes in adequate defence. It also believes, however, that money expended on -defence should be expended ‘in ‘the proper way, and that we should have something to show for it. The Government has nothing very tangible to show for its expenditure on defence. Mr. Chifley’s last war-time budget provided for an expenditure, for war, of £158,000,000, and his last peacetime budget provided for an expenditure, n defence, of £65,000,000. Since this Government has been in office it has spent £700,000,000 on defence. The expenditure of another £212,000,000 on defence, provided for in this budget, will bring total defence expenditure by the Government to more than £900,000,000.
– What have we to show for it?
– Nothing very tangible. I believe that there are many ways in which defence expenditure could be most profitably used. Although the Government is breaking all financial records in defence expenditure it has little to show for it. The Labour party believes that the defence of Australia is an important matter. It also believes in total national security, and in the taking of practical steps to achieve it. Wc believe that defence is adequate only when our lines of communication are efficient. I shudder, as, no doubt, other honorable members who live in the capital cities shudder, to think of what would happen to the population of .Sydney in the event of a hydrogen bomb or atomic bomb attack on that city. The confusion among the civil population of Sydney would be worse than the catastrophe in France when the Nazis launched their blitz. As a result of inadequate road communications in France innocent women and children were stampeded to death as they tried to escape from the cities. The horror would be worse than that in the event of an attack, such as I have described, on Sydney. Standardization of rail gauges should be considered in conjunction with defence preparations. One of the purposes of federation was to enable that sort of thing to be done, but nothing has been done about standardizing rail gauges.
– Railways are the responsibility of the States.
– It is easy to pass the buck to the States. This Government is most competent in doing so. I shall illustrate how necessary the standardization of rail gauges is. The Queensland rail gauge is 3 ft. 6 in., and the New South Wales rail gauge is 4 ft. Si in. The Victorian gauge is 5 ft. 3 in., which links . up with, one of the South Australian gauges, which is also 5 ft. 3 in. The Western Australian gauge is 3 ft. 6 in. South Australia has three different gauges. If we wished to concentrate our forces, including soldiers, materials and munitions, in any part of the Commonwealth, it. would be necessary to tranship them at State borders. That is a matter in connexion with which the Government could intelligently use some of its expenditure on defence. It should spend :it least something in giving Australia efficient rail lines of communication. There is already some degree of standardization in existence, because Brisbane is linked’ with the New South. Wales rail system by a line of 4r-ft. 8^-in. gauge, which carries through to Broken Hill near the South Australian border. Then we have the track from Broken Hill to Port Pirie of 252 miles in length and then from that point right through to Kalgoorlie on 4-ft. S-J-in. gauge. If we expended a few millions of pounds from the total of £901,000,000 provided for in the budget the section of line from Broken Hill to Port Pirie could be eliminated from the railway journey from Brisbane to Kalgoorlie. We should then have more than 2,600 miles of railway of the one gauge from Brisbane to Kalgoorlie, and the rail distance between those points would have been reduced by 252 miles. A more efficient line of communication for the purpose of defence and production would also have been provided. I believe that the Government would be wise to take such action in regard to defence, instead of passing the buck to the States all the time.
Another matter on which I believe the Government could well expend a portion of its defence vote is the construction of rail communication between Queensland or Alice Springs and the Northern Territory. If we had rail communications there, settlers and general population would be attracted to our northern areas, and would so provide us with a greater measure of defence in the north. That project would not cost a great deal of money. The proposal has already’ been costed. That would be a sensible way. in which, to expend some of the money earmarked for defence. It would have the double purpose of providing a line of communication whilst at the same time helping to populate our empty spaces. If a hydrogen bomb were ever dropped there, it would not get a very good welcome, because not many people would be there to welcome it. The Government should keep in mind the project I have mentioned.
As has been said before in this chamber, 1 think it is up to every honorable member to make a plea on behalf of the pioneers of Australia who have been very badly neglected in this budget. The Government’s proposals will benefit 90,000 pensioners. But the liberalizing of the means test will not affect 330,000 baserate pensioners. Their position will be worse because they can only afford to be tea-drinkers and the price of tea has risen by ls. per lb. So their standard of living will be lower. At present, £3 10s. a week represents only about 26 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas the pension that was paid by the Labour Government represented, at its worst, 36 per cent, of the basic wage. Whilst the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has claimed the greatest prosperity for Australia he has failed to give anything to the pioneers of this country. New Zealand was not selfish in its prosperity. When that country received high prices for its wool and other exports its government was more humane than is the. Australian Liberal-Country party Government. It introduced a measure to give the pensioners £10 at Christmas time. Similar action could well be taken by this Government.
Other people will be neglected under the Government’s budget proposals. This budget reminded me, as I said earlier, of the book Tha Forgotten Man. But I point out also, that it makes no provision for the forgotten widow, the forgotten child who will receive no additional child endowment, or the forgotten mothers. About 2,500,000 children and 1,500,000 mothers will not receive anything from this budget to help pay for the increased price of tea. It is true that the budget proposes to increase the base rate for war pensioners from £4 2s. 6d. to £4 10s. a week, but this increase will still leave the rate very much lower than it should be. The annual report of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia sets out that, before this increase was given, the relationship of the base rate war pension to the basic wage was the lowest in the history of war pensions, being only 24 per cent. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said yesterday, that pension has never had less value. The proposed increase will only raise it to 30 per cent. of the basic wage. It was never less than 40 per cent, of the basic wage when the Labour Government was in office and it was even as high as 60 per cent. The war pensioners are receiving the rawest deal in history.
The people who depend on social services have been neglected in this budget, which might be called an economic budgot, because it was prepared- by economic, experts. It would be wise to forget the experts and consult a few humane people who in the preparation of a budget could understand the needs of the little man. Then we might get a social budget. One matter that has been neglected in the budget is the restoration of -the 40 per cent, initial depreciation allowance that was given to producers by the Labour Government. That concession did a lot of good for the people of Australia. It improved the equipment and efficiency of the primary producer. That allowance should be restored because if we improve the plant and machinery of producers we improve the social standards of all. If we encourage our primary producers to use more efficient means of production and give us more goods it will be to the benefit of all. I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne that this budget should be withdrawn so that it may be re-cast.
.- I suppose other honorable members are as heartily fed up as I am of hearing the Opposition pander to the aged people of the community for sympathy and votes. I regret that this place should be used as a forum for that sort of speech and that members of the Labour party should choose to criticize the Government for its action on behalf of the aged pensioners, the invalid pensioners, the widow pensioners and other people who need the: help of the Government. The Labour party- is the party which,, if I may adopt, am idea that- was used by the honorable; member for Banks (Mr; Costa), had a legion of forgotten men in this country. When the present Government came to office, it found that the Labour Government had completely ignored those people in the community who were suffering from tuberculosis. It was left- to this Government to establish an organization and supply it with money, equipment and buildings in order to launch an onslaught on this dread disease with the remarkable results that have been achieved. The Labour Government did nothing worthwhile for the pensioners’ medical needs. It was left to this Government to institute one of the greatest benefits that the pensioners have ever received. Although the Labour Government had a legion of forgotten men it did not forget some pensioners because it engaged snoopers to watch the war widows around corners so as to save a miserable Id. or £d. at the expense, of the pensioners.
This Government inherited from the Labour Government a pension rate of £2 2s. 6d. a week and a property limit of £750. Pensioners were allowed to earn 30s. a week by the Labour Government. Why did not the Labour party abolish the means test when it had control of this country? It was because it followed, a leader who kept it united and he said that the means test could not be abolished without increasing taxation. Because the Labour party was then united, as it is not at present, it followed its leader. If a man had’ a life insurance policy with a surrender value of more than £200 in the reign of the Labour Government it was counted against him for pension purposes. That limit has now been raised to. £750. Government supporters would like to know where the Labour party stands on this matter. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), in the no doubt unavoidable- absence of his leader, said last night that the Labour party, if it had been elected to office at the last general election, would have given the age pensioners an additional 10s. a week. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) said that the pension should be: £5 12s: a. week.. According to. the honorable member for- Melbourne^ the Labour party believes that the age pension should be £4 a week, but- according to the honorable member for Reid it believes that it should be £5 12s. a week.. Therefore, we must ask where; the Labour party stands on this matter. It has been said by honorable members opposite, that the pension should be increased according to- cost of living increases.. Would the Labour party have followed that course if it had been in office1 since 1949? Let honorable, members opposite tell us where they stand on this matter also. If the age- pension had been increased in accordance, with the increase of the cost of living, that is the C series index, the pension would to-day be lOd. a. week less than the pension that is at present being paid by this Government. Therefore, this Government has nothing to be ashamed of in the record of its dealings with those unfortunate- people in the community who are entitled to all the assistance that the Government can give, to them. It stands to this Government’s credit that’, during the few years that it has been in office, it has raised the age pension in Australia by no less than. 67 per cent. The Government has also established a pensioner medical service and a service for tuberculosis sufferers. Moreover; it has provided in this budget for the. construction of homes for the; aged, which is a provision never dreamt of by previous Labour- governments. The whole record of the Government’s attitude towards social services shows that the Labour party should be ashamed to attack it on this matter.
This budget is a remarkable’ document, and when this financial year end’s and we consider the budgets introduced by the other free nations of the world, we shall see that our- budget is a truly remarkable one in the light of present international conditions. The budget stands as- a tribute to the capacity of the’ Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) who, in the difficult days of high inflation, with the’ support of the Government and honorable members on this side of the chamber was prepared to do- unpopular things: Yet, we all, including honorable members of the Opposition, knew that that drastic action was necessary for the- welfare of this ‘country. A few days ago the Treasurer had “the privilege -of coming before the Parliament and presenting a budget that ‘gave concessions which few other governments, either in the States of Australia -or elsewhere in the free world, would ever contemplate giving. The fact tha* the Government has been :able to present a budget of this’ type is ia .tribute to the businessmen of the community, and, “perhaps, ‘a greater (tribute to the workers, for the way in which all sections have ‘responded to the Government’s drive for greater production and greater stability in -our economy. We are living in extremely difficult times as we moist realize when we .should look around the world and ,’see the dangerous position that we are now in. Despite all the dangers that beset us, the Government has still been able to give remarkable con.cessions to the people.
T turn now to the defence of Australia. Honorable members heard something about the development of Queensland and its effect upon defence, from the honorable member for Reid, who spent a fortnight’s holiday in Queensland and so is no doubt a qualified judge of the matter. Honorable members also heard a lot from the honor.ora tie member for Melbourne about the necessity for strengthening our defences in the north of Queensland. We have heard something about the same subject from other members of the Labour party who sojourn in Queensland during the winter months. I believe that the whole of Australia should turn its eyes to Queensland, because if we fall upon difficult days again the transport and power systems of Queensland will be of vital defence importance for the whole of Australia. During the last war it was necessary to transport large numbers of men and vast quantities of war material along the Queensland roads to our northern outposts. There is a highway in Queensland which is graced with the name of the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce), the Bruce Highway. That road stretches from the border of Brisbane to Cairns. Under certain conditions and at certain times of the year parts of it cannot be used by motor vehicles. Indeed, it can be said to be in a ghastly condition in many places. We should -all -carefully consider the state of that road, because ‘even at present it lis incapable of carrying & large volume o’f traffic. If heavy transport vehicles were put upon it it would wear out in a very short space of time. Honorable members opposite can .obtain some idea of the importance of that road when I repeat tha’t it is the only link between Brisbane and Cairns.
