21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. Huge Stevensonroberton made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as member for the division of Riverina, New South Wales.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Air been directed to a report by an aviation writer, Allan Underwood, who recently returned from the Manus operation “ Satex “, in which he stated that the Royal Australian Air Force Lincoln bombers, No. 10. Squadron, based at Townsville, were useless as submarine hunters, and also put up a pitiful effort during the operational exercises ? He further reported that if one of these “World War II. vintage bombers ever finds a submarine,it will be one of the marvels of the electronic age. If the attention of the Minister has been directed to this alarming report, has he any statement , to make to the House upon such an important matter?
– No, Ihave not seen the report to which the honorable member for Brisbane has referred, nor have I received, as yet, the official report on the exercises. The Lincoln bomber is not regarded asour number one antisubmarine aircraft. Our aircraft for that kind of operation are the Neptunes,and the radar in those machines is as good as any radar in the world. It is particularly accurate. The Lincoln has long been regarded as an aircraft that is not modern, but it is still capable of being used to good advantage as a second choice aircraftfor the purposes of antisubmarine work.
– Has the Minister for Air received any reports on the recent combined Naval and Air Force -exercises carried out near Manus? Is is correct that the Lincoln anti-submarine aircraft taking part were found to be markedly inferior in performance to the modern Neptune aircraft? Were the Lincolns only recently refitted and equipped for anti-submarine work? If these are facts, will the Minister have an investigation made to determine whether the searching and warning devices fitted in the Lincolns are up to date and adequate for their purposes?
– This question is similar to that asked earlier this afternoon by the honorable member for Brisbane. The very purpose of these exercises is to determine where we are weak and where we are strong, and in those particular exercises up north, one thing is clearly apparent, and that is that the Neptune is a magnificent aircraft for
Anti-submarine purposes. The Lincoln is not so good as is the Neptune, but it is quite good for the purpose and the role that it fulfils. Certain long-nosed Lincolns are being re-equipped now, but their function is more for search and rescue work, such as picking out lifeboats and rafts, and that sort of thing. Their function is not to pick up a snorkel or periscope of a submarine. That role is fulfilled by the Neptune.
– I understand that an -extension of the Royal Australian Air Force training is contemplated. If this is so, will the Minister for Air consider the use of the Narromine aerodrome for this purpose? That aerodrome had an excellent weather record when used as an elementary flying training school during the last war when only two training days were lost there as a result of adverse weather conditions.
– The existing aerodromes are completely sufficient for Royal Australian Air Force requirements at present. If, however, this matter should be considered further in the future the Narromine aerodrome will be kept in mind for the purpose that the honorable member has indicated.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services, and I point out that in a recent explanatory statement relative to social services, the information is given that a motor car owned by a pensioner and used solely for private purposes is not included as property within the means test calculation. As this is a new provision, will the Minister inform the House whether, in fact, this is a correct statement of the position, because of its great importance to pensioners, or those persons who are about to apply for a pension?
– In deciding whether a person is eligible for a pension, two tests are applied. One relates to income, and the other to property. In the application of the property test, personal items are excluded, and it has been decided by the Crown Law authorities that, in particular circumstances, but very particular circumstances, that is where a motor car is exclusively used by the pensioner for his own personal needs, it is a personal effect, and, therefore, does not come within the meaning of “ property “. I should like to say, however, that the provision has not a general application, but applies only when it can be conclusively proved that the car is used exclusively for the pensioner’s personal needs.
– I understand that the Minister for Social Services is arranging for the publication and distribution of a new booklet, or pamphlet, in connexion with social services entitlements. I have received many requests for information on this subject from trade union officials, who are very often called upon to give advice in. connexion with social services entitlement. Will the Minister be good enough to give consideration to the distribution of copies of the booklet to trade union officials throughout Australia?
– A booklet i3 being prepared relating to the new pension rates, and I hope it will be ready within the course of the next few days. The suggestion made by the honorable member is a good one, and I shall consult the Minister for Labour and National Service to see what can be done about making an adequate distribution to leaders of the trade union movement.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services a supplementary question about the decision that motor cars owned by pensioners and for their exclusive use, are no longer to be counted as property for means test purposes. I know, of a number of pensioners in my own electorate who will be affected, and there must be many hundreds of such persons throughout Australia. Will it now be necessary for them to approach the pensions department, point out that the car, which is. at present operating against them as property and which means a reduced pension, is for their exclusive use, and apply for the increase of pension to which they will no-w become entitled, or will the pensions department be approaching those pensioners? Secondly, will the Minister give a little more information on the meaning of the phrase “ a car exclusively used by the pensioner ? “ I take it that there will be no barrier to a pensioner using his car to take his wife and grandchildren for a drive, and that the phrase means a car which is the property of the pensioner which he uses for private purposes only.
– The honorable member’s first question raises a matter of administration. I am not quite certain what practice will be observed by the department in coming to its decision, whether it will initiate action or whether action must be taken by the pensioner. I shall ascertain the position in that respect. The honorable member’s second question raises a technical legal problem. I shall obtain information on that matter also, and make it available to him as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister representing the Postmaster-General inform me whether the Australian Broadcasting Control Board controls the allocation of wave lengths? If so, will he arrange for the board to go into the reallocation of wave lengths in Canberra? At present, between 7 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. a station in Canberra interferes with reception from Adelaide station 5CL and thus prevents South Australian visitors to this city from hearing the South Australian news. Could the
Minister arrange to have eliminated this interruption, which sounds like a two-way motor car direction service?
– I shall make inquiries into the matter that the honorable member has raised and see if it is possible to eliminate the interruption about which he has complained.
– “Will the Minister acting for the Postmaster-General look into the apparent delay in the construction of a national regional broadcasting station at Albany in Western Australia? The Postmaster-:General some time ago expressed the hope that the station would be completed during the last financial year, and later he estimated that it would be completed before Christmas. Will he endeavour to have the work completed within the time laid down?
– I examined the proposal for the new broadcasting station recently and found that a site four miles from Albany, near the Gledhow siding, had been selected and that work was proceeding. Unfortunately, I cannot promise the honorable member that the broadcasting station will be finished this year, but I assure him that the work Wil be expedited and will be completed at the earliest possible moment.
– Oan the Minister for the Interior say whether the collection of the census figures has yet advanced to a stage that would enable him to inform the House of any redistribution of electoral divisions that may be necessary? If so, when is it proposed to take preliminary steps in this matter ?
– I am sorry to have to inform the honorable member that I have not yet received the figures for the -last census.
– Has the Minister for Immigration yet reached a decision with respect to suggestions that were made at the last Australian Citizenship Convention that certain alterations be made in the procedure of naturalization with a view to giving every encouragement and assistance to new Australians to seek Australian status?
– Consideration has been given to those recommendations. I have had prepared proposals, which I shall submit to Cabinet, regarding changes that it may be necessary to make in the naturalization law.
– Can the Minister for Supply say whether the Australian Aluminium Production Commission has refused to pay municipal rates on the property at Bell Bay on which its factory is situated? As the Government has accepted the principle of payment of municipal rates when it competes with private enterprise in business undertakings, does it propose to evade the issue in this instance in which the commission meets with do competition in the production of aluminium?
– The honorable member has not got the facts quite correctly. An arrangement has been made whereby an p.x gratia payment is to be made to the George Town municipal authority in respect of a part at least of the aluminium project at Bell Bay. He will forgive me if I have not all the facts in my head. I shall have the matter examined and let him have a full reply later.
– Having regard to suggestions which are current that atomic experiments are to some degree responsible for the unseasonable weather which is now being experienced, particularly iD south-east Queensland, will the Minister, for Supply instruct nuclear scientists under his control to investigate the possible connexion between atom bomb experiments and the freak weather to which I have referred?
– On the information that has been supplied to me there is no connexion between the unseasonable weather now being experienced in Queensland and any atomic tests that have been carried out in Australia. If the honorable member will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall obtain a full reply on the matter.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether it is a. fact that the inmates of the
Bunnerong immigrants’ hostel have been given notice to quit. If that is so, will the Minister say whether it is the Government’s intention to establish an atomic research station on the site of the hostel ?
– I have no knowledge of the latter part of the honorable member’s question, but I shall investigate the circumstances which apply to the first part of his question.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior in his capacity as chairman of the River Murray Waters Commission. I3 the Minister aware of the growing menace in the canals and weirs of the River Murray, particularly in Lake Mulwala, of a weed known as cumbungi? Will he, in co-operation with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and various State agricultural organizations, take every possible step to eliminate cumbungi as soon a? possible ?
– I am afraid that I am not familiar with the honorable member’s friend - or enemy, shall I say - but I shall take the matter up with the River Murray Waters Commission, ascertain what can be done about it, and give him further information on the subject. I am not certain that this is not connected with a provision which is proposed to be included in a new bill, which will have nothing to do with the extension of the Hume Weir but which will be designed to give the River Murray authorities certain extended powers to deal with channels leading into the river which have been blocked. This matter may be involved, but I do not recognize the pest under its aboriginal name.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that the price of tea has a direct influence on living costs in Australia and that the recent increase of the price by ls. 7d. per lb. will inevitably have a disadvantageous effect on the cost of living, particularly for those who are classified as the workers, and their families, who are proportionately the greatest consumers of tea in the Commonwealth. If this is a fact, will the Government give early consideration to an increase of the amount of the existing subsidy with the intention of reducing the price to the consumer?
– I” dealt with this matter in answer to a question last week. I then indicated that already the effect of the increase in the price of tea, if we were to maintain a certain relativity between the rate of subsidy and the wholesale price, would be to increase the subsidy from £4,500,000, for which the Government had budgeted, to £5,500,000. Since then there have been price increases in the originating countries and, at the moment, the subsidy must inevitably amount to more than £5,500,000. 1 certainly do not propose - nor does the Government - to alter the present basis upon which we are acting.
– Following certain questions which have been asked the Prime Minister concerning the price of tea, I should like to ask him whether it would be substantially correct to say that the annual wage which is paid to the average employee of the labouring type in the countries which produce tea would probably not be more than one week’s pay for a similar person in Australia. If that is substantially correct, would it also be right to say that the rising standard of living of persons in those eastern countries is naturally reflected in the cost of the products which they sell to countries such as Australia? Without that rise, would it also be correct to. say that we cannot hope to have expanding markets in those countries for our own products?
– The general proposition of the honorable member for New England is undoubtedly right. I would not tie myself to a comparison between rates of pay, but as we know, rates of pay are much lower and hours of work are much higher in the tea-producing countries than in Australia, and I think that we have to accommodate .ourselves to the fact that, as their standard of living rises there may be variations, at any rate, in their price levels from the price levels that we have been accustomed to in the past.
– I direct to the Prime Minister a question in relation to charges for water supplied from the MorganWhyalla pipeline. I wish to point out that, naturally, I am perfectly well aware of the agreement between the Australian and South Australian Governments and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited relative to that main. I wish to point out, also, that the charge is a flat rate of 2s. 6d. a thousand gallons at Whyalla, which, owing to the very dry climate, makes flower, vegetable and fruit gardens for all sections of the people very costly. . At other points along the pipeline, consumers may obtain water at a charge of ls. 1.0d. a thousand gallons, and excess water is charged .for at ls. a thousand gallons. The Department of the Interior has just advised consumers in the Woomera section that the charge has been increased from 4s. 3d. a thousand gallons to 8s: 3d. a thousand gallons. This charge for water for stock, in view of the high rate of evaporation, is prohibitive to graziers.
– Order 1 What is the question ?
– I am now coming to the question. Will the Prime Minister confer with the other interested parties with a view to having the charges reduced to conform with the South Australian Government’s charges? Further, if the existing main is or is becoming inadequate to meet demands, will the right honorable gentleman consider making a further grant to the South Australian Government for the construction of a duplicate pipeline ?
– I confess without reservation that the honorable member appears to know far more about the matter than I do. If he will give me a day or two, I shall endeavour to catch up with him and give him an answer.
– Following the recent announcement of the Minister for Social Services, that a substantial rebate has been made on premiums charged under the war service homes insurance scheme, I ask the Minister whether he will inform me how the new premiums have been calculated, whether the insurance fund is stable and whether it is actuarily sound.
– Before fixing the amount of rebate, and, therefore, the amount of premium payable annually, the Director of the War Service Homes Division consults Treasury officials who advise him as to the amount of premium that should be charged. As soon as that has been done, the Commonwealth Actuary supervises the matter and, if the director’s approval is given, the premium is fixed and automatically the rebate becomes ascertainable. This year, as a result of the director’s report, it was decided to reduce the rebate from 66J per cent, to 50 per cent., which allows a comfortable amount over to put into reserve funds. I can assure the honorable member that the maximum precaution is taken in this matter. I think that the fund is solvent and that it is conducted in accordance with the best actuarial methods known to the Commonwealth.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he will examine the circumstances of a case in which a Commonwealth Crown Prosecutor appeared as a defendant to answer police charges in the Canberra Court of Petty Sessions. Will the right honorable gentleman obtain a report in relation to suggestions that have been made publicly that, in the preparation and presentation of the case, that gentleman, by virtue of his position, obtained special treatment that would not have been available to ordinary members of the public? If the report should disclose that there is no justification for the appearance of partiality in the administration of justice that has been given in this instance, will the Prime Minister consider making a statement to reassure the public ?
– The answer is, “ Yes, I will “.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. Reports that have been published recently indicate the development of & serious state of affairs in relation to the Government of Pakistan. Has the Minister any official information in relation to the position in that country?
– The Government has a great deal of information on that subject which I do not think it would be right for me to state in an offhand manner in reply to a question. I shall ascertain whether it is possible to have compiled a simple statement which would outline, as far as we know, the serious situation that exists in Pakistan.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that yesterday he told the federal congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which is meeting in Canberra, that he always welcomed discussion with the federal executive of that organization in relation to matters which affected its membership, and that he had extreme confidence in all of its federal officials. If that is so, has the attention of the right honorable gentleman been directed to the resolution that was carried yesterday by the federal congress, which sought clarification of section 47 of the Repatriation Act, allegedly because the Repatriation Commission had failed to carry out the expressed intention of the act? If his attention has been directed to that resolution, will he consider the establishment of an all-party parliamentary committee to examine the Repatriation Act and, in particular, decisions that have been made by the Repatriation Commission under section 47, and thereby show in a practical way that he is really sympathetic with the problems of the members of the league ?
– I shall be very pleased to discuss the suggestion with the Minister for Repatriation. I hope the honorable member will allow me to point out that the fact that I have great confidence in somebody does not bind me to agree with his opinion. For example, I have very great personal confidence in the honorable member, but I am sure that we are capable of disagreeing on a few matters.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether his attention has been directed to a speech that was delivered in London last Friday by the British Field-Marshal who is Deputy Allied Commander in Europe. Is the honorable gentleman aware that that distinguished gentleman, when referring to the need for defence against atomic attack, used the following words : -
We must have a sound civil defence organization in each national territory. Unless the framework of a sound civil defence organization is set up in ‘peace, a nation will face disaster in a world war since the home front will collapse–
– Order ! What is the question that the honorable member wishes to ask?
– Field-Marshal Montgomery further stated that civil defence was greatly neglected, and that there is no sound civil defence organization in any Nato nation. I ask the Minister whether the same comments, with appropriate modifications, can be applied to Australia, and whether’ the Government is considering appropriate steps to deal with the very serious situation that has been placed before us by this outstanding authority?
– I read the statement that is attributed to FieldMarshal Montgomery, and I have no doubt that he was expressing very strongly the views that he held. I am not aware whether he was expressing the official attitude when he referred to the neglected state of civil defence in the Nato countries. Australia is keeping in close touch with civil defence development in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, but I point out to the honorable gentleman that thinking on this subject has changed quite materially within the last year or two. It changed with the advent of the atomic bomb, and it changed again with the advent of the hydrogen bomb. I assure the honorable member that the Government is keeping in touch with the developments in those countries to which I referred for the purpose of adapting them to civil defence in this country.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs, whom honorable members are pleased to see back in the chamber. Will the right honorable gentleman place before the House the interpretations that have been given to the draft South-East Asia Treaty Organization agreement particularly the United States reservations, with which the right honorable gentleman is very familiar? There seem to be very serious doubts as to the application and meaning of certain parts of the agreement, and before the Minister makes his statement on the subject will he assist the House by allowing honorable members to hear about the work, which is, in a sense, preparatory?
– Yes, in the course of this week I shall be dealing with that matter on behalf of the Government, and I shall ensure that that particular phase of it is adequately dealt with.
– Does the Prime Minister, in view of the recent disclosures that a member of the Communist party was in charge of security arrangements in the year before last-
– Order ! The honorable member is now dealing with a matter that was dealt with yesterday by the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia. I am not prepared to allow questions, on that matter.
– The Prime Minister knew about this matter before it came before the royal commission.
Mr.- SPEAKER - That cannot alter my decision. I know that the matter was before the royal commission.
– I rise to order. I suggest that even though a matter has been mentioned before the royal commission, if it is of public interest, and if it affects the administration of a Commonwealth department, it should be allowed to be mentioned during the course of a question.
-The matter is out of order. It is not even in conformity with the Royal Commission on Espionage Act, which established the royal commission.
– You mean the gag act.
– Order ! The Royal Commission on Espionage Act was unanimously agreed to by the members of this House. Therefore, if there is any- gag in the act we are all responsible for it.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Do you rule that any matter mentioned before the Royal Commission on Espionage, which affects any Commonwealth department, or the administration of any Commonwealth department, cannot be raised in debate in this House, or referred to at question time ?
– I do so rule.
– When does the Minister for External Affairs propose to give evidence before the Royal Commission on Espionage regarding his alleged discovery of a nest of traitors in his own department ?
-I should have thought that the honorable member, in his own interest, would have believed that the less said about that matter, the better.
– Will the Prime Minister consider the adjournment of this House next Tuesday, for the purpose of intensive social studies at a place called. Flemington in Victoria?
– The honorable member touches me on a sensitive spot, because as the most distinguished nonracing man on this side of the House–
– I ‘ am glad the Prime Minister limited his statement to the Government side of the House.
– I did so because I was thinking of the Leader of the Opposition. I well remember that a few years ago I ventured on the desperate expedient of getting this House to resume its sittings a little later than usual, so that honorable members could listen in. I got into so much trouble on that occasion that I have not had the courage to take such action since.
– My question is directed to the Minister acting for the Treasurer. I understand that representatives of the Stanley Morgan Finance and Banking Corporation of New York, are at present in Australia. Are those gentlemen here to consult with the Government about a new loan to be raised on the United States market, or are they here for purposes connected with redemption and possible conversion?
– All I know is that we do from time to time receive visits from the representatives of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. If we are now to be visited by representatives of other financial institutions, I would regard it as all to the good. Of course nothing can emerge from any visit or negotiation without consultation with the Australian Loan Council, which would involve all the State governments. Therefore, ‘ at the moment, I am not anticipating anything of the kind mentioned by the honorable member. Speaking for myself, I am delighted every time somebody of this order from the other side of the world comes to look at Australia, to see what our resources and opportunities are in this country.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether there is any justification for withholding the price paid by the Combined Development Agency for Australian uranium, in view of recent developments.
– Yes, there is every justification.
– On the 21st October last, I asked the Prime Minister whether he could tell me what Australia’s national colours were. He was unable to answer my question on that occasion, but since then, I have obtained a copy of the programme for the opening of the Federal
Parliament in 1927, and I have also been informed that in that year, the Australian Government was informed by. the Imperial authorities that the Garter KingatArms had laid down that Australia’s national colours were royal blue and gold, not red, white and blue, as the right honorable gentleman had suggested. Those colours were accepted by the then Nationalist Government, led by Mr., now Lord Bruce. Will the Prime Minister investigate this statement, and if it is correct, will he see that suitable publicity is given to our national colours in order that our representatives abroad, sporting and otherwise, can be suitably equipped?
– I confess that I do not know what is meant by the expression “national colours”. I said earlier in reply to the honorable member for Yarra that I thought that our colours were red, white and blue, because they were the colours of our flag. It may be that, for certain purposes, certain colours conventionally can be regarded as representing the same country. I am very fond of the combination of green and gold.
– What about the tartan?
– A tartan is very good as long as it is mine. I can offer an infinite variety, including red and green, red and white, or black and white, according to the mood of the moment.. But what is to be done about the national colours, as if we intend to proclaim that these aire our colours, is rather beyond me. I think that there is a widespread convention, particularly in sporting circles, regarding the use of green and gold, and I must say that I find them a very agreeable combination.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Can he make, or will he have prepared for publication, a statement showing in detail the break-up of rentals charged for government cottages in Canberra? Will he have shown in respect of each £1 rent, the amount charged to interest, insurance, maintenance, sinking fund and administrative charges?
– I cannot possibly answer that question off the cuff. It is rather like the other question which the honorable member has placed on the notice-paper and which implies, I think, the existence of a complete copy of a Canberra Doomsday Book. However, I shall discuss the matter with the head of the department and with the honorable gentleman, and if there is any information that is easily available without going to a tremendous amount of expense and work, it will be made available to him.
– Now that the Minister for External Affairs has returned from his visit to Ottawa, where he attended a meeting of the Colombo plan nations, will it be possible for him to give to honorable members who are interested in the matter, an up-to-date picture of this plan and future schemes to extend its activities?
– I shall take an early opportunity, either this week, or it mayhave to be delayed until next week, to give the House a report on the meeting of the Colombo plan countries at Ottawa.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Territories. In order that honorable members may be able to read the reports of the proceedings of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, and thereby keep themselves informed- on local affairs there, will he arrange to have the Hansard reports of the debates printed much more rapidly? I point out, by way’ of explanation, that the latest Northern Territory Ilansard available is thirteen months old, although the Legislative Council has sat frequently since that time.
– I know that a more recent Hansard than that has been published, but I shall give attention to the honorable member’s request to see that copies are available as early as possible for the information of honorable members.
– Yesterday, I received from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral the following report which I lay on the table : -
Royal Commission on Espionage - Interim Report, dated 21st October, 1954.
– I ask for leave to give notice of motion for the printing of the report.
– Is leave granted?
– I want to be clear about this matter. I do not object to the right honorable gentleman’s request for leave merely because the time for the giving of notice of motions has passed. But does this mean that the right honorable gentleman is asking for leave to move his motion now? If that is so, I should object because, no doubt, with your concurrence, Mr. Speaker, copies of the report will be made available to honorable members who will desire to read it.
– I could not possibly debate the report until I had perused it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has not yet made available copies of it to honorable members. In order to initiate debate on the report, I simply ask for leave to give notice of the motion -
That the paper be printed.
– The right honorable gentleman intends to move that motion to-morrow?
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Meat Export Charge Bill 1954.
Appropriation Bill 1954-55.
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1954-55.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
New clause 6a -
Senate’s amendment, No. 1. - After clause6 insert the following clause: - “6a. Section sixty-three of the Principal
Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (2.) the words ‘is adjudicated bankrupt’ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ becomes a bankrupt’.”.
New clause 7a -
Senate’s amendment, No. 2. - After clause 7 insert the following clause: - “ 7a. Section eighty of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (4.) and inserting in its stead the following subsection: - (4.) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, where, prior to the year of income, a taxpayer has become a bankrupt, or, not having become a bankrupt, has been released from any debts by the operation of the Bankruptcy Act 1924 or that Act as amended, no loss incurred by him prior to the date on which he became a bankrupt or the date on which he was so released, as the case may be, shall be an allowable deduction.
