21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– On Thursday last an incident occurred in this building which has caused me to take certain action, unsuccessfully. A sum of money was extracted by a visitor from Sydney from a new Australian employed in the building. I gave the visitor an opportunity to refund the money, but he refused to do so. I now remit the matter to the House for consideration, and ask it to take action to-morrow.
– Will a report be made to the House other than the vague statement you have just given ?
– That will depend on the action taken by the House.
– We should have the facts before taking action.
– Would you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to inform the House what jurisdiction you have over King’s Hall? If you have jurisdiction over that part of the building, will you consider what should be done to protect members from embarrassment, or even molestation, at the hands of groups of agitators who sometimes throng King’s Hall?
– That is one of the things I hope the House will take into consideration to-morrow. From what I have heard of last Thursday’s proceedings, action is badly needed.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether it is a fact that Australia is supporting the application of Japan for admission to the United Nations?- If so, what is the policy of Australia on the general question of membership of the United Nations? Will the Government support, at this stage, the admission of the other fifteen or sixteen nations which have applied for admission to the United Nations?
– Yes. The Australian Government supports the entry into the
United Nations of all the other nations which are applicants for membership. From memory, I think the number is sixteen or seventeen.
– That is a very important statement.
– Those nations include Japan and a number of other countries which the right honorable gentleman knows have sought membership of the United Nations. They include the Republic of Ireland, Ceylon and a fairly long list of countries concerning which there has been discussion over a fairly long period.
– Does the list include Russian satellite countries?
– Yes, all of them in Europe, but not the Peking Government.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether it is a fact that Australia’s expenditure under theColombo plan is lagging, and that at the present rate of spending the amounallocated will not be used by June, 1957. as planned ? Will the Minister accelerate Australia’s commitments in this worth, project, not only as a matter of national pride, but also as a matter of urgent self-interest ?
– I appreciate the honorable member for Batman’s question, buI assure him that I need no encouragement to press on with the implementation of the Colombo plan. I think thai support of the Colombo plan is regarded throughout Australia as one of the most valuable aspects of the Government’;foreign policy. The rate of expenditure under the Colombo plan during the first four or five years has certainly not been equal to the rate of expenditure which was originally expected. That is not due to any ill will, nor to any other fault that might be laid at the door of the Australian Government. In the early stage of the plan, it was a very slow business to obtain information from thi1 countries of free Asia as to their requirements. Those requests had then to be processed in Australia to see whether it was possible and practicable for us to supply them. That processing took rather an unduly long time in the first few years. However, I think that one can say that the plan has now got into its stride. Both the free Asian countries and Australia are now much more accustomed to the processing of requests and, from now on, there should be no suggestion of any further lagging. It is true that the original objective of implementing the plan over a term of six years will not be achieved, but that is not the fault of any one in particular. The plan will go on. Australia’s original undertaking will be implemented in due course. Not only will the plan bring material benefits to the countries of Asia concerned, but it will benefit the process of collaboration between Australia and those countries. That will be most useful and beneficial to our general relationships. Without the Colombo plan Australia would have relatively few opportunities of contact with the members of the Governments and the public services of the f ree Asian countries. This plan provides, among other things, regular opportunities for contact, which we welcome. A large and increasing number of Asian students has been coming to Australia under the Colombo plan. As I said publicly recently, the 1,000th student under the Colombo plan will reach Australia within the next few months.
– I should like to ask the Minister for External Affairs whether it is a fact that the Government decided some months ago to send a delegation of members of this Parliament to South-East Asia. If that is so, can the right honorable gentleman say whether arrangements are in hand in order to carry that decision into effect and, if so, what those arrangements are?
– I cannot make any announcement on that subject at this moment. I shall discuss the matter with the Prime Minister during the course of this week.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that, under the taxation laws, insurance companies are not required to deduct instalments from money which is paid weekly to persons in receipt of workers’ compensation. If that i3 so, will the Minister have the act amended in order to require insurance companies to make such deductions? Under the present laws, persons who have received compensation during the year suddenly find that, owing to the failure of insurance companies to deduct tax instalments, they are penalized by having to pay lump sums when their assessments fall due.
– I shall have the matter looked into ; but I think that the honorable gentleman’s question is based on wrong premises. However, when the matter has been examined 1 shall let him have an appropriate reply.
– Can the Treasurer inform the House whether the New South Wales Government has indicated how it will dispose of the special flood relief grant of £2,000,000 promised by the Commonwealth to it this year? I ask that question because the airport at Gunnedah, which is an important centre in. my electorate, was seriously damaged by silt, and because there has been no intimation, so far, of the State Government’s intention to grant the money needed for its restoration.
– I desire to inform the honorable member that the £2,000,000 to which he has referred was additional to the amount payable to New South Wales under the tax reimbursement formula agreed upon, and the special grant in connexion with it. How the New South Wales Government expended that money is a matter entirely for that Government, and I have no information to offer the honorable member in the direction he desires’.
” THE “BRISBANE LINE.”
– In directing a question to the Treasurer, in the absence of the Prime Minister. I desire to know whether it is a fact that in a book recently released in Australia an American major-general, who was closely associated with the CommanderinChief of the Allied forces in this theatre of operations during the last war, has disclosed that there had existed a defeatist plan referred to as “ the Brisbane line strategy “ ? Is it a fact that this information confirms disclosures of a similar character contained in an earlier book written by another American general, who had also served on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief? Is it also a fact that the Prime Minister, and other members of the Government parties, have publicly denied the existence of such a plan, and have frequently referred to it as “ the Brisbane lie “ ? Is the Treasurer prepared to admit the truth of what is contained in the two books to which I have referred, and to admit now that “ the Brisbane line “ plan did exist, and that any lying that was engaged in when I revealed the existence of this plan some years ago was on the part of my traducers, and not of myself?
– Before suggesting that the honorable member place his question on the notice-paper I wish to remind him that he was given ample opportunity, before the judicial courts of Australia, to establish his claims with regard to “ the Brisbane line “, but ran away from his responsibilities. I suggest that he put his question on the notice-paper.
– Can the Minister for Health tell me what progress has been made towards the marketing of the Salk polio vaccine in Australia? Is it true that, because of certain statements made recently at the Australasian medical congress in Sydney, the Government has altered its plan regarding the early availability of this vaccine?
– I had intended to make a short statement on this matter subsequent to question time, and, as it will take only two or three minutes, I should like to make the statement now.
– No, make it after question time.
– Will the Minister for Health say whether any discussions took place between himself and the New South Wales Government prior to that government’s notice of intention to increase hospital fees by 50 per cent? I desire to know also whether the Minister agrees with this increase, and also whether it is the intention of the Australian Government to increase the subsidy for hospitalization, or whether the public itself is to carry the burden.
– The first intimation that I received of this matter was the same as that received by the honorable member himself - it was contained in the press. No previous information was given to me. Further, I should like to say that, as I believe the New South Wales Government knows as well as ] do the rules of the various insurance organizations, which insist that before they will transfer any member of their organizations from a lower to a higher grade of assistance two or three months’ notice is necessary, at the very least there should have been three months’ notice of such intention given by the New South Wales Government. In my opinion, it should have been six months’ notice. The question as to whether the organizations will raise their contribution charges is a matter for themselves. Insofar as the Commonwealth is concerned, the position is that in the last five years, as a result of the existence of the hospital benefits scheme, the annual amount contributed to New South Wales hospital revenue by the Commonwealth and the funds together has risen from. £2,500,000 to £6,500,000, an increase of £4,000,000 a year which, as honorable members, especially those who are associated with hospitals, know, has gradually brought all the hospitals of New South Wales out of the red. The Government has no intention of altering the five years’ agreement which has been made with New South Wales and all the other States, because every State has a different system of operating its hospitals and no other State has raised hospital fees as New South Wales has done..
– I ask the Minister for Territories whether it is a fact that an Australian manufacturer is arranging to manufacture coco-nut fibre in New G’unea. If that is a fact, where will the new plant .be installed, and what will be its estimated output? Also, what will be the ultimate saving in foreign exchange because the commodity is “manufactured in Australia instead of being imported?
– I Lave no official knowledge of the matter referred to by the honorable member. I shall make inquiries about it in order to ascertain whether there is any official information.
– Will the Minister for the Interior inform the House whether proposals are under consideration for the transfer of control of the police force of the Australian Capital Territory from the Department of the Interior to the Attorney-General’s Department, and for the amalgamation of the police force with the Commonwealth Investigation Service, the Peace Officer Guard, and, possibly, the Australian Security organization? Will the Minister do his utmost to have any such proposals rejected, and will he ‘strive to have the Australian Capital Territory Police Force maintained as a separate force concerned only with normal police duties?
– The question asked by the honorable member involves a matter of policy; therefore, I cannot answer it.
” THE BRISBANE LINE.”
– My question, which is directed to the Treasurer,, is supplementary to the question recently asked by the honorable member for East Sydney. Is it a fact that early in 1942 Mr. Justice Lowe, of Victoria, found, after an. investigation, that charges laid by the honorable member for East Sydney-
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member has mentioned the name of a person, and in view of your previous ruling, Mr. Speaker, I submit that he is out of order in so doing.
– The honorable member for Canning is out of order.
– I rise to a point of order. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, for the gUidance of honorable members in this Souse, whether it is your ruling that, after a royal commission or any other body or person has been appointed by the Government to inquire into and report upon a certain matter for the Government or the Parliament, honorable members may not use the name of the com missioner or other person in referring to that report ? Reports of the nature that I have mentioned are usually known by the name of the chairman of the commission or body that has conducted the investigation - such as the Lowe report, the Ferguson report and a number of others that quite readily come to mind. It has been the custom of honorable members to refer to reports in the way that I have indicated, and if you rule that the names of persons must not be used in referring to reports, can you tell the House how honorable members are to refer to such reports?
– The honorable member foi- Canning did not refer to the Lowe report or the Lowe Commission; he referred to Mr. Justice Lowe. It is my ruling that in so doing he was out of order, and until the House reverses my ruling I propose to enforce it.
– Is the Minister for Territories aware of the shortage of trained divers in the pearling industry? Does he contemplate the establishment of a diving school in Torres Strait to enable island divers to be quickly trained for deep work in diving?
– The training of divers in Torres Strait is a matter for the Queensland Government. It does not come within my administrative province.
” THE BRISBANE LINE.”
– In the absence of the Prime Minister I direct to the Treasurer a question supplementary to that asked a few minutes ago by the honorable member for East Sydney. Is it a fact that, early in 1942, a learned judge inquired into charges made by the honorable member, to which he referred a few minutes ago, that the Australian Government at the time in question had adopted a defeatist attitude? Is it a fact, also, that the learned judge, in his report, stated that there was no foundation in fact for such charges? Is it also true that the same learned judge stated that the only available information about the matter was contained in a report by a very high-ranking Army officer to the effect that he had given his own personal opinion in a private appreciation of the situation as it then existed?
– To which government ?
– To the Curtin Government.
– The honorable member for East Sydney was a Minister in that Government.
– Some one is running away!
– If I may be permitted to answer the interjection, we know the gentleman who ran away years ago. He is still running. To continue, are the statements of fact implied in my question true, and if they are true, will the Treasurer inform honorable members where they might obtain, for their own edification, the report referred to ?
– The observations of fact implied in the honorable member’s question are absolutely accurate, and they are confirmed in indubitable and unequivocal language by the report of Mr. Justice Lowe, which, as a parliamentary paper, is readily available to all honorable members.
– I ask for leave to make a personal explanation.
– Is leave granted?
Government Supporters. - No !
– I am afraid that leave is refused.
– I understand that I do not need leave.
– Order! The honorable gentleman asked for leave to make a personal explanation.
– I am advising you now that I do not need leave.