It has been said in some quarters that the Australian Government has not given sufficient money to the Queensland Governnent to enable that administration to keep that road in repair. If that were true, then perhaps this ‘Government could take some share o’f the blame for the bad state of that road. However, a certain amount of money is given each year by this Government to the Queensland Government for expenditure upon all the essential Toads of Queensland. But at the ‘end of this financial year, the Queensland ‘Government still had about £2,000,000 left from the last roads allocation made by this ‘Government. The Queensland Government had all that money to spend, and yet the important Bruce Highway linking Brisbane with Cairns, an important road at all times but a vital road in times of war, is in a very bad state of repair, is in parts hardly trafficable for most of the year and in the rainy season is completely impassable in many places. Although I have a profound belief in the federal system, I also believe that because that road is vital, not only for the adequate defence of Queensland but for the defence of the whole Commonwealth, it should be put in order as quickly as possible. If the road were sound and trafficable, it would benefit the whole of Australia, especially in time of war, and no Queensland government should allow it to get into the state in which it is at present. That remark is especially pertinent when we’ remember that the Queensland Government has about £2,000,000 in a fund designed to pay for the upkeep of its main roads.
The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) has asked questions in this chamber about the Burdekin River bridge. He has pointed out that that bridge is >of great defence value to us, but I remind him that the responsibility for the building of the bridge lies with the Queensland Government. I cannot think of any project that has been so shamefully neglected as this vital bridge over the Burdekin River in north Queensland. Although the Queensland Government knew that iron was essentia] to complete the construction of that bridge, it was not until three to four years after the bridge had been commenced that the Queensland Government ordered, during a period of shortage, the iron supplies necessary to complete its superstructure. The bridge is not finished yet. The rate of construction has slowed down. One of the reasons for that slowing down is that, each year, the Queensland Government has allocated less and less money to this project, although it has been receiving more and more money from the Commonwealth.
This is not a parish pump affair. It is a matter of extremely vital interest to the whole of Australia. The Queensland Government has been extremely neglectful. Within the next few years, the old Burdekin River bridge may become completely useless, and it is very likely that the new bridge will not be available for use. The Queensland Government, which has been in office for many years, has asked, “ What is the Commonwealth going to do about it ? “ In my opinion, although the Commonwealth could well do something about it, because the construction of this bridge is a national matter, yet the Queensland Government ha3 received abundant funds to complete the project and has not done so. Pressure must be brought to bear upon the Queensland Government in this connexion.
The Queensland railways system is also vital to the defence effort of the future. As honorable members are aware, those railways performed a magnificent task during World War II., and they may be called upon to do a tremendous job in the future. However, the present position is that, at all the railway workshops in Queensland, there are queues, hundreds of yards long, of broken-down engines awaiting repairs. I suggest that, at this stage of our national life, we cannot afford to have locomotives rusting and rotting away in railway workshops, particularly in Queensland. It will take years to repair all the engines that are in the yards at the present time. In the meantime, other engines which come in for repairs will bank up and also begin to rust. It is shocking that because engines are lying in railway yards, their great power would not be usable if it were necessary to call upon them in an emergency.
There is also a shortage of rolling-stock in Queensland. It must be remembered that, because of the narrow gauge of the Queensland railways, it is not possible to use on them rolling-stock from other parts of Australia. There is not sufficient rolling-stock in Queensland to mee present demands. Can we afford, in this important area, to be without rollingstock on which to call at a time of emergency? I suggest that that shocking state of affairs has been brought about in rather a deliberate way. I believe that honorable gentlemen opposite, who have some knowledge of engineering workshops in other parts of Australia, would be shocked if they were to go into the railway workshops at any of the centres outside Brisbane and saw the conditions that exist there. They would be shocked by the lack of amenities and the general conditions under which the men work. The machinery is obsolete, and no provision is being made for its replacement. No provision has been made for government inspectors of machinery or scaffolding to enter the workshops and report to the government on the conditions that they find there. Whilst this inefficiency is serious from the point of view of the persons who are obliged to work under such conditions, I suggest that it is even more serious from a national point of view. Some one must bring home to the Queeusland Government the real nature of this problem. Regardless of the State from which we come, we must admit that, if an emergency were to arise in Australia, the Queensland transport system would be called upon to play a most important part in our defence measures. It is essential that the Parliament and the nation should know that such conditions exist.
In Queensland, also, there are many roads that will not carry transport vehicles. The Burdekin River bridge which is a vital project to the development of the State, is nowhere near com,- pletion, and the railways system, which would be the main form of transport in the event of an emergency, is inefficient because its engines have broken down and its rolling-stock has reached the limit of its usefulness. In addition, the railway workshops are so cramped for space that they are incapable of expansion. I do not know - and there is nobody here who can forecast - what demands may be made in the future, but it can readily be visualized that damage to the existing engine power and rolling-stock of the Queensland railways would take years to repair, under the present system. I do not know whether that state of affairs has come about because the Queensland Government, lacks a national outlook, or because the Cabinet, and, indeed, the whole of the parliamentary Labour party in that State, come from Brisbane. It may be that the vision of the people concerned does not extend beyond the city limits. However. I am inclined to the view that certain influence is being brought to bear on that Government, with the result that the essential services of the State are becoming inefficient and extremely vulnerable to a potential enemy attack. In my opinion, Communist influence is bringing about this state of affairs. After all, what would please the Communists more than to bring about such chaos? They know how vital Queensland is to our defences. With a potential enemy on the horizon, the Queensland Government it either stupidly playing into Communist hands, or is yielding to a sinister force, the purpose of which is to render essential services vulnerable to attack, inefficient and open to sabotage at any time. The whole position, therefore, constitutes a great menace to the people of Australia. For that reason, it is for the nation to examine the matter and say what should be done about it.
An examination of the electricity generating position in Queensland indicates that within a year or two there will be only a few power stations in the State. There are at present the great regional power station at Cairns, the Capricornia station at Rockhampton, and the station controlled by the Wide Bay regional board. Those three stations control the generation of electricity in an area which extends from just north of Brisbane to the extreme north of the State. Gradually, the sources of town supplies that existed previously are being put out of commission or brought up, so that in a few years there will be only three power stations to supply not only lighting for homes, but also power for industry and essential services in the various cities along the coast. Although the bodies that control these regional power stations are doing a remarkably good job and conducting their affairs with businesslike efficiency, it would be dangerous for almost the whole of a State to depend, for electricity supplies, on only three power stations. It would take little effort for an enemy to throw those stations out of action at any time.
The matters to which I have referred form a pattern of which the nation would do well to take heed. They should not become the plaything of party politics. Let us have a national outlook on these matters. Who but the Australian Labour party, which has been in office in Queensland for years, is to blame for that state of affairs? The blame must rest upon the shoulders of that party. I again invite honorable members to look at these matters from a national point of view and to try to bring influence to bear upon Queensland. Let us tell the Queensland Government, if it seems not to know, that the roads, the rails, the rolling-stock, the locomotives and the power that is generated could become vital to the defence of this country at any moment.
– Whose responsibility is it?
– The honorable member asks, “ Whose responsibility is it ? “ The responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of the State Government, because it has refused to spend upon such projects the money that has been made available to it in large amounts by the Australian Government. Until the State authorities spend that money, the Australian Government has no further responsibility. If Australia is placed in danger and if, when we need the essential transport systems of Queensland, those systems fail us - and they assuredly will fail us if something is not done quickly - the blame must rest fairly and squarely upon a weak-kneed government in that State which, I believe, is subscribing to a policy that is’ pleasing, to say the least, our potential enemies, the Communists, who are rapidly bearing down upon this Australia of ours. I make no apology for having spoken in this manner. These matters’ are vital to Australia, and it is time that the Queensland Government awoke and looked at them as being vital to the defence of this nation and to the defence of Queensland. Let the State Government look to its advisers and’ ensure that if is not taking the advice, as I think it is, of people who give’ their allegiance to the Communists, who are seeking an entry to this country.
.- Ninety per cent, of the utterances of the honorable, member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), are. a shocking indictment of this Government of which he is a supporter. Ninety per cent, of the lack of provision for defence in Queensland is undoubtedly a Commonwealth responsibility. Queensland, is. not a State that is separated from the rest of Australia ; it is part of Australia. It is a State that could be the bastion of tha north, but at. present it is the most vulnerable State, in the Commonwealth.. The irrational rubbish that the honorable member spoke shows, how far astray he is. in understanding matters which affect the true defence of Australia. The budget- is one that I might describe as a “ marking time “ budget.
– A remarkably fine budget !
– It is a “marking time “ budget. Australia has just had a general election. ;There will not be another general election until the year after next, so no political expedience could be served by bringing, down at this time a budget that would tickle- the ears of everybody in Australia. No government has introduced budgets with more political intent than has the present Government. Every budget it has introduced over the last three- years, has been primarily a political- budget. The budget that preceded the last general election provided benefits for everybody, and the- Government’s election promises took the- matter still further. The’ only promises it had to fulfil were a- few in relation to taxation, and to a point they have been fulfilled in this budget. The vital matters, have been left until next year or the year after. The budgets of Australia are becoming more and’ more political instruments in the hands of the Government in office.
– What would honorable members opposite do?
– That remains to be seen.
– One would have to wait, a long time.
– I think the- best criticism of the budget was made by the Canberra Times- on the 19th August, when the budget was described as a budget of indecision.
– Do not read the misprints.
– That is not a grammatical error.
– - Did the. honorable member read this; morning’s leading article ?
– Yes. The article that was published by the Canberra Times is a definite condemnation of the Governments policy of indecision. The Opposition has always, stated that the Government, acts in fits and starts:;, it goes forward 4 yards and goes back 5 yards. It cannot make decisions on big issues which affect the country.. It stumbles from one crisis- to another, as with its- policy of import restrictions in 1952. The Government, should have- imposed import, restrictions before it did. Because of pressure that was brought to bear upon it from outside, the Government could not make up its mind. Finally,, it imposed the restrictions with such viciousness and callousness that it forced many little, businesses out of existence, and brought upon the country one of the worst crises it has had to face- since the. beginning; of World War II. Tha best description of the Government i& that it. is- a government of indecision.
The speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden.) was a big build-up with a big let-down. I shall explain the meaning of that statement. If one were to stop at page 2 of the printed copy of the Treasurer’s budget speech, he would imagine that everything ki this country was at its peak. The first part of the speech was a song of exaltation by a very bad singer in the person of the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman referred optimistically to investments, production and the retail trade and then suddenly, as though a cloud had come across the scene, he changed his tune. The big let-down came in the following statement by the Treasurer : -
Good though recent times have been, there can be no mistaking the signs that stresses are again threatening to develop in our economy.
He further stated -
Some supplies have also become scarce, amongst them steel and certain building materials.
In Tasmania, we know what that means in terms of roofing iron. There is scarcely a sheet of roofing iron to be bought in the whole of that State. Then he continued -
Whilst export prospects on the whole may be reasonably good, it is possible that total export earnings this year will be appreciably less than last year. If this proves to be so it could have some offsetting effect on internal demand and business activity.
Finally; the right honorable gentleman made the following statement: -
The most significant fact at the present time is that pressure upon resources has again appeared in our economy and on present indications seems likely to grow.
That is the big let-down after the big build-up.
The budget speech contains contradictions, and I shall refer to three of them. The Treasurer pointed out that there was a fear of con.tinuing and perhaps growing inflation, but he proposed a reduction of more than £35,000,000 in taxation. This remission will release to the community an equivalent amount of credit. This is the first contradiction in the budget speech. Time and again the Treasurer has called for lower costs of production, because, as he said, Australia’s exports are being’ priced out of overseas markets.
Though he has called for a reduction in production, costs, he estimates- that government expenditure will increase by £2,000,000 in the current financial year. The Treasurer calls for lower costs for every one except the Government. This is- the second contradiction in th* budget speech. The Treasurer repeatedly has said that costs are stable. We are sick and tired of hearing from the Government that the economy has levelled out and is stable.
– The Treasurer means that it has been flattened out.