New clause 9a -
Senate’s amendment, No. 3. - After clause 9 insert the following clause: - “ 9a. Section two hundred and twenty-one of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (6) of sub-section (1.) the words ‘the date of the order of sequestration ‘ and inserting in their stead the words’ the date on which he became a bankrupt’.”.
– I move-
That the amendmentsbe agreed to.
These clauses result from a recent decision of the High Court in a matter arising under the Bankruptcy Act. Under the Bankruptcy Act, a person becomes bankrupt upon the making of a sequestration order. These orders may be made by a court having jurisdiction in bankruptcy, but the act also provides for such orders to be made, upon a debtor’s own petition, by a registrar in bankruptcy. In the recent case of the Queen v. Davison, the High Court has held that the provisions of the Bankruptcy Act empowering a registrar to make a sequestration order are invalid as purporting, contrary to the Constitution, to confer part of the judicial power of the Commonwealth upon a person who is not a court.
The Government is giving urgent consideration to the question whether any amendment of the Bankruptcy Act is required as a result of this decision, and the form which the amendment should take. One possibility is that the Bankruptcy Act will be so amended that debtors may become bankrupt upon their own petition without any adjudication or sequestration order. If this course is adopted, the expression “is adjudicated bankrupt” in section 63 of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act will become inappropriate to some cases where debtors become bankrupt upon their own petition. Similarly, the references to persons adjudicated bankrupt and to the order of sequestration in sections 80 and 221 of the act will become inappropriate.
It is considered desirable to take the opportunity of amending the principal act by the bill so as to refer merely to the fact of a person becoming a bankruptwithout referring to the particular procedure by way of adjudication or sequestration order’ or otherwise by which he becomes a bankrupt. ‘ Honorable members should note that the amendments now proposed will be perfectly consistent with the Bankruptcy Act as it now stands as well as with that act in any form in which it is contemplated it may exist following upon any amendments that are made as a result of the recent High Court decision.
Proposed new clause 6a amends subsection (2.) of section 63 of ‘the principal act. That sub-section provides that, on the bankruptcy of a debtor to a taxpayer, the amount of his debts which have been brought to account by the taxpayer as assessable income in any year or which are in respect of money lent in the ordinary course of a money-lending business shall, to the extent that they are not recoverable, be deemed to be bad debts. The effect of proposed new clause 6a is to substitute the words “ becomes bankrupt ‘: for the words “ is adjudicated bankrupt “.
Proposed new clause 7a omits subsection (4.) of section 80 of the principal act. That sub-section provides that, on the bankruptcy of a taxpayer, losses incurred by him prior to the bankruptcy shall, be excluded from deductions otherwise allowable in respect of the losses of previous years. The proposed new subsection (4.) which is being inserted in section 80 has substantially the same effect as the sub-section which is being omitted, subject, of course, to the substitution of the words “has become bankrupt” for the words “has been adjudicated bankrupt “.
Proposed new clause 9a amends section 221 (1.) (6) (i) of the principal act. That sub-paragraph provides that, subject to specified exceptions, the trustee in a bankrupt estate shall apply that estate in payment of Commonwealth income tax in priority to all other unsecured debts. The effect of new clause 9a is to substitute the words “the date on which he became a bankrupt” for the words “ the date of the order of sequestration “. Honorable members will appreciate that the three new clauses are designed to effect drafting alterations only.
– The amendments appear to be of a machinery character and necessary for the reasons that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) has advanced. In those circumstances, the Opposition does not wish to place any obstacle in the way of their insertion in the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from the 21st October (vide page 2239), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill, on the face of it, is a very simple measure, but I object to the vagueness of some of its provisions. It will authorize the sale of meals, refreshments and other commodities, at a cafeteria at the railway station at Port Augusta, to persons travelling upon the railways. I should like to know how the person in charge of the cafeteria will be able to discriminate between travellers and other persons who may frequent the station. Considerable inroads could be made upon the business of local trades people by the new service. The bill provides that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner may sell and supply-
Meals, refreshments, smokers’ requisites and approved goods.
I understand that the term “ approved goods “ will cover all sorts of miscellaneous articles, such as magazines, newspapers, cosmetics, souvenirs and playing cards. In other words, the bill will place no limit on the variety of goods that may be sold. I consider that this is unfair to shopkeepers and others at Port Augusta, who may be subjected to unfair competition from the Commonwealth and whose livelihoods, therefore, may be adversely affected.
Naturally, I have no objection to a cafeteria being conducted at the railway station. In fact, I commend the proposal. Such a service should be looked upon as a necessity, and no doubt it will be greatly appreciated by the travelling public. However, care should be taken not to subject the business people of Port Augusta to unfair competition. I notice that the bill specifies no time limits, before and after the arrival and departure of trains, for the opening and closing of the refreshment-room. I suggest that the trading times of the cafeteria should be exactly the same as those which apply to the State railways refreshment-rooms, which open five minutes before a train arrives and close five minutes after it has departed. That would be sufficient for the serving of meals and the clearing away of dishes, and it would allow persons to finish meals, although obviously, of course, anybody having a meal five minutes after the train had left would not be a passenger.
There are nine hotels in Port Augusta, and their annual rent amounts to approximately £6,000. They are liable to rates amounting to about £600. Their licencefees total £1,200 per annum, and they employ 90 persons. Their wages bill is £46,000 per annum, and they pay about £25,000 per annum in freight charges. Thus, those hotels are responsible for the circulation of a large sum in the district each year. Furthermore, they contribute largely to the livelihood of various local tradesmen, such as butchers, bakers, grocers and builders, who are engaged periodically to carry out. renovations. This, of course, is of considerable importance to Port Augusta. I remind the House that, although the hotels are liable to rates, the Commonwealth does not pay rates, which raises another aspect of unfair competition if the liquor bar at the railways cafeteria is to remain open for long hours. The cafeteria no doubt will have the advantage of concession freight rates which, of course, are not available to hotelkeepers. I sincerely hope that the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), as the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, will agree to ask the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to limit the variety of goods to be supplied at the cafeteria.
This new undertaking should not engage. in unrestricted competition with local shops. I suggest that the terms of the bill be re-drafted in order to specify hours for the sale of liquor at the cafeteria which will be in conformity with those which apply at the railways refreshment rooms conducted by the State authorities, which operate very satisfactorily. I see no reason why the Commonwealth railways cafeteria should open for longer hours for the sale of liquor than the State railways refreshment room at Port Pirie, which is only about 60 miles from Port Augusta. I hope that the new cafeteria will not offer for sale a complete range of pharmaceutical requirements or all the articles normally sold by a newsagent. I agree that train passengers should be able to buy reading material, but there should be a limit upon the variety of goods sold at the establishment. I support the bill, subject to the objections and suggestions that I have made.
on behalf of people in his electorate, but the chief purpose of providing a refreshment room at a railway station, or a refreshment- ear on a train, is to enable meals to be served when people want them. Meals cannot always be served exactly at the time of arrival of a train at a station as trains cannot always arrive on time, and, therefore, there must be some flexibility of trading hours at the proposed cafeteria at the Port Augusta railway station. I know from my own experience on visits to Port Augusta, and from the information given to me by men employed on the railway line, that it is not always possible to obtain meals at the hotels in Port Augusta when travellers want them. Therefore, I submit that the refreshment rooms at the station should have the right to be open at all times when passengers need to be served. Travellers are entitled to obtain refreshments whenever they want them, either at stations ‘or on trains. The staff employed at the cafeteria must have time to rest, of course. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner is under an obligation to cater properly for passengers.
I have noticed when I have travelled n broad that there have been scarcely any restrictions on the sale of liquor or other refreshments on trains, and this is a source of considerable satisfaction -to travellers. I have known occasions when trains have arrived late at Port Augusta. Refreshments were not available on the trains, and it was too far for the passengers to go from the station to the hotels in order to obtain meals. In any case, hotel staffs had probably been allowed to go off duty. In such circumstances, the only places where meals can be obtained in Port Augusta are the excellent refreshment rooms in the town. In view of the growth of traffic on the north-south railway line, and the additional growth which may “be expected as a result of the change of gauge and other improvements that are being made, the Commissioner should not be unduly restricted in his efforts to provide a service to the public. I do not know his views on this matter, because I have not consulted him, but in any case I consider that the Commonwealth railways should continue to set a good example, to the State railways authorities, which ought to give more service to the public than they give at present. The States may be restricted by lack of finance, of course, but at least the Commonwealth is showing the way by the introduction of diesel locomotive services on the east-west line, which will be extended also to the northsouth line. That is the way to make modern railways profitable. Rail travellers are becoming tired of being treated as if their capacity were so limited that they were unfit to exercise the rights of the ordinary citizen. The honorable member for Grey probably investigated the freight charges and the local government rates that are paid by private businesses. Nowhere are the railways or other government concerns subject to local government rates. That is understandable, and the refreshment-rooms of the Commonwealth railways do not compete in the ordinary sense with food shops, news agencies, hotels and . other businesses in the towns. That being so, it should be made possible and practicable for train passengers to obtain food and even liquor when they want it.
Perhaps it might be as well not to give leases in the first instance for long periods. I take it that the refreshment-room at Port Augusta is the principal establishment concerned, because refreshmentrooms are conducted at Kalgoorlie by the Western Australian railways and at Port Pirie by the South Australian railways. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner should not grant a long lease until he has established by experience that a lessee is suitable for -the conduct of refreshment-rooms selling food and other commodities to rail travellers. I do not know whether the bill makes provision for the term of the lease. If a lease for a term of five or six years were given, unsatisfactory conditions might arise at the very beginning and it might be impossible to improve matters until the lease became due for renewal. I trust that leases will be restricted to reasonable terms. Subject to that requirement being met, the bill should commend itself to all honorable members, and I support it-
– Honorable members generally approve the principle of this measure, which is designed to enable the Commonwealth railways to open refreshmentrooms where they are necessary. However. 1 ask the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) to give the House an assurance that railway refreshment-rooms established by the Commonwealth railways under the authority of this bill will be conducted in accordance with the usual methods of conduct of railway refreshment-rooms at intermediate stations. I am not thinking of terminals such as those at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Port Augusta is the station that I think the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has in mind principally for the establishment i>f a refreshment-room, and I can see no objection to the establishment of a refreshmentroom there. As the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) has pointed out, the bill does not prescribe the times at which the suggested railway refreshmentrooms shall be open. We are concerned not so much about the State laws in relation to the sale of food and ordinary refreshments as about the sale of liquor, lt would be wrong for the Commonwealth railways to conduct liquor bars that would be used by persons other than train passengers. The bill authorizes the sale of refreshments, which includes alcoholic liquor, to persons “ travelling upon a railway “. The meaning of the words “ travelling upon a railway “ should be defined. My experience, when travelling by rail from Adelaide to Canberra, has been that, for example, at Ballarat, any one who has a platform ticket, if a platform ticket is necessary for admission to the platform, whether ot not he is a traveller, may obtain liquor and any other refreshments provided by the refreshmentrooms there. It will be very difficult to police the sale of liquor, and it is hardly practicable to attempt to do it by asking every customer whether he is a traveller.
I support the honorable member for Grey in seeking from the Minister au assurance, particularly in relation to the sale of liquor, that the refreshment-rooms shall not be open for unduly long periods when train passengers are not congregated at the station. I am sure that it is the Government’s intention that they shall not be open unduly. If it were otherwise, I for one, should not support the bill, because it would permit unlimited trading hours and would allow refreshment-rooms to trade in contravention df State laws relative to the supply of liquor. Provided that the bill will benefit genuine travellers and enable them to satisfy their requirements while trains are stopped at stations, I support it.
.- I feel a little surprised that my friend the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell), who is usually so tolerant and enlightened on so many subjects, should exhibit the fears that he has expressed as arising out of this very simple measure. I commend to him the observations of his colleague the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) who made very fair criticism of the objections of the honorable gentleman from Grey. So far as the fear of unfair competition with storekeepers, hotelkeepers and others in Port Augusta is concerned, I think it is right to say that the railway station at Port Augusta is about one mile from the town and its shops. We are dealing in this bill in the main with important expresses, and considering that those trains remain at Port Augusta for only a very limited time, there cannot possibly be any real competition with people in business and trade in the main part of the town of Port Augusta. I understand it to be one of the main purposes of the bill - and it is very important - to bring our railway» and their facilities up to date, as the honorable member for Maribyrnong has said, and particularly to bring them on to the plane of the accepted world standards of travel.
– More Australian wines !
– I am sure that the wine industry will be very pleased to have such support from a metropolitan member in New South Wales. All travellers, not only in this country, but also in the rest of the world, are surely agreed that hitherto our facilities have been lamentable compared with those in England, Western Europe and the United States of America.
– And in the oriental countries.
– And in Eastern Asia as well. This bill, if it is passed - and I believe it will be - will go some distance towards rectifying those anomalies and our curious old-fashioned ways in this country. At least the Commonwealth railways will set an example to the State railway systems in the provision of facilities, comforts and conveniences which for many years past have been the accepted world practice. I do not think that either the honorable member for Grey or the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) need be really alarmed about the possibility that the Commonwealth . Railways Commissioner will keep railway refreshmentrooms open for undue periods. I may be wrong, but I understand that it is the Government’s intention that the refreshment-room at Port Augusta shall not be kept open perpetually as a counter attraction to other activities in Port Augusta, but that it shall be opened a little while before ‘ and closed a little while after the arrival and departure of the expresses. But I think it is wise not to try to confine the commissioner too closely in this bill. It is much more suitable to give him a discretion which he may exercise and which it may be necessary occasionally to enlarge or .to restrict as the circumstances dictate. I should think that, so far from causing any friction with or any loss to business people in Port Augusta, those facilities will add to the amenities of that growing and increasingly prosperous town. My two honorable friends opposite who seem so fearful of the implications of the measure, would be wise to trust to the goodwill of - the Government and to the ability and integrity of the present Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, and to set their fears aside and join with honorable members on this side of the House in rejoicing at the advent of this measure.
– in reply - I do not wish to prolong the debate, but merely to clear up a point that has been raised by the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell). As the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) stated, trains arrive at Port Augusta at such a variety of times that it is impossible to fix precise opening and closing hours for the refreshment room. I assure the honorable member for
Grey that the practice that is followed by the South Australian railways will be observed, and that the refreshment room will be opened a few minutes before the train arrives and will be closed a few minutes after it leaves.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 21st October (vide page 2278), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill provides for the making of advances to various States, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, for housing purposes. It is interesting to bear in mind the fact that the agreement has one year to run. Although I support the bill, I wish to serve reasonable notice that I shall be unable to support a renewal of the agreement next year unless important and drastic alterations are made to it. As honorable members have stated, the agreement was a political expedient which was designed to make each State a universal landlord. As landlords, the States have made - and I speak more particularly about New South Wales - a sorry mess of the position. It was thought that the agreement would solve the housing problem, but after nine years the problem is as great as ever it was. In fact, the housing commission system is condemning Australia to a perpetual housing shortage. That is a state of affairs that we cannot tolerate. It is having a very serious, and almost disastrous, effect upon our family and social life.
Nothing gives a grimmer or more startling picture of life under the socialist landlord system than does the report of the New South Wales Housing Commission, which was tabled recently. At a time of unequalled prosperity and full employment, when bad debts in the commercial world have shrunk to a negligible amount, the Housing Commission is owed £90,906 for rents. Most of that sum is lost for ever. Notices to quit were served by the commission on 2,818 tenants last year. That number represents almost 1 in 11 of the commission’s tenants. The report also states that vandalism and the shocking misuse of some houses by tenants have caused great suffering to subsequent tenants. On top of that confession of failure by the New South “Wales Housing Com mission, the State Minister for Housing has had the audacity to blame this Government for his own deficiencies, and to clamour for the allocation of more money. The fact is that this Government has given the New South Wales Housing Commission too much money to waste.
The total Commonwealth allocation for housing this year is £90,000,000, which comprises an allocation of £32,000,000 to the State housing commissions, £30,000,000 for war service homes, £20,000,000 for Commonwealth Bank advances to building societies, and £8,000,000 for other Commonwealth housing commitments. I suggest that that makes a very impressive total, and that when one takes into account the amounts that are being advanced by private banking institutions, life assurance companies and similar institutions, it is as much as can safely be expended without over-taxing our labour force and supplies of material and without sending costs too high. Lack of money is not the main cause of the trouble. The weakness of our housing programme consists in waste, inefficiency, and the slowness of the State governments in their construction programmes. Such conditions exist in spite of the fact that the housing commissions have some excellent officers who are both able and conscientious. The waste is inseparable from government enterprise, and that is one of the reasons why I wish to see a departure from this system of government enterprise for the provision of houses.
Behind the stories of eviction, vandalism and absconding tenants that are contained in the report of the New South Wales Housing Commission lies a problem that the Government just cannot solve. The socialist landlord must dictate the suburb in which the tenant shall live, and the types of house that he shall occupy. Very often, ‘tenants are sent to houses that they do not like, and to suburbs in which they would not live in normal circumstances. Furthermore, as the cottage is governmentowned, the tenant seldom has any real interest in its maintenance. It is a credit to many tenants that they triumph over such disabilities and make real homes of even housing commission houses, but the fact remains that the communities that are formed as a result of the erection of housing commission houses are often ill-assorted, and in some cases there is a serious danger of the areas becoming depressed slum areas. I believe that we must get back to that state of affairs in which there is human pride in ownership.
I now refer to the question of financing the Commonwealth and State housing scheme, and the relationship that exists between the State governments and this Government. At one stage, a State Premier felt that he had an obligation to display qualities of statesmanship. Much of the early State legislation remains, and it bears testimony to the earnest effort that was made by former Premiers to leave their mark upon the history of Australia. Now that State taxing rights have been surrendered - rights which I hasten to state that no Premier seems anxious to repossess - the favorite pastime of the socialist State Premiers is to devise ways and means of hiding their funds. Then they approach this Government and complain that their financial cupboards are bare, and they ask for a more favorable allocation of taxation revenue. That is the old game of hidden surpluses, and it becomes the task of the Australian Government to hunt for the slipper and find out how much is in it. Some State Premiers are more adept at this game than others, and recently it must have disturbed the Premier of Queensland to notice that his socialist colleague, the Premier of New South Wales, had out-smarted him in the game of hiding surpluses. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) recently disclosed that the Queensland Government had £15,000,000 in cash reserves, and had an additional £10,000,000 tucked away somewhere else in consolidated Treasury bonds or other securities.
– And the Queensland Government has not spent about onethird of the amount made available to it last year for housing.
– The honorable member for Petrie has supported me by saying that the Queensland Premier has not been able to spend the amount of money that has been allocated to him by this Government for housing purposes, and yet last Thursday in this debate the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) and the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) complained- that the Commonwealth had not given sufficient money to the States for housing purposes. There is no doubt that the Premier of Queensland must be rather envious of the Premier of New South Wales, because the latter is more adept in the subtle art of hiding money than his colleague. The Premier of New South Wales is no novice in the art of budgetary manipulation to cover up funds which even the lavish socialists in New South Wales are unable to spend. Mr. Cahill has complained that he is on a starvation allowance from the Commonwealth, but on the 25th June, without the sanction of his Parliament, he transferred £1,500,000 to the New South Wales Main Roads Board, and announced that he had allocated £1,900,000 to the New South Wales_ Government Railways accounts. The significant point about that matter is that these funds were transferred at the end of the financial year, and it seems passing strange that he waited until within a few days of the end of the financial year before he made arrangements to transfer that money. Probably he made another arrangement under the lap to the effect that the amounts that the departments were to receive were to be considered as down payments on the following year’s allocation from the Commonwealth. It is also beyond coincidence that at the same time practically every New South Wales government department embarked upon a spending spree to get rid of all its funds before the end of the financial year.
At another stage, Mr. Cahill gave about £2,000,000 to the Sydney Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, in order to assist it to complete the Warragamba Dam. Of course that is a project that is well worthy of the support of any State Premier, but the fact is that the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board is a State government instrumentality which has a right to raise its own money. Indeed that board has raised money very successfully in the past. In September last it floated a loan of £2,500,000, which was fully subscribed. The arrangement which the bighearted Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales made was no doubt along these lines- “Here is £2,000,000 which I cannot spend. You use it and return it later “. Therefore, the Premier has another £2,000,000 which will be returned, and it is obvious that if he has £1,000,000 here, £2,000,000 there, and. £1,000,000 somewhere else, his hidden reserves amount to a very large sum of money. Despite the fact that Mr. Cahill always cries poor mouth, his treasury is far from empty. Of course, nobody could cavil at the action of any State Premier if, in prosperous times of buoyant revenue, he takes prudent steps to ensure against a time of falling revenues. But, when a State premier encourages his departments to embark upon a spending spree to get rid of surplus money, he must invite the criticism of all long-suffering taxpayers.
Despite this prodigal spending, there is a substantial surplus in the New South Wales treasury, and the Leader of the New South Wales Opposition, Mr. Robson, made a conservative estimate that the New South Wales Government, even after its orgy of spending, has a surplus of- £7,000,000. For my part, I believe that the surplus is far more than that. It is idle for honorable members opposite to say that had the Commonwealth provided more funds New South Wales and Queensland would have had more houses, because, quite obviously, the necessary funds were available to New South Wales and Queensland for housing if those States had desired to devote them to that purpose. There was formerly a Minister for Housing in New South Wales. He was one who at least displayed some originality in making excuses for laying innumerable foundation stones on unfinished projects throughout the State. But he was removed from office, and did not display the family tendencies to hold tenaciously on to office. His successor, a Mr. McGrath, shows neither originality nor common political justice, when he complains that had he been given more funds he would have had a better tale to tell about housing in New South Wales. Even admitting that housing may fall within the provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, if Mr. Cahill and Mr. McGrath felt so disturbed about housing in New South Wales, some of the existing surpluses from their funds may have been allocated to relieving the housing position in that State.
– The New South Wales Government could have lent some money out of its surplus funds to the cooperative housing societies.
– That is so, and no doubt those societies would have been very glad of it. However, somebody has to pay for the luxury of socialism. The New South Wales Government complains that it needs money for essential services such as hospitals and homes for the people, but recently it found £13,000,000 to nationalize the efficient Balmain Electric Supply Company, which was giving its consumers one of the best and cheapest electrical services in New .South Wales. It was the same New South Wales Government, with Mr. Cahill as Minister for Works, which established the Government tile works in my electorate. That project was estimated by the Labour Government in New South Wales to cost about £100,000, but £750,000 was poured into that socialistic failure before the New South Wales Government finally handed it over to a private company. Now, that former socialistic failure is making profits under private management. That leads me to the point that the sooner the State governments get out of full-scale operations in the housing business and allow private enterprise to play its full part, the sooner we shall do something definite towards the task of providing homes for the people at a reasonable cost.