-It is my normal rule that if an honorable member claims that he has been misrepresented he has the right to speak without leave.
– I wish to make a personal explanation because the Treasurer has misrepresented the position in his reply to the question asked by the honorable member for Canning. The royal commissioner referred to was not asked to investigate the charges that I had made, except the one that a document was missing from a government file.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman, in making a personal explanation, must confine his remarks to matters on which he personally has been misrepresented. Up to the present juncture, he has been the first one to introduce the matter of the missing file. That subject may not form part of the personal explanation.
– The Treasurer incorrectly stated that the royal commission was empowered to investigate all the charges and allegations that had been made.
– I rise to order. I said nothing about the terms of reference of the royal commission, nor did I mention any missing’ documents or files. 1 claim that the honorable member for East Sydney was not misrepresented in either my question or the answer to it.
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney must confine his personal explanation to matters on which he claims to have been misrepresented during to-day’s sitting.
– That is exactly what 1 am confining my remarks to. The allegation by the honorable member for Canning, which wag supported by the Treasurer, was that I had been afforded before a royal commission the opportunity of proving charges that I had made. I state that such is not the case. The terms of reference of the royal commissioner required him to investigate one matter only. After the report was presented to the government of the day I invite^ that government to investigate thoroughly all the charges that I had made, but it would not do so.
– I wish to make a personal explanation in reply to the alleged personal explanation made byth p honorable member for East SydneyThe personal explanation is t« be found in unequivocal language in Mr. Justice Lowe’s report.
COLOMBO PLAN. Mr. ANDREWS. - Mv question directed to the Minister for External Affairs, is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Batman. ls the Minister aware that a visiting Asian journalist asserted that Asia needs food and foodstuffs from Australia? Does the Minister agree that Australia is urgently in need of capital equipment such as locomotives, steel permanent way, rolling stock, tractors and the like ? Can the Minister explain, if that is so, why, instead of supplying foodstuffs from glutted wheat silos in this country in support of i he Colombo plan, his Government is giving to Asia diesel locomotives, Australianmade tractors, and, under a recent contract in Western Australia, 2,000 steel railway trucks, while Australia imports tractors for its own use?
– Under the Colombo plan Australia does not supply anything r.hat is not requested by a government of one of the participating countries. I think the honorable gentleman will admit that the government of a free Asian or South-East Asian country probably knows better than anybody else what particular item the country is most in need of. If free Asian or South-East Asian countries had been particularly . in need of such foodstuffs as Australia had available I am quite sure those foodstuffs would have been asked for. In fact, they have asked for them on occasions in the past when they were subject to great food shortages caused by drought. In the case of India and Pakistan there were at least TWO occasions in the past when that happened and on those occasions wheat was readily supplied from Australia’s stocks at that time. That is only an occasional incident when there happens to be a drought or a series of droughts that cause a shortage of foodstuffs. In fact, the foodstuffs that Australia supplies are not generally agreeable to the people of South-East Asia, who are, in the vast majority of cases, rice-eating people. A pertain proportion, a very small proportion, of wheat-eating people are found in Asia, usually in the higher country, but in the majority of areas the people nf South-East Asia are a rice-eating people. That is broadly the reply to the honorable gentleman’s question.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs whether it is not a fact that 46 out of 47 seats contested in the recent elections in the Malayan Federation were won by members of the Alliance parties, namely, the United National Malay organization and the MalayChinese Association. Is it not also a fact that these parties, which won 46 out of the 47 seats, in their joint election manifesto declared their support for Australia’s assistance in helping them maintain their country against the aggression of Communist imperialism? Is it not also a fact that both of those parties stand very strongly for the independence of their country and find no conflict between fighting for that independence and accepting the assistance of the Australian people in helping to maintain that independence against Communist imperialism ?
– What the honorable member for Yarra says is broadly true. I do not remember the exact wording of the question, but in general everything that he says is true except possibly the actual figures. I think the actual figures, from memory, show that the Alliance parties, that is the United Malay National Organization, the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress, won 51 out of 52 seats that were contested in the Legislative Council. It is true that the Alliance, composed of the three representative sections in this multi-racial community, did, broadly, put into their election manifesto their approval of aid from Australia in the sense that we are speaking of. It is also a fact that the other parties won, I think, one seat out of 52. and that those parties expressed some dissatisfaction about Australian troops going to Malaya. But as I have said, out of all the 52 seats, the parties that showed some dissatisfaction obtained one seat. I think this reflects the fact that all the responsible and important political parties in the Federation of Malaya are in line with the Australian Government’s policy of giving aid to Malaya along lines that are known.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. As thousands of aged and infirm people are unable to obtain admission to institutions in the various States of the Commonwealth because accommodation is lacking, and as these people are unable to take care of themselves adequately, the lack of accommodation being due to the fact that the life span of our people is increasing, as is also our population, will he use some of his surplus millions of pounds as grants to State instrumentalities to provide additional accommodation to these aged and infirm people?
– Despite the fact that the question concerns a matter of policy, and particularly a matter of policy covered by the budget which is before the Parliament, I would advise the honorable member that the millions of pounds of surplus which might be anticipated have already been mortgaged, to a great extent, to meet the requirements of the State instrumentalities to which he has referred.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral cause investigations to be made with a view to speeding up the building of the approved post office at Robinvale, Victoria, provision for which appeared in last year’s Estimates? The present building is adequate for a population of only 300 or 400, whereas the population in the area now is between 3,000 and 4,000 and is increasing. The present building.is completely out of date and wholly inadequate.
– There are many inadequate post office buildings throughout Australia, I regret to say, and we have to give consideration to their improvement in an order of priority as to urgency and so forth.
– This one is very urgently needed.
– I shall have a look into the matter and see what can be done. If the Robinvale post office is in an appropriate position on the priority list, I shall see that the work is speeded up.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. In regard to the reported proposal for an early release of Japanese war criminals, has the Australian Government been consulted by the authorities of the United States of America about this matter, and, if so, may we expect from the Minister a statement to this House upon the subject ?
– If the honorable gentleman is referring to the major war criminals, those who, I think, are known as category A criminals, yes, indeed. All the major powers concerned collaborate whenever a question arises in connexion with this matter. We had an active exchange of telegrams lately on the subject with Great Britain, the United States of America and the other principal Allied powers concerned. If the matter is regarded as of importance, I shall endeavour to make a statement on it at an early date.
” THE BRISBANE LINE.”
– My question, which is directed to the Treasurer in the absence of the Prime Minister, is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for East Sydney. When was the commission on the so-called “Brisbane line” referred to appointed, who was the chairman, and what was contained in the report bearing on the socalled “Brisbane line”?
– I would reply to the honorable member in precise terms by stating that an inquiry into a statement made by the honorable member for East Sydney was held under a royal commissioner, His Honour Mr. Justice Lowe. His report is available to every honorable member because it was tabled in the House. It is dated the 8th July. 1943. In his report. Mr. Justice Lowe stated -
In order to answer the questions put to me, it was necessary for me to determine what waa meant by the expressions “ official files “ and “Brisbane line”. To take the latter first, I informed my mind by reading the debate of the 22nd June, as recorded in Hansard, of the sense in which the expression was used, and witnesses were also questioned as to their knowledge of the expression. No officer, either of the Australian Military Forces, the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force, knew of any plan which related to a “ Brisbane line “ so-called, and all stated that their only knowledge of such an expression was derived from press reports or like sources.
They did have knowledge, however, of what was called an “ appreciation “ submitted by Sir Iven Mackay in February, 1942.
That report was made to the Curtin Government, of which the honorable member for East Sydney was a Minister.
– It was made to the Menzies Government.
– The report was made in February, 1942, when the Curtin Government was in power, and the honorable member for East Sydney was a member of that Government. The report of Mr. Justice Lowe continued -
No officer who gave evidence before me was aware of any plan other than this in relation to the matters Sir Iven Mackay dealt with. I sought from witnesses evidence as to all the files which related to matters which were the subject matter of Sir Iven Mackay’? report, and I was given precise information as to those liles. There was called before me every officer whose duty it was to have the custody of any of those files, and also every officer who had the right of access to any of them. Each of those officers, without exception, swore that he or he had given no information to Mr. Ward in relation to any document, and most of those officers did not even know Mr. Ward.
Were they not fortunate? Mr. Justice Lowe’s report continued - [ accept the testimony of all these officers . The whole of the evidence, without exception, wa3 to the effect that the official files were intact and that ito document relating to “ the Brisbane line “ had been or was missing from them. I should add that, beyond satisfying myself as to the method of recording documents and that the system was adequate to keep trace of the fate of a document and would disclose whether or not a document was missing, I did not personally investigate the files. To have done so would have been a herculean task incapable of accomplishment within any reasonable time and one which I felt to be unnecessary in view of the fact that I thought the evidence of the witnesses who spoke to the completeness of the files entirely trustworthy and, moreover, no challenge was made of it by cross-examination.
– In view of the heavy expenditure incurred by the Government to discover and suppress subversive activities throughout Australia, will the Treasurer inform the House whether any acts of subversion have been detected? If so, what action has been taken by the Government against the persons concerned ? Has not the Government legal powers to deal with men who are, or are considered to be, a danger to the freedom and welfare of Australia? If so, when does the Government propose to take appropriate action?
– The best answer I can give to the honorable member is that he will have an opportunity to speak on the matter he has raised when the report of the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia is tabled in this House.
‘THE BRISBANE LINE.”
– I ask the Treasurer, following on the answers, statements and personal explanations that have been given concerning the honorable member for East Sydney’s reference to “ the Brisbane line “, whether the Curtin Labour Government took office at least two months before the Japanese nation entered the war. Does not this, when taken with the extract from the royal commission’s report which the right honorable gentleman has just read, effectively dispose of the contention of the honorable member for East Sydney that there ever existed such a thing as “ the Brisbane line”?
– Not only do the facts dissipate and destroy the allegations made by the honorable member for East Sydney but they also show that, if anything relating to such a line, or any appreciation regarding it, was ever brought before a government, it waa a government of which he was a member, and that he fell down shamefully by not doing his duty in connexion with the matter.
– It was the MenziesFadden Government, and you know it!
– Have a look at the dates. The country was in a shocking state.
– Has the Minister for the Army held an inquiry into the laxity of control, and the loss of stores and equipment, at Puckapunyal, Victoria, and elsewhere? Is he satisfied that the taxpayers’ money is being spent with due care and prudence, and to the best advantage? If he is not satisfied, what action does he propose taking to correct the present position ? Does he not consider that it would be to the advantage of this Government and the taxpayers to appoint an all-party committee to investigate defence expenditure?
– Expenditure in all three services is regularly reviewed by business boards. These men give their time voluntarily, in an honorary capacity and do a splendid job. Many of the difficulties that have arisen with regard to stores, especially in the Permanent Army, are attributable to the fact that stores dumped in Australia from Morotai, Papua, New Guinea and elsewhere in the Pacific, immediately after the war, were not true to label. A very depleted staff is busy to-day opening and examining these cases, and relabelling them. In order to overcome general problems of army stores control in other units and to keep our methods up to date, we have, since early in 1953, set up special schools at which officers and senior non-commissioned officers may be taught the duties of quartermasters, and the tabulating and recording of supplies. I have sat with the Military Board and discussed these matters on more than one occasion. The problem has been carefully examined and from my own personal observations, I am satisfied that the leeway that we had to make up when this Government was elected to office is gradually being overtaken, although the range and complexity of stores and equipment are much greater than before the war.
– Can the Treasurer inform the House of the detailed cost of the activities of the taxation depreciation allowance committee, which was presided over by the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), and whose recommendations were submitted to the Government but not adopted?
– If the honorable member will read the budget speech he will see that the amount is set out therein. It would mean an added cost to revenue of£40,000,000 annually.