– It probably will be flattened out by this budget. The prices of many commodities are still rising. It is obvious that the Treasurer does not do the shopping for his household. Apparently his wife does it and keeps the details to herself. If the Treasurer were a purchaser of common commodities such as building materials, clothing and food, he would know better than to make the ridiculous statement that costs are stable and have flattened out. That is the third; contradiction in the budget speech. The costs of many commodities are still increasing.
The latest threat to Australia’s economy is an impending event that I mentioned in. this House on Tuesday last. The price of steel manufactured by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is likely to be increased. I asked the Prime Minister what he thought of this possibility, and pointed out the probable, disastrous effects on secondary and primary industries of higher steel prices, but. the right honorable gentleman, who was ina bad mood at the time, laughed off my question and said that if the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited wished to increase its prices it could do so. The Prime Minister did not seem, to realize the effect that an increase of steel prices would have on the Australian economy. A great many Australian industries depend, for economc operation, on reasonably cheap steel from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, and’ any increase in the price of steel will affect the prices of thousands of commodities produced in Australia’s factories, as well as of primary products. The Government tries to laugh away this possibility. The
Treasurer has said that costs are stable, but, in contradiction, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has declared that it will increase the price of steel manufactured by it, and the prices of other goods are being increased by½d. here,1d. there, and 2d. and 3d. elsewhere, as the ordinary housewife is only too well aware. We should dress the Treasurer in women’s clothing and send him out to the shops to learn that costs are increasing.
– Does the honorable member dress in women’s clothing and do the shopping?
– No. My wife tells me of her experiences in shopping for the household, and I write out cheques to meet the bills. In this way I share her experience of rising costs. My household is probably unlike that of the Treasurer, whose wife doubtless has her own private bank account. My wife has not a private account. The budget merits criticism in a general sense because it treats pensioners callously. A man with an income of £15,000 a year will benefit by a tax reduction of £13 a week.
– How many persons receive incomes of £15,000 a year?
– Not many. A man who receives an income of £10,000 a year will benefit by a tax reduction of £9 a week. But approximately 350,000 pensioners, whose only income is the pension of £3 10s. a week, will receive not a penny increase of pension. They will receive not one iota of benefit from the budget. It is all very well for the Government to say that pensioners will be allowed to earn more income without a reduction of pension. Many pensioners cannot earn anything, and most of them are dependent entirely on their pensions. The 350,000 pensioners will have to meet the increased costs that I have mentioned out of the miserable pension of £3 10s. a week.
The Treasurer has increased interest rates and has refused to reduce deposits on homes. This refusal is delaying the homebuilding programme throughout Australia and makes it more difficult for ordinary working people to buy homes. Liberal, Labour and Australian Country party members of this Parliament alike, every week-end at their homes receive representations from citizens who are seeking homes and cannot afford to put down even £200 or £300 in deposits. The Australian Labour party would have reduced deposits on homes to 5 per cent., had it been returned to office. That would have been humane and would have allowed thousands of young couples at least to make a start towards getting homes together. This Government’s vicious increase of interest rates and its vicious refusal to reduce deposits is retarding the home-building programme and forcing thousands of couples, who should be able to rear families in homes of their own, to live in flats and caravans. I shall deal now with the Commonwealth shipping line once more.
– Again ?
– Yes. I want to bring honorable members opposite up to date. It is amazing that since the last session of Parliament, which ended before the recent general election, the Commonwealth shipping line has not been sold. Some of us might have expected that the line would certainly be disposed of after the election, though not before, because the Government did not want to antagonize the electors in Tasmania. Nevertheless, the belief that the line would be sold played a big part in increasing the Labour vote in the five electorates in Tasmania by 8,000. I might go So far as to say that the story that the Government intended to sell the Commonwealth shipping line was partly responsible for the defeat of the former member for Bass, Mr. Kekwick. Time and again Labour supporters challenged his ridiculous statements concerning the Commonwealth shipping line. The Government’s threat to sell the line is worrying Tasmanian businessmen, exporters and farmers. We want to know what will happen to the line. Is it to be retained under charter to the private shipping companies who may order the Commonwealth-owned ships where they will, or will the Government do the logical thing, now that it has probably agreed that the line should not be sold, and establish a competitive Commonwealth shipping line owned by the Australian Government and operated by the Australian Shipping Board? The Tasmanian Farmers Federation, which has more than 6,000 members, supports the proposal that a Commonwealth shipping line should he established as a separate entity to compete with the private shipping companies in much the same way as Trans-Australia Airlines, as a government enterprise, competes with the private airlines. Nothing is more logical than such a proposal. If the Government really believes in competition, and does not merely give it lip service, it must establish a Commonwealth shipping line that will compete with the private shipping companies. If it agrees that government airlines should compete with the private airlines freely and properly, it must, to be consistent, agree also to the establishment of a Commonwealth shipping line as a competitor of the private shipping companies.
The advantages of the proposal are obvious. First, the best use of the Commonwealthowned ships is not being made under the charter arrangement. Secondly, the Government believes in competition, and a properly constituted government shipping line would provide the competition necessary to keep the private shipping companies on their toes. Thirdly, if there were a government shipping line the ships could be sent where they are needed most. If the Australian Shipping Board had complete control over the 39 ships that at present comprise the Commonwealth shipping line, it would be able to send vessels to ports at which the transport ot goods is delayed, and thereby prevent the accumulation of goods on the wharfs. The shipping companies that control Commonwealth-owned ships send them where the most profit is to be had, and ensure that they are loaded with the cargoes that pay the highest freights. That is another fault that I have to find with the present charter system. Under the direction of the Australian Shipping Board, those vessels would be sent where they were needed most and profits would not be the paramount consideration. Tasmania has not had an adequate or regular shipping service for a long time. The potatogrowers, timber producers and orchardists are in trouble at the busiest time of the year for those industries because of the shortage of shipping. Therefore, since the Government evidently does not intend to sell these 39 new ships that are worth £22,000,000, it should, at the appropriate time, reorganize the Commonwealth Shipping Line and place it under a statutory authority just as it has done in the case of Trans-Australia Airlines.
I direct the attention of honorable members now to the situation in SouthEast Asia and its effect upon Australian defence. The most significant development in Asia during the past ten years has been the upsurge of nationalism and the desire for selfgovernment. Associated with that development is the rise of communism which has captured the legitimate nationalist movements of many countries and has harnessed their verve and enthusiasm for its own selfish, materialistic ends. How are we to deal with the Communist threat that has arisen to the north of Australia? No matter how many economic reforms communism may bring to China and other countries - and no one can deny with truth that it will introduce some reforms - communism is still a materialistic, atheistic, totalitarian movement. It is the enemy of democracy, free religion, free election, free speech and all the other freedoms in which we believe.
There are four ways in which we can resist this red flood. I referred to them recently in this House during the debate on foreign affairs, and I believe that they are worthy of repetition. They are military, political,’ economic and ideological. In connexion with the military answer to communism, honorable members have heard much swashbuckling in this Parliament during the debate on foreign affairs. If some honorable members who speak in materialistic language only, could take their thoughts to a logical conclusion, they would have stated that we must declare war upon communism immediately, but they did not have the courage to go that far. Do we intend to declare war on communism ? If we do not, how can the military arm help us? It can do so only in one way. That is by giving us strength for defence. The aggressive military arm of democracy cannot be used unless we declare war. We should be realistic and grasp that fact. .Unless the Communist flood enters some country in which we have a stake, and which we have agreed to defend, or unless we are directly attacked, there is no way in which we should use our military strength offensively. Therefore, we must use it for defence and build it up for that purpose.
Honorable members on the Opposition side have rightly criticized this Government because many of its military weapons are out of date: The Government is not in touch with modern trends in defence, and the Opposition claims that much of the £200,000,000 that the Government set aside for defence last year was wasted. It is a tragedy that in this twentieth century, after all the wars that have beset mankind and in a so-called Christian civilization, militarism still involves such expenditure. We have to build battleships and restrict business enterprise. We must manufacture shells and restrict schools. We have to build aeroplanes for destruction and restrict afforestation. We have to make tanks and skimp transportation. We build armament factories and restrict the production of agricultural machinery. We have to build instruments of death instead of peace. We must build better rifles instead of better roads. We have to restrict our expenditure upon internal development, electricity, irrigation, agriculture, education, public works, hospitals, research into cancer, tuberculosis and arthritis so that millions of pounds and dollars can be poured into non-productive defence expenditure in a so-called brave new world. That is an indictment of our civilization. We are in danger from communism. Therefore, on the military side, our only alternative is to build up our defences and skimp ourselves on the other things.
While we are in that situation, the eastern nations can wait. Russia has patience. It can stand by until we practically destroy ourselves economically over a period of years by spending great sums of money in peace-time upon defensive works. We could cripple our economy in the long run in that way. In that connexion, I direct the attention
Of honorable members to the ease of India. When I visited that country in 1952 during a world tour, I was informed that India’s budget for 1951-52 totalled £448,000,000 and that 45 per cent, of it was to be spent upon defence. That was the position in an impoverished country that needs hospitals, schools, health services, sanitation and a thousand other amenities so that it can raise its standard of living. India could be crippled and its economic recovery delayed by the expenditure that has been forced upon it. We must fight communism by joining regional pacts such as Seato if we are to offset politically the Communist advance in South-East Asia. The Colombo plan is part of the economic answer to communism. The political weapon has been used with great effect by the Communists. Their diplomacy has thwarted us time and time again throughout the world. It is difficult to understand why. Maybe the training of the Communists is different. Perhaps it is because they are ruthless. The fact is that they have beaten us to the punch on many occasions with the political weapon.
– They have no respect for the rights of others.
– Perhaps the honorable member is correct. I do not consider that we should pay them in their own coin, but we must brighten and expedite our political and economic answers to communism. The political, economic and ideological methods are the most aggressive weapons that we can use now before a war break’s out. The Colombo plan has been achieving magnificent results in that regard, but it is so limited that I hope that its scope will be increased at the meeting that is to be held at Ottawa in October so that it will become a stronger weapon against the advance of communism through Asia to Indonesia. Through the Colombo plan, equipment, tractors, farm implements, wheat and other kinds of food are being supplied to Asian countries. Technical experts are helping them and they are doing much to strengthen the economy of the Asian nations and give them new hope.
I am very interested in the exchange of students. I believe that it could be a strong barrier against communism. I shall give a few facts to the House on that subject. Up to the end of 1953, 2,700 Asian students had come to Austasia independently, and 350 had come under the United Nations scheme, to study at our universities and technological institutions. More Asian students are coming to Australia independently than are coming here under the Colombo plan. Whilst these students represent fourteen nations, only one has come from Indonesia. That anomaly should be adjusted. This student movement represents an ideal, and it should be extended until, every six months, thousands of Asian students are enabled to study here and be indoctrinated with our ideology so that when they return to their native countries they will provide an ideological barrier to stem the spread of communism. It is only by this means that we shall ultimately combat communism as an ideology. Up to date, the Communist, technique has been successful in capturing the minds and hearts of millions who had no means of defending their own ideology. Mr. Attlee drove home this point when he said -
As wars begin in the minds of men it is on to minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
This is an ideological struggle, and we can fight it effectively only by using the press, radio and pamphlets and by sending the right type of people to Asian countries to act as ambassadors for our ideology, talking the language of the people of those countries and working among them. To what degree is Radio Australia being used at present as an ideological weapon in the fight against communism ? It is not being used for that purpose nearly so effectively as it could be. We must use the radio at every possible opportunity in this direction, and we must expend thousands more for that purpose than we now are expending in the ideological fight against communism. The Communist ideology cannot penetrate the minds of Australians because it must overcome the ideological barrier which has been erected in our hearts through our beliefs. Let us build up in the democracies in South-East Asia, in Laos, Cambodia and Malaya, and also in Indonesia, a similar barrier which it will be impossible for the Communist ideology to penetrate and from which it will ultimately recoil. So far, we have been merely playing with Radio Australia. I have placed a question on the noticepaper with a view to obtaining information about that station. I suggest that 90 per cent, of its time should be utilized for the purpose of putting across our ideological message to the people of Asia in order to build up an insurmountable barrier against the Communist ideology.