About twelve months ago I informed honorable members how very many more houses could be provided much more cheaply by channelling, some of the Commonwealth housing money into free enterprise. It was shown in Great Britain, in New Zealand, and, when the method was tried, in Australia, that if houses were erected in big groups of different designs, but controlled by the one builder, they could be built much more cheaply. Since the time I made my statement, there has been a striking confirmation of the value of that method of building by the New South Wales Housing Commission, which has used it extensively and found it a big improvement on older techniques. I have no doubt that technical officers of the New South Wales Housing Commission do their best to obtain proper efficiency in using this and other methods, but they are hopelessly hampered by the red tape and political interference which is inseparable from government departments, especially our State Labour Government departments. The officers of the New South Wales Housing Commission have proved again and again the validity of the method that I suggested, but anything that they can do in that respect private enterprise can do much better. It is time that we cut through all this governmental red tape. The people want houses, and socialistic methods have failed to provide them.. For my part, as I have indicated, I can support these methods no longer.
There are row upon row of housing commission homes in some suburbs in my electorate and the turnover of tenants is sometimes most disturbing. The people remain in the cottages for only a few months, and sometimes only a few weeks, and then they leave, and frequently go back to the depressing areas and housing settlements. That fact speaks for itself. Circumstances quite frequently make people remain in State housing commission homes. Private enterprise can provide a purchaser with a home of his own choice in a location which suits him. Furthermore, he can see sample houses already erected, so he actually knows the type of place that he is to get. This private group housing has shown that it can provide houses quickly, and save several hundreds of pounds in the cost of each of them. However, lack of finance for the purchasers is the obstacle. Whilst the central bank has a stranglehold on the banking system, this is greatly limiting the operation of the scheme.
The Commonwealth is to provide £32,000,000 in this financial year for housing, and I feel that in order to overcome this problem of finance in the future, moneys from Commonwealth sources should be allocated to private purchasers of approved group homes, or homes erected by private enterprise, instead of to housing commissions. It could be insisted that the price, design and location of houses could be approved in advance by the Commonwealth, so that we could be sure that the public would really get a better deal. We have the machinery for this finance in cooperative building societies. Another method could also be used, and I think that it would function at least as well. That method is for the Commonwealth to make loans direct to home purchasers, using the facilities of the private banking system for supervision. The staffs of those banks have the ability to manage such a project successfully, and they are thoroughly trustworthy. The private banks have branches throughout the Commonwealth.
There is one other very important activity of the community which would benefit by this change, and that is local government. At present, many of the, most rapidly-growing areas in Australia are landlocked by the various housing commissions, which have acquired large areas of most valuable residential land, for which they will have no purpose for many years to come. Those housing commissions pay no rates to the local authorities until the houses have actually been erected and let. That stage of development, in some cases, may not be reached for many years. The councils in these expanding areas - I have seen some of them in my own electorate of Mitchell - are just the ones which are most in need of money, and the situation is desperate for them. A reallocation of finance, in the manner I have suggested, would mean that the Commonwealth would make finance available direct to private enterprise builders or to individuals themselves, and housing commissions could sell the land which they already possess to those persons engaged in the group projects or who are entering building schemes. Private citizens would be obliged to pay rates from the time they received the title to the land.
The creation of the various housing commissions, particularly in New South Wales, has bee% a costly socialistic experiment. It has been proved over and over again in New South Wales that a government department lacks the adaptability to handle home building. New South Wales has failed to provide sufficient homes at a reasonable cost. I certainly believe that the department should remain as an organization to carry out welfare building, and relieve the situation in the slum areas, but it should vacate the field of competitive building. I believe that the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), who is sitting at the table will agree, that the socialistic experiment has been tried and failed.
– I entirely disagree with that statement.
– This socialistic experiment has been in existence for nine years, and I for one welcome the approaching -end of this costly experiment. It has given us fewer homes than we need at a cost far greater than the community can afford to pay. Let the honorable member for Blaxland disagree with that statement!
– I disagree with it.
– Then the honorable member must be thinking about trains. This experiment has not solved the housing problem, and it is high time the whole agreement came under complete review. I hope that it will be thoroughly reviewed next year.
There is a crying need for a fairer deal to emerge in which private enterprise can be given an opportunity to solve the problems. There remains, and always will remain, a section of the community who prefer to rent homes rather than own them. By a system of rigid rent control, upon which the honorable member for Bennelong dwelt in his speech last Thursday evening, the New South Wales Government has driven from the industry those persons who would be disposed to build bouses as a renting proposition. The result is that the State has become the landlord, and, basing the rental as it does on the income coming into the home, it penalizes many worthy sections of the community. The other class that I have in mind consists of those people who now occupy State housing commission homes, and would like to purchase them. Here again, decisions on the prices at which those houses should be sold have bogged down in departmental red tape. I realize that these matters are now in the process of negotiation between Commonwealth and State departments, and I hope that a happy solution will be found to the problems. I support the bill because it provides the annual grant to the housing commissions of the States, yet I believe that I have the support of other honorable members on this side of the House at any rate-
Government Members. - Hear, hear!
– Perhaps honorable gentlemen had better wait till they hear what I have to say. I await the end of the agreement with the hope that a much fairer arrangement will be made when the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement comes up for review, as it will, next year. I repeat that, at that time, I cannot and will not support a continuance of the present socialistic agreement.
.- The purpose of this bill is to authorize the raising of moneys to be advanced to the States for housing purposes and provision is made for authority to borrow £32,000,000 on that account. The Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), when he moved the motion for the second reading of the bill, announced that the allocation for housing in this financial year would be £5,200,000 less than the allocation last year. That statement must have been received with great concern by the many people who desire to get houses from the housing commissions of the respective States. Since that announcement was made, I have heard the speeches of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) and the honorable member for
Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), and I am sure that their views must have struck terror into the hearts and minds of young people throughout the Commonwealth who are looking forward to getting married in the near future, young married couples who are still living in back rooms, garages and sheds, and others who are sharing houses with relations. Those persons can now see that rank-and-file members of the Liberal party are determined that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement shall be destroyed.
Honorable members opposite ask, in effect, “ Why not allow private enterprise to enter the home-building field ? “ I am one of those persons who believe that private enterprise has a place in many activities in this society, and I ask members of the Liberal party to inform me how private enterprise is stopped from entering the field of housing. Private enterprise can build dwellings to-day. But honorable members opposite are keenly interested in the returns from home building. They wish to have the right to exploit unfortunate people who have not got homes. I remind them that a person who builds a cottage as an investment can get 5 per cent, clear on his capital, plus all his expenses for repairs, administration and rates, and that the unearned increment in the increased value of the property becomes his own, and that is in addition to the return of 5 per cent, on his capital investment. But such a return is not sufficient to suit members of the Liberal party. They wish to have the right to exploit the unfortunate people who have no homes.
The honorable member for Bennelong claims to be an authority on housing matters in New South Wales. He stated that I, as Minister for Works and Housing in the Chifley Labour Government, introduced the legislation which brought into existence the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I regret that I did not have that honour. The act was proclaimed shortly before I had the honour to become the Minister for Works and Housing, but I had the honour to administer it for three years. That act has been responsible for making 68,773 houses available to women and children who urgently needed shelter.
They had hitherto lived in the slums, or in dwellings which were falling down. Yet the honorable member for Bennelong has described the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement as a diabolical arrangement. I inform him that the agreement was not brought into existence in an endeavour to solve the housing problem, or to act as a competitor with private investment in respect of housing. We used the agreement as a check to ensure that people who invested in real estate would not he able to exploit unfortunate persons who were compelled to rent homes, as landlords had exploited’ that type of person in pre-war years. The agreement was also brought into existence to endeavour to give shelter to many of those unfortunate people who were unable to purchase homes.
I must point out that the honorable member for Mitchell was guilty of some mixed thinking in his speech. He said that if the money were made available to private enterprise in preference to State housing authorities, more homes would be built. A few days ago, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who is a member of the first eleven of the Cabinet, and not one of its minor teams, made the statement’ in his capacity as Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service that there was no lack of finance for home-building. Mr. Duncan, who is the president of the Real Estate Association in New South Wales, commented that it was strange that the Minister should know so little about the subject. The honorable member for Bennelong is a member of the Real Estate Association, which is certainly not a supporter of the Labour party. I also detect a difference of opinion between the honorable member for Mitchell and Mr. Duncan. The honorable member for Mitchell has said that the housing agreement is a socialistic scheme. If it is, I am proud of it. Anyscheme which gives shelter to 68,000 families is a scheme of which Australia should be proud. If this is a shocking socialistic scheme, why is the Liberal Premier of South Australia a party to it ? Why was the former Liberal Premier of Western Australia, Sir Ross McLarty, a party to a socialist scheme? Due to the wisdom of the people of that State, he is no longer in office. The Hollway Government, and its predecessor in Victoria, were also parties to the scheme. Why did that Government become a partner in that so-called socialistic scheme? It did so because the scheme was soundly based and was worthy of its support.
– The Australian Labour party in Victoria always had Mr. Dunstan on its side.
– The Minister would know more about that matter than I do, but he will admit that the Australian Labour party never had the Hollway Government in Victoria on its side; and, incidentally, the Minister, himself, was a member of that Government. When he was Minister for Railways he visited England and against the advice of his departmental officers purchased prefabricated houses of such a standard as caused his own leader to refuse to have anything to do with the transaction. Indeed, at that time the Minister approached Mr. Chifley who was then Prime Minister and asked that Victoria be relieved of its contract under this agreement which he described as a “ crying baby “.
– At no time did 1 ask that Victoria be relieved of its undertaking under this agreement.
– Victoria made a bad contract in this respect because the houses when they are finished, if ever they are finished, will cost from £600 to £T00 more than the cost of other houses that were built at that time in Victoria. The Minister was a very strong and willing party to this supposedly socialist scheme which was initiated by the Chifley Government as part of a post-war housing programme.
The honorable member for Mitchell declared that this Government favours home ownership. He said that it was only last year that the Australian Labour party came out as a supporter of that policy. I have in my hand a letter which I drafted when I was Minister for Works and Housing and sent to Mr. Chifley for his signature. It clearly set out that the Chifley Government was anxious to arrive at conditions for the sale to tenants of houses under this agreement. It also pointed out that the spirit of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was not being observed. Consequently, the Chifley Government proposed, as one of the principles to be observed in the sale of houses under the agreement, that credit against the purchase price be given to tenantpurchasers, who had paid the full economic rent, for the amortization component of rent actually paid in cash by them in respect of the houses being sold. That was the first time in the history of this country that a scheme of that kind was implemented. That proposal meant that other components of the economic rent were to be covered by the cash rent payments before any amortization was considered to have been paid. The tenant was required to have paid the full econnomic rent throughout the period of his tenancy before he would be credited with any amortization. ‘ If he paid the full economic rental, his proportion of amortization would be allowed as a credit and would be made available to him as a part of the purchase price of his home if he decided to purchase it. That proposal was set out in a letter which Mr. Chifley sent to all the State Premiers in which he asked them to endeavour to arrive at a basis of agreement in order to give to tenants the right to .purchase their homes. What has been the cause of the hold-up in respect of this matter in recent years ? Unfortunately, due to the wisdom, or otherwise, of the people, the Chifley Government was defeated in 1949. Since that time, what has this Government done to make available greater assistance to tenants to purchase their homes? It has demanded, in each instance in which a house is sold, that the State must pay cash on the nail the full price of the house. This Government did not even agree to negotiate with the States in respect of the sale of any house constructed under this agreement. That is the approach of members of the Liberal party to this matter to-day. Yet, honorable members opposite say that they favour the people owning their homes.
The present Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), during the general election campaign in 1949, stated in a feature article in the Sydney Daily’
Telegraph that houses were far too dear and that one could not expect the working people, the toilers, to be able to afford to purchase their homes. He declared that if the present Government parties were returned to office at that time, their Government would subsidize the purchase of houses. Let us see what this Government has actually done since it assumed office in 1949. The first report on housing that was presented to th, Parliament showed that in New South Wales in 1949-50 the cost of an average house of twelve and a half squares was £1,822 but the department in its annual report for the year 1953-54, approximately five years later, stated that the cost of the average house of that size was £2,755, an increase of £833. Yet, honorable members opposite, in 1949, declared that houses were too dear for the toilers to purchase them. In 1-949-50, in Western Australia, a house of the same size cos; £1,769 whereas the price of a similar house to-day is £2,922, an increase of £1,150. But not satisfied with the increase of costs this Government also increased the rate of interest from 3$ per cent, to 4£ per cent. In order to build a house of twelve squares and buy land a person would require a loan of approximately £3,000 and that increase in the rate of interest in respect of that sum represents an increase of 5s. 2d. a week in repayments of the loan over a period of 30 years. That increase is equivalent to £13 18s. 8d. a year, so that the total increase over the period of 30 years in the cost of a house in respect of interest alone would be £403. This Government loaded home-purchasers with that burden. Yet, honorable members opposite say that they desire to see as many persons as possible own their homes. Adding the increase in cost and the increase in the interest rate, the position in New South Wales is that it costs £1,336 more to-day to buy a house than it cost in 1949. In 1949, for the present cost a person could have purchased a house of twelve and a half squares and a Humber Super Snipe motor car as well. In Western Australia, the position is worse, because for the cost of n house to-day in that State, which has increased by £1,553, a person in 1949 could have purchased a house and a Jaguar motor car as well. What humbugs honorable members are when they say that this Government wants the people to own their own homes ! Yet, in 1949, they promised that if returned to office they would subsidize the purchase of houses because the cost at that time was too high for the workers to afford. I have taken the figures that I have cited from departmental reports that have been presented to the Parliament. Consequently, honorable members opposite cannot question their accuracy.
The honorable member for Mitchell said that the Government favoured project building, as though that was something new in this country. Project building was introduced in 1948 under the War Service Homes Act, and every housing authority has engaged in such construction under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Possibly, Vandyke Brothers Proprietary Limited is the best illustration of an organization that engaged in project building. What happened to that organization? As a result of this Government’s horror budget and the restrictions that it placed upon finance, every housing authority in. this country found itself unable to let further contracts for housing. Yet, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said that such financial restrictions were imposed in order to pump dirty water out of the economy. As a result of such restrictions, Vandyke Brothers Proprietary Limited was forced to close down its works and the plant and machinery of that company, which was one of the finest house construction organizations in the southern hemisphere, has now .been scattered throughout the Commonwealth. This . Government owes it to the people to declare that it will not permit finance to be a deterrent ‘m the construction of houses, and that the only deterrent that it will permit will be the physical capacity of industry to produce materials to meet the demand for houses. Labour enunciated that policy in 1948 when the Chifley Government initiated the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, and Labour will again enunciate that policy when it is returned to office in the future.
.- The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) is living in the past. He harked back to 1948? the so-called Chifley golden age. Certain comparisons may well be drawn with respect to housing between the position that existed at that time and the position that exists to-day. For example, in 1948, when the honorable member propounded the magnificent scheme to which he has referred, 43,000 houses were built in this country whereas in 1953-54 that number increased to 75,000 houses, an increase of almost 100 per cent. The honorable member said that this Government has not encouraged home ownership. There is a complete (refutation of that argument in the latest statistical bulletin. In 1953-54, £193,092,000 was spent on the building of homes in Australia. We are asked in this bill to vote £32,000,000 for all the housing commissions of Australia. Honorable members will see that this represents a very small proportion of the total amount spent on houses in 1953-54. Obviously, upon the irrefutable figures published in official documents, the overwhelming bulk of the homes built in Australia have been built by home owners, which the honorable member for St. George proved, to his own satisfaction, could not be done. The fact, of course, is that it has-been done.
The honorable member referred nostalgically to the closing down of a prefabrication factory. The idea of prefabricated houses was a magnificent one immediately after World War II. Numbers pf these places - and horrible looking fowl houses they appeared to be - were built in England in order to cover bombed sites, and it was thought that that would provide the solution to our problem here. That may have been so in theory, but the facts are that prefabricated homes, first of all, have never appealed to the people of Australia, and, secondly, have proved to be more expensive than houses of the conventional type. This idea is an exploded one, but the honorable member for St. George apparently still lives in the golden age of 1948, when the number of houses built was only half the number being built to-day.
Now I pass to the major theme that I wish to advance. The first question that I seek to answer is whether there is a shortage of homes in Australia or not.
– The honorable member should be able to make up his mind on that point without difficulty.
– “Well, let us have a look at the- facts. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) proved, to his own satisfaction, that there was a shortage of some hundreds of thousands of homes in Australia. Well, I have been at some pains to learn whether there is any reliable information upon which we can assess the shortage of homes, if there is such a shortage, and I have found that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has estimated that the annual current requirement of houses is 60,000. Last year, 75,000 houses were built, so that there were 15,000 to overtake the back-lag, whatever that back-lag may be. I took particular pains to inquire whether the figure of 60,000 had been plucked from the air, which’ I believe was the method adopted by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to obtain the figures that he used.
– No. I used figures provided by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) when he was Minister for National Development.
– That was some time ago. I do not know what the situation was then. Let us deal with it on the basis on which the present Minister for National Development came to the conclusion that 60,000 houses a year would meet current requirements. [Quorum formed.) ‘ I was pointing out, to the discomfiture of honorable members opposite, the basis on which the Minister for National Development arrived at the conclusion that 60,000 houses a year would be sufficient to meet Australia’s current requirements. First of all, he took the annual number of marriages and deaths; secondly, he took the number of immigrants entering the country each year; thirdly, he took an estimate of the number of homes that were demolished or otherwise became uninhabitable. Here we are dealing with something that is on a firm foundation. It rests on rock-bottom, not on shifting sands. These figures have not been plucked out of the air. They are precise and definite. Therefore, the House and the people can accept the estimate of 60,000 as a reasonable calculation.
– Will the honorable member specify the figures on which it is based - the statistics in relation to immigration, marriages, and the number of houses becoming vacant?
– I have not those figures here, but any honorable member can find them. I think the number of marriages was about ‘ 40,000 a year. I cannot recall the exact number. The number of immigrants can be easily ascertained. If the honorable member wishes to challenge the figures, let him examine the actual statistics.
– The honorable member should produce evidence to support his statements.
– I have merely explained the principle on which the calculation was made. The figures can be verified in detail by any honorable member.
It is possible to add together the numbers of applicants for housing commission homes who have not been satisfied. It may be possible to make some estimate, though I cannot find anybody who can do so, of the number of applicants for building society homes. It may be possible to ascertain how many unsatisfied applicants there are for war service homes and for assistance from the Commonwealth Bank, the Rural Bank of New South Wales, and so forth. However, obviously there is a great deal of overlapping. People apply in more than one quarter, and, when they obtain homes, they often allow their names to remain on the various lists. Therefore, I suggest, figures of that kind are completely unreliable, even where they exist. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) recently pointed out that the ratio of homes to the population in Australia was more favorable than in almost every country of Europe and America. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) also remarked in his speech last week that, as a result of the operation of landlord and tenant laws, we have a great deal of vacant space in existing homes that is allowed to remain vacant because such laws make it undesirable for the owners to fill the space. Thus, the housing position in Australia is, in fact, very good indeed, and the improvement that has been made since this Government has been in office is remarkable. As I said at the outset, we are now building houses at’ the rate of 75,000 a year, as against 43,000 a year in the golden age of 1948.
Nevertheless, as I want to be fair in this matter, I point out that I have come to the same conclusion as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who has said that there is still a shortage of homes. I do not admit for a moment that the fantastic figure that he mentioned is anywhere near the mark. That figure was put forward only for party political purposes, and I am not speaking from a party political point of view. However, for reasons other than those which motivated the honorable member, I have come to the conclusion that there is a shortage of homes, though not a great shortage, in Australia. The practical problem for honorable members to address their minds to, therefore, is that of the best method by which the shortage can b’e overcome. Perhaps too little has been said on this subject during the course of the debate. There are three factors that affect the building of homes. . The first is thu labour force, the second is the supply of materials, and the third is the availability of money for building enterprise. We cannot build homes unless all of these factors are favorable. It has been the practice of honorable members opposite to suggest that the sole reason why more homes are not built is that not enough money has been made available. I do not believe that honorable members opposite are so stupid as not to know that this is a fallacious argument, and I presume that they advance it for political reasons rather than because they believe it.
Let us deal with these factors one by one. In 1948, to take the labour force first, we had 9S,052 building workers. That is the figure stated in the official statistical bulletin. By 1954, the number had risen to 107,795, which represents an increase of nearly 10 per cent. That is only a very small increase. In fact, the number of bricklayers had declined, which is understandable. There were also fewer electricians. The number of plumbers had increased by only 5 per cent. - less than the overall percentage increase of the number of building workers. These figures point to a shortage generally in the labour force and, in particular, in certain categories. First, I suggest that a remedy lies in the course of action that the Government proposes to take. As the Minister for Immigration stated recently, an attempt is being made to bring building tradesmen from overseas. Of course, such men are needed in their own countries and, although some success may be expected in that field, it will not be a very great success. However, the method is worth trying, and it is being tried. Secondly, I suggest that it is most important that restrictive practices in the building trades should be eliminated. At present, for example, it is possible to have only so many apprentices to so many tradesmen. No doubt restrictive practices are employed by both capital and labour, but they ought to be dealt with, and an approach should be made to the appropriate tribunals with the object of eliminating them. Thirdly, I suggest also that there is a case for the revision of building standards. Eminent, capable and practical architects in Australia have declared that the rules laid down by local governing bodies and other authorities in relation to building standards can be altered in such a way as to make building materials go further without at- the same time lowering standards from any important point of view..
Fourthly, I suggest there is a case for the encouragement of owner-building. Owner-builders made a tremendous contribution to our housing programme immediately after World War II., and it is astonishing to learn, even according to the most recent statistics, -which cover the quarter to the 30th June, 1954, that almost 30 per cent, of the homes ‘ that were built in 1953-54 were built by owner-builders. I do not suggest, of course, that these people did the work entirely with their own hands. Many of them let out contracts to subcontractors, but a lot of them did the job- with, their own. hands and in their own spare time. We have to remember that, if there is a shortage of building labour, nevertheless many practical men who need homes have a lot of spare time on their hands, thanks to the 40-hour week. The problem is one of utilizing that spare time. If we cannot bring in more men to assist in this field, at least we can offer inducements to encourage the use of the spare time that those who need homes have available.
In a country which needs development as Australia does, we cannot afford to lose all the labour and time that might be made available. Therefore, first, I suggest that the labour force is inadequate. Secondly, I suggest various means by which that problem can be tackled. I come now to the question of the supply of materials. I have no doubt that the manufacturers of building materials are more impressed by the figures that were cited by the Minister for National Development than by the figures that were advanced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Being prudent men, they must realize that the backlag in housing is being overtaken. It might not be completely overtaken for five or ten years, and, from the human or social point of view the delay will be too long. But from the point of view of the manufacturer, if he sees that current needs are being met already and that the backlag is being overtaken with building commitments at the present rate, he must be very chary about installing additional plant to increase the supply of materials. Caution on his part would be only prudent, and we must not blame people for acting in that way in their own affairs. I suggest that although that inference may be drawn and may have had its effect upon the supply of building materials, there is a part for governments to play by guaranteeing, as a matter of policy - and I see no reason why this should not be done by all governments, of whatever political colour - that the job of slum clearance shall be proceeded with when the backlag in home-building is overtaken, as assuredly it will be overtaken within a’ limited time. I see no reason why such a guarantee should not be given if we want to increase our hous ing output, if such an increase involves a greater supply of building materials, and if manufacturers, for the reasons that I have advanced, are reluctant to extend their plants. If governments, as part of an overall housing plan, would give that guarantee, manufacturers would have an inducement to install additional plant.