– Is the Postmaster-
General aware that the public demand for post office boxes at country post offices often exceeds the number available, and that even where post, offices have been remodelled insufficient boxes to meet present demands have been provided?
-It is recognised that there is a strong and growing demand for more postal boxes in which people may have their mail deposited. The department is trying to meet this demand, as far as is possible, when renovations and remodelling of post offices takes place. Sometimes it is not possible to install more boxes, because it would necessitate a reconstruction of the post office. We are fully aware of the need to meet the public demand in this matter and we will do so as far as possible.
– Can the Treasurer advise the House whether subscription to the current Commonwealth Security Loan are up to expectations?
– It is not usual nor is it judicious to make progress reports regarding loan raisings,butI assure the honorable member that the loan is proceeding very satisfactorily.
– I desire to ask a question without notice of the Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation. I preface my question by reminding the Minister that recently he informed me, in response to representations whichI had made to him for increased air services to Flinders Island, that the matter was then under consideration by Australian National Airways and the Department of Civil Aviation. Can the Minister tell me the result of this conference, and whether the suggested schedule is to be approved ?
– I am not in a position to give the honorable member that information yet. No report of the discussions has come to me so far, but I will follow the matter up and inform the honorable member later.
– Is the Minister for Health aware of the proposal of the Government of New South Wales to increase hospital fees in that State as a result of which contributions by voluntary subscribers to hospital funds are likely to be increased? I have in mind particularly industrial subscribers such as miners, who have built four hospitals in the State of New South Wales and maintain them. These workers also introduced the eight-hour day for nurses, by paying for any time worked by nurses over eight hours daily. Contributions by industrial workers are voluntary. There may be five people in a family, all paying subscriptions. My father and my four brothers all paid subscriptions of 2s. 6d. a fortnight, which covered only my mother and any children-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman will ask his question.
– All right, I will ask a question. I am not giving information.
– Order ! If the honorable gentleman is not careful he will resume his seat.
– Does the Minister not chink that to increase contributions would impose a great hardship on these workers, and that it might cause industrial trouble through people refusing to contribute voluntarily in future? Could the Government not make a larger allowance to the States for hospital benefits than it is doing at present?
– All the hardship is being caused by the Government of New South Wales, which is the only government that has increased hospital fees.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that pensioner couples whose income is not more than £15 a week are exempt from taxation. Is it also a fact that aged persons, of 65 years and over, whose wives are ineligible to receive an age pension because of their age, are compelled to remain in industry and pay full taxation? Is it true that because such workers remain in industry the Government saves up to £200 a year per person in pension payments, and at the same time collects about £50 in each case in taxation revenue? If this is true, does the Treasurer agree that an anomaly exists in taxation law, and will he examine the possibility of rectifying the position ?
– I do not know whether the honorable member’s figures are right or wrong, but I do know that this is a matter of policy which is contained in the budget which will presently be before the House.
– I address my question to the Postmaster-General. Is it not a fact that the Minister’s department has allocated for the purpose of television in this country a limited number of wave lengths in what is known as the ordinary high frequency band, and that it will be impossible to have more than three television wave lengths operating in Australia? Is it also true that this seriously restricts the use of television even by those who are able to afford the high cost of television in Australia? Is it also true that the companies that have been issued with licences in this band will have a complete monopoly of television rights? Is it also a fact that if television wave lengths were allocated in the ultra-high frequency band, at least seven more stations could be established in each capital city? In view of these facts, will the Minister take steps to see that the public is protected against monopolistic interests, so that the benefits of television can be spread over the whole community?
– Whether very high frequency or ultra-high frequency should be used in television in Australia was one of the matters investigated by the Royal Commission on Television. The recommendation of the commission, with which I agree, was that the very high frequency band should be used. It is expected that, in the course of a few years, by about 1963, we shall be able to find about ten television frequencies on this very high frequency band. The experts have advised me that this band is very much superior to the ultra-high, frequency band. They have also stated that ten frequencies, in their opinion, would be quite sufficient for the needs of Australia. With that opinion I agree. In view of that advice, and following the recommendation of the royal commission, that band has been adopted by the Government.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral give the approximate number of outstanding applications for the installation of telephone services? Has there been any reduction of the unduly long time-lag in the installation of telephone services which has existed for the past five years? Have the frequent advertisements inserted in metropolitan newspapers, inviting applications for appointment as linemen, &c, been successful in obtaining the required amount of labour?
– I think that at present there are about 65,000 outstanding telephone applications throughout Australia. Applications are coming in now, I presume because of the general economic prosperity of the country, at the rate of about 130,000 a year, and there are far more applications than we can satisfy. We have very much improved the position over the last few years. When this Government took office, I think there were about 120,000 outstanding applications.
– Nothing of the kind; there were 16,000.
– There were, I think, 120,000 outstanding applications at the time we took office. At any rate, it was something over 100,000. I am speaking from memory. We have reduced that number, and we are maintaining a connexion rate which we expect this year will be at the rate of 70,000 or 80,000 a year.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether it is a fact that aircraft are not permitted to fly below 500 feet, where an area is sparsely populated, except when landing and taking off, whether the carrying of firearms on aircraft is prohibited, and whether it is illegal to fly an aircraft with the door open. If so, what action has the Department of Civil Aviation taken against the Minister for External Affairs, who committed breaches, of those regulations while eagle-hunting in Queensland recently?
– Whilst the air navigation regulations are enforced very strictly over built-up- areas, and rightly so, I am pleased to say that officials of the Department of Civil Aviation use b certain amount of common sense in controlling flying in outback areas. The honorable member has asked about the steps that were taken in the case of the Minister for External Affairs. My reply is. that appropriate steps were taken.
– In view of a recent statement made by some of the foremost medical research workers in Australia about the increased incidence of lung cancer and the smoking of cigarettes, ha.= the Minister for Health taken any steps to refer this very acute problem to his departmental advisers in order to see whether any action ought to be taken by the department to correct a situation which, according to reports, is developing to an alarming extent?
– Research into lung cancer is a highly technical subject. The work is being conducted on the highest plane, by some of the best men in the world. We shall be content ultimately to accept their verdict.
– Will the Minister for Air inform me whether any decision has yet been reached about the type of aircraft to be stationed at Pearce aerodrome in Western Australia to replace the Neptune reconnaissance bombers which were removed some time ago from the western seaboard to the eastern seaboard ?
– No decision has been made yet about the replacement of the Neptune bombers which were transferred from Pearce aerodrome. In the event of hostilities, or if there were a likelihood of war breaking out, the Neptunes could go back to Pearce and operate from there. At the present time, Vampire fighters are using Pearce. It is more than likely that additional fighter type aircraft will go there.
– Does the Treasurer recollect that in 1941 he attended a secret session of the Parliament which was called in order to permit members to have a frank discussion of the critical defence situation that then existed ? Does he also recollect that at that secret session, of the Parliament the then Minister for the Army made a statement-
– I rise to order. Is an. honorable member, or one who is supposed to be honorable-
– Is an honorable member entitled to disclose what took place at a secret session of the Parliament?
– I should say that he is not entitled to do so, without the permission of the House. I call the honorable member for Herbert.
– I have not finished my question.
– Order ! ‘ The honorable member cannot base a question on something that happened in a secret session of the Parliament. I rule the question out of order.
– But the war is over. Mr. SPEAKER. - That does not matter.
– My question, which is addressed to the Treasurer, is supplementary to a question that I asked a few minutes ago. Is the Treasurer able to inform the House now, or, if he is not able to do so, will he arrange for the House to be informed later, of the cost of the activities of the committee that was appointed to investigate all phases of depreciation allowances under the income tax law? The Treasurer said in his reply to my earlier question that the cost was £40>000,000. Does he intend to stick to the figure of £40,000,000’? If not, will he give us the correct figure? If he is not able to do so now, will he arrange for the information to be given to< the House later ?:
– When I said that the cost was £40,000,000, I misunderstood the question. I thought the honorable member had asked for information about the cost of putting into effect the recommendations of the committee with regard to depreciation allowances. I find now that he was inquiring about the cost of the committee that considered depreciation allowances, under the chairmanship of the honorable member for Petrie. I cannot give the cost offhand, but I know that, whatever the cost was, the work was done very cheaply indeed.
– by leave - Since my last statement in the House regarding the production and distribution of poliomyelitis vaccine, the matter has been receiving the* closest attention of the Government. Honorable members will be aw.are that the mass vaccination programme in the United States of America, was temporarily suspended following the occurrence of poliomyelitis in vaccinated subjects and their associates.. Investigations have since disclosed that vaccine produced commercially to the original specification was apt to contain live virus in an infective form capable of producing paralytic poliomyelitis when injected into children, and that the prescribed safety checks were not sufficiently reliable invariably to reveal this hazard. Careful study of improvements in production and safety checking methods has since been conducted in the United States and mass vaccination has now been resumed. However, no precise and detailed authoritative information regarding these refinements in production and checking has yet reached Australia, and the Committee on Epidemiology of the National Health and Medical Research Council has. advised the Government against the purchase of Salk-type vaccine marketed by United States drug manufacturers. The
Government has accepted this advice and has abandoned its original intention of importing vaccine from the United States for use pending the availability of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories’ product. Honorable members probably know that mass vaccination with Salk vaccine has proceeded without interruption and apparently without mishap in Canada. In Denmark and in South Africa, a similar, but not identical, vaccine is being used. The Government has resolved to proceed with its plans for the production of poliomyelitis vaccine in Australia. It is emphatic, however, that this vaccine must be not only effectual but also, as far as it is humanly possible to determine, completely free from danger. Before production is commenced in Australia, the Government will consult its advisers to decide whether the new methods of production and safety checking evolved in the United States give adequate assurance that live virulent virus will not reach the final product and escape detection, or, alternatively, whether an attenuated strain should be substituted for one or more of the virus types used in production of the original Salk vaccine.
The Government has given careful consideration to the method of distribution of the vaccine to be produced by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and has decided to make it available free of charge for use in voluntary immunization campaigns conducted by the States provided, first, that the States accept responsibility for the immunization plans, including costs of inoculation, administration, and the keeping of the necessary records; and, secondly, that the groups to be immunized are in accordance with the priorities laid down by the Commonwealth, acting on the advice of the National Health and Medical Research Council, on which all States are represented. The States are now being advised of the Commonwealth’s decision on this matter and their co-operation is being sought in implementing the immunization programme on the basis outlined above and in determining the various details of the programme. _ The Government feels that the protection of our young people against poliomyelitis is a responsibility snared by the
Commonwealth and States. This joint responsibility is acknowledged in the projected partnership between the Commonwealth and the States which is designed to ensure that the most vulnerable groups in the community will be protected without any cost to their parents or themselves.
Debate resumed from the 24th August (vide page 64), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The measure now before the House is designed to arrange that a short-term loan, obtained by the Commonwealth to finance the building of emergency wheat storage accommodation to store carry-over wheat, be now converted to a long-term loan, that the responsibility which was assumed by the Commonwealth Bank during the last twelve months be now assumed by th*Australian Government, and that the moneys be provided from loan funds ordinarily raised by the Commonwealth on behalf of State and other authorities. I understand that the Australian Loan Council, which, of course, is fully repre sentative of the States, has agreed that this procedure should be followed. As far as I can see, to that extent the proposal is unexceptional.