Every honorable member on this side of the chamber heartily congratulates the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) upon the budget that he has presented to the Parliament on this occasion. , During the period that he has controlled Australia’s financial policy, he has acted effectively and courageously; and his name will go down in the history of this country as that of a man who at all times had at heart the welfare of this nation. As, in this debate, I follow the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), perhaps I shall be in order in saying that I have selected my text. I have taken it from the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who, in the way that members of the Australian Labour party always raise the matter, complained about the treatment that ex-service pensioners have received at the hands of this Government. That honorable member said -
The war pensioners are receiving the rawest deal in history.
I propose to deal with the facts which will show that that statement cannot be substantiated. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) served with gallantry with the 15th Battalion in World War I., and since he has assumed charge of the Repatriation Department he has always been most anxious and courageous in his efforts to further the welfare not only of ex-servicemen, but also that of the dependants of those who did not return from the battlefield. The Minister has done a great job in defence of this country and also, in his ministerial capacity, in the interests of the nation as a whole. It is well to refer to this class of pensioners because we shall, no doubt, hear a great deal about the claims of age pensioners. Honorable members on both sides of the House will, in the main, address themselves to that subject. The pensioners of South
Australia, and, indeed those throughout this country as a whole, suffered a grievous blow when Mr. K. C. Wilson, the former member for Sturt, lost his seat at the recent general election. No honorable member was more devoted to the cause of the under-privileged than he was. He served his country in both world wars and also in the political sphere, and at all times he acted in the interests of the under-privileged. He has, undoubtedly, set a high standard for the newly-elected member for Sturt to emulate.
Members of the Opposition have complained about the Government’s failure to do more for the ex-serviceman. Let us look at the facts. When the present government parties assumed office they derived pride from the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was supported by a band of ex-servicemen of both world wars. Whenever matters of defence or issues that affected the interests of ex-servicemen arose, those honorable members played their part in guiding the Government hi framing its policy. The first job that it was called upon to do was to discharge the responsibility of completing the trials of Japanese war criminals at Man us Island. Members of the Labour government could not agree upon what course should be followed in that matter. This Government carried out that job. We know that General MacArthur warned the Labour government that if it did not proceed with those trials he would release the Japanese who were being held at Manus. Subsequently, it was found that there was no evidence at all against some of those alleged war criminals, and when this Government was obliged to release those particular men it was criticized for so doing. The band of ex-servicemen in the Government parties was mainly responsible for obtaining a sustenance payment at the rate of 3s. a day to Australians who had been prisoners of the Japanese. This Government had that provision written into the treaty with Japan. But whenever the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) raised this question in this chamber he failed to receive a sympathetic response from members of the Australian Labour party. Ex-servicemen in the government parties also pleaded for the provision of immediate compensation to Australians who had ben prisoners of the Japanese; and, ultimately, those honorable members persuaded the Government to allocate the sum of £250,000 for that purpose in order to provide relief in needy cases. This Government has also been responsible for having written into the treaty with Japan a provision that ensures that compensation shall be paid to all Australians who suffered at the hands of the Japanese.
Honorable members opposite have had much to say about the treatment that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen have received at the hands of this Government. On this point the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) quoted a statement that was made by the federal president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, Sir George Holland. All I can say is if my friend, Sir George, desires to go into print in criticism of this Government, he should at least address himself to facts. To-day, a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who has a wife and two dependent children receives a war pension of £9 5s. a week. His wife receives a pension of £1 15s. 6d. a week. The first child receives a. pension of 13s. 9d. a week, plus an education allowance of 15s. a week and the second child receives a pension of 13s. 9d. a week plus an education allowance of lis. 6d. a week. In addition, the children are eligible for child endowment. The pensioner’s total income therefore is £14 9s. 6d. a week. He also has certain rights in regard to transport if he has not the use of his legs or suffers some other serious disability. What is Labour’s record? When the Curtin Government came into office it had nineteen Cabinet Ministers, not one of whom had ever fired a shot in anger. During Labour’s last four years of office the limit of its generosity was to increase the total and permanent incapacity pension by 10s. a week. The Menzies Government, in its four years of office, has increased that pension by £3 19s. a week. In my view, the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who so frequently is regarded merely as some one to be used for political .gain and cheer-chasing, is getting a spin from this Government that has brought him great satisfaction. I say in passing, however, that totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners should be at least on an equal footing in relation to medical benefits with other pensioners who will benefit from the raising of the means test. After all, on the ground of actual suffering, they have perhaps the highest claim of any section of the community.
I come now to another deserving section of the community, the orphans of men who gave their lives for thoi)’ country. In the last four years of Labour’s administration, no increase, whatsoever was made of the pension payable to those orphans. But in the four years that this Government has been in office, the pension has been increased by 30s. 6d. a week. “We can rightly claim therefore that we have recognized the just claims of the orphans, and that our treatment of these unfortunate children has been far better than that accorded to them by Labour. The problems of war widows, too, has always been viewed most sympathetically by this Government. Perhaps our most important contribution of the welfare of the war widow has been to increase by 27s. a week the domestic allowance payable to a war widow with dependent children or over the age of 50 years. When Labour was in office, the domestic allowance was paid only to war widows who had one or two children under sixteen years of age. If there were more than two children, no domestic allowance was payable. This Government has extended the allowance) to all widows with children under sixteen years of age, and, as I have said, it has raised the allowance by 27s 6s. a week. The allowance continues so long as the child, or one of the children of the widow, is not earning the adult wage and is undergoing education. The domestic allowance is most important because it makes provision for a widow if she has the responsibility of caring for children, or if she is over 50 years of age and is not able to compete with younger women for employment.
I am pleased also with the wiping out of the “snoopers” clause by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). In spite of representations by all sections of the community, the Labour party was never convinced that that clause was a slur on the wives and dependants of the men who fell. The matter was taken up promptly by the ex-servicemen’s group within the Government, and it stands to the credit of the Minister for Repatriation that this iniquitous provision has been removed from the act. That amendment will stand as a great tribute to the Minister’s sympathy and vision. This Government has also given to war widows the right to have their pensions posted to them just as the Labour Government did with de facto wives. This concession has been of great assistance to widows who in the past had to troop down to the post office to collect .the pension every fortnight. We have made available to war widows who are about to re-mar ‘-y a special gratuity of £188 10s. In view of this Government’s record in the field of repatriation becoming better known we as ex-servicemen, need have no fear in facing sub-branches of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia or any other organizations provided they know the truth. Our achievements are far greater than those of Labour.
We have introduced national service training for a very good purpose. We have stepped up defence expenditure to ensure the security of our country and above all, we have increased the pay of those who are willing to give their lives in the service of their country. The pay of servicemen was never higher than it is to-day, although, of course, they get no dirt money, shell money, gas money, or anything like that. We have a deep sense of our obligations to exservicemen, and we are prepared at all times to ensure that their rights shall be safeguarded, and that their entitlements shall not be judged by their association with the trade union movement.
I wish now to deal with a somewhat less contentious issue - the disabilities of local government authorities throughout the Commonwealth. In spite of the many representations that have been made since 1904, local governing bodies have not been able to persuade the Commonwealth that it should not longer shelter behind the constitutional exemption from the obligation to pay for services rendered to it by local authorities., I realize that the local governing, authority is a creature of. the State; and is primarily a responsibility of the State, but the payment of rates involves the Commonwealth. The func-tions of local governing bodies, differ in the various States and I can speak only for South Australia. In that State the financial burden is being borne by one section of the community. The Commonwealth does not seem to be fully seised of the importance of the issue. If the Government wishes to- avail itself of services^ supplied by a section of the community it has a moral obligation to pay for those- services. It is one of my disappointments since I have been associated with this House that no satisfactory decision has been made in connexion with r.his matter: One municipality in my electorate loses about £10,000 a year in rates because it has within its- boundaries a building which is the property of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, a repatriation hospital and other groups of Commonwealth buildings’. Another municipality in South Australia loses about £44 a year because it embraces Commonwealth properties. The responsibility of providing services for Commonwealth properties falls on the local authority and the Commonwealth should pay its share of the cost of those services.
I asked a question in this House this morning without a great deal of success. E had been disturbed when I read in the Adelaide Advertiser of the 2’5th August a statement by the Premier of South Australia. Mr. Playford was a member of the 27th Battalion and he has done much for this country and for the political life of his State. In my view, he is one of the foremost men in the political world in regard to the development of uranium. Had it not been for his activity and the interest that he has taken in uranium in past years, we would not have developed our uranium resources to the extent that we have. In the Adelaide Advertiser of the 25th August, Mr. Playford was reported as follows : -
Any duplication of uranium treatment laboratories by any authority in Australia would’ be a public scandal, the Premier (Mr. Playford) said in the Assembly yesterday.
Not only would it waste, money,, but. there was insufficient technical staff available.
I should like to know whether- the Commonwealth intends, to set up. uranium treatment laboratories outside South Australia and whether any organization under Commonwealth control intends to spend money in this way. If so, I hope that the Government will study this- matter- further and consider it- from the economic angle so as. to- ensure that there is no> waste. I have very great faith in the Premier of South Australia and I believe that, he has. been frustrated although not on the ministerial level.
Since I have been in this, chamber 1 have been in contact with various organizations in South Australia where the system, of incentive payments is: practised. The management of one factory has been, able; to confer with their employees; without- starting a revolution. They have been able to discuss the* battle for production’ and. the best method: of overcoming their- problems: I have been told that, after all award rates have: been paid in. this factory, the: employees receive more in incentive: payments’, than the shareholders; receive m dividends: If this type of arrangement can be made- in South Australia it. can. be made in any State. Such an arrangement is; in the: interests of all concerned. I am unable te understand the approach of the Labour- party to the subject’. According, to gallup poll figures1 which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser of: the> 24th September-,, 19!53, incentive payments- are: favoured! by 81 per cent, of executives and owners;, 75 per cent., of white collar workers;, 74 per cent, of farm-owners; 65 per cent, of skilled workers, 69 per cent, of semiskilled workers; and by 54 per cent., of unskilled workers. I suggest that; that gallup poll truly indicates the approach of workers themselves to this question. The: Labour party has not been able to bring itself up to date on this, issue. It has not encouraged the employees’ and employers to discuss their problems; with a full trust, in one another.. Incentive- payments would! increase production,, improve the standard of living of employees,, and make cheaper goods available to the consumer.
I now wish to discuss the problem of petrol’ tax..
– What was that?
– I wish to say something about petrol tax.
– I thought that the honorable member referred to Petrov.
– On that point, let me say that honorable members on this side of the House know where their leader stands in relation to the Communists.
The Australian Government makes a grant to the State of South Australia for the upkeep of its roads. That money, together with all the money that is collected from motor registrations less the expense of collection, is paid into a pool. However, the Adelaide City Council within whose area reside the greater number of the people who pay motor registration fees, does not share in the money that is placed in that pool. A few years ago, the Premier of South Australia made available to the council a grant of about £9,000 for the purpose ofmaintaining the roads in its area. I think that the Australian Government should examine this position with a view to ascertaining whether it should allocate certain moneys specifically for expenditure on country roads and certain moneys for expenditure on other roads. In view of the poor condition of some city roads, the Government should ensure that some part of the money that it collects in petrol tax, and part of the money that is collected in motor registration fees, is spent in thearea in which it is collected.