Hitherto, of course, we have concentrated almost entirely on housing, which has been the greatest social problem. Government offices, schools, hospitals and factories, all of which are required in large numbers, have not been built because we have felt that the maximum proportion of the available labour and materials should be devoted to home construction. Consequently, although in the last twelve months there has been a spurt in the construction of buildings other than homes, the bare minimum of that type of work has been done. It is clear that, even though we may within the foreseeable’ future overtake the lag in housing, slum clearance and the construction of buildings other than houses offer plenty of work for building tradesmen and a large market for building materials. If there is any ‘ further question that governments can resolve, it may well be in relation to depreciation allowances on the plant of the manufacturers of building materials. It may be that depreciation allowances should be generous, if it is found that manufacturers are reluctant to increase the capacity of their plants. I hold no brief for the manufacturers, and I am. speaking purely about the common-sense aspects of the matter.
I now pass to the third factor - money supplies. I have mentioned so far the supply of labour and the supply of materials. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which, I have no doubt, would have been expanded and would have occupied a much more important place had a Labour government been in office in Canberra since 1949. was designed to raise finance for housing by way of government loans, and that finance was to he made available to instrumentalities of the States. Some inducement for people to invest their money in loans must be offered. Opposition members have claimed that interest rates are very high, but most investors would regard the interest rates on government loans as very low compared with the returns from other investments. As a consequence, it has been difficult to raise all the loans that we “ require. I suspect that had the honorable member for St. George had his way in the last few years, the inducement to people to lend money to the Government to advance for building purposes would have been even less. The greatest source of money for home building is the thrift of people who want to own their own homes. If it is difficult to obtain finance for home building, the best thing to do is to harness the most powerful motives for thrift, and I know of no more powerful motive than the desire of a person to own his own home. If we persist with a system under which we seek money from the public by way of government loans and lend that money to State housing authorities, assuredly we shall not get as much finance as we would’ obtain under a scheme of home-ownership that would harness the thrift of the individual.
Although, in the current financial year, £32,000,000 is to be made available to government housing -authorities, from this point of view as well as from other viewpoints that have been mentioned in this debate, it would be desirable to switch three-quarters of the funds now made available to the housing authorities to building societies, to the Commonwealth Bank and to other organizations, which could retail that money, so to speak, to people who want to build their own homes and are prepared, by exercising thrift, to purchase them by weekly instalments. I have not lightly suggested the proportion of threequarters. An examination of the most recent report of the New- South Wales Housing Commission, which I assume to be fairly typical of the housing authorities of the other States, shows that in the financial year 1953-54 rebates of rent totalling £170,074 were granted to 7,730 tenants. Up to the 30th June, 1954, the housing commission owned and rented 30,525 permanent homes. It will be seen, therefore, that rebates were granted to approximately one-quarter of the tenants. What can be inferred from that fact? We may infer that approximately three-quarters of the tenants of housing commission homes in New South Wales are paying the full economic rent. If they are paying the full economic rent, it would probably not be difficult for most of those who are now housed by the housing commission to pay the necessary instalments to building societies for the purpose of acquiring their own homes. I am aware, of course, that there is always a need for rented homes as well. People whose occupation takes them from time to time to various parts of the State and to other States do not want to buy their own homes. But that is a matter for amendment of the landlord and tenant legislation so as to make homes that become vacant available for rent to new tenants. As persons in rented accommodation who wish to acquire their own homes are given the opportunity to obtain them, they will move out of the rented accommodation, which will become available for new tenants, if the landlord and tenant legislation is suitably amended.
I believe that I have given a fairly well-reasoned account of the existing housing situation. I have made the point that there is a shortage of homes, but not a great shortage, and that it is being overcome. I have urged that more be done to overtake the building lag, although much has already been done, in particular, because I believe that we must bring immigrants to this country to increase our population if we are to hold and defend Australia. If we are to attract immigrants at a time when Europe is becoming increasingly prosperous and Europeans are less willing to come to Australia than they have been in recent years, we must make it particularly easy for them to obtain homes on their arrival here. Those facts involve a consideration of the supply of labour, material and finance, and I have advanced what I consider to be practical and constructive proposals in relation to each of those factors. Finally, I have suggested that perhaps three-quarters of the funds that are now made available to government housing authorities should be switched to -building societies and similar bodies. Special considerations may apply to particular States, such as South Australia, and the organization adopted should be flexible enough to take “those special considerations into account. 1 do not suggest the complete elimination of government housing authorities. They have to perform a function to which they should have been restricted from the beginning? - slum clearance and the provision of homes for people who cannot afford to acquire their own houses. There will always be widows with children and many other unfortunate people whose income is so low that they can never own their own homes. Though I use the word “ many “, I believe that the number is not as great as honorable members opposite would suggest. Since the war there has been a tremendous shift in the balance of income in favour of the so-called workers. Every one in Australia is a worker. I know of no leisured class. The so-called workers have much greater incomes in real terms and in relation to other members of the community than they had before the war. They are in a much better position to own their own homes than they were before 1939. Though there is a job for government housing authorities to do in relation to slum clearance and the housing of people who can never buy their own homes, nevertheless, we have reached a stage at which the balance between construction by government housing authorities and by other instrumentalities that encourage home-ownership must be radically altered. Even if the action taken in 1948 was valid then and for some years afterwards, times have changed. The honorable member for St. George is obviously living in the past in a golden age that we have since discovered was not a golden age in reality, and he is harking back to considerations that are not relevant to-day, however relevant they might have been in 1948. I trust that this will be the last occasion on which the Parliament will be asked to vote a sum such as that proposed to be voted in this measure for the housing authorities of the State governments. I trust also that next year the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will be no more and that the balance between government and private building will have been better adapted to modern conditions.
.- The house is debating a bill that purports to make finance available to five of the six Australian States pursuant to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement of 1945. I use the word “ purports “ because the bill does not in fact make available to the States collectively or individually the amounts to which they are entitled under the agreement. The agreement was initiated by the Chifley Government - a socialist government. It was an agreement between a socialist Australian government and six State governments, some socialist and some capitalist. For five years, under the administration of the Chifley Government, the agreement was honoured. On this occasion, for the fifth time in succession, this Government is asking the Parliament to give statutory force to a breach of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The tenor of the remarks of various government supporters who have spoken in this debate, without exception, has been to condemn the agreement. They are very reluctant dragons. They give away money under the agreement only because they realize that public opinion demands it.
The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) tried to justify the statement of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) by stating that the levelling off, to use the Minister’s disastrous words, of home construction in Australia at 75,000 houses a year was perfectly adequate to meet Australia’s needs. The honorable member stated that 60,000 houses a year were enough to cater for people who wanted new houses, the other 15,000 being sufficient to provide replacements. He based his calculations on the assumption that there are 40,000 marriages ‘ in Australia each year. There are over 30,000 more marriages than that each year. The Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics shows that in the year 1953 there were 70,640 marriages in Australia ; in 1952, 74,172; in 1951, 77,298; and, in 1950, 75,599.
– How many deaths were there?
– The honorable member asks how many deaths there were. The number of deaths was slightly higher than the number of marriages, which means that nearly twice as many people are getting married as there are houses becoming vacant as the result of deaths, because a house does not become vacant until after the death of both parties to a marriage. The fact that there is a death does not mean that a house becomes vacant. The number of houses that become vacant as the result of deaths is only half the number of deaths.
Mr. Wight interjecting,
– The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) interjects. I suppose he is obliged to do so, because he sought to verify, with all the force at his command, the statement of the honorable member for Bradfield that there are only 40,000 marriages in Australia each year. I have obtained the complete figures from the publications of the Commonwealth Statistician, and it seems that, although the number of marriages in Australia in each of the last four years has fallen, it still remains at over 70,000 a year. The Opposition believes that, when people marry, they ought to be able to obtain separate accommodation for themselves. It suits the couple better, and it suits the country better. I do not wish to be unduly sentimental about the matter, but it is a well-known fact that people are more likely to have children if they have their own houses. L’f they cannot obtain houses in the early days of marriage, -the prospect of their having children is reduced proportionately.
Mr. Cramer interjecting,
– It is all right for the honorable member who is past childbearing to interject, but there are people on this side of the House who are still in the prime of life and who, if adequate houses were provided, would beget good Australians. The Australian Labour party makes no apology for having introduced the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which is the most positive and practical measure that has ever been adopted to house the people if Australia. There are always in the community people, such as teachers and employees of government departments whose jobs require them to move about the country during their earning life, and persons whose earning capacity has been reduced as a result of bereavement or accident, who require premise? for rental. To the end of the financial year 1953-54j 68,773 houses had been built under the agreement. Honorable members should not belittle the agreement. Furthermore, at the end of that year, another 10,000 houses were in the course of construction. The pity is that no more houses had been erected, and that no more houses were then under construction. If the Government, during the five years in which it introduced similar legislation, had carried out the terms of the agreement, more houses would have been completed, more houses would be under construction, the Australian people would be better housed, there would be more- harmony in the family units, and probably there would have been greater procreation.
The main speaker on behalf of the Government was none other than the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). This is the fifth occasion on. which, during his sojourn in the House, he has made, in relation to this subject, a speech full of sound and fury signifying nothing. The honorable member is representative of the real estate agents, the realtors and the real estate lobbyists. Nothing in th, record of the Chifley Government has irked that group of people more than tho Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. They have realized that, when the State’ housing commissions and trusts acquire land, they acquire it by resumption and not by going to estate ‘ agents and letting them have commission on the transfer of it. They realize, secondly, that the rent from those houses that are built is collected by the housing commissions and trusts and not by t-he real estate agents themselves. When such houses are built and tenanted, those people suffer. Not only have the residents of such houses benefited under the agreement, but also a great number of other people in the community. There is not a suburb in an Australian capital city, and there is scarcely an Australian country town, that has not been given new life as a result of the erection of house.under the agreement. There are very fewtraders and shopkeepers in those suburbs and towns who have not found prosperity. or new prosperity, as a result of the occupation of such houses.
Although the Opposition does not state that the agreement is perfect, it states that at least the agreement was a step in the right direction. It is a step that was taken by the United Kingdom during, and after, World War I., but it was not until there was a Labour government with a majority in both Houses of the Australian Parliament, and until the Labour party was in office in some of the States, that public housing was provided in this country. It ill behoves supporters of the Government who were responsible for the state of affairs during the depression when there was as great a need for housing in Australia as there has even been, when there were as many spare materials for the building of houses as there have ever been, and when there was a greater number of building workers than ever before available to build houses, to criticize the measures that were adopted by the Labour Government. The housing legacy of these people was the “Happy Valley” settlements. Their contribution to the provision of building materials was to sell the State brickworks as another socialist enterprise. These are the people who restricted the availability of materials to force up the prices, and who restricted the number of houses that were built to keep up the rents, and they are in no position to criticize the agreement.
Honorable members opposite state that when the appropriate time arrives, they will discontinue the agreement. The Government i3 not obliged to wait until the agreement expires by the effluxion of time. The agreement itself provides that any party may give one year’s notice to terminate it, but this crowd has not the courage to give a year’s notice of intention to terminate it. Instead of following that course, the Government continues to’ make appropriations purportedly in pursuance of the agreement, but it provides only two-thirds of the amount that the States are entitled to receive. The Government does not end the agreement; it simply sabotages it. It leg-roped the agreement just when it was getting into its stride. It has never given the agreement a fair go, otherwise it would ba.ve worked out very much better than it has done. Already, approximately 70,000 families in Australia have benefited under the agreement, and I have no doubt that some thousands of shopkeepers and tradesmen have also benefited.
I wish to make four points in relation to the bill. The first is that it marks the first occasion upon which, under the administration of this Government, less money has been made available under the agreement than was provided in the preceding year. In this year, it is proposed to make available under the agreement, £32,000,000 to the five mainland States that participate in it. Last year, £37.200,000 was made available.
– The State -Premiers compiled those figures, not this Government.
– I invite the honorable member for Bennelong to read the bill. It occupies no more than one page.
– I know more about it than the honorable member does.
– I realize the difficulty the honorable member finds in reading bills. Let him read the bill, and he will note that it provides for advances totalling £32,000,000. If he reads last year’s bill, he will note that it provided for £37,200,000.
– The State Premier? decided on those figures.
– Order ! The honorable member for Bennelong must not interject.
– I shall come to that matter in a moment. The honorable member for Bennelong is again in error. 1 have pointed out that the amount of money that is to be made available under the agreement this year represents a decline of £5,200,000. This year’s advance will be 15 per cent, less than that for last year. I stated that there were five participating States. During the financial years 1950-51, 1951-52, and 1952-53. four mainland States participated in the agreement. Capitalist South Australia did not participate. In 1950-51. £21,640,000 was made available by the Government under the Loan (Housing)
Act 1950; in 1951-52, £26,547.000 was made available under the Loan (Housing) Act 1951; and in 1952-53, £30,000,000 was made available under the Loan (Housing) Act 1952. Last year’s appropriation for the four States which have participated in the agreement since its inception was £32,700,000. This year it is proposed to advance £28,000,000 to them. That means that this year New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, which all have socialist governments, will receive less money, not only than that which they received last year, but also than that which they received in the preceding year, despite the rise in the cost of building.
The next point is that this is the fifth successive year in which the Menzies Government has failed to carry out the terms of the agreement. The honorable member for Bennelong stated that the figures which I quoted earlier were made up by the- State Premiers. They were not made up by the State Premiers. Those figures were compiled by the Australian Government which was one of the parties - and the defaulting party - to the agreement. I shall particularize the sum that each State is entitled to receive this year and compare it with the sum that it will receive under the proposed legislation. I shall particularize also the sum that each of the States should have received over tha five financial years from 1950-51 .to 1954-55, during which this Government has been in office, and compare that sum with the sum that each of them will have received. This year, New South Wales sought, and therefore was entitled to receive, £18,150,000. It will receive £12,000,000.. For the five years to which I referred, it was entitled to receive £78,652,650, but it will have received £52,954,000, or £26,000,000 less. This year, Victoria should have received £11,500,000 under the agreement, but it will receive £10,500,000. Over the five years, it should have received £69,950,000, but it will have received £52,431,000, or £17,000,000 less. This year Queensland should have received £2,115,000, but it will receive merely £2,000,000. During the five years it should have received £26,004,600, but it will have received £17,419,000. This year Western Australia should have received £5,576,500 but it will receive £3,500,000. During the five years it should have received £22,293,000, but it will have received £15,982,500. South Australia, which is the one remaining State capitalist stronghold, after trying to battle along on its own account, found that it had to implement the agreement that it signed nine years ago. Last year South Australia should have received £5,000,000, and it received only £4,500,000. This year it will receive £4,000,000 because the Premier of South Australia obeyed the party line and asked for no more than that amount. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is perfectly clear to every one - It should even be clear to the honorable member for Bennelong - and it provides that the States are entitled to get from the Australian Government any amounts that they can spend on housing, under the standards specified in the agreement. If the Australian Government does not like that agreement, it may give a year’s notice of termination, and then bring it to an end. But this Government has never done the courageous, honest and legal thing; rather it has sabotaged the agreement by slow means. By comparing the figures that I have mentioned it will be seen that the States have been deprived of about £60,000,000 that should have been allocated to them for housing during the five years that this ‘Government has been in control of housing in Australia.
My third point is that in this measure, as in all similar measures, the Government has taken no steps to arrest the decline of building in this country. And it is quite obvious that there has been decline of building here. The figures of the Commonwealth Statistician show that for the financial year which ended on the 30th June, 1954, 75,649 houses were commenced in Australia. That is more than the 64,000 that were commenced in the previous year, but less than the 80,000 that were commenced in the year before. During the last financial year 74,807 houses were completed in Australia, which is less than the 77,330 that were completed in the previous year, and less than the 77,976 houses that were completed in the year before that. At the end of the last financial year, 70,995 houses were under construction, which is about the same number as were under construction at the end of the previous financial year, but considerably less than the 83,000 that were under construction at the end of -the financial year before that. That decline of the number of houses under construction occurred despite the fact that marriages continued at a rate of more than 70,000 a year in those three years, and that a great number of immigrants arrived in this country. Under the present Government there has been a decline in the flow of immigrants. In 1949 we had 150,000 immigrants. In 1950, 152,000 came in; in 1951, 111,000; in 1952, 94,000 ; and last year nearly 43,000. I suggest that all those immigrants were entitled to be accommodated, and one may assume that the number of families entering this country represents about onethird of the total number of immigrants. Therefore, it is plain that if people who get married and families of immigrants are to be housed, this Government should not level off our housing production at 75,000 a year; it should attempt to get 100,000 houses a year. I remind honorable members that I have just quoted figures that were mentioned by the president of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, of which the honorable member for Bennelong is a member. I remember when the honorable member introduced me to that gentleman, but I know that the honorable member does not agree with some of the statements that have been made by the president of his own professional institute.
– Listen to the new leader of the Labour party!
– I cannot say tu quoque, because during the five years that the honorable member for Bennelong has been a member of this House, I do not think that any one has ever suggested that he might be the prospective leader of the Liberal party, either in the Commonwealth or even in his own State.
– Order ! The leadership of parties is not relevant to this debate.
– That will be another ambition of the honorable member for Bennelong which will be frustrated. The report of the Commonwealth Bank was issued last month, and that document indicated that last financial year the Commonwealth Bank made less money available to building societies than it made available in any other year of the administration of this Government. Last year the bank made £7,500,000 available to building societies, but the previous year it made £12,600,000 available, and in each preceding year of this Government’s regime it made at least £1,000,000 more available to building societies than it allocated to them in the last financial year. After he had seen this report, the president of the Rea Estate Institute of New South Wales said that the Commonwealth Bank was completely out of touch with the urgent housing needs of the people. He said - ]>r. Coombs, in reporting that outstanding applications from co-operative housing and building societies have assumed large proportions, condemns his board’s approach to the problem of the homeless in this country.
The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who at the time was acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service, said earlier this month that there was no lack of finance for building in Australia. The president of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales disagreed with the Minister and said that his statement showed how far Canberra politicians were out of touch with reality.
– Who said that?
– That was said by Mr. Duncan, who is president of the Rea Estate Institute of New South Wales, to which the honorable member for Bennelong belongs.
– I thought the honorable member for Werriwa said that the real estate institute was against the housing scheme.
– That gentleman recognizes that housing needs the infusion of money from many sources. Money should be supplied by the Commonwealth Bank to building societies, so that people may borrow money through the societies to build their own homes. Also, more money should be made available by this
Government to finance housing groups and war service homes. People should be given the means of buying their own homes. The most convincing comment on the decline of the housing position in this country is provided by the statement of national income and expenditure for 1953-54. That statement shows, at page 13, that in the last financial year £177,000,000 “was spent in Australia on building private houses. The previous year £182,000,000 was so spent, and in the year before that, ,£209,000,000. It is pertinent to ask why there should have been a decline in the money so expended. The component of those figures^ that is the money spent on public housing in Australia, was £31,000,000 last year, £31,000,000 the year before, and £36,000,000 the year before that. Again we may ask: Why the decline? This levelling off of home construction in Australia is most unsatisfactory,- because the need for houses is not levelling offindeed it is rising. That is because immigration is not levelling off, and the rate of marriage is not levelling off.
My fourth point is that in this bill, for the fifth time, this Government has made no reference to the possibility of amending the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to enable the tenants of housing commission homes to buy their houses. The former Liberal member for ray district in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly ha3 said -
No one cm buy a house to-day under £1,000 deposit.
No one can get a housing commission house unless he pays to the State government the whole price of the house. For more than three years it has been open to this Government to amend the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement pursuant to the request made by State Labour governments, but the Government has done nothing about it. If my statements about this matter are disputed, 1 challenge the Minister or his colleagues to table in this House the minutes of the Australian Loan Council meetings at which these matters were debated. No one at present can see those documents. The Commonwealth’s attitude towards housing is clandestine. We know that the Government believes that finance for housing should be reduced in order to curb in-
J/r. Whitlam. flat ion. It believes that housing is expensive and produces nothing in the short run, and therefore a curb must be put on it One perceives that only through the actions of the Government, and one cannot read it in the minutes of the Australian Loan Council meetings. In December, 1951, .a conference of State housing Ministers asked the Commonwealth to amend the agreement to provide that tenants of housing commission homes should be able to buy their houses on a minimum, deposit of not less than 5 per cent., with repayments over a period not exceeding 45 years. The State Premiers conveyed that request to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and in September, 1952 - nine months later - the Prime Minister advised the Premiers that the Australian Government did not consider it a suitable time to vary the agreement to enable tenants of housing commission houses to buy their own homes. I remind honorable members that that proposal was made three years ago.
Last year, on the 10th August, this matter was discussed in Canberra at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and the Commonwealth was again asked to amend this agreement. It was not until the eve of the last general election in May, that the Prime Minister said that the matter would be considered. It is still being considered. Although a great number of people in housing commission houses are anxious to buy their homes, they cannot do so because the building societies have not enough money, a ceiling has been placed on the amount to be expended by the War Service Homes Division and the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement does not permit tenants to buy houses unless they pay the full price. I have shown that it requires only one party to break the agreement; it takes, however, both parties to amend it as it took both to make it.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I convey a sincere tribute- to the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) for his very informative address to this House last Thursday night in the debate on this measure. His contribution was in sharp contrast to the purely party political approach of the Opposition, exemplified here to-day in the speeches of the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) and the honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). Their approach was in conformity with the actions of the Labour party in every State, until the State governments recently produced budget papers for examination by the people. Those papers proved conclusively that the charges of the honorable members of the Opposition are completely out of date. Indeed, State Labour governments have completely reversed their excuses for their failure properly to house the people of this country. When we recognize that this measure is designed to make available to the States a sum of £32,000,000 for housing, we must ask ourselves why it was necessary for the Commonwealth to make money available to the States if it is true, as was suggested by the honorable member for Werriwa, and the honorable member for St. George who was a member of the Chifley Government, that there is a great housing shortage in Australia, and that consequently this Government should be condemned. Why not be honest and admit quite frankly that the truth of the matter is that the only responsibility which this Government has in respect of housing is to make money available to the States for the building of houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, to provide houses under the War Service Homes Act, and to provide houses in the territories under its administration? Housing is a responsibility, even the prerogative of the State governments within their own borders, and it is ridiculous even to suggest that the whole responsibility rests with this Government to ensure that the people are adequately housed. Labour governments in the States have failed miserably to fulfil their obligations to the people in respect of housing. That state of affairs has been brought about largely by the approach made by socialist Labour governments when they formulated the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I say frankly that I am strongly opposed to this bill, which is to authorize the borrowing of £32,000,000 for housing purposes, but I am compelled to support it, because this Government is committed by law to make the money available to the States this year. The unfortunate fact is that by making this money available to the States for housing, we are commandeering, through the States, man-power and resources which are limited in the building industry, to such a degree that we are greatly prejudicing the housing programme. I shall explain what I mean by that statement. Houses erected by State governments under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement have cost nearer £3,000 than £2,500, and the valuation of those properties on to-day’s market by recognized and authorized valuators varies between £1,400 and £1,600. In other words, the money which has been made available by this Government to provide houses for the people has been inefficiently expended to the point that we, through the States, have been paying £3,000 for the erection of a house worth between £1,400 and £1,600.