In relation to the original proposal, the members of the Opposition fully supported the Government in the steps which it proposed to take. We now find that the programme which was envisaged has been almost completed. In the various States, emergency wheat storage accommodation has been constructed. As far as the actual construction is concerned, and the expedition with which the work has been carried out, the various State authorities are to be congratulated; so, too, are the contractors responsible for the work, and the workers ‘ employed by them. Speaking from some knowledge of Victorian circumstances, one cannot but say that the vast storage provided at Geelong is other than a firstclass job which has been carried out expeditiously to meet an emergency. At this stage, I cannot see that any exception can be taken to the proposals of the Government to transfer responsibility for the source of the loan from one lending authority to another. After all, at the time that the loan was raised originally there was not time to. consult the Australian Loan Council. The emergency arose suddenly, and the Commonwealth Bank was looked to to supply money which, as the situation now demonstrates, probably will be wanted for a considerable period of years. In view of the long-term nature of the loan, the Commonwealth Bank was not prepared to continue responsibility for the money involved.
It appears to me that the information which has been furnished to the House in regard to this proposal is rather inadequate. I am sure that honorable members would be grateful if the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) elucidated further the information he has placed before us. Under the proposals outlined in the measure, the money is to be advanced to the Australian Wheat Board, which will assume responsibility, I take it, for meeting the interest and repayments of principal from time to time, under the terms of the loan. I speak subject to correction by the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman, in his second-reading speech, said that State authorities may, in certain circumstances, purchase this storage accommodation. I assume that to mean that, in the various States where there are storage authorities, such as the State elevator organization in Victoria and the State bulk handling authority in New South Wales, those authorities may, in certain circumstances, purchase these structures at cost, less depreciation at time of sale, and that they, in turn, as the storage authorities, would undertake to store wheat for the Australian Wheat Board at so much a bushel a week or a month, as the case may be.
I think that this Parliament is entitled to information from the Treasurer regarding the storage charges that are being imposed at the moment by the Australian Wheat Board or State authorities that may have purchased some of these storages already. In addition to information concerning the charges being imposed on wheat-growers for wheat now in store, the House should he informed of the extent to which total storage charges have accumulated since the carry-over crop of 1953-54. The people of this country were informed that, at the end of 1954, it was anticipated that there would be in store, as a carry-over crop from the previous year, approximately 93,000,000 bushels of wheat. I understand that a very large proportion of that carry-over is still in store. The wheat-growers and the general public, who guarantee these loans, are entitled to know the extent of the charges which have accumulated against the wheat already in store, and also the charges which have accumulated against the wheat-growers.
Speaking subject to correction, I understand that, at the end of November next, it is expected that there will be approximately 90,000,000 bushels of wheat in store in Australia. We shall then be in the unenviable position that, although twelve months will have elapsed, we shall still have, as a carry-over, approximately the same quantity of wheat that we had in November, 1954. In other words, Ave shall have made no progress whatever in the disposal of our wheat. Indeed, if the Treasurer cites the figures, we may find that we have gone backwards in that respect. This poses a very serious problem for the Australian economy. After all, the Australian Government, under its guarantee . to the wheat-growers, has already paid a first advance of 10s. a bushel in respect of .the wheat now in store. Should it so happen that, at the end of 1955, there are still 100,000,000 bushels of wheat in the silos and storages of Australia, there will be a liability on Consolidated Revenue of approximately £50,000,000. The budgetary effect of that will be bad. The money will have been received by the wheat-growers and spent by them, but no realizations will have been obtained by the Government in respect of the sale of the wheat. Perhaps I should offer some criticism regarding the sales management in relation to the carry-over crop of 1954, part of which is now in store, and the crop which was harvested last year. I expect the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) to say that the wheat is the property of the wheat-grower and that he has the management of its sale.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member, who makes a very vociferous interjection of “ Hear, hear ! “, has no hesitation, as a wheat-grower, in putting out his hand and receiving 10s. a bushel for wheat not yet sold; he receives that amount simply because he and his colleagues and representatives on the Australian Wheat Board - I am not necessarily blaming them - have not been able to sell their product. There are not many other sections of the community which experience such benevolence from the Government, although had the party to which I belong been in office it would have taken similar action. The wheat-grower is in a very preferential position. Not many other members of the community who cannot sell their commodities can put out their hands and receive nine-tenths of the value of their commodities in cash.
– The honorable member should not forget the activities of the Onion Board.
– Perhaps. The honorable member seems to think that nobody should accept responsibility for the sale of the product other than the growers themselves when they are in receipt of a bounty. That is an utterly irresponsible opinion. If the trading conditions in the markets of the world in relation to our primary products decline, it will not be a case of the honorable member for Riverina saying “ Hear, hear ! “ to non-interference by the Australian Wheat Board; the hoard and many primary producers will be down on their knees praying for assistance. It is in such times that they ask governments to assume responsibility. Such a position arises during every war, and I hope that we will not experience it again.
When the honorable member for Riverina speaks to this measure he will doubtless refer to the attitude of the Labour Government, in which I was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, towards the wheat-growers. But he will not tell the Parliament or the people that the market prospects of wheat during the early part of World War II. were so desperate that the Government that was then in office - it was not a Labour government - acquired the whole of the wheat of Australia for the duration of the war. lt was acquired after the war by the Labour Government only at the request of the Premiers of all States, irrespective of their political complexion, pending the making of an arrangement to hand back marketing to the primary producers themselves.
– There was a market in New Zealand.
– Yes, but I remind the honorable member-
– Order! The honorable member for Lalor should confine his remarks to the bill.
– I am endeavouring to do so, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, generally allow a fair amount of liberality in debate. I hope that you will allow me to point out that responsibility rests on the Treasurer to say whether the Government is carrying any of the responsibility of providing loan moneys in respect of the charges for wheat storage. He should tell the House whether the arrangements will be such as to permit the bulk handling authority or the Australian Wheat Board to meet its obligations to the Commonwealth Bank or any other authority. I am vitally interested in the welfare of the wheat-growers, whom I have assisted considerably in the past. I should like the right honorable gentleman to tell the House the charge that will be imposed in respect of each bushel of the 1953-54 wheat crop which remains unsold. How much a bushel has so far been incurred by the wheat-growers for storage? I consider that the wheat-selling authorities and, to a degree, the Australian Government, have a definite responsibility in this matter. I realize, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will not allow me to proceed very far along those lines, because the board’s sales policy has not been so vigorously pursued as it might have been. I hope that the Treasurer will elucidate the matters that I have mentioned.
I come now to a portion of his secondreading speech that requires clarification. It reads - ‘
The outlook was that by November, 1954. there would be 100.000.000 bushels of wheat unsold in store and another crop would commence to flow from farms to country and port terminals. The problem was that at the end of 19S4 there would be nowhere to store some 45j000,000 bushels of wheat.
Did the right honorable gentleman mean to say that by the end of 1955 there would be nowhere to store some 45,000,000 bushels of wheat? Perhaps there is a typographical error in the roneoed copy of his speech before me. He stated that the Australian Wheat Board warned in the autumn of last year that by November, 1954, there would be 100,000,000 bushels of wheat unsold in store, irrespective of the new crop to be harvested.
– That is right.
– Of course, I might have misinterpreted the paragraph.
– I referred to the necessity for the provision of emergency storage.
– The Treasurer’s explanation makes the passage clear. I support the bill wholeheartedly, and I trust that the right honorable gentleman will explain what it will cost the wheatgrowers to meet the charges associated with loan moneys, and the extent to which their income will be reduced by the charges.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) expressed considerable concern about the shortage of storage accommodation for wheat at the end of 1954. If, as was expected in August last, a good crop had been harvested last year, the honorable member’s fears would have been realized. The various State governments have been subjected to considerable censure in relation to the provision of storage facilities. I shall not speak for other States, of which I cannot claim firsthand knowledge, but as far as New South Wales is concerned I direct the attention of the honorable member for Lalor and of the House to the fact that although silos for emergency storage were to be completed by the end of 1954, that has not been done in New South Wales. As I drive through my electorate I see these emergency - and I stress the word “ emergency “ - bulk storages with a skeleton-like top, but no iron roof.
Almost nine months have elapsed since the time when they should have been completed.
– Some have been completed.
– I agree that some have been completed and it would have been a sorrier story still if that were not the case, but a great many have not yet been completed in this second year of emergency storage. If these storages are not completed - and I have heard the opinion expressed that they will not be completed by the end of this year - and the forthcoming harvest is a big one, the finance made available by the Australian Government to provide bulk storage facilities will be of little value.
I have no wish to appear too critical, but the responsibility for wheat storage in New South Wales - or anywhere in the Commonwealth, for that matter - does not rest on the Australian Government, and the right honorable the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) stressed that point in his second-reading speech. The farmers do not regard it as the responsibility of the Australian Government. The idea of bulk storage was first adopted in the early 1920’s. Until that time the growers sent their wheat away in bags. The system of bulk storage developed in wheat-producing countries on the other side of the world, particularly in Canada, and because of its great success was adopted in Australia. The original scheme was to build silos at country stations to hold the wheat for short periods only. Their principal purpose was to accommodate the sudden rush of wheat over the weeks of harvest, but even during that time it would be fed to the terminal silos and from there to ships in port. There was to be a continuous progress of the wheat from the farm through the silos to the ships, and what could not be shipped immediately would be moved during the slack period later in the year.
It was a splendid plan, but unfortunately it broke down after some years because the crops increased in size as a result of a larger area being sown to wheat and a consequent heavier yield. A major difficulty was the nonavailability of sufficient shipping to move the wheat from the terminal silos. As a result wheat banked up at the terminals, country silos and on the farms, and large quantities had to be sent away in bags. Farmers, and all those connected with rural industries, know that once the header is working the wheat must be kept moving through the silos to the ships. Another means- of shifting the wheat was in bulk wheat railway trucks. This relieved the pressure on the silos, but the time came when there was not sufficient rolling-stock to cope with the quantity to be moved. The position went from bad to worse and reached a critical stage when overseas sales of Australian wheat were delayed as a result of a glut on the world markets. The Treasurer, in his second-reading speech, dealt with the extent to which emergency bulk storage became necessary.
A further problem arose when the United States of America began almost to give away wheat. This circumstance, made the sale of Australian wheat very difficult. As the Treasurer correctly said in his second-reading speech, an estimate was made in April, 1954, that by November, 1954, 100,000’,000 bushels of unsold wheat would be held in store, and by that time another harvest would begin to flow from the farms to the country and port terminals, as a result of which a further 45,000,000 bushels would have been produced, for which no storage was in sight. Some might ask how the authorities would handle the situation. There are various organizations in the States - not all of them government authorities - to handle the wheat crop. In Western Australia, the farmers have their own excellent organization.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) applauds, and I agree with him. In New South Wales, the wheat harvestis handled by the New South Wales Government Grain Elevators. That organization, however, is limited by the capacity of its elevators, and also by the amount of money which the State Government is prepared to spend - and I say advisedly “ prepared to spend “ - on this problem. It appeared that the wheat farmers of New South Wales would have no relief in the shape of emergency storage to accommodate the glut of wheat at the end . of 1954, and honorable members will recall that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), in consultation with the Australian Wheat Board - which, primarily, is a selling organization and not responsible for storage - decided that the only way to meet the situation was to make finance available to provide storage facilities. There was no intention to meddle in the affairs of the handling authorities, whether government or private, but to make finance available so that they could build necessary storages. Storages would be provided at sites to be recommended by the authorities in the various States and approved by the Australian Wheat Board, and the Australian Government guaranteed that the Commonwealth Bank would release necessary funds on a shortterm basis to build them.
I have a very strong complaint to make against some State members whose governments contribute nothing towards the financing of this scheme but act only as clients of the Australian Wheat Board. These members travelled through their country electorates promising the farmers that their governments would provide silos, and claimed great credit for them. In New South Wales, particularly, they made it appear that the New South Wales Government Grain Elevators, assisted by the New South Wales Government, were responsible for this act of beneficence, but the farmers should be made aware that it was the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture who conceived the idea, and the Australian Government which made possible the implementing of it by making available the necessary finance. Now, this bill has-been introduced for the purpose of providing long-term loans for the building of silos,- and also to write off those loans over the estimated life of the silo - which is considered to be twenty years - although it is recognised that even at the end of that period the silos will not be without value.