In conclusion, I wish to say that we who stand behind the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) have every faith in him. Since he came to office he has been responsible for restoring Australia’s prestige overseas. Honorable members supporting the Government also have a great admiration for the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) because of the way in which he has met Ms obligations. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) is unequalled as a Minister for External Affairs in the history of Australia. He is highly regarded in all countries of the world for his national and ethical approach to all the problems that affect the free world. On the 29th May, the people of Australia indicated their confidence in this Government by their vote. They indicated that they wished honesty to. prevail and that they considered the policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition as nothing but pie in the sky.
– I shall answer only one of the points made by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) in his very vigorous speech, although he made a number of statements on which I disagreed with him. Apparently, the honorable member is very satisfied with the increases of servicemen’s pay and repatriation benefits that have been made during the term of office of this Government, but I point out to him that, translated into terms of what money can purchase, the increases are microscopical, if they are increases at all. This Government has been responsible for an astronomical rise in the cost of living. Wages and pensions have followed that riseto some degree, but it would be false to suggest that the increases that the honorable member mentioned have made any real difference to the material comforts of the recipients. It can be said safely that pensioners cannot buy anymore comforts to-day than when the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949. In some cases they cannot buy as much.
This is the fifth consecutive budget introduced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Even a person with the most charitable of motives can say only that this budget, at its very best, is dull and uninspiring. It is a budget of imperfections. Above all, it has failed lamentably to do financial justice to deserving sections of the community. It is for that unpardonable omission that it will be remembered in future. In the preamble to the budget speech, the Treasurer waxed very enthusiastic about the state of our economy. With a pleased smile on his face, he told us that the national income rose by 5 per cent. last year and that the price level did not rise during that period. I should have thought that that 5 per cent. increase gave the Government a chance to do something of national benefit. If distributed in the right directions, it could confer lasting benefits on some sections of the community or be used to finance new forms of national development. But the Treasurer has not taken advantage of that opportunity. We find that the national income will be distributed as usual, without even the smallest fundamental change in the directions of the distribution.
For some extraordinary reason that is not discernible by the average onlooker, the budget does very little to help the family man. This is a time when Australia needs population more than ever before. We are, quite rightly, spending large sums of money to bring new settlers here from overseas. In. the circumstances, I should have thought that the Treasurer could very easily produce a budget that would become known as the family man’s budget. But, whatever this budget does, it certainly does not help the family man. Nothing has been done to help the aged, except that citizens of this class have been given a few concessions of startling niggardliness. Nothing has been done to help young people to solve one of the great and growing problems of this generation - the care of aged relatives. With high costs, not every citizen can afford to shoulder the obligation of looking after his aged parents. If the Government does not know that, everybody else does. I should have thought the Treasurer would give incentives to young people to care for their parents in the evening of their lives by providing generous tax concessions under that head. But, despite the fact that there has been an increase of 5 per cent, in the national income, nothing has been done in that direction.
The budget offers no kind of tangible stimulus to the national economy. Indeed, the Treasurer, after his very enthusiastic preamble, apparently fell into a somewhat despondent mood. The preamble must have been prepared on one day, and the rest of the speech the next day. He stated that stresses were threatening to develop again in our economy, and that pressure on our resources had reappeared and, on present indications, was likely to grow. He explained that because of those factors our defence effort and developmental projects would be retarded and our industrial productivity would fall. Apparently he is aware of the dangerous tendencies that are appearing in our economy. What are the warnings that should be heeded? Even the Treasurer admits that there are ominous signs. In the three months from May to July of this year, the value of imports exceeded the value of exports by £38,000,000. Our London funds, which stood at £539,000,000 last April, fell to £459,000,000 early in this month. With depressed wheat markets and with growing difficulties of export, producers making competition for overseas markets very keen, the prospect of a substantial increase of our export earnings is not bright. The Government is aware of those facts. The reversal of the balance of payments position demands close study. It will become a matter for grave concern if the drain on our London funds is prolonged. In addition, there are tangible indications of a return, to inflationary conditions, the most cruel effects of which would fall upon pensioners and other people with fixed incomes. Clearly, what is needed to-day is a prudent handling of the situation that has developed, and the application of policies designed to prevent a reoccurrence of inflationary conditions. But, although we search the budget high and low, we find in it no indication of measures to counteract inflation. We find nothing of a tangible nature - only a collection of airy platitudes which suggest buck passing to other public authorities and employers and employees.
A lead should be given by the Government. The figures stated by the Treasurer should be translated into a series of legislative enactments calculated to prevent any possibility that the dire forebodings he has expressed will become realities. But we look in vain for such measures. This budget is another indication of the woolly thinking of the Government during the whole of its term of office. Ministers state problems, make oratorical speeches about them, and promptly forget about providing solutions for- them. The Treasurer, attempting to pontificate, said that on the expenditure side the right policy obviously must be one of firm control. He stated also that some forms of expenditure must increase, particularly on defence and social services. With that statement, I agree. In view of the fact that the right honorable gentleman had said that expenditure on defence and social services must increase, I waited with a great deal of interest for him to explain why, of the £200,000.000 allocated for defence last year, only about £177,000,000 was spent.
We have heard many statements by Government spokesmen about the grave problems with which we are confronted as a result of the deterioration of the international situation, particularly in SouthEast Asia. In view of those emphatic and repeated declarations of the dangers confronting this country, it is difficult to understand why the whole of the amount voted for defence last year was not spent. The Government cannot have it both ways. If this country is in dire peril, the Government should do everything possible to defend it. That, of course, means an expenditure of money. I should like to know how the Government explains the gulf of £23,000,000 between the amount appropriated for defence last year and the amount that was actually expended.
I do not suggest for a moment that any department should spend to the limit of its vote merely for the sake of getting rid of the sum allocated to it. Nothing could be further from my thoughts. However, in view of the evidence that honorable members on this side of the chamber have frequently produced to prove that the defence forces are hampered by a serious lack of modern equipment, I am gravely concerned by the failure of the appropriate departments to use the full amount available to them. Members of the Opposition have often produced conclusive evidence that defence projects which should have been undertaken in northern Australia have not been even started. That is why we are disturbed to learn that the Government did not expend £23,000,000 of the defence vote in 1953-54. Perhaps it will tell us that it was unable to obtain the necessary equipment either here or overseas, or perhaps the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) is merely practising frugality at a time when frugality is neither warranted nor pardonable. Like all honorable members on this side of the chamber, I believe that we should take all possible steps to provide for the adequate defence of Australia instead of merely mouthing wordy platitudes on the subject. The slump in defence expenditure appears to me, in view of the gravity of the international situation, to be inexplicable, and the Government should offer an explanation of this apparent anomaly at the first opportunity.
I shall await the explanation with keen interest.
What of the passive defensive measures which have for their object the practical demonstration of our goodwill to our Asian neighbours? We are spending a measly £5,500,000 annually on the Colombo plan. If the Government could not expend £23,000,000 of its defence votes on actual defence preparations, it could well have used some of the surplus money to increase its contribution to the Colombo plan because, in the long run, that plan will prove to be one of our best long-term forms of defence. Unfortunately, however, the Government suffers from a complete lack of imagination. The course of action that I have suggested offered to it a unique opportunity to advance Australia’s security. No defence system can function effectively without an efficient and modern industrial system, hut the only semblance of encouragement that the Government intends to offer to defence industries apparently is the reference of the problem of the depreciation allowance on assets for taxation purposes to a committee of inquiry. It is not even prepared to help industries that will be essential to national defence in a time of crisis.
The budget provides for the expenditure of £193,000,000 on social services, which represents an increase of £16,000,000 over the expenditure last year. Unfortunately, events may prove that the situation is not so good as it now appears to be because, although the budget last year provided for the expenditure of £184,000,000 on social services, £7,500,000 less than that was actually expended. The same thing may happen this year. There is no guarantee that the amount specified in the budget papers will be used. I welcome the proposal to liberalize the means test to a degree that will involve the expenditure of an additional £4,000,000 a year, but the fact is that the Government has failed to realize the basic plight of people whose only source of income is a pension. There has been much controversy in recent years over the precise amount actually needed by a pensioner to enable him to keep body and soul together from week to week. The Government contends that the present base rate of pension is adequate and, in fact, represents lOd. a week more than the rate of pension when the Labour Government left office in terms of purchasing power for essential commodities.
There is only one way to resolve this problem, and that is to conduct an inquiry on a judicial level in order to determine the basic needs of pensioners. Evidence could be called from interested parties, and the inquiring authority would have no difficulty in establishing the actual cost of essential commodities. Such an inquiry would give a positive lead to the Government and would do away with the present system under which honorable members on both sides of the chamber venture what appear to me to be mere personal opinions. The Government will institute such an inquiry without delay if it sincerely wants to do the right thing by the pensioners. To-day, as far as I have been able to ascertain from contact with pensioners in the electorate that T represent, the position of these citizens is nothing less than desperate. They are forced to deny themselves all but the barest necessities of life. Apparently the Government and its supporters are satisfied with our social services scheme because we are expending 19 per cent, of the total government outlay on social services benefits. I am far from satisfied with that situation. The International Labour Organization recently published a survey of expenditure on social security in 24 countries connected with the organization.
I learned from that document, to my great dismay, that only six of those countries expend a lower proportion of the national income per capita on social services. That is not a record to be proud of. The figures in the following list show, in terms of United States dollars, based on the United Nations conversion rates, the amount per capita expended by some of the countries on social services; -
We may gain some slight consolation from the fact that we contribute more to social services, relatively, than do the citizens of Greece, Iceland and Turkey. The Government has had a unique opportunity to deal with the pensions problem. At any rate, a judicial inquiry would have produced helpful results. But of course the Government, in its usual fashion, has fumbled the issue badly.
I have listened in this chamber during the last few days to a number of fulsome statements by Government supporters on the subject of taxation relief. However, an analysis of the Government’s tax proposals shows that the relief for which the budget provides is not even worth mentioning because it is so microscopic. The proposed income tax reductions that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) mentioned last night are so small that it is difficult to comprehend the purpose of their inclusion in the budget. The so-called concessions will be absolutely useless to the average family man.
Silting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I mentioned that the Treasurer had stressed in his budget speech that the cost problem affects every one. The right honorable gentleman said that the Government proposed, accordingly, to lighten taxes, in order to help the taxpayers. I point out that the pay-roll tax has been directly responsible for higher costs. This impost adds immediately to the cost of production, thus increasing the total cost of products. The Treasurer announced bleakly that the Government had decided to raise the annual exemption from pay-roll tax from £4,160 to £6,240. This is a very small remission of taxation. Its effect on the cost structure will be infinitesimal. Pay-roll tax will now be payable only on wages bills in excess of £120 a week. Therefore, only small businesses will be relieved entirely of the obligation to pay this tax. Medium and large sized businesses, which manufacture about 95 per cent, of our industrial products, will still be required to pay the tax. Non-profit private hospitals are to be brought into line with public hospitals, by being exempted from pay-roll tax. While I agree with this aspect of the
Governments policy, I consider that that should have been the commencing point, not the finishing point, for remissions of pay-roll tax. Despite the proposed concessions, the Government expects that revenue from the pay-roll tax will increase by almost £1,000,000 in 1954-55> compared with the last financial year. How on earth can the Treasurer believe that the proposed concessions will result in lower prices?