As the honorable member for Werriwa has suggested, approximately 70,000 houses have been built under this agreement. I contend that if the same amount of money had been made available through the Commonwealth Bank to building societies or individuals who desired to build their own homes, and if those people had had the opportunity to obtain an advance of approximately 90 per cent, of the capital cost of the houses, and provide the remaining 10 per cent, by way of a deposit, not 70,000, but between 140,000 and 150,000 houses would have been erected. What is more, they would not be owned by socialist governments that demand rents of up to £3 4s. a week for houses worth £1,400. Decent homes would have been built that would have been owned by the citizens themselves. In that way, better citizens are bred. Good citizens are not bred when people are put in hovels constructed by inefficient State housing authorities.
People in indigent circumstances are required to pay exorbitant rents by inefficient State governments which, under their own landlord and tenant regulations, would prevent a private owner from charging anything like the same amount of rent. I have looked at the houses built in my own electorate by the Queensland Housing Commission. Those houses cost nearly £3,000 to build, and to-day a buyer cannot be found for them at £1,600. No one will buy them. The Queensland Government demands £3 4s. a week rent for those houses, and real estate agents and other people who are versed in the valuation of property claim that under regulations existing in Queensland to-day, the maximum rent should be 30s. a week. Yet the Labour socialist Government of Queensland, as a landlord, demands £3 4s. a week from the tenants. Everybody in this Parliament knows that there is a housing shortage. Nobody can possibly deny that a shortage exists. But I contend that the biggest factor contributing to the housing shortage is the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which makes it necessary for this Government to provide £32,000,000 for the State governments in this financial year.
Before I develop that subject, I wish to deal with a statement made by the honorable member for St. George. I had listened for some time to his remarks, believing that he would make an honest approach, particularly to the subject of housing, because he was the Minister for Works and Housing in the Chifley Labour Government, and was responsible for the administration of the agreement before he was thrown out in 1949. This gentleman made the statement in this House that a great company which had been building prefabricated houses in Australia, was put out of business by this Government. By how much can these Labour people distort the truth! The various State governments are responsible for importing prefabricated houses. They sent their representatives to make examinations throughout the continent of Europe of the quality and standard of prefabricated houses available there. State governments asked the Menzies Government to give them a subsidy of £300 on every house that they imported. They claimed that it was impossible to get the manpower and materials that were required to provide adequate housing for our people. The Menzies Government recognized the truth of the submission, and granted to the States a subsidy of £300 on every imported house. That was a. direct gift to the States in order to helpto ease the housing problem.
I say to the honorable member forSt. George that if the company to which he has referred went out of businessduring the term of office. of this Government, he can lay the entire blame at thedoor of the State government which: failed to take advantage of the opportunity to purchase from that company the prefabricated houses that were available to it. He can blame that socialist government which told the Menzies government that it was unable to get manpower and materials to build houses and that, therefore, it had to import prefabricated houses. When the MenziesGovernment granted the subsidy of £300 a house, the State government concerned’ imported houses in preference to buying, good Australian-built houses. The honorable member for St. George has joined the other socialists who are endeavouring to capitalize on the misfortunes of those Australians who have no homes. He is trying to make party political capital out of a situation which should be above party politics. A direct and honest approach should be made to the whole problem.
The honorable member for Werriwa cited figures which proved the statementsmade by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner). When the honorable member for Bradfield was addressing the House, the honorable member for Werriwa left the chamber, evidently with the object of obtaining the correct statistics relating to housing, marriages and deaths. He returned to the chamber, and claimed that 70,640 marriages and 7,962 divorces were registered during 1953. On the assumption that the number of divorces reduced the housing need.’ the number of couples who were married and demanding houses in 1953 would have been approximately 61,000. There were about 12,000 deaths of married women in that, year, which could also be accepted as reducing the housing need. That really means a net figure of approximately 50,000. Some of the people would be divorcees, or widows, who would marry again, and they would not add to the housing need. That leaves a shortage of 40,000 houses. If we allow another 20,000 to make provision for the immigration programme, we arrive at a figure of 60,000 houses in demand, which verifies the figures submitted by the honorable member for Bradfield. If we build 75,000 houses a year, we are actually constructing 15,000 houses in excess of the actual current demand, and those 15,000 houses will help to take up the backlog.
The honorable member for Werriwa also suggested that the entire reason for the housing shortage in Australia was that we had failed to make adequate moneys available to the States for their housing programme. All the State socialist governments have made thi3 claim. They assert that the great housing shortage to-day is caused by the failure of the Menzies Government to provide them with enough money, and they blame this Government for starving them of funds. That line of propaganda has been adopted by the socialists throughout the length and breadth of Australia. The honorable member for Werriwa went even further, and gave figures showing the appropriations to the States over a number of years. He then mentioned an amount of money, and claimed that this Government had deprived the States of that sum.
When the honorable member dealt with . Queensland, I was more particularly interested. He claimed that the Menzies Government had given the Queensland Labour Government £9,000,000 less than the sum that it should have received if it were to solve the housing problem in that State. The actual position is that at the beginning of the last financial year, the Queensland Government had approximately £5,000,000 which was specifically for the purposes’ of housing. At the conclusion of the last financial year, as is evidenced by the table of expenditure prepared by the Queensland Treasurer, the State Government has not expended approximately £3,000,000 of that sum. That is to say, the Queensland Government still has £3,000,000 on hand for housing, yet the honorable member for Werriwa, asserts that if the Commonwealth wishes to solve the housing problem, it must make more money available to the States. The
Queensland Government had £5,000,000 for housing and could not expend it. The reason is that, although there has been a steady increase in the availability of building materials because of increased production under this Government, the demand for these materials is steadily rising, and is now reaching the point at which the building industry is working at maximum capacity, governed now by the shortage of materials and man-power.
At the present time, Australia is experiencing the period of greatest prosperity and development that we have known. We find that fewer houses were built last year than were built during the preceding year. That decrease was not due to insufficient funds being made available. More than enough money was made available, so much so that the State governments realized that if they tried to expend all of it they would not build more houses but would simply force up the cost of houses and absorb more rapidly the money that was made available. Manpower in the building industry is working to capacity and every class of material related to housing is being absorbed as quickly as it is produced. Yet, fewer nouses are being built. The explanation of that decrease is that during the last twelve months the energies of the building industry have been gradually transferred from residential construction to the construction of factories and non-residential buildings. So long as the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement continues in force, an increasing percentage of the building industry will concentrate on the development of industrial plant, factories and non-residential buildings because private contractors have had bitter experience of building under government supervision. Inefficiency results from the present system under which the supervision of inspectors employed by State government instrumentalities fluctuates from the stern to the casual, and private contractors find they would be better off to build directly for private individuals and private enterprise knowing that if they observe standards prescribed by architects they will receive regular progress payments. Innumerable contractors have been sent bankrupt as a result of building houses under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. So long as this state of affairs continues, the trend towards non-residential construction will increase and the shortage of houses will become more pronounced.
In Queensland, the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will expire by effluxion of time in Decemberof next year and the other States will drop out of the agreement at different stages up to April, 1956. I strongly urge the Government to allow the agreement to lapse completely at the normal date of its expiration in the respective States and not to endeavour to extend it in any way whatsoever. Instead, the Government should attack the housing problem by setting up a housing trust to be financed through the Commonwealth Bank and by making available funds equivalent to those provided to the States under the existing agreement to building societies and similar organizations and also to the individual who wants to purchase his home. He is the best citizen who desires to raise his family in a home which is their own. I refer to the individual who is prepared to find 10 per cent. of the cost of a house provided that he can obtain the balance through a financial institution. The Government should tackle this problem by giving direct help to individuals of that class who prefer to select the area in which they will build a house with the object of bringing up their families under the best possible conditions and forming a home in whichthey can take every pride. If the Government makes that approach it will solve the housing problem, but if it perpetuates the existing agreement the problem will worsen.
Mr.E. JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) [5.50].- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Kent Hughes) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (MR. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Mr. Chairman-
Motion (by Sir ERic Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adebmann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6.2 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 14th October (vide page 2009), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a secondtime.
.- The bill is a comparatively small measure in terms of verbiage and the number of its clauses, but, viewed nationally, it is of the utmost importance. Its purpose is to approve the borrowing of moneys for “ a defence purpose “. Apparently the Government wants to emphasize the fact that the money is to be raised under the Commonwealth’s defence powers. The real purpose of the bill is to authorize the Government to borrow moneys for the financing of war service land settlement in what are known as the agent States of Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia. It is a natural corollary of the war service land settlement agreement enacted by the Chifley Government in 1945. After some negotiations with the State Governments at that time, the Chifley Government ascertained that Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland considered that they were strong enough, in terms of natural and financial resources, to conduct their own land settlement programmes for ex-servicemen, provided, of course, that they received some measure of financial aid from the Commonwealth. The remaining three States decided that they were too weak financially, and also in a sense physically, though not in terms of natural resources, to carry out such programmes. They asked the Commonwealth to shoulder this great repatriation task within their boundaries, and made their departments and instrumentalities available as agents to carry out the actual work of settlement.
The War Service Land Settlement Agreement of 1945 was an excellent agreement. It is true that the passage of time has disclosed some anomalies in it and that some of its provisions have been difficult of application. However, overall, its conception was generous and it was capable of successful application. But since 1945 the economy of Australia, in racing parlance, has bolted. Terrific inflation has occurred, particularly since 1949, although there has been some damping down of the inflationary tendency since the end of 1953-54. The original agreement provided that 1942 land values should prevail, and land could be bought at a relatively reasonable price then. However, inflation has assumed such, gigantic proportions in recent years that both the principal States and the agent States now find themselves in very grave difficulties. So severe have these difficulties been since 1949 that the rate of war service land settlement has been substantially retarded.
We have the grave and anomalous situation that, at the annual meetings of the Australian Loan Council, Premiers are obliged to apply for loan funds for all purposes associated with governmental activities in their States. The three principal States, which virtually have to carry out war service land settlement unaided, have had to increase their demands for loan funds for ordinary public services, such as education, road works, hospitals and public buildings. Their needs have been so great that, in some instances, the amounts allotted for war service land settlement have had to be curtailed. There has been some criticism of that curtailment, and, when the Australian Government has been accused of having made inadequate provision for the settlement programmes of the principal States in particular, it has invariably thrown back the taunt that the States have received their full loan allocations but, because of negligence, have failed to provide enough for war service land settlement. But this Government entirely overlooks the fact that any State government which curtailed its education programme, for example, especially in relation to capital works, would inflict severe disabilities on ex-servicemen in all walks of life. The State governments have been forced to curtail expenditure on war service land settlement because the loan funds made available to them have been totally inadequate for their needs.
– Then why have some of the State governments not expended all of their loan moneys ?
– The answer is perfectly obvious. In 1949, the rate of inflation in Australian accelerated. None of the State governments knew where inflation would cease, and inflation affected land values probably first of all. Land values soared to terrific heights and, for that reason and also because of the calls on their loan funds for other capital works, the State governments hesitated to purchase land at current high values in the hope that, at some future date, there might be a steadying influence on the economy. That factor has had a substantial influence on their policies.
Surely no member of this House will suggest that any State government, whether a Labour government or otherwise, would be so contemptible as to retard war service land settlement deliberately! I maintain that all State governments, regardless of their political complexions, have been eager to accelerate settlement. The most outstanding success in the field of war service land settlement, of course, has been achieved by the Labour Government of Victoria. Even the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) has been generous enough to acknowledge that fact. The Victorian Government has expedited war service land settlement to the maximum of its capacity, subject to the availability of loan funds, but it has experienced grave difficulties, not the least of which has been the terrific inflation of land values. The Opposition in this Parliament has consistently advocated that, in the light of economic trends since 1949, the Commonwealth should change its policy. I have repeatedly said - and in so doing I have expressed the view of the entire Opposition - that the only effective way to cope with the present problem is for this Government to take the course of action that it has followed in respect of some other activities. In other words, it should make a specific allocation of loan funds annually to each State for the purpose of financing war service land settlement. The allocation should be adequate for the work, and it should be specifically earmarked’ for that purpose alone.
I notice the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) pointing a warning finger at me. No doubt he will suggest that some of the States would not agree to my proposal, but the honorable gentleman completely overlooks the fact that this practice has been adopted by the present Government and by previous Australian governments in respect of other projects. In my opinion, therefore, it should be adopted in order to deal with the problems of war service land settlement. After all, repatriation - and war service land settlement is an aspect of repatriation - is definitely a Commonwealth responsibility.
– The Government cannot pass the buck.
– I know that it is a common practice of politicians, which is perhaps not exclusive to members of this Government, to endeavour to pass the buck, but the Government cannot pass the buck on this occasion. Only recently, under pressure, it announced that it was prepared to allocate a specific sum annually to the States for the purposes of war service land settlement. I think the Minister for the Interior will agree with that interpretation of his recent announcement in relation to the principal States. Is that so ?
– This bill deals with the agent States.
– I realize that. Perhaps the Minister finds my passing references to the principal States unpalatable.
-Order ! I have given the honorable gentleman a great deal of latitude.
– I think you have been eminently reasonable, Mr. Speaker.
Having said sufficient to suit my purpose in relation to the principal States, I now pass to the substance of the bill, which deals with the agent States. It provides that treasury-bills may be issued to the value of approximately £5,000,000 for the purpose of financing war service land settlement in the three agent States, for which the Commonwealth itself is directly responsible. A very large area of virgin land has been acquired in Western Australia for land settlement purposes. Tasmania also has set aside a substantial area, some of which is virgin land, and South Australia has taken action along similar lines. But the appalling fact is that, although the Commonwealth is directly responsible for war service land settlement in those States, the cost of the scheme there is out of all proportion to the cost in the three principal Sates. I emphasize the fact that the Commonwealth is the boss in the agent States. The public works departments, main roads boards and other instrumentalities of the States merely serve the purpose of contractors employed by the State governments with the consent and approval of the Commonwealth. The figures on this subject which I have in my possession are not up to date, although I asked the Minister for the Interior, when he made his second-reading speech, to furnish me with more recent information. These figures show that, from the inception of the scheme to 1953, 475 blocks had been allocated in South Australia for war service land settlement at an average cost of £19,233.
– How did the honorable member learn that ?
– The figures for Western Australia will be of particular interest to the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). It is of no use for the honorable member to try to blame the State departments and instrumentalities for the situation that has developed. The Commonwealth is supposed to run the show. It directs the activities of the States, approves or disapproves of- all their proposals, and supervises their work. Therefore, it is up to this Government to take a hand if the job is not being done properly in any of the agent States. The administration of the scheme in Western Australia, which, as I have said, is an agent State, involves the previous anti-Labour Government in that State. Up to 1953, 6441 blocks had been settled at an average cost of £21,894 each - a terrific cost. That expenditure was made on the clearing of land, surveys, construction of roads and homes, and the like. In Tasmania, another agent State, 134 blocks had been allocated to soldier settlers at an average cost of £31,343 a block. In New South Wales, which -is a principal State acting on its own behalf, and which receives some financial assistance from the Commonwealth, 1,946 blocks had been allocated at an average cost of £12,000 each.
– Not at Coomealla!
– The honorable member need not try to lead me up a blind alley to Coomealla. I am dealing with the average cost in New South Wales, which is £9,894 a farm less than the cost in Western Australia.
– What is the cost at Coomealla ?
– I am not concerned with the isolated case of Coomealla. I shall tell the honorable member something about Boggabri, in New South Wales. A gentleman whose Boggabri estate was to be acquired for war service land settlement protested and took his case to court. He Was ultimately responsible, I understand,’ for the invalidating of the original War Service Land Settlement Agreement. He claimed too much compensation for his property and lost his case. This Government took his part, and the Minister for the Interior even threatened that if the New South Wales Government did not make its acquisitions at what he considered to be just prices, no financial assistance would be given to New South Wales. Let the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) answer that statement.
– The Constitution requires that acquisitions shall be made only at just prices.
– The Minister attempted to interfere with the sovereign rights of New South Wales, which- is the acquiring authority.
-Order! The honorable member is getting well away from the three States that are concerned in this bill.
– You may be right, Mr. Speaker. I had pointed out that, up to 1953, in New South Wales 1,946 blocks had been settled at an average cost of £12,000 a block. In Queensland, 427 blocks had been allocated at an average cost of £4,684 a block. In Victoria, 4,207 settlers had been placed on the land at an average cost of £7,706 each. It is true that all sorts- of factors account for the great variation in costs as between the agent States and lie principal States. They are regrettable but it is of no use for this Government to pose as a capable administration when it is directly responsible for what appears to be unreasonably high costs in the three States where it is directly responsible for war service land settlement.
The bill provides for the raising for war service land settlement of loan moneys totalling £5,000,000. We are told that those funds will be used by the agent States for the acquisition, development and improvement of land for sub-division and allocation to classified ex-servicemen and for providing those ex-servicemen with working capital and finance for purchasing structural improvements, stock, plant, and equipment. No one should take exception to that and the Opposition does not do so. The funds to be raised under the authority of this bill are to be available solely to the agent States. The agent States have settled a substantially smaller number of ex-servicemen on the land- than have the principal States, which, it is true, are more populous and more wealthy. We have b(.;;-i told that under the authority of previous legislation of this kind, loan funds amounting (i £22,625,000 have been raised for expenditure on war service land settlement in the agent States. Expenditure to the 30th June, 1954, totalled £18,865,000, and a balance of £3,760,000 remained unexpended at the beginning of this financial year. Expenditure during the financial year 1953-54 amounted to £5,500,000 of which £4,200,000 was new money and £1,300,000 was expended out of repayments received during last financial year of amounts expended on war service land settlement in previous years. That indicates that, in spite of excessive costs, r number of returned soldier settlers in the agent States have made good and have repaid moneys advanced to them. The Government has established a type of revolving fund, and money repaid by settlers is re-allocated for further settlement. That is a very good principle.
The Opposition supports the measure, as it always supports legislation of this kind. It believes that finance should be made available in generous amounts to lie States, whether they are agent or principal States, for the purpose of war service land settlement. We on this side of the House still hold to our opinion that in the light of experience the Australian Government should accept full responsibility for war service land settlement in the principal States, not necessarily for the acquiring of land and the actual administration of the scheme, but for the allocation of specific amounts of money either from loan funds or from Consolidated Revenue, on condition that the States undertake, that those funds shall he used only for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. If that were done it would prevent a recurrence of the sordid arguments that have taken place in this Parliament ever since the war service land settlement scheme began, in which the principal States have been accused of spending too much of their loan moneys for other purposes and of depleting the funds that would otherwise have been available for war service land settlement. Those arguments are unworthy and should cease forthwith. If 1 correctly interpret a recent statement made by the Minister, he has made an offer to the principal States that will, at least to a degree, rectify the present unfortunate position. The Minister told us, in the concluding portion of his second-reading speech, that up to the present time about 1,500 holdings have been allocated to ex-servicemen in the three agent States. In South Australia, 602 ex-servicemen have been allocated blocks and about 400 are still awaiting settlement. In Western Australia, about 900 returned soldiers have been settled and it is estimated that about 400 returned servicemen are awaiting allocation of holdings. In Tasmania, 184 blocks have been allocated, and it is estimated that about 40 ex-servicemen arc still awaiting settlement. It is the Government’s intention to complete the war service land settlement scheme within the next five years. The Opposition wishes it well in its efforts to attain that objective, and trusts that it will end the haggling and quibbling between the Commonwealth and the States that has been the order of the day in the past, as a result of the Commonwealth’s refusal to budge in principle from the unfortunate arrangement under which the States, after being allocated their total of loan moneys for all purposes, find, at the end of the financial year, that they have insufficient funds to proceed as expeditiously as is desirable with war service land settlement. In that situation, the bone is pointed at the States and the Australian Government declares that they have overspent on education, on roads, on railways, on tramways, and on all kinds of other public works, and that they have diverted loan moneys from war service land settlement to those other purposes. That is a miserable argument. As I emphasized at the outset of my remarks, if the loan funds available for expenditure on education, roads, railways, and other services are restricted, the interests of returned soldiers are injured just as much as if funds for war service land settlement are limited. There is only one solution - an agreement that provides for specific allocations of loan moneys to the respective States for war service land settlement and for no other purpose.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) began his address by citing the title of the bill. He then stated- that it is a repatriation measure, and he accused the Government of falling down on its job in relation to repatriation. He proceeded to discuss the difficulties of the States in relation to finance, and he declared that when Labour was in office land was pegged at 1942 values. He apparently has forgotten that the leader of the Labour Government, the late Mr. Chifley, stated plainly in this House that even at the end of 1948 values were in- creasing at the rate of 9 per cent, a year, and that the inflationary race continued. The honorable member stated, also, that because this Government has not given the States sufficient money to nuance their various projects, war service land settlement has dwindled. But the figures for recent years tell a different story. In the financial year 1949-50, the States received loan funds totalling. £91.600,000, and the allocations increased to a peak of £225,000,000 in 1951-52. For the last two financial years they have amounted to about £200,000,000 a year.
– £180,000,000 for the current financial year.
– I am glad that the honorable member has interjected. In the last few days we have heard that New South Wales and Queensland have planted away considerable sums of money, some in Commonwealth bonds and some in other securities. The respective Auditors-General of those two States have revealed that New South Wales has surplus funds amounting to £40,000,000 and that the surplus of funds in Queensland amounts to £25,000,000. The honorable member for Lalor said his information on war service land settlement was not up to date. It was obvious from the outset, that his information was out of date. The bill relates to the agent States, but the honorable member endeavoured to enter the fields that are the prerogative of the principal States, and he tried to make his argument on that basis. The other day he was given a copy of the second-reading speech of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), and honorable members might have noticed that towards the conclusion of the honorable member’s remarks he began to refer in detail to the Minister’s second-reading speech. He cited the figures in relation to the number of returned soldiers settled on the land that were given by the Minister. But, earlier in his remarks, the honorable member had mentioned some figures in relation to the agent States. He said that 475 returned soldiers had been settled on the land in South Australia at an average cost of £19,233 each. Later, he read the exact figure given in the Minister’s speech, which pointed out that 602 ex-servicemen had been settled in South Australia. The figures cited by the honorable member for Lalor were embodied in a press statement made by a Minister of a State government. Representatives of the principal States have advanced unsound arguments because they do not know the exact position in the agent -States. The honorable member for Lalor stated that 644 ex-servicemen had been settled on the land in Western Australia at an average cost of £21,894 each. 1 asked him, by interjection, how he arrived at the figures that he cited, but he apparently did not hear me. It is obvious that he has divided his own figures for the number settled into the total amount expended on war service land settlement in each State, and, in effect, he has said, “ There you are. There is the average cost of each block. Q.E.D.” ifr. Pollard. - The figures that 1 mentioned were official.