Now we come to the point of the bill. Originally, the money was to be made available primarily to New South Wales, which was to get approximately £1,400,000, and Victoria, which, was to get approximately £1,100,000. However, after the scheme was implemented, it was discovered by the other States that they also might have need for assistance. Western Australia asked for an allocation of £525,000, South Australia for £335,000, and Queensland for £70,000. The money provided for South Australia and Queensland was for the storage of bagged wheat and not bulk wheat. As I have stated, the scheme was introduced primarily for New South Wales and Victoria, but it proved to be so successful that every other State except Tasmania, which had no need of the assistance, entered the pool. It boils down to the fact that the Commonwealth has formulated a ‘ scheme whereby the sum of £3,500,000 is required to pay for the cost of emergency wheat storage, which will be completely written off at the end of twenty years.
The honorable member for Lalor raised a point in relation to storage charges. I am surprised to think that an ex-Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who I should have thought had been deeply involved in such problems, would not know the simple details of the manner in which they are dealt with. After all, he would be aware that the Australian Wheat Board pays for the handling and storage of wheat and the various charges connected therewith, that it charges those amounts to the pool and that every farmer who contributes to that pool has deducted from his gross proceeds a sum which represents the costs associated with the disposal of his wheat. I do not know of any departure from that system. If the Government guarantees or lends, as it is now doing, to the Australian Wheat Board a certain sum of money, no doubt the board will pay interest on it. If the payment of interest and redemption spread over a period of twenty years will write off the cost of the silos, obviously the farmers will be paying for the capital cost of the silos and for the interest charges incurred during that period.
The president of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, Mr. J. P. Cass, has raised the point, not without some merit, that, if the farmer is paying off the cost of these structures over a period of twenty years, he is, in effect, mortgaging his crops for the next twenty years to pay off the costs involved, that the storages will then be handed over to the bulk handling authorities free of all cost, and that, although they really belong to the farmers, the farmers will not have any equity in them. That is not strictly correct. It may be technically correct, but the bill provides, as honorable members will note, that the relevant State authorities may have the right to purchase the storages at their depreciated value at the time of sale. It is quite correct to say that those authorities might decide to wait until the expiration of the period of twenty years and say, “ These storages have been depreciated to no value, and we will now take them over at ls.”, or a similar sum. But Mr. Cass overlooked the condition that, in the event of such an authority taking over these structures, they may not then charge anything for the capital cost of them. All that they may charge is the cost of maintenance from year to year. So, virtually, the wheat industry, and not the individual farmer necessarily, gets the benefit of his contributions towards the erection of the structures.
A farmer might erect a silo on his own farm. If he does so, he is responsible for its erection and for finding the capital cost, and for paying the interest on any money that he may borrow. The silo is then his, and it costs him nothing more than that. If he does not choose to build a silo on his own farm but takes advantage of structures that may be built in the manner that is laid down by agreement with the State authority and financed by the Australian Government - I continue to emphasize that the finance is provided by the Australian Government, because that is the meat of the bill - he, as an individual in an industry, is only paying the capital cost over a number of years and the interest charges that accrue from time to time. There is nothing unreasonable about an arrangement whereby at the end of twenty years he will get the benefit of the storage and not be charged anything for the capital cost and the use of it. As I understand the position, that is how the scheme will work.
I know that the Opposition will support the measure. I should be very surprised to hear any criticism of it. Criticism of a measure of this kind which has been agreed to by all the members of the Australian Loan Council would not be valid. A specific outcome of the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council was that provision should be made in this year’s loan programme for a sum of £3,500,000 to be included as a Commonwealth borrowing for the purpose of providing long-term finance for emergency wheat storage. The only criticism that I have to offer is not criticism of the bill but of the delay in the construction of these storages, particularly in New South Wales. I remind the House that only a couple of months ago, towards the end of the last sessional period, I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture & question in the House about the manner in which the construction of these storages was proceeding in New South Wales. The reply that I received, which I repeat almost verbatim, was that not only had they not been completed by the end of last year ; not only did they not look like being completed by the end of this year, but also that the cost had exceeded the original estimate, and that the authorities had had the hide to come back to the Australian Government and ask for more, money. That is a sorry state of affairs when it is compared with the generous gesture that was made by this Government when it originally made funds available immediately to carry out the project - a gesture that is now confirmed by the introduction of this bill to provide for funds to endure for the life of the storages, a period of twenty years. I expect the bill to receive maximum support by honorable members. I know that the farmers of Australia appreciate the consideration that has been shown by this Government in solving their problem and in saving them, from a disaster that may have overtaken them if emergency storage had not been planned early enough to be of value to them.
– I know that many honorable members would like to speak on this bill and that naturally there will be much repetition of what has been said earlier, but the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), who has just resumed his seat, ?aid that he believed that all honorable members would be in agreement with all the details of the bill. I am not quite sure that I agree with all of it in the way that it has been presented. The object of the measure, as the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has stated, is to make available to the Australian Wheat Board long-term finance to replace the short-term finance that was arranged by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia last year. The money is to be made available to the Australian Wheat Board to meet expenditure on emergency wheat storages. I am disappointed at the fact that the money is being made available in the way proposed, because I firmly believe that the burden of the repayment of the loan should be on the taxpayer? as a whole and not on the whea’t-growers alone. Let me explain why. I maintain that the £3,500,000 should have been a charge against the defence vote, because I have the strongest conviction that wheat storage and other food storage is a vital defence matter. Another reason that I have for making that statement is the past behaviour of all Australian governments towards the wheat-grower. Aa long as I can remember, the wheat-growers of Australia have been encouraged alternately to grow more wheat and then to restrict their acreages. I think of the Curtin Government, which, asked the wheatgrowers to restrict their acreages, and which paid them compensation for doing so. I believe that the advice that has been given by those governments in the past has been given without due regard to the good sense of the growers themselves, who, in the main, are the best judges of how their farms should be treated. Very often, the advice has been given too late for them to change their methods of farming. Already they have had their seed beds prepared when they have been told to restrict their acreages, and it has not been in the best interests of their farms to follow the instructions that have been given to them.
It is proper, of course, for governments to make available these facts regarding the economic position of the industry throughout the world, and if this advice results in advantages for the economy of the country as a whole, or if it results in disaster, then the community as a whole should shoulder the burdens or reap the rewards without detriment to the growers. Looking back over events, we can say that, in many cases, the advice given has been to the advantage of the growers financially, but at other times it has resulted in a decided loss to them.
Let us look at the picture in this case where, in the autumn of last year, the Australian Wheat Board warned of the pressing need for additional facilities for storage. At this juncture, I should like to refer to a statement by Sir John Teasdale, chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, which appeared in the Farmer and Settler of the 27th August, 1954. He said:-
At the beginning of the year I took extreme steps to warn the wheat-growers and Australia as a whole of the serious marketing situation, and advised farmers to voluntarily reduce output in their own interests..
On the 9th January, 1954, Senator McLeay, who was acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, replied to the statement by Sir John Teasdale. That reply was reported in the press in the following terms: -
Commenting upon advice to reduce acreage given by the Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sir John Teasdale, and some others, the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Senator George McLeay, made it quite clear to-day that such advice was not an expression of Commonwealth Government policy. The Government was not an advocate of acreage restriction.
Again, on the 11th January of that year, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made the following statement: -
As has been stated clearly by the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Senator McLeay, the Commonwealth Government is not a party to acreage restriction. Et does not believe in this policy. On the contrary, it believes that the future of the wheat industry justifies a return to the acreages -which ruled before the war and which have only begun to recover from their low level under the stimulus of this Government’s policy. Any expression of view by Sir John Teasdale was a personal one arising out of his concern over the temporary storage problems.
I am certain that both Senator McLeay, when he was acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and the Prime Minister, made those statements because they realized that in a hungry world, which was in a state of cold war, the storage of food was a vital defence measure. Prom this bill, we can see. thai the emergency storages are not to be financed as items of defence expenditure, and I am disappointed about that, as 1 said before. The Treasurer, in hi? second-reading speech, has outlined the financial arrangements,, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), in a statement dated the 30th April, 1954, ha3 set out the practical method the Government has worked out to meet this storage problem. It is worth while refreshing our memories of the conditions by repeating that statement It is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Government has worked out the most practical method of meeting the situation. The arrangement decided upon isthat the Australian Wheat Board should be enabled to obtain the necessary capital fundsto bear the cost of erecting these storages . . .
The State bulk handling authorities through their respective Governments will be given an option to purchase these storages. For its part the Commonwealth will not expect any more for the storages than their depreciated value at the time of sale. This means that if the States are unable to finance the purchase of these storages for some considerable time, much of their original capital cost would have been written off and the State authorities could then purchase them at a low price for incorporation in their total storage facilities. This new storage, which, at the present time, can be described as largely necessary to meet an emergency situation, will, in due course, as wheat production increases, and as bulk handling extends, become a norma! requirement for the handling of larger quantities of bulk wheat in later years.
All this gives us a very clear picture of the conditions that existed last year. I conclude by stating my view that if the growers had accepted the advice of the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, the existing stores would probably have been sufficient to accommodate the crop. Bearing in mind the statement of the Government that restriction of acreage did not form part of its policy, and also considering the cold war situation and the need to store food for an emergency in places where its quality could be preserved, I repeat that I am convinced that the cost of the extra storage facilities should not be a charge upon the growers, but that it should be financed by the taxpayers in general from revenue, and paid, as I suggest, out of the defence vote. This bill does not make that provision, but I ask the Treasurer to give sympathetic consideration to that matter as soon as the financial position makes it possible. I believe that, under clause 6 of the bill, the Treasurer has power to vary the terms and conditions, because that clause provides as follows : -
The Treasurer may, out of moneys borrowed under this Act, make advances to the Board of such amounts and on such terms and conditions as the Treasurer determines for the purpose of enabling the Board to meet its liabilities in relation to emergency wheat stores.
If the Government cannot see its way clear to grant my request, then I hope that the very least it will do will be to carry the burden of interest charges on the amount of £3,500,000 involved.
.- [ must confess that I was greatly interested to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence). Apparently he is taking an intense interest in the ramifications of the wheat industry. The views he has expressed this afternoon may cause some semblance of consternation because, after all, if he believes that the cost of these additional storage facilities should rightly be a charge against the Department of Defence, he has a remedy immediately available to him. He should speak against the bill, and he should vote against it. That is the only way in which to put into practical effect views of that description. However, I am quite convinced that the honorable member for Wimmera, when he understands the full significance of what the Government has done, will react as most honorable members on both sides of the House have done, and will congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Government for bringing down a measure of this description. 1 was also intensely interested to hear the views expressed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). He was the arch apostle of wheat stabilization when he and his immediate predecessor were engaged in selling wheat in vast quantities at a. price below its true value, to the prejudice of the grower, to the prejudice of the wheat industry, and to the prejudice of the economy of our country.
-Order! The honorable member may not discuss selling policy in the debate on this bill.