The right honorable gentleman had a unique opportunity to make this budget a memorable one for thousands of citizens who are serving on local governing bodies. I consider that such bodies should have been included in the rightful exemption from pay-roll tax that has been granted to hospitals. It is high time that the Commonwealth recognized the splendid services that are performed by municipal bodies on its behalf. The modern concept of local government demands the provision of community services on a scale undreamt of a few years ago. It is unfair to expect one section of the community - the property owners - to bear the whole cost of services provided for the community. Councils should receive a share of the common pool of the proceeds of taxation. Because of the multiplicity of services that they have to provide, councils throughout Australia are being reduced to financial impotence. They have had to bear the full burden of spiralling costs of both labour and material. Despite the fact that local governing bodies have increased rates to the maximum practicable - in many instances, threefold - they have not been able to- gain sufficient revenue to keep pace with their increased costs and responsibilities. I point out that a local governing body is a non-profit-making organization. It exists only for the purpose of providing common services to groups of people in a defined area. Unless local governing bodies continue to provide: the services that the ratepayers expect them to provide, they will fall into disrepute. Ultimately, that could lead to a national disaster, from, both financial and political points of view.
The impoverishment of local’ governing bodies has caused grave concern to those who have studied the subject in detail. The Government had an opportunity, by means of this budget, to give local government a national impetus. I emphasize that all local governing bodies in Australia should be exempt from pay-roll tax. The miserable concession that has been granted by the Government will mean practically nothing to local governing bodies. Most metropolitan councils in Melbourne and Sydney employ at least 100 workers. Some employ from 200 to 250 workers. As I am a member of a Melbourne metropolitan council, I am familiar with the present position. A council employing 100 workers would have a wages bill of at least £1,300 a week. To such a council, the exemption of £120 a week will be a bagatelle. It would enable the provision of only about an additional ten square yards of asphalt a year.
I am disappointed that the Government has made only a preliminary approach to the question of the distribution of the petrol tax. The decision to impose on motorists a flat-rate tax of 7d. a gallon, is a step in the right direction. This petrol tax will increase revenue by about £7,000.000 a year. Although, this, additional revenue will benefit the roads systems in the States, the present problem will remain in a substantial degree. It is high time that the Government recognized that municipalities should receive direct grants- from the Commonwealth-. Instead of receiving grants totalling £28j000,000 during this, financial year, the States will receive only £24,000,000 from the proceeds of the petrol tax. If the Government wants to recognize adequately the services provided by municipalities, and to show that it appreciates their difficulties, it should make a grant of £4,000,000 to the local governing authorities for the maintenance of arterial roads. It is impossible for them to meet their obligations in this- connexion at present. I have a good knowledge of the cost of providing arterial roads. Although the Commonwealth collects1- tax of £28,000,000 a year from motorists, ostensibly for1 the purpose of maintaining roads, the condition of many roads is deplorable. This matter merits the urgent consideration of the Parliament. The provision and maintenance of a first-class- roads system is. a.- national responsibility. It is futile for supporters of the Government to contend that this is a matter for which the State governments and municipal bodies are responsible. As the Commonwealth controls the purse strings, it should make periodical grants to the State authorities for this purpose. Constitutionally, only the Commonwealth can impose a petrol tax. It is beyond the financial capacity of local governing bodies to construct and maintain arterial roads. A solution of the problem depends on the avail.ability of money. The problem has become more acute since World War II., due to the, increased number and size of vehicles which now use the roads.
The first step that should be taken by the Commonwealth is to allocate the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax to the States. The Commonwealth could help the local governing bodies tremendously by making direct grants to them. I have no fault to find with the contention that the proceeds of th.6 petrol tax should be devoted to making good the wear and tear on the roads. The petrol tax is a logical pay-as-you-use tax, and ensures that the greatest amount of tax is paid in respect of vehicles which use the roads most. However, the problem will not be solved only by the distribution of the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax to the States and local governing bodies. That is only a preliminary step. Ultimately, a government with a full appreciation of the problem will, however, adopt this course when framing its budget. If the present relationship between the Commonwealth and States is adhered to in the future, a national road plan will have to be evolved. The Commonwealth may have to enter into an agreement with the States in relation to the control of main arterial roads. I emphasize that, as matters stand, road works must be undertaken by municipal councils, which are unable to obtain sufficient money for that purpose. With this in view, the National Parliament should insist that all the proceeds of the petrol tax should be devoted to the purposes for which the tax was originally imposed.
There is one proposal in the budget with which I am in accord although, again, it does not go far enough. I refer to a proposal to find £1,500,000 for the provision of homes for the aged. Churches and charitable institutions have, in the past, carried out the very laudable work of providing homes for the aged, and 1 understand that in future any further work of this description that they contemplate will be subsidized £1 for £1. The details of the scheme are being formulated, and I await, with great interest, the announcement of the details. We have to face the fact that the increased expectancy of life in modern times has added greatly to the number of aged persons in the community. At the beginning of this century 96 per cent, of the Australian population were under 65 years of age, and only 4 per cent, over 65 years of age. This year, nearly 10 per cent, of the population have passed the 65 years of age mark. There is little comfort in the knowledge that other countries face the same problem. For example, between 1930 and 1940 the general population of the United States of America increased by 7 per cent., but the over 65 age group increased by 35 per cent. The time has arrived when we must realize that we must face the implications of this trend. It is impossible for religious organizations, such as churches and lodges, to provide for the much-needed expansion of the provision of homes for aged people. I am inclined to think that, even a £l-for-£l subsidy by the Government will still leave the charitable organizations with a tremendous handicap in the future in connexion with the building of new premises or the extension of existing premises. This problem is definitely moving into the category of a. community obligation, and we must not shirk our responsibilities any longer. I am not suggesting that there should be any change of the authorities which now undertake the provision of homes for the aged, because I consider that they are doing a splendid job, and I can think of no better set of people to carry out such work. The different systems and the various institutions have all proved effective. However, with the present high cost of building, it will be impossible for any organization to take advantage of this offer of a £l-for-£l subsidy. The subsidy offered should be at least £4, or even £5, for every £1 found by the organizations, which should be expected to contribute only a token amount, because in the existing situation it is impossible for them to raise large sums from the public forsuch purposes. However, time alone will prove whether the present proposal made by the Government is generous enough to achieve the results that all honorable members hope it will achieve.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has advanced a series of constructive suggestions and has attempted intelligently to debate issues that are obviously dear to his heart. However, there were not many points in his speech that require answering. I shall deal with only two of the points he raised. The honorable gentleman asked for an explanation of the failure of the Defence Services to spend the amount of £200,000,000 allotted to them in the last budget for defence preparations. There are two reasons, which are fairly easy to understand. First, the equipment required was not procured as rapidly as the Defence Services had hoped ; secondly, there was no intention on the part of the services to spend money unless they got good value for it. In other words, the Defence Services were not prepared to spend for the sake of spending. They wanted to know that the equipment they were getting was the right equipment, and would suit their needs. The result was that some of the vote was not spent, and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed that a special amount of £12,000,000 unexpended should be set aside and used this year to purchase equipment and material that would be required for mobilization purposes. The second point that the honorable member for Batman made was that there had been a 5 per cent. increase of national income which had not been distributed for the benefit of the people. The simple fact is that the Government is not in possession of that increase of 5 per cent. of national income. It had a surplus of £35,000,000, and that amount has been distributed by way of tax reductions, including sales tax reductions, increases of social services payments, and other expenditure. Therefore, all the money in the control of the Government had been, in fact, expended.
Mr. Chairman, this is a budget debate. In a debate of this kind we might have expected that the Labour party would have brought out its big guns and debated major issues. We might have expected that honorable members opposite would have concerned themselves with financial and economic policies, and with the Government’s objectives, and asked themselves whether the objectives were sound, and whether they agreed with them and with the means the Government intends to employ in order to achieve them. It could have been expected that they would think in terms of national development and immigration, and ask whether the objectives in respect to those matters were sound, and whether the Government’s policies were correct and in the best interests of the Australian community. It is not an unfair generalization to say that the Opposition’s approach to the budget is not to debate the real issues and problems that face this country to-day. In the whole course of this debate all that honorable members opposite have done is to scavenge for small pockets of distressed and unfortunate people who may perhaps be disgruntled because they did not get all they wanted in the budget. The The Opposition is attempting to make political capital out of their misfortunes. But the big issues of policy and programme have not been touched by them during the course of the debate.
– Why is the Government starving the pensioners?
– Order! We shall get along a lot better if honorable members will refrain from interjecting.
– We are entitled to assume that, as the programme, the policy and the philosophy of the Government have not been debated, then the grand strategy of the Treasurer and the Government have been approved by the Opposition. What have we heard from various honorable members opposite who have spoken in this debate except promise after promise in much the same way as they made promise after promise during the last election campaign. They were prepared to go along the same old tack and revamp the same old policy speech, vet it, touch it up here and there, and gloss over such contentious problems as the means test.
We are also entitled to think that if the burden of the Opposition’s motion last might were presented to the people in the form of a policy it would be decisively rejected. If there were an election tomorrow on that issue very few honorable members on the other side of the chamber would return to it. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. MeLeod), the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon), and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) would no longer sit here. Some of them would be working in factories and other places. The reason why the people would reject this motion if it were submitted to them as an issue, is because the people do not trust honorable gentlemen opposite any more to-day than they trusted them last May. The people did not believe in their policy. Instead, they returned this Government to office because they regarded it as a government they could trust and one which they thought would follow sound policies that would bring great benefits to this country.
– The people remember the Government’s promises.
– Yes, they remember them, and in the event of another vote they would still remember them, and we would be returned to office. If there were an election to-morrow the Labour party would be decisively defeated because, as I have said, it is not trusted.
Mr. Edmonds interjecting,
– Order! The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) is continually interjecting, and using names that he has no right to use in reference to an honorable member.
– I come now to some of the details of the Labour party’s policy. As I have said, it is a revamping of the old May policy speech - the May Day policy speech - of the Labour party. We come to the important question of pensions. It must be obvious to honorable members opposite, if they look at the budget, that they have not yet fully understood what the logic of the argu ments of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and his deputy, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) means. My colleague, the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), gave an explanation in this chamber last year of what their logic on pensions would have involved.
At that time, the Leader of the Opposition, and not the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said that the Labour Government would take steps to restore the purchasing power of pensions and social services payments provided for when the Chifley Labour Government left office in 1949. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in his speech last night, repeated much the same idea. He said that a Labour government would restore pensions so that their purchasing power mighthave the same value as pensions when the Chifley Government was in office. My colleague, the Minister for Air, pointed out very clearly that if purchasing power was restored and we applied the test of changes in the index of price levels to pensions, then pensions would not have been increased. Indeed, if the Labour policy had been carried out, pensions wouldhave been reduced for reasons that I shall proceed to give.
Ifa Labour government had attempted to apply the C series index of price changes to pensions, what would have happened? When the Labour Government went out of office in 1949, the index was 1,428 and the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. In the June quarter of this year the index was 2,324. Therefore, if changes had taken place proportionately the pension would be £3 9s. 2d., whereas under the Liberal Government, it is £3 10s. All we argue is that, had the logic of the Labour party been heeded, one thing would have happened for certain. Pensions would have been reduced. But for some reason best known to themselves, members of the Labour party have gone in the opposite direction, and have said, “We will not do that. We shall increase pensions “. Which of the two alternatives in fact would have happened if the Labour party had come into office, no one knows. If Labour logic had been applied, the pension would have been reduced. If Labour voices tad been listened to, the pension might have been increased. But I, :f or one, have never .attempted to understand Labour logic <or prophesy its actions.