– The official figures were cited by the Minister in his secondreading speech. He pointed out that 900 farms had already been allocated to settlers in Western Australia, and that about 400 genuine applicants were still seeking blocks. Action is being taken now to meet the needs of those 400 outstanding applicants in Western Australia. During the last seven years the Western Australian Government has cleared virgin country and has expended millions of pounds on developing it, but until structural improvements and the necessary services and facilities are available, it would be, as we in Western Australia have always maintained, criminal to put the ex-servicemen on that land. They will bo settled as soon as the properties are ready for them. The honorable memBer for Lalor stated that the average cost of settlement was £12,000 a block in New South Wales, £4,684 a farm in Queensland, and £7,706 a farm in Victoria.. He did not check the accuracy of those figures. If he had done so, he would have found that, although, as he said, Victoria has done a good job in war service land settlement the actual costs are much higher than he quoted. In 1950-51, which was one of the lean years about which the honorable member spoke, Victoria was able to expend £6,000,000 on war service land settlement. It expended £5,780,000 in the next financial year and more than £4,500,000 during the last financial year, which is much better than the effort of New South Wales or Queensland. In that State in particular - and we all pay tribute to that State - it has not been a question of financial difficulty. The honorable member for Lalor stated that he was not up to date in relation to this matter, and it is very obvious, from the remarks that he has made, that that is so.
I do not intend to refer to the principal States, but to the agent States. It. is rather- coincidental that this measure should be before the House so soon after the passing of legislation by the Parliament of Western Australia which at last brings the legislation of that State in relation to war service land settlement into line with the Commonwealth conditions. The honorable member stated that this good agreement was introduced by the Chifley Government. It was a good agreement, but that good agreement, was held by the High Court of Australia to be faulty. The High Court held that it was invalid in relation to the principal States and inoperative in relation to the agent States. A conference was held in 1944 in relation to the conditions that were laid down by the then Government and, when the three agent States - Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania - accepted the scheme that was proposed by the late Mr. John Curtin, they were told in unmistakable terms that it would be on a perpetual leasehold basis. The States had to accept that position because of their economy. When the High Court ruled that the principal act of 1945 was invalid, there was no act under which the respective governments could work. The present Prime Minister wrote to the Premiers in February, 1950, and informed them that, pending the taking of action to restore the scheme to a legal footing. the Commonwealth would continue to co-operate substantially along the lines of the original agreement. At that time, a non-Labour government was in office in Western Australia. The State Minister for Lands and the Government of Western Australia accepted those proposals of the Prime Minister.
However, a gentleman who was in opposition in those days heard of the arrangement. He referred to it as the secret agreement, and moved for the appointment of a State select committee to inquire into the matter. The select committee, instead of going to sources from which it could obtain real information, went on a hunt for all of the complaints that it could possibly obtain. The secret agreement was referred to repeatedly. It was suggested that the State Government had entered into an arrangement with the Commonwealth with a view to ending the agreement or in some way curtailing the placing of ex-servicemen on the land. No such intention existed, because the many benefits that the Commonwealth makes available to the agent States are identical with those that were provided under the original agreement, except for the fact that it reduced to words some of the machinery that was used by the Commonwealth and the States in giving effect to the legislation. Until some legal stability was restored, grants of financial assistance were made to Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania under section 96 of the Constitution.
It will be noted that the title to the bill states that it is for the purpose of granting money to the agent States. In 1952, the Commonwealth passed the State Grants (War Service Land Settlement) Act, which authorized the making of these grants under section 96 of the Constitution. I repeat that the conditions under which the money was granted to the States did not vary in any way from the original agreement, except for writing into the conditions some of the machinery arrangements for implementing the legislation and one other provision, for which the States had been asking for a long time, to the effect that, if the States so desired, they could alter their tenure from that of perpetual leasehold and make it optional for the settler to take a fee simple and thereby make h” property freehold. As the grants unmade by the Commonwealth, it is only right and proper that it should lay dow, some conditions. If the States are prepared to accept the money, they should be prepared to accept the conditions which the Commonwealth naturally expects them to accept. Unfortunately, the Western Australian legislation, was unsatisfactory from the very day upon which the High Court ruled upon the original agreement. In 1951, Western Australia passed an act which it tied to section 103 of the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945. I point out that, ever since the introduction of the war service land settlement scheme, the Commonwealth has never made money available under that section of the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945, unless we include the small amount of £250 which may be made available under Part VII. of the act, through the Repatriation Department, for small businesses. Probably a very small primary producing property could be classed as a small business.
Western Australia endeavoured to bring its legislation into line with the conditions under which the money was made available. Last year, legislation was introduced, but it was rejected as the result of a disagreement between the upper House and the lower House of thatState. Until recently, there has been no legislation on the statute-hook of Western Australia which has satisfied the conditions under which the Commonwealth made the money available. This year, the Minister for the Interior wrote to the Minister for Lands in Western Australia and pointed out the existing state of affairs, and also stated that there appeared to be doubt as to the validity of the granting of financial assistance by the Commonwealth to that State. The honorable gentleman suggested that the matter should be discussed with the Premier, and that legislation might be formulated to bring things into line. The Minister for Lands stated, in his reply, that it was proposed to introduce legislation this year. After the legislation was introduced, an amendment was moved. I have taken the trouble to read the report of that debate, and I have been truly amazed at the amount of confusion that exists in the minds of State members. As the Crown Solicitor of Western Australia pointed out, the amendment would have clearly cut across the conditions that were laid down by the Commonwealth and once again would have made the State legislation ineffective, with the result that there would be doubt as to the validity of the action of the Commonwealth in making money available. The Commonwealth might have been placed in the position of having to refrain from making money available to that State until its legislation was in keeping with the conditions that governed the scheme. The amendment that was moved was intended to provide that the proposed act, or any regulations under it, would not - (1) affect the terms of any lease already granted; (2) affect the terms of any lease approved to be granted; (3) render applicants liable to pay rental or purchase money for land and/or non-structural improvements in excess of that which would have been payable if the act or regulation had not been passed or made.
Compliance with the .conditions that were laid down by the Commonwealth would not affect any of the leases already granted or those approved to be granted. If a settler wishes to secure a freehold title of property that he obtains under the war service land settlement scheme, it is perfectly obvious that there must be some other means of assessing the cost of the property to him, because the original act, and every subsequent act, have been tied to the system of perpetual leasehold. If the settlers are to have that tenure for all time, they obviously accept a rental that is worked out after due consideration. If they want it to be made freehold, a different set of circumstances must apply. The provision of the State act of 1951 in relation to the purchase price for the fee-simple could mean, in some cases, the fixation of that price at a lower level than that which would be required to conform to the conditions that are laid down by the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable member know that, under this arrangement, there is an option to purchase after six years?
– Order !
– I know that. 1. do not mind wasting a moment or two by asking the honorable member for Lalor to indicate the State to which that option applies.
– It applies to Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. My statement is based on the Minister’s own statement.
– Order ! The honorable member for Lalor has addressed the House, and he must not interrupt.
– I shall inform the honorable member in a few moments on that score. The State Minister for Lands moved an amendment to provide that the arrangement should be subject to section 5 of the existing legislation, which in turn would make it conform to the Commonwealth conditions. The bones of contention seem to be the tenure conditions and the commitments that are payable thereunder, because a lot of people have the idea that the old leasehold conditions must be similar to those that apply in relation to the conversion of tenure to freehold. As I stated in the early discussions, it was indicated very clearly, and very firmly that, if the Commonwealth made available any assistance to those States, it would have to be on a leasehold basis. If the honorable member reads the report of the discussions that took place between the Commonwealth and the States, he will note that the Commonwealth insisted upon perpetual leasehold in the agent States, but that it undertook to examine the matter some years hence. Considerable pressure was exerted by South Australia and Tasmania to provide for an option after a mandatory period of leasehold. If we return to a consideration of the original discussions, we discover that the late Mr. John Curtin stated that he wished to interfere with State land laws as little as possible. “When the question of converting the tenure to freehold was raised, the States themselves fixed the period for which they wanted the leasehold tenure to apply, and the Commonwealth supported them to the hilt.
If the honorable member for Lalor will allow me to inform him, the leasehold period required by the agent States was ten years in relation to South Australia and Western Australia, and six years in relation to Tasmania. I wish to assure the honorable member, and other honorable members, that those periods were first requested by the States themselves. They stated - it is a statement with which the Commonwealth is in full agreement, and with which I think every honorable member will agree - that it would be highly improper for this Government to use the money of the taxpayers to establish ex-servicemen on the land under the conditions upon which they are so established, and to allow them, on the very next day or within a year or two, to cash in on the properties and sell them at market value.
– Why? They fought for the country.
– The honorable member would not know, even if 1 told him. Perhaps I shall be able to enlighten him later. After World War I., there was a trading in properties, and the poor unfortunate ex-serviceman who bought in at the last instant was the man who paid dearly. When this Government assumed office, it altered the arrangement to enable the States, if they so desired, to allow the settler to convert his tenure to freehold. The agent States agreed to a compulsory leasehold period of ten years in South Australia and Western Australia, and for six years in Tasmania. After the expiration of that period, the settler has the right to convert the tenure to freehold if he so desires. The stage is being reached in the agent States at which the question of option price must be considered, because the valuations that have been given to the majority of settlers have been made on a leasehold basis. It was agreed some years ago that, for the purposes of leasehold tenure, 2 per cent, of the cost would be the ceiling for rental. For the purpose of determining the rental, a valuation of the holding for the purpose of Commonwealth and State contributions to th* excess of cost over valuation, unless otherwise agreed upon, was to be adopted. There wa3 nothing in the original agreement to prevent the valuation of a holding being made at a level in excess of costs. However, the Commonwealth decided that the ceiling for rental of a holding would be 2i per cent, of the cost. That decision, which has conferred considerable benefits on settlers, has, in a number of cases, become a matter for dissension about the manner in which cost is apportioned to holdings. In 1947, in order to implement the agreement then in existence, the States and the Commonwealth administrators conferred on the machinery to be developed and applied to cost apportioning, and it was decided to adopt a system which has come to be known as the averaging system. The costs of putting settlers on the land were to be averaged.
I desire to explain the averaging system, particularly as it applies in Western Australia. The estates in that State which have been acquired are grouped with some regard to location, but principally on a basis according to the stage of development, the amount of work to bp done and the estimated time that will be required to complete that work. Within each State group the estates are charged with the work actually done on them at the average cost of such work for the estates within the group. For example, if the group cost was £100,000 for 10,000 acres of clearing of substantially the same type, heavy, light or medium, then each estate in the group would be debited with £10 for each acre of such clearing done on the particular estate. By that method each estate shares the cost of supervision and overhead expenses on an equitable basis. For example, if there were two estates, one estate “ A “ and the other estate “ B “, some distance from each other, it would not he fair to charge estate “ A “ for all the long haul of the machinery to estate “A”, and then to charge estate “ B “ only for the relatively small cost of movement between “ A “ and “ B “. Such charges for movement of machinery, lost time and so on ensure an even loading on each estate in the group.
– That system is used to cover up gross maladministration.
– That may be dealt with quite separately from the matter that I am now putting before the House. The second distribution of costs is between the holdings derived by the subdivision of an estate. With big estates the area around the homestead is invariably more highly developed, and usually requires little ground improvement following subdivision. The settler who obtains such a block commences full-scale production immediately, whereas on other blocks it takes several years for newly established pasture to mature and reach its full carrying capacity. It is quite wrong that the man who is fortunate enough to get the homestead portion of an estate should get it at the average acquisition cost of the whole estate, and get two or three years’ start on his neighbours on either side of him. By so doing he would get an extra gratuity to the disadvantage of the other men. The method that has been adopted is rather involved, but I intend to quote a few figures to clear up this point. Assume that an estate which has cost £20,000, is acquired and that it needs £30,000 to be expended on it to develop it. The following table indicates how we approach the matter -
If we assume that five holdings are derived from the subdivision of that particular estate, and that each is of equal productivity, the apportioned share of cost to each would be £6,200. If we now deal with an individual holding within that estate the costs may be set out as follows : -
Since the ceiling for rental purposes is 2^ per cent, of cost, the rental for the lease in this case would be £150 which is 2£ per cent, of £6,000, to be increased to up to £188, 2i per cent, of £7,500, if the settlement authority carries out all the additional work. That is quite reasonable, as honorable members will agree, because if the settlement authority carried out the work instead of the settler, then the settler would have to pay for the use of the taxpayers’ money. One hundred and eighty-eight pounds in this instance is the estimated final rent. However, the gross cost of land and ground improvements is £7,800, and if the settler had not spent £300 of his own money, the final rent, on the cost, would have been £195, or 2% per cent, of £7,800. The rent of £195 is tested economically to ensure that it and other commitments can be met from the net proceeds of the holding, estimated on a conservative basis. Assume that the economic test indicated that a rental of, say, £160 was the maximum the holding could be expected to pay. Then the following would be the action taken : -
Then, to determine the settler’s rent at the time of issue of the lease, the following calculations would be made : -
Then, the rental at the time of the lease would be £115. This Government is prepared to give the settlers an opportunity to convert their land to freehold, so we then come to the question of the value of freehold. That is the cost to the authority of the land and improvements, or the market valuation, whichever is the lower at the time of leasehold valuation. En South Australia and Western Australia after ten years, and in Tasmania after six years, if the settler considers that that value is too high he can appeal within 30 days and have the value reconsidered. For that purpose he can use as evidence the returns that he has had from the property during the leasehold period, and no settlers’ improvements are taken into consideration. Any work done by the settler is credited to him. The best feature of converting to freehold is that the settler is not required to pay 2^ per cent, for 99 years and if he decides to convert to freehold he can pay out his option price, or appeal, as I have indicated.
.- I have just listened to a very involved and confused speech by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton). I do not know whether he understood it himself, but I am sure that no other honorable member is any the wiser after having listened to him. This bill deals with raising money for the settlement of exservicemen on the land, and such settlement has been going on since 1945 when a scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen was introduced. However, since 1949, a blight seems to have settled on this particular repatriation provision. Only yesterday I read a statement by the president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, to the effect that land settlement had practically ceased.
Now, let us consider the progress that the Commonwealth has made in the settlement of ex-servicemen. Under an agreement with South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, the Commonwealth agreed to take responsibility for the settlement of ex-servicemen in those States. Therefore, the scheme in those three States is backed by the nation. However, the agreement has been in existence for nine years, and, according to the speech of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) delivered on the 13th June, £18,865,000 has been spent to date, and about 1,500 holdings have been allotted to ex-servicemen. I remind honorable members that in those three States, in nine years, only 1,500 ex-servicemen have been settled on the land. In South Australia, about 602 ex-servicemen have received allotments, and about 400 are still waiting to be settled. At the past rate of progress, those 400 men will probably be ready to retire when their turn comes around. Why is the cost of the scheme so great in those three States ? It is simply because the Commonwealth authorities are clearing scrub and heavily-timbered country at very great cost. Surely the settlement of exservicemen should have been finalized by now, and it would have been finalized if the scheme had continued to proceed as it had proceeded under the last Labour Government. For example, let us consider what Victoria has done about land settlement of ex-servicemen. A land settlement commission was set up there by the Cain Government in 1946, and it has settled 2,102 ex-servicemen under the general settlement scheme, and 2,410 on the singleunit farms, at a cost of £35,000,000. Victoria has not the resources of the Commonwealth, and yet it can do all that for its ex-servicemen, whereas the Commonwealth can do very little . for those in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. This bill will provide £5,000,000 to be divided between the three States, but obviously that amount could easily be doubled.’ There must be considerable areas of land, probably improved land, which can be acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen immediately, and be brought into production at once.
Ex-servicemen who are. eager to settle on the land should not have to wait for years until land, is acquired for them. The Victorian Government has acquired large estates which, had been held by big land-owners, who were not getting the greatest benefit from the land. The . owners were not using the land to the best advantage, because of the enormous areas that they possessed. The land was used merely for grazing purposes^ although there’ might have been a few bullocks on it. Since the land was made available to ex-servicemen, many herds of cows have been established on it, and are being milked, and that is good for the economy of the- country.. I suggest that the Commonwealth should take action similar to that taken by the Victorian Government in. this matter. Why should the Commonwealth seek to settle exservicemen on new country ? Unfortunately, the land settlement of ex-servicemen has been slowed down in Victoria as well as in’ the other States. When the agreement was challenged in the High Court of Australia,, the Commonwealth made it an excuse not to acquire land. That is what is happening to-day in various States.
The agreement provided for the writing down of acquired land to an. economic value. In. the past, the high prices paid for commodities produced on the land have not made writing down on a large scale necessary. In the future, the States will have to pay very high prices for land for ex-servicemen. The price, instead of being £9 an acre, as. in the past, may be as high as £25 an acre. The only course open to a State will be to assume full responsibility for the cost. Conferences have been held every year between the Minister, on behalf of the Commonwealth, and the representatives of the States, and an effort has been made to get some basis of understanding- on. this matter, but I suppose that , the present Minister is. the greatest expert at taking evasive action whom we have known. He cannot be pinned down to anything. Evidently, if the States acquire land, that is to be their responsibility. They have to be sure that the land is suitable and that the price is- reasonable, but if the Commonwealth contends that the land is not suitable or the price is too high, the State is to be left to shoulder the complete responsibility for financing the settlement of the ex-servicemen concerned.
Can the States assume the responsibility without the assistance of the Commonwealth ? Under the agreement, the Commonwealth and the States are to share equally the cost of writing down. The Commonwealth will not give an undertaking that it will accept that responsibility. Repatriation is a vital matter. I have often said in this House that, repatriation should be the complete responsibility of the Commonwealth. Any one could be excused for thinking, because of the reluctance of the Commonwealth in respect of the land settlement of ex-servicemen, that there was some great risk attached to this matter. When all ;s said and done, it is the Commonwealth that will benefit from the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. We are bringing enormous numbers of immigrants to Australia. Our population is increasing, and secondary industries are developing. The expansion of population and secondary industries must be balanced with land settlement.
Unfortunately, a blight has descended on land settlement. The reason is that the States cannot undertake the financial responsibility for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. The States must have a guarantee of Commonwealth assistance in that matter. After all, the Commonwealth has a responsibility for the repatriation of ex-servicemen. Closer settlement is not the responsibility of the Commonwealth, but we must make it definite and plain that the obligation devolves upon the Commonwealth in respect of the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. Representatives of the Commonwealth should meet representatives of the States immediately with a view to reaching finality on these matters as quickly as possible. The settlement of exservicemen on the land has been dragging on for nine years.. I know perfectly well the reason for that. Strong pressure is probably being exerted on the Government to resist the acquisition of big estates. There are still estates of up to 20,000 acres in Victoria which axe situated close to roads, railways and markets. Naturally, the owners of those hig estates do not wish to part with them, and this Government will say, in effect, “Exservicemen can get out into the scrub in Victoria, as they are doing in Western Australia and South Australia”. Some people are still holding big areas of land which are not being used to their full productive capacity. From the national stand-point, and in the interests of the exserviceman, the Commonwealth should ensure that he is settled in an area from which he can get a quick return. I am quite convinced that this Government is evading its responsibility to ex-servicemen and is protecting the interest of big landowners. When I say big land-owners, I refer to men who have many thousands of acres. It is wrong, in a country like Australia, that big areas should still be held by a few men and should not be used to their maximum capacity.
I charge this Government with the complete repudiation of the promises made by the Commonwealth under the agreement, and of its obligations to exservicemen. This Government claims that it is the only administration that will honour its promises to ex-servicemen. During a general election campaign, the Government makes many lavish promises to various sections of the community, particularly ex-servicemen. This is an occasion when honorable members opposite who are ex-servicemen should make certain that the promises made by the Government in respect of the repatriation of ex-servicemen shall be honoured. It rests with this Government to provide the States immediately with their financial requirements for the settlement of exservicemen on the land. The cost of settling a man on the land to-day needs to be compared with the cost of settling our boys on the land five years ago. As a practical farmer, you, Mr. Speaker, are fully aware of the position.
– He is not a practical farmer.
– Of course he is. He lias been right through it. He is a practical farmer like I am. You know, Mr. Speaker, that land which is bought at the ruling price to-day for the settlement of ex-servicemen must be written down. I concede that prices are not rising. Probably, they are falling. That is no fault of ex-servicemen. The Government should have settled all these men on the land a few years ago. Now the Commonwealth must shoulder some of the liability for writing down, because State governments cannot bear the whole cost. An exserviceman who is settled on the land to-day probably faces costs that are twice as much as those that his neighbours who were settled on the land a few years ago, have to meet. You, Mr. Speaker, were in the same position as I was 30 years ago. Many -ex-servicemen who were settled on the land after World War I. had to walk off their blocks. That was not because they were bad farmers. Indeed, they were good farmers. A few of us managed to survive. I do not wish to see a repetition of the flight from the land that occurred some years ago. When all is said and done, the Commonwealth and the States were fortunate with land settlement schemes after World War II. compared with the position after World War L, because there will not be much need for the writing down of values of blocks on which ex-servicemen have already been settled. But many men have not yet been settled on the land, and when they are settled, there will have to be, in my opinion as a practical farmer, a writing down of values. Probably only about one-third of the blocks will need to be written down. Governments have been fortunate so far that so little writing down has been necessary, because of the high prices of primary products.
– I rise to order. I should like to know, Mr. Speaker, whether the honorable member for Wannon is in order in discussing an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. The purpose of this bill is to authorize the borrowing of moneys for South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania in connexion with war service land settlement. The scope of a bill does not include the general agreement on war service land settlement involving Victoria and Queenland.
– Order ! I have allowed considerable latitude to each speaker to date. I do not wish to confine the honorable member for Wannon unduly, but I hope that he will return o the bill in due course. I do not desire to restrict the opportunities of honorable gentlemen to state their cases, but this case is stated practically every year.
– My remarks are equally applicable to the three principal States, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, as to the agent States, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The cost of acquiring land is rising in every State. The cost of settling an ex-serviceman on the land to-day is much higher than the cost of settling an ex-servicemen on the land four years ago. Consequently the value of land acquired at the present time for the settlement of ex-servicemen will have to be written down in the agent States as well as in the principal States. I am perfectly well aware that the purpose of this bill is to approve the borrowing of moneys for the financial assistance to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania in connexion with war service land settlement, but, I contend that the Commonwealth has an obligation to assist the principal States to bear the cost of writing down the values of acquired properties. The honorable i member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) does not represent an electorate in an agent State. 1 do not think that he knows much about land.
– Order ! The test of the relevance of the honorable member’s remarks is not whether an honorable gentleman knows anything about land.
– There are professional men of all kinds, including auctioneers and real estate agents, among honorable members opposite - indeed almost everything but a farmer. The honorable member for Lyne is not an authority on the land. I doubt whether he knows the difference between a principal State and an agent State. In fact, he does not know whether he is here or not.
The point I have been endeavouring to make is that no State, whether it be a principal State or an agent State, can afford to accept the enormous financial responsibility of writing down property values. I consider that the Minister should reply to the points I have raised in this debate. Land values are too high. Let the Minister face up to that fact. If he considers that land values are too high, let him say so. He should not blame the States for that situation. Honorable members opposite may claim that the prices of primary products, such as butter, dried fruits, wool and wheat, are tending to fall, and that it is not wise to settle ex-servicemen on the land at the present time. I do not agree with that view. Men should be settled on the land at once, and the value of the property should be written down to a reasonable figure, so that the settler will be on approximately the same basis as a man who was settled three years ago. The cost to the Commonwealth would not be large. Surely the honorable member for Lyne, who rose to order a few minutes ago when I was speaking, will not contend that because of high values, we should not settle any more men on the land. The Government must face this problem. Let the Government honour its election promises, at least those that it made to ex-servicemen. The Government has failed to honour its promises to the States, under this agreement, and, through the States, to Australian exservicemen. The Government has nothing to fear, because land settlement cannot fail. The returns from the land will make good any money that is written off. Ex-servicemen, if they are settled on the land before they become too old, will certainly rear families. All of the applicants are practical farmers, and they should be given the opportunity that has been promised to them. I urge the Minister to give to the States an undertaking that the Commonwealth will honour its agreement with them and accept its share of the writing down. If that is done, the States will be able to go ahead, in good faith, with their land settlement policies.