– With very great respect, I submit that I am replying to the allegations that the honorable member for Lalor made against me when you were in the chair. The practice that the honorable member for Lalor indulged in at that time, if I may use that term, involved the industry in losses that exceeded £100,000,000 over a short period of years. Now that the export parity has fallen, or is likely to fall, the honorable member is full of forebodings as to what is likely to happen to the Treasury and the taxpayers of this community in standing up to their obligations under his own wheat stabilization scheme. People with knowledge of the industry predicted that that would happen. Wheal stabilization schemes of this description are magnificent so long as the losses incurred are visited on the poor unfortunate men and women who go out into the arable areas and bring them into production, but as soon as the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and the Treasury or the community has to stand up to its responsibilities under the scheme and pay the stabilized price to the growers, there is an immediate tendency to escape from that responsibility. I. can have nothing to do with that kind of repudiation; nor can the Government. We went into the wheat stabilization scheme knowing that there would be a stabilized price. We went into it when the export parity price was immeasurably higher than the stabilized price, and for ten or fifteen harvests we sold our wheat at prices below its value. Now that there are signs that there may be losses, and indications that the Treasury and the people of the country might have to stand up to their fragmental responsibilities under this scheme, there is whining and recrimination, not from Ministers, but from the honorable member for Lalor and some of those sitting behind him. According to the second-reading speech of the Treasurer, this is a bill whose purpose, expressed in precise terms, is to enable the Australian Wheat Board to get, on reasonable terms over a period of years, from the Commonwealth Bank, the finance necessary to allow State bulk handling authorities to provide storage facilities for accumulated and accumulating stocks of wheat. It is a cumbersome procedure that the Treasurer has to bring down legislation to enable the Australian Wheat Board - the statutory authority - to get funds from the Commonwealth Bank for that purpose. That, however, is what this bill is for. I draw attention to the cumbersome system under which we are working, but it is the only way to meet this grave emergency. It is a grave emergency. Moreover, the difficulties now confronting us will multiply as the years pass, unless something is done to provide an adequate solution.
Because this is a cumbersome piece of machinery, I propose to refer to some of the popular delusions associated with wheat stabilization. Many otherwise intelligent people hold the opinion that the Commonwealth Government has illimitable resources ready to be made available to the Australian Wheat Board, or to any other statutory authority, for any purpose. They believe that it is easy for the Commonwealth Government to make millions of pounds available under the wheat stabilization scheme to construct additional storage facilities, and ro provide the initial payments to growers for their wheat, and also subsequent payments, as well as transport costs and other expenses incidental ro the receiving and disposing of harvests from time to time. That is a delusion. The Commonwealth Government has no resources whatsoever available for that purpose. I conceive it to be my duty to emphasize that point. Similarly, there are people who hold the opinion that the Commonwealth Bank, so frequently and so euphoniously referred to by honorable members opposite as “ the people’s bank “, has unlimited resources available and that it ought to make vast sums of money available to such authorities as the Australian Wheat Board. I seize this opportunity to make it clear that “ the people’s bank “ is in exactly the same position as that occupied by every other bank. It is not easy to get money from the Commonwealth Bank, or from any other bank, without collateral security. I repeal that the Commonwealth Bank has not vast resources available to hand out to various authorities.
Then there are others who say that thiCommonwealth Government ought to float loans for all sorts of purposes, including loans to such bodies as the Australian Wheat Board. To such people I say that the Commonwealth Government does not float loans at all. That if the function of the Australian Loan Council. It is the Australian Loan Council which decides when a loan shall be raised, for what purpose it shall be raised, and what terms and conditions shall apply to the raising. It would be a contravention of the financial agreement entered into by the Commonwealth and the State? for the Commonwealth Government to attempt to float a loan for a specific purpose without the knowledge and approval of the Australian Loan Council, which means the knowledge and approval of the State governments, because they are members of the Loan Council.
The last proposal for a solution of this problem to which I shall refer is the suggestion that the Australian Wheat Board itself has unlimited resources at its disposal. The only thing that is likely to separate me from my good friend, Sir John Teasdale, with whom I have been associated for a great number of years, is his proposal that the production of wheat should be restricted. In my opinion, that is a miserable confession of failure, and no one knows it better than does Sir John Teasdale himself. Those who believe that the Australian Wheat Board has unlimited funds at its disposal to provide without trouble the first payment of 10s. a bushel on wheat delivered, go further, and say that if it can pay 10s. a bushel it can just as easily pay 15s. a bushel. They contend that there is no reason at all why growers should wait for years to get final payment for their wheat. The time has come when the people should know that the Australian Wheat Board starts every harvest year “ without a feather to fly with “. Every pool conducted by the board is separate and distinct. As soon as the harvest comes in, the Australian Wheat Board has to approach the Commonwealth Bank as an ordinary banking institution, and make arrangements for overdraft accommodation adequate to meet the first payment on the wheat delivered. As soon as the board draws its first cheque it is responsible for all charges incidental to that overdraft accommodation. The board in turn refers the matter immediately to the grower, and it becomes a charge against his wheat. The important point is that the Australian Wheat Board has no funds available for the purpose expressed in this bill, nor for any other purpose. As soon as it takes delivery of a harvest of wheat it borrows against that harvest. The board confines its business to the receipt, the storage and the disposal of that harvest. It effects a complete settlement in respect of that harvest, distinct from any other harvest that might have preceded it, or that might follow it. .The board itself has no resources. It must borrow against the wheat, under guarantee, year after year, pool after pool. The necessity for providing additional storage has been visited on the industry because of the difficulty of selling wheat. If the States had accepted their normal responsibilities, this situation would never have arisen.
Now I come to the most important feature of this bill. The necessity for introducing a measure of this description must be understood by honorable members on both sides of the House, and by those who are engaged in this very important industry. There was a time when the wheat trade, if I may call it that, could handle any harvest or number of harvests without the slightest difficulty. It did not matter to the wheat trade whether it accumulated stocks of wheat, or whether the coming harvest would produce 200,000,000 bushels, whether there had been a series or harvests of 200,000,000 bushels. The wheat trade took all the wheat that was harvested throughout the country, provided sacks for it, received it at railway sidings or terminals, and paid the maximum price available for it. The trade stored both wheat in sacks and bulk wheat, transported it to the seaboard, and then shipped it abroad. Never in 48 years was there the slightest hitch of any description. Then, during World War I., the first bureaucracy was set up to deal with a single’ harvest. The bureaucracy found itself in the greatest difficulties. Not only could it not pay for the wheat, a problem which was largely financial, but the physical task of writing out the necessary documents was utterly beyond the bureaucracy. It could not receive the wheat or store it without lamentable and fabulous losses being visited on the industry.
One would think that we would have profited from that experience, since it happened so long ago. From 1919 to 1939 the wheat trade was able to handle the wheat harvests, one at a time, or ten at a time. Sacks were available, transport was available and sites for stacking and for bulk handling were available without the slightest difficulty. In 1939, the vast bureaucracy was set up again, and there was an immediate collapse. The Australian Wheat Board could not find cornsacks. It could not provide transport. It could not do the normal task of paying, not the full value of the wheat, but a fragment of its value as an initial payment. The physical task of writing the necessary documents was utterly beyond the bureaucracy.
Arising out of that mess, and the accumulation inseparable from lamentable messes, the present Government has found it necessary to make no less than £3,500,000 available to the Australian Wheat Board in order that funds may be provided for State bulk handling authorities for the purpose of storing accumulated stocks of wheat which ought to have been sold at remunerative price? when they were available.
The Australian Wheat Board and the wheat stabilization scheme are being tested for the second time in the crucible of practical experience. If this vast organization cannot handle a single harvest without disaster, then it should be obliterated. If it cannot handle two harvests or ten harvests it should be obliterated because, to my certain knowledge, the wheat trade, as it used to be known and as it is known all over the world, could handle any number of harvests, one after the other, one on top of the other, ten on top of each other. It could pay for them in a split second, store them and transport them, leaving the grower free from any responsibility.
After all, the only obligation on the producers i3 to bring their land into production. Once they have brought it into production, it should be comparatively simple for the appropriate authority to take delivery of the wheat, pay for it, store it while it is in the custody of the authority, and sell it to the best advantage without the necessity for the introduction of bills of this description in order to meet an emergency that should never have arisen.
.– L have never heard such a lot of nonsense spoken in regard to the wheat industry as I have just heard from the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), [f the honorable member really believed what he has said, he should oppose the bill instead of advising the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) to oppose it, because the last half of his speech was, in effect, an attack on the Australian Wheat Board. The money that is mentioned in the bill is intended for the purpose of financing the construction of buildings so that this organization will be able to continue its work. I remind the honorable gentleman that he owed his election to this Parliament because he said that the wheat-growers had been robbed by the then government of over £100,000,000. I suggest that if any opponent wishes to defeat the honorable member for Riverina at the next general election, he will only need to send a copy of the honorable member’s speech this afternoon to the wheat-growers in his division. The honorable member will then be dealt with effectively.
The honorable member for Riverina said that in 1939 the Government set up a great bureaucracy in order to tryto handle the wheat harvest. He did not tell the House that, at that period, private enterprise had walked out of the wheat industry. At that time the price quoted for wheat at the siding near which I was growing wheat was lid. a bushel on a 4d. freight basis. Would the honorable gentleman suggest that he could grow wheat for lid. a bushel on a 4d. freight basis? He is silent. He knows perfectly well that when war broke out, it was completely impossible to produce wheat at that price. The wheat merchants had to protect themselves and get out of the market.
It was left to the government of the day, the politics of which were similar to those of the present Government, to set up some organization in order to save the industry from complete collapse. Now the honorable member for Riverina has criticized that organization as a “ vast bureaucracy “. The government of the day then endeavoured to introduce a piecemeal sort of plan to offer th, growers ls. 6d. a bushel down, plus a certain payment afterwards if it proved possible to sell the wheat. It was only when the Curtin Government came into power and the Scully wheat scheme was instituted that the wheat-growers received some sort of reasonable price. I remind the honorable gentleman that it was a popular vote conducted throughout every wheat-growing State, and that the growers themselves endorsed the scheme by an overwhelming majority. The Curtin Government then put the scheme into operation. I further remind the honorable gentleman that that scheme operated during the war and that, close to the end of the war, the Chifley Labour Government submitted a proposal to the wheat-growers, who could not be regarded as socialists, and asked them whether they desired a continuance of this “ great bureaucracy “ to which the honorable member has referred. Again, by an overwhelming majority, the growers voted in favour of a government-controlled pool. The honorable gentleman now leaves the chamber. He runs out. He cannot take it, because he stated that the industry at any time can handle any harvest that comes in. I agree - it can handle any harvest, but at a price. I was one of the wheat-growers who were offered lid. a bushel for wheat. I have had experience of a period when wheat merchants would handle any harvest, but, as I have said, at a price.
I am certainly getting a long way from the bill, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, but I felt that, as the debate has ranged very wide - as debates on wheat bills always do - the ridiculous statement made by the honorable member for Riverina should at least he answered. The honorable member for Wimmera is a dentist who represents one of the greatest wheat-growing constituencies in Australia. He advanced a proposition that the works dealt with by this bill should be a charge against the taxpayers because the bill, he says, is, in effect, a defence measure for the storage of wheat. I suggest that he stick to old molars, and not get too deep into the wheat business. I remind the honorable gentleman that one of the great problems we had when the last war broke out was how to dispose of our wheat. Western Australia, which rs not one of the big wheat-producting States, at that time had more than 50,000,000 bushels of wheat that it did not know what to do with. Wheat becomes a burden in a country like Australia when war breaks out. Therefore, 1 believe that at no time could a proposal such as this be made a charge against the taxpayers.
The Opposition supports the bill, but there are features of it that I believe to be bad. I believe that the explanation given for the bill is notable for its lack of information and I am somewhat surprised that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who in private life is an extremely able practising accountant, could support a bill such as this, which in its Title is described as being concerned with emergency” wheat storage. Can an emergency last for twenty years? That is apparently the period proposed for the repayment of this loan. Is this emergency to last for twenty years ? I say that it cannot last for twenty years. If there is really an emergency it can last at the most for probably two, three or four years. Therefore, for a period of sixteen years, at least, after the emergency has passed, wheat-growers, including men who have just entered the industry, and successive pools, will have to meet this charge, because the capital cost will be charged to the respective State handling authorities, and the charge for handling the wheat under each separate pool will be a charge not only in relation to silos constructed now, but in relation to silos constructed later. I say that it is a very bad business proposition. When there is surplus production in an industry such as the wheat industry, the capital cost of handling the great volume of wheat available should be met out of the proceeds of the specific volume of wheat concerned. It should not be met out of the proceeds of wheat harvested eighteen years or twenty years later. Possibly an emergency will develop next year. Australia, Canada or the United States could have a bad season and immediately that occurred the emergency envisaged by the bill would vanish. That is why I say that the bill is bad from the point of view of finance, because, in the event of emergency vanishing, the great building? erected under the provisions of the bill will become useless - but the capita! charge associated with them will, under this measure, still go on. It will go on after the wheat for the storage of which the buildings were erected has been sold. It may be charged against growers in very bad years.