Let us ,go a step further. I have listened intently to various speeches in an effort to see whether there has been any real change in the attitude of the Labour party to social services problems. 1 am fairly certain that if we applied the test, the cost of the Labour party’s budget promises would be much the same as its promises in the ‘recent election campaign. The electees are entitled to ask how much the promises of the Labour party would cost and, in addition, how those promises could be financed. Did the Labour party know what it was doing when it made those promises? Did it know whether the promises were practicable ? The honorable member for Phillip (Mr.. Fitzgerald) nods his head. He will be shaking it the other way in a few minutes. because he will then know just what the promises of the Labour party would have involved.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was prepared to hazard a guess about the cost of the promises. He said that they would cost about £200,000,000. Both lie and his leader have the same strange ideas about how the promises would be financed. They said, “Well, let us do it by taking the taxation surplus of £35,000,000 this year, and let us perform a feat of magic “. What they wanted to do was to transfer from revenue account - that is, from taxes - everything that the Commonwealth would spend on capital works, and pass the cost over to what is called our loan account - the money .borrowed from the people. The Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition then said, “ Do not let us pay for Commonwealth public works with money derived from taxes. Let us pay for the works with money borrowed from the investors in the community”. Let us .examine that idea to ascertain whether it is possible. It is only proper that they should explain both the cost and how they intended to finance their policy. As to the cost, let us take £200,000,000 as a fair estimate. The prophesied taxation surplus is £35,000,000 and the cost of Commonwealth capital works is £105,000,000 including such projects as the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, works undertaken by the Postmaster-General’s Department and war service homes, amounting to £30,000,000. To-day, these are paid for out of tax. collections. The sum of £105,000,000 was to come from loans. Even on the Labour party’s figures, after those two amounts had been taken into account, there would still remain a deficit -an unexplained deficit- of £60,000,000 to be met.
With such a deficit, what would have occurred to Commonwealth public works ? Let us go further. It is not of much use to say that public works could have been financed with money borrowed on the loan market, because the Commonwealth is already committed to give to the State governments all .the loan money. Therefore, that source of revenue i3 not available to the Commonwealth. So, the Labour party would have had to choose one of two courses. It could have said to Commonwealth instrumentalities, “ You cannot go ahead. The Snowy Mountains scheme must stop, works carried out by the Postmaster-General’s Department must stop and the construction of waT service homes must stop. The whole lot is to be dropped because the Labour party does not believe in financing capital works out of revenue “. If the Commonwealth capital works were in fact constructed then we would have had a deficit of something like £165,000,000, which is a fairly astronomical figure even in these days.
But I have been working on a minimum figure of £200,000,000 as the cost of giving effect to the Labour party’s promises. The real figure would more likely have been £300,000,000, so that the resulting deficit would have been £265,000,000. Now, the sum of £165,000,000 or £265,000,000 is the measure of the extent of the Labour party’s failure to know what the cost was, and how it was to be financed. Had the Labour party made an attempt to finance the cost, we would have faced inflationary finance, and treasury-bill finance of a kind that we had not known before. Everything that the Menzies Government has been attempting, in order to stabilize prices and the value of money, would be destroyed and we would have had price rises and inflation of a kind that we have not faced in this community.
That leads me to this question: Has the Labour party a financial and economical policy? That is the challenging question that the people of Australia and this committee must ask. During the last couple of years, members of the Labour party have breathed fire and brimstone. They have wanted to push fiduciary issues on to the community and clamp on controls when prices got high. Those are the only two financial principles which Opposition members understand, or have ever attempted to exercise. They do not understand the liberal way of life. They do not understand the need to let the individual have a real opportunity to work and to produce and, by that means, add to national prosperity.
This year, the Labour party has produced a totally different scheme. We no longer hear talk of prices control. Nevertheless, I am certain honorable members opposite will start to talk of it again. However, this year, they have this quack nostrum of trying to pay for the capital works of the Commonwealth out of some mythical fund. The fund does not exist and we cannot construct capital works out of funds which will not be subscribed by the loan market. I venture to say that if the Labour party had been on the treasury-bench to-day, the money market would have collapsed, because, as I have said before, on financial matters the Labour party is not trusted. If the market had failed, and capital works were to be financed only from, loans, Commonwealth capital works would not have been carried out, and State loan programmes would have been cut.
I come now to the Liberal partyAustralian Country party philosophy and policy. As the Prime Minister has well pointed out on a number of occasions, the policy and programme of a Government require about four years before the effects are really felt. First, the Government had to do the groundwork, and then give its policies an opportunity to work out. It is only after three or four years that the fruits of the policies ripen. I would say that the policies ini- tiated by the Menzies Government are now starting to bear fruit. Those matters have been ignored by the Labour party. Opposition members have not looked at our objectives or the policies themselves. What has the Government set out to achieve ? Its first objective was to keep value in the £1 and stop inflation from getting under way again. That was one of the main problems of the Government and our attack on it has met with immense success. During last year prices remained practically stable, anc! we are now able to say that some prices are in fact falling. Secondly, the Government has set out upon a positive and effective defence policy. As one who knows a fair bit about this policy, I say that never before in the history of this country have our permanent forces and equipment been as good as they are today. I say with no reservations at all, that our defence effort for a country of this size, in terms of population, is just about as good as it could be. Although last year only £177,000,000 of the £200,000,000 defence vote was actually expended this year the Government has allocated £212,000,000 for defence. Thirdly, we have tried to get some resiliency into the economy to meet unexpected events. We have thought it prudent not to stretch the economy too far this year, because there is a danger of an adverse season, and also because of the fact that we do not know what might happen overseas or the defence programme that we may have to undertake.
I mention those as some of the objectives of the Government, but I have not heard one word from honorable members opposite about them. I shall mention one more objective, because I believe that it is of vital importance. That is the need to maintain full employment with increasing productivity, so that we can look forward to the prospect of better standards of living for all. It is of no use for members of the Opposition, or for anybody else, to try to pooh pooh the results ; let them look at the facts themselves and they will get proof of what I am saying. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was able to report in his budget speech which he delivered a few days ago, that the national income, which is the real wealth of the nation, has increased by 5 per cent, during the last year. That fact does not seem to have sunk into the skulls of honorable members opposite yet. lt takes a little time for Government policies to begin to become effective, but here we find in real terms, in terms of primary and secondary production, a real increase of 5 per cent. If that process should continue for, say, four more years under the Menzies Government, we should have a total of 20 per cent, increase of our national income and national production. Add to that the fact that we have reduced taxes by 30 per cent., and every thoughtful person must be able to realize what this Government means to him personally, and what it means to the community at large. So there honorable members have the proof of the effectiveness of the Government’s actions. There is the proof that its objectives were sound, and the proof that its policies are starting to bear fruit.
I now turn to the broader aspect of our policy, that is the policy of the Government when it came to office, which is still its policy to-day. I cannot mention all the matters that I want to, but I can mention one or two. I shall first mention taxation. Those who believe in the liberal way of life, think that if we give the individual an incentive and let him garner the fruits of his labour he will do the job and produce the goods. Therefore, year in and year out for the last three years the Government has progressively reduced taxes. Taxes were reduced by £80,000,000 one year, £120,000,000 the next, and £35,000,000 this year. Those were real inducements to the people to get on with the job and do what is in the best interests of this country. Taxes were reduced because we knew that with those tax reductions the people would produce more, and out of that extra production the taxes would come in for, the increased needs of the Australian Government. Secondly, we had the task of stabilizing the value of money, particularly forthe purpose of reviving the loan market, because unless we stabilize the value of money there is not much prospect of getting people to contribute to Commonwealth loans. Last year, £1.1.8,000,000 was subscribed to Commonwealth loans. That was an immense achievement, when we realize that as a result of the legacy of the Labour party, and the foolish financial policy adopted by the previous Labour Government, the loan market virtually collapsed in 1950-51.
– That is not so.
– The honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald) was not here d urine the Chifley regime, and in any event, he would not understand. However, I mention those two important matters of policy.
– The Minister does not understand pensioners.
– I shall deal with the pensioners shortly, if the honorable member will be quiet and patient. I mention those two matters of policy because the Labour party has not attempted to analyse the economic and financial policies of the Government, and to put up an alternative set of policies which it might consider would increase the national productivity and increase our prospects in the future. In other words, honorable members opposite do not deserve the name of Her Majesty’s Opposition. In this debate they have scavenged around for possible causes for complaint, and have not looked at the broad issues and put up alternatives to the solutions of these problems worked out by the Government.
I come now to the social services policy of the Government. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) first formed his Government, the official policy of the Liberal and Australian Country parties was to restore stability to the value of the £1, and consequently to the value of social services contributions and .benefits. Also, to remove so far as practicable the anomalies associated with age and invalid pensions, particularly with regard to the operation of the means test. The Government is proud of its social security and social services programme.
The Government set out with the positive intention of stabilizing the value of money, because it knew it was far better to ensure that a shilling should purchase a shilling’s worth of goods, than to take some action which would mean in a few days or a few months a shilling would purchase only 9d. worth of goods. It is no good giving, a pensioner an extra shilling, in. the future if we are going to cut down the purchasing power of every shilling that he now possesses. The Government believes that it is far better for a man to have £3 10s. which has a purchasing power of £3 10s., than to give him £4 a week, as the Opposition promised, and let him find out that it purchases only £3 worth of goods. So the Government’s policy was to see that money retained its purchasing power, and that the value of the £1 remained as it was a year ago, and as it is to-day. That policy has been successful. Prom my contact with the pensioners, I know they are grateful. What would have happened if Labour’s promises, delivered before, the last general election, had been put into effect? Vast inflation of a kind never before experienced would have occurred. Do not say that it cannot happen here. As a result of the legacy of Labour governments it did in fact, happen. In 1945 the retail price index was 1126, but. in 1950, as a result of Labour party policies, it had more than doubled ; and it took the Government, three long years to stabilize the value of money and keep it that way for more, than a year. To-day we speak with pleasure of the results of this policy.
This’ year the Government will expend £17,000,000 on social services payments. That is a lot of money.
Mr.. Ward interjecting,
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward’)’, who is to speak after I conclude, may laugh about that. He will ask, “ Why should you give 90,000 pensioners increases and why should you give 71,000 extra pensioners a pension ? “. He will probably say, “ That is not very much to do “’, but he will have something to laugh off if he attempts to attack the Government on that line. In the last year of the Chifley Government’s regime, that is, in 1949, the invalid pensioner’s wife’s allowance was increased by 4s. a week, which cost the then Government about £132,000. The child allowance was increased from 5s. to 9s. a week, at a cost of £77,000, making a total of £209,000. The total was not £17,000,000, but only £209,000. If, as the honorable member for Mel bourne stated last night, this is a “starve the pensioner”’ budget, I should like to know how he would describe, the 1949 budget of the Australian Labour party. The 1949’ budget ignored the pensioner completely., It gave a wife’s allowance and a child allowance, but it gave nothing at all to the pensioner.
Let us look at the background of the 1954-55 budget. This year, the Government started from the point of view of a fully employed economy. I suggest that the Government could not spend very much more without causing inflation again. Labour was scarce, materials were becoming scarcer, and we had a massive defence effort to face .up to. We had the problem that if global war came, or if a cold-war incident cropped up again, we should have to put much more into our defence effort. The Government had the problem of meeting- increased expenditure for- such things as £30,000,000 for war service homes, £27,000,000 for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and fl.4^000’,000 for the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. All of those problems had to be met. I contend that the Government faced them in a realistic fashion. In the light of those facts, the Government proposes to reduce taxation by an amount which, in total, will mean a 30 per cent, reduction of taxes since this Government came to office. I suggest that that is a magnificent effort.
The defence policy of this- Government is something of which the country can be proud. I think that most people will agree that a realistic defence effort is being made. Wherever one looks, the same record of achievement is to be seen. The record of the Government is one of which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies)’ can be proud On the other hand, when one listens to the Opposition, what does one hear ? I suggest that one witnesses a policy-less, profligate, and, to-night, pilot-less party. It is pilot-less because the Leader of the Opposition happens to be in some other place. The Australian Labour party presented its policies to the people last May, and the party was discredited. If Labour were to present the same old line again, I am certain that the country would again reject it. On this side ofthecommitteetherearepeople whofavourarealisticpolicy.During theensuringthreeyears,thatpolicy,I hope, will bring even greater benefits to the country.