.- Last year, I asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), who is in charge of this bill, how many qualified and approved ex-servicemen from World War II. had applied for land. The Minister informed me, in his reply, that approximately 36,000 had applied for land, and were qualified to go on the land. Many of those men were trained at the expense of the various governments in Australia. I asked him how many had been settled on the land, and he told me that the number was less than 9,000. That meant that approximately 27,000 qualified and trained applicants for land, who had served in World War II., had not been allotted land up to that time. A few days ago, I asked the Minister how many exservicemen had been settled on the land in the last financial year, and how many remained to be settled. He told me that 565 men had been settled on the land in the last financial year-
– For the whole of Australia?
– Yes. At the same time, only 113 ex-servicemen were settled on the land in the agent States. The Minister went on to say -
It is estimated that approximately 5,000 to 5,500 are still genuinely interested in settlement under the scheme.
What has become of the remainder of the 27,000? Nine years have elapsed since World War II. ended and, no doubt, those applicants have got tired of waiting upon governments to be settled on the land. The Rural Industries Committee, which the Parliament set up during World War II., estimated that 80,000 persons who had been engaged in rural occupations had served in the armed forces and that of that number 50,000 would require to be settled on the land after that conflict was ended. The Government said that it would settle those persons on the land. However, its record in respect of the war service land settlement is one of dismal failure. At this stage in the history of this country it is essential that we settle as many persons as possible on the land. Preference should be given to ex-servicemen, and after them thousands of other classes of citizens should be settled on the land. But how will this Government discharge that task if it is capable annually of settling ex-servicemen on the land at the rate of only 565 in all States and 113 in the agent States? I repeat that the Government has a record of dismal failure in this matter. As the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) has pointed” out, this failure has been due largely to the fact that the price of land is exorbitant and also to the fact that the economy of this country is designed to perpetuate a state of affairs in which persons possess land that is nonproductive or only in partial production, and others who already possess land purchase additional land not in order to utilize it to its maximum capacity but as a means of investing surplus funds.
– The old Labour theme !
– It is a good old Labour theme.
– I did not say “ good “.
– I am proud of Labour’s theme in this matter. During the last few years the population of this country has increased by over l’,000,000. Thousands of persons who have not been able to obtain land have drifted to the cities. There are from 10,000 to 12,000 fewer farmers throughout Australia to-day than there were in 1939 but, during that period, our population has increased by nearly 2,000,000. Are those facts evidence of statesmanship? Do they indicate the good old plan about which the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) spoke in comparison with Labour’s record in war service land settlement?
– The honorable member for Mallee used to sell them up.
– That is so. This Government remitted land tax, which amounted to £7,000,000 annually, to landowners in order to enable them to aggregate land to the detriment of exservicemen who are still waiting to be settled on the land.
-Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in dealing with the land tax.
– The Minister said that persons were desirous of being settled on the land, and I am making practical suggestions to the Government in this matter. I agree with the honorable member for Wannon that so long as the Government’s approach to this problem is merely to buy land at what is called a just price, it will not succeed in settling many ex-servicemen or many of any other class of citizens on the land. It must adopt other, methods in dealing with this problem. Every country has been faced with a similar problem at some stage in its history and it has evolved methods to enable the land-hungry to be settled on land that was not being utilized. The Government should evolve methods by which it can effectively promote land settlement. It is not sufficient for it to proceed along lines that it followed years ago, such as when it introduced a measure to authorize the borrowing of a sum of £7,000,000 to meet expenses in respect of war service land settlement in- a particular year and as a result succeeded in settling only 113 persons on the land. Now, it proposes to borrow a further sum of approximately £5,000,000 for a similar purpose,- and I have no doubt that, as a result, no more than 50 or 60 persons will be settled on the land during the current financial year. Such results, of course, are not satisfactory to ex-servicemen who are waiting for land or to the nation as a whole. If this country is to survive it must settle all ex-service applicants on the land as rapidly as possible. In order to do that it must adopt unorthodox methods or, at least, methods which it has not adopted up to date. Even a wealthy nation, such as the United States of America which believes in free enterprise, was faced with this problem. What did it do ? It introduced anti-land speculation and inaugurated the Grand Coulee irrigation system through which it settled over 1,000,000 persons in the Columbia River Valley. The Government should emulate America’s example in that respect. As the Government has power to prescribe conditions under which it makes money available to the agent States for war service land settlement, it should compel those States to institute anti-land speculation so that vast, unearned increments shall not be handed as a gift to present land-owners but shall be used for the purpose of settling new settlers. Each of the agent States has several irrigation schemes in operation. How did they inaugurate those schemes? After the State Parliaments authorized the schemes, the land was purchased from persons in occupation of land adjacent to irrigation channels, which as a result of irrigation, had increased in value tenfold.
– Not in the agent States.
– Yes. That happened throughout all the States. I do not say that the enactment of anti-land speculation legislation is the only method by which land can be effectively made available for the settlement and benefit of those who fought for this country in its hour of need; but that is one method which the Government should investigate. On the last occasion on which I spoke on a measure of this kind I suggested that the Australian Government and the States conjointly should set up a committee, or commission, with the object of evolving a practical method of land settlement. So long as the Government is prepared to resume land at exorbitant prices, it will not succeed in settling an adequate number on the land in proportion to our total population. To-day, we need to settle thousands of persons on the land. The land should not be regarded as the prerogative of a small section of land-holders who, at present, are making such high profits that they are in the highest income brackets. Those persons do not desire to see their land resumed. They are represented in the Parliament by members of the Australian Country party, such as the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), and the honorable member for Mallee, and they are desirous of keeping land out of production even if that means denying opportunities to ex-servicemen to settle on the land. Those persons are doing a disservice to the nation. Members of the Australian Country party are smiling, and I notice that the Minister has a smirk on his face. I say to them that if the Government were conscious of its responsibility and realised the danger that confronts this country at present because of its lack of rural population, it would be up and doing something to meet this problem. It would be prepared to say, in effect, “Well, if the suggestions of the honorable member for Burke are not practicable, there must be some means whereby we can settle people on the land. Up to date, we have failed disastrously “.
The Government should be prepared to resort to other methods in order to do the job that stares it in the face. However, it makes no attempt at all to deal with this matter. Naturally, members in the Australian Country party have no suggestions to offer that would help it to settle more people on the land ; and members of the Liberal party are apathetic on this subject.
The Minister, in his second-reading speech, did not deal with the vast problem that confronts us in this matter. Indeed, he did not seem to be conscious of the problem. All that he did was to speak of expenditure of a few millions here and there and the settlement of a few persons here and there. He does not seem to realize that this is a problem of the first magnitude and that it is really a question of settling not a few persons on the land here and there but a vast number of persons. Recently, I asked the Minister to indicate the number of applications that had been received from ex-servicemen of the Korean war for blocks under the war service land settlement scheme. The reply he gave to me was most interesting. He said -
Applications from ex-servicemen from World War II. and from Korean-Malayan operations’ are not segregated, but this question is to be discussed with State Ministers at a conference to be held in September.
E hazard a guess that if it takes another five years to settle applicants from World War II. on the land, ex-servicemen from Korean-Malayan operations will not be settled on the land while they are still capable of doing vigorous work, and, consequently, they, too, as so many trained applicants have already done, will completely give away their prospects of obtaining land.
This is a most important issue. The Minister should assemble representatives at least of the three agent States and the Commonwealth, but preferably of all States and the Commonwealth in order to discuss the whole subject of war service land settlement because, unless he does so, the scheme will only dawdle along with an occasional man settled here and another one there as the years go by while others leave the land faster than they arrive. This situation threatens disaster to the whole nation. It menaces our prospects of national survival. Therefore, I again appeal to the Minister to do something to justify the vast expenditure on war service land settlement, which up to date has been virtually wasted. We must evolve new methods of settlement. There are many methods that we have not tried. The French carried out war service land settlement, as the Minister probably knows, by a method of legislation in connexion with inheritances. Other countries have achieved the desired results by means of special taxation, and others have done so by the resumption of land. The Americans, as I have pointed out, enacted anti-land speculation legislation. If the Government is to fulfil its obligations to the men who went away to fight for us and its responsibilities to the nation in this critical hour when, more than ever before in our history, it is vital that vast numbers of men be settled rapidly on the land, it must investigate every conceivable method of settlement in order that our vast spaces shall be properly populated by people who will develop the land and use its resources to the best advantage. If the Government does not do so, there are land-hungry people to the north of Australia who will do what it has failed to do.
.- At this stage perhaps I should remind the House of the purpose of the bill that we are debating. It is a bill to give authority for the Government to borrow £5,000,000 for war service land settlement. Clause 4, which deals with the application of moneys, states=-
Moneys borrowed under this Act shall be issued and applied only for the expenses of borrowing and for the purpose of financial assistance to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania in connexion with war service land settlement.
Except for replies that I shall make to one or two arguments raised by members of the Opposition, I hope to keep my remarks entirely relevant to the provisions of the bill. First of all, I remind the House that the bill refers to war service land settlement only in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
– We knew that.
– It would appealthat the members of the Opposition who have spoken in the debate so far are not aware of that fact. The first Opposition speaker was the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). He represents a Victorian electorate. The second Opposition speaker was the honorable member for Wannon (Mr, McLeod). He represents another Victorian electorate. The third speaker on that side of the House was the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters). He also represents a Victorian electorate. I have the honour to represent the great electorate of Mallee, in Victoria, but I direct attention to the fact that the three Victorian members of the Opposition who have spoken seem to be opposed to the bill, or to the war service land settlement scheme generally.
I should have thought that, if the agent States of South Australia, Western Australia and ‘ Tasmania were dissatisfied with the treatment that they receive from this Government under the scheme, we should have heard something before now from Opposition members from South Australia, for example. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) seems to be quite satisfied. He has said nothing about the bill. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) is completely silent. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Makin) are other South Australians who have had nothing to say on the bill. Now I turn to Western Australia. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Webb) are quite silent. They must be satisfied with the war service land settlement scheme in their State. I come now to the honorable member for Bass. (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who come from Tasmania.
– What about Kalgoorlie 1
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson), another Western Australian, is also silent. All these honorable members represent States that are vitally concerned with the provisions of the bill, but they have remained silent, and there is an old saying that silence signifies consent.
Apparently they are perfectly satisfied with the method of war service land settlement in their States, or they would have protested against the bill.
I recall the occasion when the last bill to provide funds for the agent States came before this House. It provided, according to my memory, for the allotment of £6,000,000, and not one representative of the agent States on the Opposition side of the House spoke during the second-reading debate. As on this occasion, the only outcry came from members of the Opposition from the principal States, who have said to-night that they are dissatisfied with war service land settlement in those States. If honorable members opposite who represent Victorian electorates are dissatisfied with the scheme in their State, they ought to speak to the Victorian Premier and his colleagues on the subject. The honorable member for Lalor indicted all the principal States when he said that they had expended loan funds allotted to them on all sorts of purposes, but had .not provided enough money for war service land settlement. The honorable member for Burke has said that this is a vital subject. If that is so, the governments of the three principal States should make it their duty at the beginning of each financial year to allocate sufficient funds to provide for the settlement on the land of men who served their country well in time of war. If any undertaking must go short of funds, let it not be the war service land settlement project.
The honorable member for Wannou declared -that land values were too high. I should like to ask him how much he would accept for his fine Western District wool-growing property, because T remind you, Mr. Speaker, that he is one of the wool barons of the Labour party. Would he be satisfied with the alternative methods of obtaining land mentioned by the honorable member for Burke, if they were applied to him? Those methods involve the acquisition of land at low prices. The honorable member for Wannon had nothing to say on that subject during his speech, but we know that he would not approve of such methods. I do not believe in the acquisition of land on such terms. I maintain that land for war service land settlement should he purchased at its fair market value. Then the value should be written down by the government concerned so that the ex-serviceman who is settled on it should have the certainty of acquiring it at a productive value. The honorable member for Burke referred to the method of acquiring land that had been used in France. What do I care what happened in France? What we want is justice in Australia! Under the system that the honorable member for Burke mentioned, individuals are called upon to bear the burden of rehabilitating ex-servicemen. Apparently, the Labour Government would acquire land from one man at, say, £10 an acre, but would not touch the land of a neighbouring owner, who could put his property up for auction whenever he pleased and obtain perhaps £20 an acre for it. That is Labour justice! It would not do in this country, and the parties represented on this side of the House would not stand for it. The ex-servicemen served everybody in the country valiantly and well, and everybody should contribute towards their rehabilitation.
The cost of wai’ service land settlement should not be thrown on the shoulders of a few individuals. Anybody who believes in such a policy should rise and declare his views openly. We have already heard covert suggestions from the honorable member for Burke and the honorable member for Wannon that Labour favours such a policy. The honorable member for Wannon said that land was too dear. What did he mean by that? If land is too dear, how does he suggest that we acquire it for the purposes of war service land settlement? The Labour Government of New South Wales has indicated the policy that a Labour government in the Commonwealth would adopt. It has acquired land at low prices from individuals who have thus been forced to bear costs that the State should have met. Land should be acquired at a fair market value, and the price charged to the exserviceman should be determined only after a reasonably long period has expired so that there will be ample opportunity to fix a fair productive value for it. The honorable member for Wannon said that responsibility should rest completely with the Commonwealth.
– Hear, hear!
– The fact is that the Minister for the Interior some time ago offered the principal States an opportunity to become agent States so that they could obtain specific grants from the Commonwealth each year for the purposes of wai- service land settlement. Under such an arrangement, of course, the scheme would be operated on satisfactory lines in all States. However, the principal States, refused to become agent States on the ground that they did not want to surrender their sovereign rights. I should line to know why they do not exercise their sovereign rights, in view of the fact that they have surpluses at their disposal, to increase their allotments to the war service land settlement programme. They could’ well do so out of the very favorable - in fact, almost tremendous - allocations of funds that are made to them each year by this Government. We have heard in previous debates recently that various State governments have not been able to expend all the money that they have received. The honorable member for Lalor apparently thought that he could persuade the House to believe that the States had been unable to find sufficient money for war service land settlement and that this was the fault of the Australian Government Why, only a couple of weeks ago, notwithstanding the vast amounts that the Commonwealth has already allotted to the States, the Minister for the Interior announced that additional sums would be made available in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales for war service land settlement. The honorable gentleman knew, when he made the announcement, that those States already had surpluses.
I challenge the members of the Opposition who come from South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania to rise and say what they think of the war service land settlement scheme in those States. I know that they had no intention of doing so before I rose to speak, because, although I waited as long as I could in the hope that some of them would rise, they remained quiet. Is there a Western Australian on the Opposition side of the House who will say that the war serviceland settlement scheme under the agreement with the agent States is not operating satisfactorily ? The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) supports the bill, and every member of the Opposition will vote in favour of it when the time comes. Yet some honorable members are disgruntled. The honorable member forWannon has a hit at me, directly or indirectly, whenever he makes a speech in this House. To-night he hit at me by stating that I was an auctioneer. I have not been an auctioneer since I went overseas in 1940.
– Order ! The honorable member’s occupation is not a concern of this bill.
– It came into the debate. Let a member from Western Australia, South Australia or Tasmania, not from New South Wales or Victoria, speak about this measure. Surely members from the agent. States are familiar with events within their own States. If we heard from them we might have something to work on. But the honorable members who have spoken during this debate come from the principal States, which have nothing to do with the bill, and we cannot take their remarks on it very seriously.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Land settlement in Australia will never become what every honorable member wants it to become until the Commonwealth and the States, by the use of their joint powers, institute a scheme under which no one shall be allowed to hold any more land than he and his family can profitably use. If that day comes and surplus land is thrown on the market, people who want it will be able to get it. But many returned soldiers will be very old men before they will get a chance to obtain land under the present system, no matter how well the war service land settlement scheme is administered and how favorably governments regard it. The title to land is not absolute. It is conditioned by the use to which the owner puts it for the community benefit. With those few words, I commend the bill.
.- I remind the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) that, in a previous debate in this House on a similar subject, an honorable member who had travelled through my electorate said, as the honorable gentleman himself has just said, that the land was not being put to the best use.
– It was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member thought that I was making another tack. He admits that it was he, and every honorable member has heard his admission. The members of the Australian Labour party who travelled in my electorate on the occasion to which I refer, have no idea of the rotational farming system under which a certain area of land is fallowed, a certain area cropped and a certain area allowed to lie more or less as wasteland for the time being. Wheat-farmers know that that is the correct method of farming, but how could we expect a Labour member of the committee to know it?
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 2135), on motion by Sir Eric Harrison -
That thebill be now read a second time.
.- This bill is designed to correct a mistake that was made in the drafting of the Flags Act 1953, in which the outer diameter of the Commonwealth star, which appears immediately under the Union Jack in the Commonwealth flag, was stated to be three-eighths of the width of the flag, whereas the correct proportion is threetenths of the width of the flag.
– That is a very important matter.
– It may be important, because, apparently, according to the Government, some very conscientious flag-makers do not believe in manufacturing flags wrongly. It was a good thing that the Government introduced the Flags Act 1953 to make the Blue Ensign the Australian national flag and give it statutory backing. The Government might go further along the road that it has travelled up to the present time, and after it has repaired this minor error, it might introduce a measure next session to make better provision for regulating the flying of the Australian national flag than has been made in either the 1953 act or in this bill. In England, the Royal Family is the symbol of national unity. In the United States of America, the national flag is the symbol of national unity. In Australia, where we have seen in person only one reigning sovereign, the national flag, as well as photographs of the Royal Family, must be symbolic of our national unity. The more we respect and honour the flag and teach our children to do likewise, the better it will be for Australia’s future. I urge the Government to introduce a bill similar to the American legislation to give the Australian national flag, in our schools, churches and everywhere else, the respect that the American flag is given in the United States of America. The Australian national flag ought to have an honoured place, not only on school flagpoles, but also in public halls and churches. However, up to the present time we have never seen fit to give it the symbolic reverence that we should give it. It is merely a piece of bunting, but it represents something of immense value. I tflew at the mastheads of the ships of the Australian Navy that fought and went down in battle, and over Australian battle encampments, and it still flies over all our service establishments. Therefore, we ought to give it great respect and teach our children to feel that while it flies, there is hope for Australia and its future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate.; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 20th October (vide page 2137), on motion by Sir Eric Harrison -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill, as was intimated in the second-reading speech of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), is to make certain necessary amendments of the principal act and to give legislative effect to certain regulations, which have been in force for a considerable time, but which, in the opinion of the law authorities, may not be valid. Consequently, the Government has wisely decided that the regulations should be given legislative authority, and the Opposition offers no objection to that proposal. Other provisions of the measure are worthy of comment. The bill provides that in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory temporary public servants may sit for the entrance examinations for permanent appointment to the Third and Fourth Divisions - I speak subject to correction- up to the age of 50 years of age. I trust that the Government will extend that concession to temporary public servants throughout Australia. During the war, the CommonwealthPublic Service was glad to engage many persons who were not fit for war service, and many of those employees have been so employed for the last fourteen years. It seems cruel that after a man attains the age of 50 or 55 years he should be told that a younger man is available to do his work and that he may look for another job. If we have employed people for fourteen or fifteen years, we ought to give them security of employment until they attain the normal retiring age of 65 years. That is the humane thing to do. The persons to whom I refer should be told, not that they will be “ blanketed “ into the Public Service in the manner in which President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America blanketed many thousands of postmasters into the United States government service during his term as President, but that they will be employed on their present work at their present salary until they reach the ageof 65 years.
– Without downgrading.
– Without downgrading. I thank the Minister for his observation. I recall a few sad cases of men who did very good work and were subsequently down-graded. As I speak, [ am reminded of the father of the Minister’s private secretary, who, in the Department of Immigration when I was Minister for Immigration, did valuable work as a temporary public servant until a young permanent public servant, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Act, applied for his position, from which he was then ousted. He was down-graded. Another permanent public servant applied for the lower position to which he had been reduced, and he was again down-graded. The gentleman to whom I refer had served in the armed forces in World War I. Ultimately he returned to the security service, where he had been employed before he went to t.be Department of Immigration, and he is still doing good work there. I know of a number of men who were forced out of positions in similar fashion. It is neither proper nor fair that the Commonwealth should treat its employees in that manner. However, we must have regard to preference to returned soldiers and to the. fact that many returned servicemen, with the passage of the years, are entitled to expect promotion to higher and more remunerative positions. We must consider also the attitude of the Commonwealth Public Service associations which represent the permanent employees and which want to have avenues of promotion opened for young men entering the Public Service from the schools and universities, so that in time, having madethe Public Service their life’s work, they will be able to render service equally as distinguished as is that given by the present holders of the top positions in the service. The existing problem is not an easy one for any government to resolve. The Public Service Board might very well inform a number of temporary public servants that they will retain their employment so long as they ran do the work until they attain the normal retiring age.
I am told that many public servants harp qualified for entrance as perma nent officers and that the number is increasing. That is all to the good. The Government has acted wisely in raising the maximum age of entry for persons who have not had war service from 24 to 50 years, so that persons who wish to become permanent public servants and who have been employed by the Commonwealth for some time may attain permanent status. The maximum age for qualification for returned soldiers is - 51, years and that is as it should be. I do not criticize the bill and do not suggest that the Government’s proposals are not sound. I think that the Government’s proposals are perfectly valid. However, 1 think more could be done. I commend to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), who knows the Victorian Public Service Act as well as I know it, the provisions of an old act in relation to persons who were called temporary exempt persons. They were persons who were employed temporarily, but they were exempt from the requirement of having their appointments renewed from time to time. They were not disturbed while they occupied their positions. There are other members of the Opposition who wish to speak, but they will not delay the passage of the measure for very long.
.- This bill gives the Opposition an opportunity of discussing some aspects of the PublicService Act 1922-1953, to which the Government should have attended when it brought down this measure. I have directed the attention of the Government to some of these matters on other occasions, and I have received some sort of promise that they would be attended to. One important matter that I had hoped the Government would rectify relates to officers who have been placed on serious sick leave. The act provides that, if such an officer remains on sick leave for longer than twelve months, he shall cease to be an officer of the Public Service. I have in mind the case of an officer who contracted tuberculosis at the age of 4S years. He was retired on sick leave to arrest the complaint. He accepted th, advice of the doctors and went to a tuberculosis home. However, more than twelve months elapsed before his illness wa3 arrested. By the time the illness had been arrested, he had reached the age of “>0 years. Section 40 of the Public Service Act 1922-1953, provides as follows: -
No person shall be appointed to the Fourth Division whose age at his last birthday previous to appointment was less than sixteen years or, except as in the next sub-section provided, more than fifty- years.