Providence has been very good to us. I think we have had possibly the best run of seasons in New South Wales that ha? ever been known. The same can be said of some of the other wheat-producing States, and certainly of South Australia. But the recurrence of alternating runs of good seasons and bad seasons is inevitable. That inevitability is reminiscent of Pharaoh’s dreams of the seven lean kine and the seven fat kine. We shall again have dry seasons in Australia, and outwheat production will fall. But under this bill, of which the Treasurer approves, the high capital costs incurred in the present bounteous times will be charged against a very small volume of wheat in the future. I say that that is bad accountancy and very bad business and for that reason I do not regard the bil! as a good bill. The explanation of the purposes of the bill is signally scanty. It does not tell us how repayments will be made. It merely tells us that they will be made over a period of twenty years. I regard that as bad in principle. Most of this capital cost should be carried by the wheat in relation to which it is being incurred, because two or three years hence all the buildings constructed will have no use and after that period, wheat-growers will be compelled to meet the charges necessary because of this loan of £3,500,000.
– We have listened to some rather extraordinary statements from the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon). First, he asked us to explain how an emergency could last for twenty years. I shall not attempt to give the answer to that question now, but I will say that I cannot see any connexion at all between a proposal to depreciate present charges over a period of twenty years, and the question whether an emergency will continue to exist beyond that particular period. If I understood the honorable gentleman correctly, he stated that the wheat’ covered by the bill should bear the cost of full and immediate repayment of the loan, rather than that repayment should be spread over successive pools. I do not think that wheatgrowers would be very pleased to know that out of their returns for this particular year they had to find an amount of £3,500,000 for additional charges. The industry could not carry that burden in one season. Obviously, that is the reason why repayment of this loan is to be spread over the very reasonable period of twenty years. It is also a fact that the wheat industry itself knew of these proposals beforehand, and discussed them with representatives of the Australian Government, of the State governments and of the Australian Agricultural Council. It approved of the conditions that were laid down at the time for repayment of the loan, so I do not think that there is any particular point in the argument of the honorable member for St. George that requires answering in detail. I feel that, in bringing forward matters of the nature that he submitted to us, he was merely filling in time.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) referred to the first advance on wheat for this particular season as being 10s. a bushel. It is only a small point, but I wish to correct his mistake. The first advance for this season is 10s. 4d. a bushel. In the previous year it was on the basis of 10s. a bushel. The first advance for the next season will be considered at the normal time, early in November this year.
I think it necessary to explain one statement by the honorable member for
Riverina (Mr. Roberton) about the first advance. He referred to some form of guarantee, but earlier he had said, in relation to the first advance for this season and for previous seasons, that the Australian Wheat Board approaches the Commonwealth Bank as a normal trader and secures an overdraft to carry on whilst the ‘first advance is made. It is quite clear that the Australian Government does guarantee that overdraft for the Australian Wheat Board through the Commonwealth Bank. Without that guarantee the Australian Wheat Board would not be able to obtain sufficient money to carry on its trading, and to make the large first advance that it wishes to make. The first advance this year of 10s. 4d. a bushel was outstanding in view of the existing conditions in the wheat industry, and entailed a substantial guarantee by the Commonwealth over a relatively long period.
Some reference has been made during this debate to further payments from the wheat pools. The arrangement in that regard is quite clear, and is well understood by the wheat industry, and the governments concerned. It is that the second payment from a wheat pool is not made until the Australian Wheat Board’s overdraft is reduced. That does not occur until the board has sold sufficient wheat to offset the overdraft in respect of the first advance made to the growers. During the past year, it has been harder to sell wheat on the export market and, consequently, there has been a greater delay than previously in making the second .payment. That also is well understood by the industry, and should be quite clear to honorable members of this House.
Early last year, the Australian Wheat Board, and the wheat industry itself, approached the Commonwealth and the States and also made representations to the Australian Agricultural Council directing attention to the serious position that was arising in respect of the storage of wheat during that season. It became obvious that large surpluses of wheat produced in northern America had caused some difficulty in disposing of our wheat, and the board, and the industry, rightly directed the attention of the governmental authorities to that fact early last year. The assessment of the position by the Australian Wheat Board was proved quite correct before the end of the season.
The honorable member for Lalor seemed to find it hard to understand a reference, in the second-reading speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on this bill, to an estimate of 100,000,000 bushels in storage in November, 1954, and the fact that, even though the new crop was coming in, at the end of the year there was a surplus beyond our storage capacity of 45,000,000 bushels, In reality, the position is quite clear. The figures relate to the total storage, and the amount being sold overseas and for local consumption during that period, [n other words, the total quantity of wheat that it would have been necessary t,o store in Australia at the end of last year was approximately 45,000,000 bushels more than our storage capacity could handle. That figure was in accordance with the estimate of the Australian Wheat Board, which was made very early in last year’s wheat season.
Special circumstances brought about that state of affairs in out wheat industry, one of the main factors being that a large quantity of wheat was released on the United Kingdom market from huge stocks which had been held by the British Ministry of Food. That release depressed the wheat market in the United Kingdom, and reduced that country’s buying capacity. Another factor was the plan of self-sufficiency which had been adopted by certain European countries, and by India. Those countries had concentrated on improving their production of grain in accordance with their policies of self-sufficiency. During the previous year, there were good harvests not only in the main exporting countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, but also in the countries of Europe which had embarked on policies of self-sufficiency in foodstuffs. A combination of those factors made a great impact on the wheat market during a time of high production in Australia, and a situation arose which had been foreseen by the Australian Wheat Board, but which created grave problems for it to face. That situation has resulted in this measure being presented to the House.
I re-emphasize that wheat storage is not a Commonwealth responsibility; it is a direct responsibility of the States. Moreover, it is known by the States that it is their responsibility, although on some occasions there has been a tendency on the part of the States to pass the buck to the Commonwealth. In New South Wales and Victoria, two government monopolies have been established to handle wheat. In Western Australia, there is a co-operative organization, and in South Australia and Queensland the State governments have a direct responsibility. Therefore, honorable members will perceive that it is not a Commonwealth responsibility to provide storage space for wheat, and that fact has always been recognized by the States. Although this Government is taking some emergency measures to deal with emergency conditions, its actions in this matter should not be accepted as a precedent for any future action. When a case was made out by the Australian Wheat Board, the Australian Government agreed to provide a guarantee to the board so that it could provide emergency storage for 45,000,000 bushels of wheat, plus any additional surplus. That guarantee was made to the Commonwealth Bank, and the Australian Wheat Board was to administer the distribution of the amounts required by the States for the provision of storage space. The construction work was to be put in hand as urgently as possible after the loan had been agreed to, aud that construction was to be designed by the board to fit into the plan of our existing storage accommodation.
I believe that that statement answers the last query raised by the honorable member for St. George, as to whether the new accommodation would be available for use after the present emergency had passed. It appears that the additional storage space will be available, because it is part of our overall accommodation. Indeed, the reason why the Australian Wheat Board was given authority to deal with the design of storage accommodation was that the additional storage space could be fitted into the existing plan. Wherever possible, it was arranged that the bulkhandling authorities should be responsible for the arrangement and supervision of the additional facilities. lt is interesting to note that the State authorities were given the opportunity, as indicated in a previous statement by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), to purchase at any time the temporary storage accommodation at a depreciated value. The States do not need to continue paying for the accommodation throughout the whole of the twentyyear period, because if they so desire they can purchase the new facilities at their value as at the time of purchase. As has been indicated already, the amount involved is about £3,500,000. By agreement with the States and the Australian Wheat Board, depreciation is to be written off over a period of approximately twenty years. Emergency bulk storage at the outset was required principally in New South Wales and Victoria, and to a lesser degree, in Western Australia, and some bagged wheat storage was required in South Australia. Bulk storage requirements in Western Australia were not considered at the time in the light of emergency circumstances, and the original allocation was made on the basis of advances to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Later discussions brought to light the needs of Western Australia and Queensland, and the final allocations were as follows: - for bulk storage- New South Wales, £1,400,000; Victoria. £1,100,000; and Western Australia, £525,000; for bag storage - South Australia, £335,000; and Queensland, £70,000. These moneys have already been made available, and, as has been stated, the greater part of the required storage has been constructed and is in use. I think I can assure the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) that the remainder of the facilities should be completed before the next harvest comes in.
– Will there be any additional costs?
– I cannot give the honorable member any figures relative to that matter at the moment. We hope that the cost will be within the limits of the allocations that have already been made. 1 am aware that Western Australia has a special problem this season, and if the question arises, it will be considered, quite apart from this measure, which concerns loans of a total amount of £3,500,000.
I should like to refer briefly to the estimated carry-over from the present season’s harvest, which will have a considerable bearing on storage problems and which must be taken into consideration in relation to the expected inflow into storage from the next harvest in November. It is estimated, on the figures that have been supplied in relation to most of the States, that the acreage under wheat in Australia this season will be approximately the same as last year’s acreage. The carry-over at the end of November last year from the 1953-54 season totalled 93,650,000 bushels. The net quantity available for No. 18 Pool is estimated at 150,920,000 bushels, which makes a total of 244,570,000 bushels for the 1954-55 season. The estimated local sales of wheat for flour, stock-feed and other purposes amount to 56,800,000 bushels, and 1S7,770,000 bushels will be available for export. It is estimated that export sales for the current season will total 94,140,000 bushels and that the carry-over at the end of November this year will amount to 93,630,000 bushels.
This carry-over will be almost the same as the carry-over from the 1953-54 season. This fact might give rise to the thought that the storage facilities provided under the emergency plan, together with the space previously available, will provide sufficient storage to see us through to the next season. However, the general figures that I have quoted do not reveal the position in the respective States. It is possible, as I think the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) will mention shortly, that an additional problem will arise in Western Australia at the end of the current season. If so, the matter will have to be considered in the light of the circumstances as they exist at the time. In the other States, the existing storage, together with the emergency facilities, should be sufficient to see us through next season. However, this point is open to question and it might be found, when the position is reviewed at the end of next season, that the Australian Wheat Board will have to re-assess the storage requirements. Put concisely, the position is that on the information at present available, broadly speaking, with the exception of one
State, and possibly of two States, depending on the position in Victoria, storage requirements during the coming season should be reasonably well satisfied.
Though a relatively large decline in export sales was expected last season, the situation turned out to be better than had been expected at the beginning of the season. Certain factors influenced the export market and they must be considered in conjunction with reduced purchases by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has been buying on what we might term a hand-to-mouth basis in accordance with its requirements and its views about market prices. This circumstance has caused an appreciable decline in our largest wheat market. However, during last season, rust caused heavy losses in Canada and reduced the crop there to approximately 50 per cent, of that of the previous season. Though crops in the United Kingdom and in Europe were very big, the season was particularly wet. This fact encouraged the purchase of additional quantities of dry Australian wheat for mixing with the wet wheat from the United Kingdom and European harvests, and as a result we were able to make sales where we had not expected to make them. In addition, during last season, famine stocks in India were replenished and we were able to sell additional shipments to that country. All those circumstances made export sales better than had been expected early last season. In addition, reasonable sales were made in other markets, of which I shall mention only Japan.