– Order ! The Minister’stime has expired.
.- The budget that we are now discussing is a typical tory budget following a general election. The tories believe that they have three years before they will have to face the people again and that, therefore, they can afford to forget the ordinary rank and file of the Australian community. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) was a hopeless failure in his previous portfolio. All I can say is: God help the pensioners of this country when they are placed at the mercy of this kind of government and this type of Minister. Let us examine exactly what the situation is in regard to this vexed question of pensions. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey)last night tried to brush aside the, pensioners as being of no consequence at all. He said, in effect, “ Let us forget them, because they are not producers in the country to-day. Let us deal with the, need to increase production. What are we going to do about increasing profits and production ? “I suggest that a country that forgets its pioneers and fails to care for them, deserves the greatest possible degree of condemnation. The Minister for Social Services referred to the year 1949. Let me tell him that although Labour has never argued that pensions have been sufficiently high under any Australian government, under the Chifley Labour Government the age pension represented 36.3 per cent. of the basic wage. That was a record percentage. It had not been exceeded previously, and has not been exceeded since. From the time that the Menzies Government took office, the value of the pension began to decline. In 1950, it was 35 per cent. of the basic wage. This year it has slid further down the scale and is now only 28.8 per cent. of the basic wage. Had not the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, with the approval of this Government, frozen the basic wage, the difference between the pension and the basic wage would be even greater than it is at the moment.
Last year, the Government increased age pensions by 2s. 6d a week but this year the age pensioners are not to receive anything. The Minister for Social Services stated, with great pride, that if the pension had been related to the C series index since the conclusion of the war, it would be only £3 9s. 2d. a week at present. He said, in effect, that the Government is magnanimously paying age pensioners; an additional 10d. per week; because they receive £3 10s. a week instead of £3 9s. 2d. During the last few weeks, ithas become evident that the price of tea, which is a very important beverage in the life ofevery pensioner, if not of every citizen of the community, would rise by approximately1s. per lb. In that event, even the mythical 10 d. a week would disappear from the pension.
Let us examine the cost of living. The Minister spoke as if the Government had succeeded in putting value back into the £1. I recollect that, during the last general election campaign, the Leader of the Opposition declared that the £1 of 1949 was worth only 8s. That was Dr. Evatt’s statement during the campaign.
– Order! The honorable member must not refer to another honorable member by name.
– That statement was made by the Leader of the Opposition. Immediately, the tories came to the defence of the Government. A Mr. W. J. Jackson, who is the financial editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, said, “ Dr. Evatt is wrong. The £1 of 1949 is not worth 8s. to-day. It is actually worth 11s. 8d.”. That was the best that the defender of the Government could do. Yet the Minister for Social Serviceshas the audacity to try to suggest that the Government has put value back into the £1 as it promised to do in 1949.
Has the Govemment decided to do anything of a practical nature to improve the housing conditions of pensioners? Not at all. It proposes to make available £1,500,000 for the housing of pensioners, provided that charitable and church organizations are able to raise a similar amount. All that the Government proposes to do for the pensioners this year is to liberalize the means test. It proposes to increase the permissible weekly earnings from £2 to £”’! 10s., the property limit is to be raised to £1,7.50, and the property exemption is to be increased from £150 to £200. Income from property is to be disregarded. But is it not a fact that, during the general election campaign of 1949, this Government promised to abolish the means test? Did not it say to the people that, by 1952, it would produce a plan for the abolition of the means test? This is 1954, and we are still awaiting that plan. Many pensioners have no other source of income, so that liberalizing the means test will not help them at all. Such persons represent a substantial proportion of those who receive Commonwealth social services. According to figures that were supplied to me officially by the department, 73.7 per cent, of age pensioners receive the maximum rate of pension, which means that they are not going to benefit as a result of the liberalizing of the means test. Of those people who are in receipt of invalid and widow pensions, 81.4 per cent, receive the maximum rate. Anybody who listened to the Government would imagine that the pension was a charity and that, when the Government granted an increase or liberalized the means test, it was doing a magnanimous act.
Those who receive social services benefits have contributed towards the cost and they are receiving back only that which they have paid in taxes. If the Government had not dishonestly abolished the basis upon which the National Welfare Fund was established, there would have been ample moneys available for giving the pensioners substantially more than the Government proposes to give them. The Government has spoken about double taxation. If ever there was an instance of double taxation, it was in respect of the National Welfare Fund. The Government abolished the basis upon which the fund was established, a fund to which the people contributed in special taxation, and then again charged those people for such benefits as health and pharmaceutical benefits.When the Government assumed office, the fund had a credit balance of approximately £189,000,000 of the people’s money. If the fund were still being used as originally intended, it would now have a credit balance of nearly £300,000,000. The Government now asks, “ Where will the money come from?” But what is it doing with the money that the people contributed in taxes for the provision of social services benefits? It is using that money to remit company taxation, to give benefits to the wealthy corporations that its supporters represent in the Parliament.
According to the Government’s own figures, the actual expenditure from the National Welfare Fund last year was £7,487,000 less than the estimated expenditure. That sum of money, at least, could have been made available for improving the conditions of the pensioners. We have been told that charity begins at home, but what is the Government, doing? The provision for international development and relief for 1954-55 is £5,500,000, an increase of £1,926,000. The Government’s own figures show that it has paid nearly £14,000,000 under the Colombo plan since its inception. I am not opposed to Australia’s helping its near neighbours to improve their living standards, but surely that ought not to be done at the expense of our own people mid the pioneers of our own country.
Time will not allow me to deal fully with these matters, but let me take another example. What has the Government done in relation to the provision of free medicine for pensioners? We have not heard any Government supporter defend a decision of the Government which took effect as from the 1st June, just two or three days after the last general election. It decided that the pensioners were getting too much free medicine, that they were abusing the scheme and that the scheme was costing the country too much money. Even the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) admitted that the Government took action because it wanted to curtail the expenditure on this particular item. The Minister has been reported as having made the following statement: -
Some variations hod been made in the quantities of drugs allowed on certain prescriptions because experience had shown that the previous number of “ repeats “ had led to extravagance and alius.?.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Gippsland says, “ Hear, hear ! “ I invite the honorable member to say “ Hear, hear ! “ to the following statement that was published in one of the Sydney daily newspapers at approximately the same time : -
The reduction applies mainly to tablets containing multiple vitamins.
Doctors have been prescribing the multiple vitamin tablets to supplement the vitamin intake from inadequate diets of old-age pensioners.
That is the reason for the increased cost. The pension was so low that the pensioners were unable to provide themselves with a proper diet and humanitarian medical - men were prescribing multiple vitamin tablets to make up for that deficiency. The Government decided to step in, as an economy measure, and make the pensioners suffer for it. On one occasion, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) said that pensions were never intended to provide a comfortable living. At least the right honorable gentleman has had his wish gratified, because no one could argue that £3 10s. a week would to-day provide a comfortable living for any person. Judging by the company that the right honorable gentleman keeps, I should say that on occasions that sum would not pay for one shout at the bar in the parliamentary refreshment rooms when he is there. In 1949, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made the following statement: -
Pensioners can rely on us for justice.
Unfortunately, many of those people may have been duped into supporting members of the Government because they believed that they would do something to assist them.
I refer now to the subject of repatriation. The Government, the supporters of which are always talking about the number of ex-servicemen in its ranks, could have done something for the exservicemen. One would have thought that it would have had some regard to the speeches that its supporters continually make in relation to the great debt they owe to those men who have risked their lives in the service of their country. The Government proposes to increase the general rate war pension by 7s. 6d. a week. That pension will become £4 10s. a week, which is not equivalent to 50 per cent, of the basic wage. The service pensioner, a burnt-out pensioner, who cannot earn his own livelihood, will receive no increase. The Government gives him £3 10s. a week on which to exist, merely because he is not able to establish to the satisfaction of the Government that his disability is a war-caused disability. The totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners will get nothing. Although, pleas have been made to the Government fr,om time to time, those pensioners will not receive any consideration for their wives who will still be denied hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. I have appealed to the Government to do something in relation to servicemen who enter repatriation hospitals. How long are we to have the farce of ex-servicemen being admitted to repatriation hospitals for treatment and of their being transferred to public hospitals immediately it is ascertained that they are suffering from a condition which the Government does not accept as being attributable to war service?
Is it any wonder that we read in the press reports about a fall in the rate of recruitment of men for the forces? How can there be anything but a fall in the rate of recruitment when on every hand young men have before them outstanding evidence of the fact that, when they return from service with their health impaired and their future damaged, the Government will desert them and forget about them entirely? That is why there has been a decline in the rate of recruitment. One gentleman of high rank in the military forces believes that the reason for the decline in the number of recruits is the existence of too much employment. The only time some of the young men of this country are inclined to enlist in the forces is when they are driven to it because there is no work available. The state of affairs to which I have referred would be understandable if the Government were able to satisfy the people that the country is unable to afford these benefits. But the exact reverse is the case.
Let us examine the following statement in relation to the state of our economy. which hasbeenattributedtothe Minister forNationalDevelopmentSenator Spooner) -
Everyacknowledgedmeansfor measuring prosperityandfinancialstability showsthat to-dayAustraliaisnearly twiceaswell off asit was under socialistLabour.
If thatstatementis true, surelythepensionerand thedisabled ex-serviceman is entitled tomuch betterconsideration than he receives at present.TheTreasurer, inhisbudget speech, made thefollowing statement: -
Altogether 1953-54wasaperiodof stable, genuineand widelyspread prosperity. Perhaps neverbeforein ourhistoryhave wehada year to equalit.
Itis quiteobvious thatthisGovernment wouldhavehad no difficulty in improving social services benefits, but therehas been no increase in age,invalidorwidows’ pensions, pensioners’ funeral benefits, maternityallowances, child endowment, and unemployment andsickness benefits,andthe service pension remains at £310s. a week. I do not suggestfor one momentthat some peoplehave notbenefited during the regime of the presentGovernment. We heard theMinister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) talk about the need for greater production. How canwe getgreaterproduction when the workers who produce the wealtharenot allowed to benefit from increased production?
TheGovernmenthas pegged the basic wage,and it talksabout itsgreat victory instabilizing prices.Some prices continue to rise,although itis truethat pricesgenerally arenot increasing to the degree atwhichthey wererising formerly.The reason is that the Government ismakingtheworkers - the producers -shoulderthe total cost ofstabilizing theeconomyby denyingto them basic wage adjustmentsand increasedmargins. The Ministerfor ExternalAffairs asked,”What doestheLabour partyknow about the urgent needof ploughingback intoindustrysome of thecapitalnecessaryto provide foremployment infuture years?”Irecallthat themembersoftheLiberaland AustralianCountry parties, when theywere striving to attain officein1949,talked abouttheneedfor profitregulationand undertookto introduce profit-sharing schemes. But theGovernmenthasdone nothing tohonour that promise. Who are the people whohave benefited from this Government’sreign in office?The prosperity about whichthesupporters of the Government talkso gliblyis enjoyed by only one sectionofthecommunity. The Sydney Bulletin,in its issueofthe 3rd March last reported that, between 1948 and 1953, the profits of the Squatting InvestmentCompanyLimited averaged58percent. andthedividends toshareholders averaged36.6per cent. of capital invested. Reservesrocketed from£76,000to £249,000,and arenow greater thanthecompany’spaid-up capital.The Bulletindeclared -
Neverbefore have pastoralistsexperienced such abundance.
Let us considerthe followingincreaseof theprofits of anumber ofothercompaniesduringthelastreportedtrading periodofeachcompany: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 August 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540826_reps_21_hor4/>.