This man was then placed on superannuation. In 1948, his superannuation amounted to £7 15s. a week. At that time, that sum of money was greater than the basic wage. But by the time he was placed on his superannuation of £7 15s. a week, the basic wage had risen to almost £12 a week, and therefore the value of his superannuation was not as great as it had been previously.
The Superannuation Act 1922-1953 provides that, if a man takes a job outside the Public Service at a salary which is equal to more than two-thirds of his salary at the date of retirement, he shall forfeit his superannuation. The man to whom I have referred could obtain a position outside the Public Service on the basic wage, but, if he did so, he would have to forfeit the payment of £7 15s., because £12 is more than twothirds of the salary that he was receiving when he retired. “When he ceased duty, £12 was a fairly good salary. It will be noted that there is a conflict between the provisions of the Superannuation Act and of the Public Service Act. I think that anomaly should be rectified. The Public Service Board could take special account of his case, because it is provided that in certain instances the board may exercise a discretion. Possibly there is not another case like it in Australia. Such cases are isolated, but, although they are isolated, the person concerned is affected very seriously.
I refer now to section 55 of the Public Service Act, which provides that the head of a department may inflict a penalty of up to £2 upon an officer. An officer may be charged with a minor offence, but, if he is fined less than £2, lie has no right of appeal. That section of the act leaves the way open for victimization. An officer in charge of a department could use it detrimentally to the officer concerned. The head of the department becomes the accuser, the judge and the jury, but the officer concerned has no right of appeal. I think that common British justice should prevail even under the Public Service Act and . that, if a man is charged with a minor offence, and if he is declared guilty and fined, he should have the right of appeal against the decision of the officer who has inflicted the penalty.
The Government should also examine section 73 of the act, which contains the following provision : -
When an officer has continued in the Commonwealth Service for at least twenty years, the Board may grant to him leave of absence for a period not exceeding one month and a half on full salary or three months on half salary, in respect of each completed five years of continuous service:
Provided that ‘an officer shall not be granted leave of absence to exceed a continuous period of twelve months at any one time.
The provision really means that an officer of the Public Service may receive six months’ leave for every twenty years’ service. He accumulates twelve months’ leave for 40 years’ service, but he does not obtain any benefit for any period beyond that. I think the furlough rights of officers should be extended. A man who joined the Public Service at fifteen years of age, and who intended to retire at 65 years of age, would have at least another ten years’ service after he had completed 40 years’ service. He should receive some recognition for the last ten years of his service.
Another section of the act in which the unions are very interested, and to which I think the Government should give consideration, is section 66. That section, which is very severe, provides as follows : -
Any officer or officers of the Commonwealth Service directly fomenting, or taking part in any strike which interferes with or prevents the carrying on of any part of the Public Service or utilities of ‘the Commonwealth shall be deemed to have committed an illegal action against the peace and good order of the Commonwealth, and any such officer or officers adjudged by the Board, after investigation and hearing, to be guilty of such action, shall therefor lie summarily dismissed by the Board from the Service, without regard to the procedure prescribed in this Act for dealing with offences under the Act.
Under that section, if an officer thinks he should take part in a strike to protest against grievances, he may be sacked for so- doing, without a right of appeal similar to that which is afforded to employees in outside industry. The appropriate court decides whether an employee in outside industry should he dismissed, and I think a similar provision should apply to the Public Service. I am not encouraging strikes ; I do not believe in them. But I think a man should have the right, if there is victimization, to strike if no other course is open to him. If an officer of the Public Service takes part in a strike, he is immediately dismissed. The Public Service Board, and not a court, decides the issue. I believe an officer should be dealt with only when his action is declared by a court to be illegal, and that he should not be dealt with under the arbitrary power of the Public Service Board itself.
The Government should examine the section of the act that provides for the appointment of the promotion appeals committee. I believe that there are several features of the committee which could be improved. At the present time, proper provision is not made for the hearing of interstate appeals. If a Victorian officer were to appeal against the promotion of a New South “Wales officer, he would not have the right to appear before the promotions appeals committee in New South Wales. Evidence would be taken from him in his own State, and it would be relayed to the New South Wales committee. I think a central committee should be established before which interested men may have their appeals heard. I think the Government should examine those features of the Public Service Act especially when there is a collision between the provisions of that act and those of the Superannuation Act 1922-1953. A grave injustice is being done to just a few people, and I appeal to the Government to ascertain whether the anomalies can be removed.
Mr. BRYSON (Wills) 1Q.12~].- No exception can be taken to these proposed amendments of the Public Service Act 1922-1953. Quite a number of other matters could have been taken into consideration by the Government and included in the bill. I refer also to those matters that have been brought to the notice of the House by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa). The matters to which reference has been made are among some of those that have exercised the minds of many officers of the Public Service for a number of years, and in relation to which representations have been made to the Government. The act was amended some time ago in relation to the provision of furlough for temporary employees. When the proposal was submitted to the House, it was accepted by members on both sides as being a reasonable proposal. However, when honorable members observed the operation of the amended provision, they discovered that, it did not have the effect that the Government led them to believe it would have. The provision in question relates to the conditions under which payment in lieu of furlough would be made to temporary employees who were employed during the war years, who continued to work for a number of years afterwards, but who were dismissed from the Public Service. The principal persons who were affected were female employees of the Postal Department, who undertook work, particularly in the mail branch, the postal delivery branch, and the telegraph branch, which had always been regarded as being men’s work, and who carried on that work for a number of years. It was discovered that, although those female employees had served with the Postal Department for periods of Up to nine and a half years, they were not entitled, because of the manner in which the section as amended was worded, to payment of salary in lieu of furlough. In many cases that amounted to a large sum of money, quite often to about fi 00. I brought one case to the notice of the Treasurer of the day, and, after a good deal of correspondence, and after asking questions in the House, I obtained payment in lieu of furlough for that woman. In that case the female concerned had received notice of termination of her employment, although that notice was only verbal.
Other cases have been brought to my attention of females employed in the telegraph branch of the Postal Department, who, after working for some years were told that they would be retrenched and that their jobs would be taken over by males who were then being trained. They were also told that they would be given an opportunity to take temporary positions at salaries of up to £4 a week less than their current salaries, but that those jobs would be of a purely temporary nature, and that they should look for other jobs. Those females were not given notice of termination in writing, although they were given to understand that they would no longer be employed in skilled positions, but would be employed purely temporarily on work involving much less skill and for which they would receive much less pay. They took the opportunity of obtaining work outside the Postal Department whenever positions were offered commensurate with their skill and training. They had not received notice of dismissal in writing, and, consequently, they could not obtain the benefit of the amendment of the act that I consider was made to cover cases such as theirs. I believe that it was the intention of the Parliament that temporary employees who entered the Postal Department during the war years and gave service for some years should be entitled to obtain the benefit of the provision. I was convinced by the Minister who introduced the measure to this House, and also by discussions with other honorable members and through listening to the debates, that all such employees would be covered. Therefore, I was amazed when I found that because of a technicality, unless notice of the termination of employment was given in writing, payment in lieu of furlough could be refused. If I had thought at the time when the amendment was carried that that would have been the position, I certainly should have raised strong objection to the measure.
After the bill passed through the Parliament, Treasury officials were called upon to implement that provision. They discovered that it did not mean what the majority of honorable members thought it meant, and their interpretation of the provision has prevented a large number of ex-temporary employees from obtaining the payment of salary in lieu of furlough to which they were entitled. I suggest that the Minister should immediately review that provision, which was placed in the Public Service Act about two years ago, and ensure that it operates according to the expectations of the majority of honorable members of this House. I do not blame the Government for the injustice that has been done to the employees that I have mentioned, because I believe that it was the Government’s intention that such temporary employees should receive payment in lieu of furlough upon termination of their services. However, that is not being done, and although a large number of such exemployees are endeavouring to obtain that money, so far they have not been successful.
I ask the Government to reconsider that matter, and if a further amendment of the Public Service Act is required, I ask that it be introduced as early as possible. However, I believe that the Government need not amend the act, but could give a reasonable interpretation to the present provision and give justice to ex-temporary employees of the Public Service by providing that, upon dismissal, they shall receive payment in’ lieu of furlough.
.- I desire to direct the attention of the House to what I regard as an outrageous provision in section 55 of the Public Service Act. Under that section, the chief officer of a department or section can charge an under officer with an offence, try him and impose a penalty on him. The under officer has no right of appeal against the imposition of the penalty, if the penalty is a fine of less than £2. The Public Service organizations have been pressing for some time that some action should be taken by the Government to correct that position. I do not know how the provision has been permitted to remain in the act for as long as it has, particularly when we hear honorable members on the Government side so frequently talking about the freedom of the subject and the liberties that we enjoy in this country. I suggest that the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne), even as undemocratic as he is in his outlook, would balk at a provision such as that. ‘ The official journal of the Public Service Association has directed attention to this provision, and has indicated that the Public Service Association has been endeavouring to get the Public Service Board to do something about it. The Public Service organizations believe that if an officer is charged with an offence, even if no monetary penalty is imposed, he may want to clear his name and therefore should have a right of appeal. If he protests his innocence, then certainly he should have a right of appeal. Such a right is not denied to even the worst criminal in the community. A chief officer, if he wanted to be vindictive, could fine an employee something less than £2 every day for some alleged offence, and the employee would have no redress. Indeed, I do not know how the Public Service’ organizations have put up with that provision for so long without taking direct action to have it corrected. I desire to refer honorable members to the case of an officer of the Public Service that was reported in the Public Service journal of July. He was charged with an alleged offence, and protested his innocence. Legal opinion was given to the New South Wales branch of the Public Service Association to the effect that the charge was invalid and illegal. The journal reported -
The charged officer answered the allegations in writing, stating his innocence and set out the reasons why the charge as framed was considered to be invalid. It is understood that there was a hurried conference between the Chief Officer, Public Service Board official and the Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office. The upshot was that the charged officer was fined less than £2 and he then had no right of appeal.
If he had been fined more than £2, he could have contested the charge. The officer appealed to the Public Service Board about the matter, and the board, in support of its refusal to support the right of appeal, has stated - [The Board] . . . gave careful consideration to the proposal . . [but] . . taking into account disciplinary practices in other spheres, costs of proceedings and loss of officers’ time, the administrative disadvantages would far outweigh any benefit which would accrue to the majority of officers.
This Government, if it believes in democracy, cannot permit such a state of affairs to continue any longer, and I suggest that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison”) should examine section 55 of the Public Service Act with a view to its being suitably amended. Of course, he has believed in totalitarian methods in the past, but surely some ideas of justice must be stirring in his breast, and he must believe that these officers have a just cause when they claim that if they are charged and punished they should have the right of appeal to some other authority. I suggest that at the committees stage of this bill the Government should amend section 55 of the act, and if it will not do so it should state the reason why it is not prepared to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made a point about section 55 of the Public Service Act, and I ask the Minister to consider that section. The honorable member for East Sydney stressed what the Public Service Association believes to be an important matter, and that is that there should be a right of appeal given to officers under that section. If there is a right of appeal in some sections of the act, there should be a right of appeal in all sections, and I ask the Minister to give the committee an assurance that he will request the Public. Service Board to make a recommendation in regard to a future provision to be inserted in the measure.
– The remarks made by a number of honorable members in the secondreading debate are worthy of consideration. The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) mentioned officers on sick leave for more than twelve months, and cited the case of an officer, aged 48 years, with tuberculosis, who had not been cured until he was more than 50 years of age. I believe that the case made by the honorable member should be considered, and I shall see that the matter is looked into. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) supported a case with regard to section 55 of the Public Service Act made by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). It is strange that that section has been in operation as part of the act for many years, arid that the previous Government did not see fit to insert any amendment. However, as the honorable member for East Sydney has suggested that there may be some ideas of superlative justice stirring in my breast,I promise him and the honorable member for Melbourne that the Government will give some consideration to these matters. I shall take the matter up personally with the Public Service Board, and ascertain whether some consideration can be given to the case made out by the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Melbourne.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th October (vide page 2003), on motion by Sir Eric Harrison -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to approve an agreement to amend an agreement entered into by the Commonwealth and Queensland in 1951. It affects the great sugar industry of Queensland, and, in the wider sphere, the great sugar industry of Australia.It may be thought by some Queenslanders that I, as a Victorian, hold opinions similar to those opinions which, unfortunately, are held by a vast section of the people of Victoria and other States, who are completely uninformed about the importance to Australia of this great industry conducted in the northern parts of New SouthWales and Queensland. This industry is important for a variety of reasons. It is important, in particular, because it assures to Australia the fulfilment of the whole of the sugar requirements of its people. It is estimated that the Queensland sugar crop this year will be approximately 1,250,000 tons. Part of that production will be exported, and the remainder will be consumed by our own people.
The sugar industry is also important because it hasprobably been the greatest factor in the closer settlement of Queensland. It has provided an industry of the greatest value to Queensland as a State, and incidentally, to Australia as a whole. This industry is important to the people of the rest of Australia, and, in particular, to the people of Victoria and New SouthWales. The people of Queensland purchase with the money that they receive from the rest of Australia for their sugar, many of the products of the secondary industries of Victoria and, to a lesser degree, of course, New South Wales, Tasmania and other States. Southerners who have taken the trouble to go through sugar mills in Queensland have been greatly impressed with the fact that much of the heavy machinery, engineering equipment and the laboratory supplies there have been obtained, not only from the foundries in Brisbane, Maryborough and other cities in Queensland, but also from foundries and engineering industries in Victoria and New SouthWales. .
A visitor to the substantial coastal towns in the sugar areas of Queensland cannot be other than impressed by the fact that the great wholesale and retail stores there are stocked with the products of the industries of the southern States. The people of the southern States may. wrongly in my opinion, consider that they are being exploited by the sugar industry of Queensland, but it can be said that they have a recoup in the return that they receive from the sale of the products of their secondary industries to the people of Queensland. A visitor who wishes to buy a shirt inTownsville or Cairns find that the shop where he inquires for the article offers him a product of Victorian factories. If we generalize from the particular in this instance, we obtain an idea of the market provided by Queensland for the goods from the factories in the southern States.
The industry that had its genesis in Queensland as early as 1823, and has grown to its present dimensions, has rendered an incalculableservice to the advancement of Australia, and Australians. It is estimated that anything up to 200,000 persons in Queensland alone aredirectly dependant upon the sugar industry of that State. Anybody who has any reason to doubt that the industry is efficient has only to examine the relevant figures, and he will find that the sugar-growers of
Queensland have developed the industry to a high standard of efficiency. I notice that two honorable members opposite, who have sugar-growing districts in their electorates, are listening to me with great interest. The sugar-growers have developed their industry to such a state of perfection that it leads the world to-day in respect of tonnage produced per acre. That achievement is all the more marvellous when we take into account the fact that captains of industry in Australia, and particularly those persons who were inclined to exploit labour, considered that the industry, in the earlier stages of its development, could be conducted only by black labour. For that reason, the industry used kanaka labour in the fields. Be it said to the credit of the Australian Labour movement that the elimination of kanaka labour in the cane-fields was largely theresult of its fight. Persons who, at that time, made a dismal prophecy that the industry would collapse if black labour was withdrawn, lived to see the day when Australia was the only country where sugarcane was grown successfully, economically and efficiently with white labour in competition with countries which employed black labour.
It is quite true that the people of Australia had to pay up to £37 a ton, I think, at a time when the world price was only about £9 a ton. The local price was determined by an arrangement between the Commonwealth and Queensland in order to foster the sugar industry. Many Australians who did not understand the position, were outraged, and it was from those circumstances that there grew the great antipathy to the Queensland sugar industry. The idea prevailed that the people of Australia were being exploited by the industry as a whole, and, in particular, by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. I hold no brief for that company. I knowvery well that it is a highly efficientcompany, but I know, too, that approximately one-halfpenny of the price of 9d. per pound, which the Australian consumer is charged to-day for his sugar, goes to the company for refining the sugar. I make hold to say that that payment is probably one farthing more than it should be in order to cover the reasonable cost to the
Mr. Pollard. company. But even so, an amount of 8½d. per pound is distributed among wholesalers, distributors, the sugargrowers, the workers who are employed under awards of Commonwealth and State industrial courts, and the farmers who receive a fixed price as the result of the agreement between the Commonwealth and the State.
I was interested some time ago, when I was seeking information about this industry, to have my mind refreshed regarding an attempt made by Victoria in the latter part of the last century to establish a beet sugar industry. That industry was established by a private company, but ultimately it failed, and shut down about 1900. Eleven years later, the Victorian Government took over the beet sugar factory at Maffra, and the industry progressedfairly well until about 1946 when vegetable-growing proved more profitable. The factory then closed its doors. However, for a long time, the beet sugar industry returned a profit to the Victorian Government of up to £50,000 per annum. That return was due to the fact that the whole of this product was sold in Victoria., and the industry was not required by the sugar industry of Australia, as is the producer of sugar from sugar cane, to make an export quota at the lower export price which then prevailed. Some people in Victoria attributed the nonexpansion of the beet sugar industry to the influence of cane sugar-growing interests. That opinion was not quite correct.
The fact was that every Victorian Government, irrespective of its political complexion, took the view that an expan sion of the growing of beet-sugar in that State would eventually make a demand feasible, and, indeed, inevitable, by the Queensland sugar industry that Victoria should accept a quota for the export of beet sugar overseas at a price less than that ruling in Victoria for such sugar. Compliance with that demand would have meant a possible loss to the factory, and, wisely, the industry was not expanded. I mention, in passing, that the sugar cane industry of Queensland is possibly the most efficient in the world, even though it is conducted with white labour, and that at Maffra, in Victoria, a higher tonnage per acre of beet sugar was produced than, in any other part of the world. So it can he seen that Australians have been a remarkable people in respect to the production of sugar.
I come now tq another point. The sugar cane-growers of Queensland have been remarkably alert politically, and they have been powerful enough to bring to the notice of governments in Australia the essential nature of the industry, to impress them with the fact that the sugar industry has been the greatest factor in populating Queensland. That, in itself, makes the industry an invaluable defence asset. We all hope that the industry will continue to prosper, and provide a high standard of living for sugar cane farmers and their employees, and all the secondary industries that are associated with it. I am aware that opportunities exist for the expansion of the industry in Queensland by making additional areas of land available, but I understand that the industry itself and the- Queensland Government, have wisely decided that, as a slight expansion of acreage has been made in the- last few years, and as the world is probably facing the rehabilitation of the sugar1 industries of Cuba, Java and other countries, it would not be wise at the present time to accelerate production and produce a great surplus of sugar. Otherwise, we might be confronted with a situation, such as that which now confronts the wheat-growing industry of the world.
Restriction of production is usually undesirable, but in this instance, it is probably a wise policy to adopt in order to protect the interests of all involved in Queensland to-day. But the population of Australia will increase, the populations of other countries will increase, and the standard of living of the peoples of all countries will inevitably increase, and then there- will be an ever-increasing demand for sugar from Queensland and the northern parts of New South Wales. At that time, expansions of the industry will be justified. I listened with great interest to the remarks of the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) on this bill. I was impressed by the fact that he referred to the 1951-56’ agreement, particularly as he appeared to endeavour to convey the impression that the making of an agreement between this Government and the Government of a State is something that is practically entirely new.. The Minister, may not have intended to. convey that impression. The fact is that annually since 1915, regardless of party political considerations, an agreement in respect of the- sugar industry has. been in operation between this Government and the Government of Queensland. From time to time, demands have, been made for increased prices for sugar. and on each occasion such demands have been investigated by officers of the Treasury or, as has been the case in this instance, by a committee of inquiry which has exhaustively examined their justification.
The point I emphasize on behalf of the Opposition - I am sorry that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) is not present, at the moment - is that this bill incorporates a principle which I am astonished honorable members opposite could even dream of supporting. This measure recognizes the right of the Queensland Government to acquire all sugar that is produced in Queensland, and, in that State,, a Labour government has been in office for nearly 30 years. Yet, this bill has been introduced to ratify an agreement with that Government which, normally for propaganda purposes, the Vice-President of the Executive Council would call a socialist government, and to empower; it to embrace within its octopus grasp all * the sugar that is produced, in Queensland. Obviously, socialism is attractive to honorable members opposite when it suits their book. The acquisition of all sugar that is produced in Queensland under this agreement will enable the Government effectively to control exports,, fix prices and: prevent any one from scabbing’ on the industry’s organization. Yet, honor able members opposite have so much; to say about compulsory unionism. I simply make those remarks in passing. I trust that in the future- when honorable members opposite cast aspersions upon members of the Opposition on the ground’ that we are enamoured of socialism, they will recognize that they, themselves, when they find it expedient to do so, look with favour upon socialism as they’ term it. The honorable member for
Riverina, who has just returned to the chamber, went nearly mental when a measure similar to this was introduced during the post-war period to give power tothe Government to acquire all wheat, produced in this country as a means of stabilizing the industry. That power was exercised for the benefit of not only the wheat-growers but also of the nation as a whole. The honorable member adopted that attitude in spite of the fact that under that scheme the growers were treated extremely generously. On this occasion, he and his colleagues are embracing, almost lovingly, an agreement which will enable the Queensland Labour Government of all governments, to acquire all sugar that is produced in that State. As a man of high principle, I have no doubt that the honorable member for Riverina will cast his vote against this measure or, alternatively, leave the chamber when the question is put.
Although I am a Victorian, I have always regarded the sugar industry with pride because I realize the value of it to the economies of Victoria and New South Wales, and above all, its value to the people of Australia from a defence point of view in encouraging an increase of our population. The industry has just established an all-time record in respect of yield, and that is something to be proud of. I have no doubt that in the course of this debate the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds)will deal with every aspect on the industry. Under the agreement, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited will receive payment at the rate of½d. per lb. for refining. Probably, it would be more just if that payment were fixed at the rate of¼d. per lb. However, it is not excessive when one considers the value of the sugar industry to the nation as a whole.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Brand) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate : -
Without amendment -
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill 1954.
Distillation Bill 1954.
States Grants Bill 1954.
Without requests -
Sales Tax Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) 1954.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker - -
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
The following papers were presented : -
Explosives Act - ExplosivesRegulationsOrder directing Berthing of a Vessel:
Meat Export Control Act - Australian Meat Board - Nineteenth Annual Report for year 1053-54.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Interior - M.R. Wills.
Supply - R. W. Hynes.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Regulations - 1954 - No. 13 (Canberra Community Hospital Ordinance).
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
– On the 20th October, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) asked a question concerning the grasshopper plague in New SouthWales. Action to meet the threat of damage to crops and pastures by grasshoppers is clearly a matter for the State governments. However, I understand that the Australian Agricultural Council has recently recommended proposals for trial grasshopper control experiments to be carried out in New South Wales with the co-operation of the Commonwealth and of the mainland States. To date only one State has concurred in the plan. So far no request for Commonwealth assistance has been received from the New South Wales Government, but if a request is made it will receive immediate consideration
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– On the 8th September I advised the honorable member that I would furnish him with- a reply as soon as possible. The information is now to hand and the answers to the honorable’ member’s questions are as follows : -
Council; £39,G96 on the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory; £119,008 on the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and £194,088 on the Commonwealth Health Laboratories.
a asked tho Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are ac follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 October 1954, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19541026_reps_21_hor5/>.