All these circumstances serve to emphasize the need for high quality in our wheat if we are to maintain our position in the export field in the future. Japan demanded wheat with a. protein content of 11 per cent, and if we wish to expand or even maintain our Japanese market for wheat, we must produce wheat of high protein content. The same thing applies to many other markets in the world to-day. The emphasis is changing from the mere allocation of wheat to the selling of wheat on a competitive basis in which circumstances quality counts more than it did in the past.
I desire to refer briefly to the problem of storage in Queensland. That State produces a very good quality wheat, a hard wheat which has a high protein content. It is therefore desirable, from the point of view of the expansion of wheat acreage in Queensland, to maintain that high quality wheat in the future. Last season, approximately 650,000 acre? of wheat were harvested, producing in the vicinity of 17,500,000 bushels, which is relatively small so far as the Australian requirements for local sales and export are concerned. The emergency storage that is being provided in Queensland is for bagged wheat only, but at the present time a change is taking place from bagged wheat to bulk wheat and the Queensland “Wheat Board is constructing eight bulk silos. It is doing that out of normal funds, in association with the emergency bag storage plan. The changeover, of course, will necessarily be slow, but as the expansion in acreage takes place in Queensland it is obvious that the emphasis will be placed on bulk handling.
One of the problems associated with storage in Queensland during this and the previous season has been the inability of the Queensland railways system to shift the wheat sufficiently quickly in order to relieve the pressure on storage facilities. In fact, during the last season I understand, from figures that have been supplied to me, that the rate of delivery of wheat from the wheatgrowing areas to the bulkheads in Brisbane has been approximately only 50 per cent, of an earlier estimate made by the railways department. That, of course, places additional pressure on the already poor storage facilities. Queensland is a very young State so far as wheat-growing is concerned and storage facilities are not very extensive. They have- been taxed to the utmost in the past due, to a large extent, to the inability of the railway system to shift the wheat quickly early in the season. Thai problem has been emphasized again this year because there has been a slowing down, to a degree, in the export sales, although, as I have said, the Queensland wheat can find an export market if if can be got to the seaboard at the right time. That is all I wish to say on this measure. I know that it has the support of the industry and of the State governments because it is something that has been suggested by the Australian Wheat Board. I believe that it will have the support of all honorable members.
.- I am not going to detain the House very long because I think the wheat position has been canvassed very well. In reply to the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Lemmon) I cannot recall the price of wheat falling as low as lid. a bushel. I think he must have made some mistake. [ have found that it is a habit of hi3 to misrepresent the exact position. I congratulate the Government on taking this action because it will ease the burden on wheat-growers and allow them to spread their capital storage costs over a far longer period than the present short-term arrangement with the Commonwealth Bank.
The observations I wish to make with respect to this particular legislation are concerned mainly with the construction nf storage facilities in Western Australia as compared with the construction of those facilities in the eastern States. My remarks are prompted by the fact that some time ago the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) what was the position with regard to storage buildings in New South Wales. The Minister, in reply, said that he was not completely satisfied with the rate of progress in New South Wales and that a request had been made by that State for extra finance because of the increased cost of building those facilities. That is just the reverse of what happened in Western Australia. Honorable members will recall that prior to April of last year the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made a statement that the Commonwealth Government would be’ prepared to guarantee the overdraft of the Australian Wheat Board with the Commonwealth Bank for building storage facilities in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. No mention was made of Western Australia or Queensland. I do not wish to throw the whole of the blame on to the shoulders of the Commonwealth Government because part of the blame must lie with the wheatgrowers in Western Australia who, at that time, were of the opinion that they had sufficient storage to cater for the following year’s crop. However, a further survey of the position disclosed that they could not cater for the crop and approaches were then made to the Commonwealth Government for financial assistance on the same terms as had been promised to the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The matter was not finally dealt with until July of 1954, just over twelve months ago. After it had been dealt with by the Government it was referred to the Australian Wheat Board but by the time the board finalized the matter it was towards the end of August, before the interested parties in Western Australia knew definitely that they would obtain any finance for the purpose of building this extra storage space. Because of their desire to obtain this storage room quickly the Western Australian authorities, instead of calling tenders overseas, contacted an Italian firm that had carried out work of this kind in Victoria. That firm was able to supply materials and everything else from Italy. Unfortunately for the wheat-growers in Western Australia they had extra customs duty to pay on the material because of the source from which it came. The story, according to the Department of Trade and Customs, is that the British Board of Trade claimed that they had engineers or contractors who were capable of doing this job within the time required by the wheat-growers in Western Australia. I would remind you, sir, that the harvesting of wheat commences towards the end of October and the job had to be tackled very quickly. I am thankful to say that even at that extra cost it was completed in time. The honorable member for Lawson raised this question of extra cost in New South Wales and during the speech of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) I put a question to him. The honorable member for Darling Downs said that he felt he could assure the honorable member for Lawson that the storage would be completed in time for the handling of this year’s harvest. I interjected and asked whether there would be any extra cost. He could not tell me; he did not know. If the Government meets the extra, costs in
New South Wales brought about by bad management, or anything of that nature, I think that it has an obligation to meet the claim of the Western Australian wheat-growers at least to the added customs duty that they have to pay on> materials imported from Italy as against those from England. The position in New South Wales has arisen because of mismanagement. If the situation could have been met in other States, it could have been met there. An amount of £1,400,000 has been made available to New South Wales for this purpose, but f do not think that any leniency should be granted to that State, mother-State though it may be called, when every other State has done, and always endeavours to do, the job on. time. I say that with some vehemence because I recall very vividly the days in Western Australia when the farmers themselves tackled the job of building their own bulk-handling facilities. The system introduced by that State was decried by all wheat-growing people on the eastern seaboard. That was in 1930 and 1931, but to-day the whole of that bulk-handling organization is the property of the wheatgrowers, and stands as a monument to their enterprise. It was installed very effectively and it served the purpose. Whenever we meet with these emergencies,, those States which claim to he the richest and most progressive always want more money to meet the emergencies. By and large, statistics show that there is not such a vast difference in the wheat crops over the years, and, more particularly, in the quantities which have to be stored before being brought to the seaboard. I do not want to dwell on this point. I say again that if New South Wales receives extra financial assistance from the Government in respect of this job, which should have been completed almost twelve months ago, Western Australia has a justifiable claim for the difference between the customs duty payable on imports of the requisite materials from Italy and that payable on importations from the United Kingdom.
– I support this bill. Had nothing else been said about it, there would have been no need for me to speak further, but the debate gives me the opportunity of saying one or- two things on my own behalf and. to: rebut certain statements that have been made. I believe that it is in the best interests of this country that wheat-growers should be given adequate storage facilities for their products.. Wheat is of vital importance to Australia, not only to the wheat-growers but also the general economy, bearing in mind our overseas credits. To-day we are so prosperous that we cannot obtain enough men to build machines and do work that is needed infactories, and many commodities have to be imported. Goods can be imported from overseas satisfactorily only when we have a balanced economy, that is, when we sell goods overseas to- establish credits with which to finance purchases of goods from other countries. It has been saidthat surplus wheat should have been sold, but we cannot be always selling and never buying. In respect of many countries, Australia has a policy of restricted buying. Some of those countries would bay our wheat if we bought goods from them, but as we do not buy from them, they cannot buy from us. That is one of the difficulties of the fiscal policy which this country applies, irrespective of the government in power. Perhaps the policy is right.
I want to make it very clear that I am opposed to any restriction of acreage. It will be remembered that very shortly after the last acreage restriction - I think within two years - we were buying wheat from overseas, and every wheat-grower knows what rubbish it was and how it brought a harvest of foreign weeds which we are still combating. Therefore, I. Believe that the government of the dal should see that wheat-growers are properly advised as to the state of wheat production and harvesting in the world, and the wheat-grower should, decide just what he will do himself. When we have more wheat than we need for the time being, we have to provide greater storages. When, suddenly, drought occurs overseas, and other parts of the world want more wheat, then we are able to supply it.
I want to refer to some statements which have been made, because I think that they are very important. I state definitely that I am opposed to the proposition that wheat-growers should store wheat on their own properties. I think that when wheat is grown it should be taken from the farms into storage. It is then ready to go overseas and the growers can reap some benefit from an early payment on it which they would not have unless it had been delivered. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was the first speaker in this debate, and his speech seemed to contain something of a contradiction. He has been greatly in favour of the stabilization of the wheat industry. In fact, it was the government of which he was a member which first brought forward a stabilization scheme which had the general support of the Parliament. Now he points out that this Government has made a payment of 10s. 4d. on wheat bulk and 10s. 8d. on bagged wheat, and he seems to be afraid that the amount of the payment is too high and that we may not be able to recoup it in sales of wheat overseas, so that taxpayers generally may have to meet the cost. That seems to be a very strange contradiction when we consider his speeches over the last seven or eight years. An analysis of what he has said on other occasions would make one realize that this change of heart has been brought about because at the present time he is not the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
The honorable member for “Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) said that the loan of £3,500,000 provided for in this bill should be a charge against our defence vote. Of course, the wheat-growers would be very pleased if it were so.. As a member who represents a great number of wheatgrowing constituents, I could very well make- the same statement knowing that it would tickle their ears greatly, but I believe that a member of parliament should find out what is possible politically. When he ascertains that a certain course i« known to be impossible politically, he should not lead his constituents to think that some advocacy of his along those lines might make it possible of fulfilment. I have found out during the years I have been a member of this Parliament that to make expenditure on wheat storage a charge against the defence vote is politically impossible, and therefore I will not, under any consideration, allow my constitutents to think for one moment that any advocacy of mine along those lines will influence the Government to make the building of those storages a charge against the defence vote. I firmly believe that under the present conditions the wheat-growers have to pay for these facilities. The Government can supply the storages required by the wheatgrowers, but the growers have to pay for them.
I turn now to the remarks of my colleague, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton).. For a moment I thought he had gone back to the clays of bullock drays and cabbage-tree bats. He said that once upon a time all the wheat grown could be brought in, carted away, and shipped, but it must be remembered that we have entered the mechanical age. Every one remembers that, when horsedrawn vehicles and bullock drays were used, it took months to deliver a harvest. Deliveries extended right into March. Of course, the railways were fairly efficient in those days, and were able to transport the wheat to the ports. In those days we had not the slow turnround of ships that we have to-day, which has been more or less supported by some members of the Opposition. Ships were turning round more quickly. In those days events moved slowly, but they moved very satisfactorily so far as the shipment of wheat was concerned. In those days also, many people overseas had not learned the art of growing wheat, but with wheat prices soaring and with subsidies paid by France and many other countries, certain countries began growing wheat and we had to face competition. We cannot compare those days with to-day. The fact is that no one has tried yet to present any solution of the problem of how, in the present circumstances, the wheat can be sold. If we were selling wheat overseas, we would not require storage, but no one has yet provided a solution of the problem, and I cannot offer one.
A wheat-grower in my electorate asked me why we should not sell wheat to Poland on a 10 per cent, deposit, and obtain payment for the balance later. I pointed out to him that, no matter how the wheat was sold, the growers would have to be paid the cost of. production, which is 12s. 7d. a bushel. The Government would get only 10 per cent. of the price, and no one knows whether they would ever get the balance. Nothing could be done along those lines, and a proposal of that nature would not satisfy the people. The honorable member for Riverina said that the Government paid only a fraction of the value of the wheat. When the traders were selling the wheat, they paid only a fraction of its value and no more. If there was any profit from the sale, it went to them. If the Government pays 10s. 4d. for bulk wheat, and the cost of production is 12s. 7d., it is paying a remarkably high percentage of the cost. If we can only get sales moving, the growers will redeem the balance.
The growers are to be guaranteed the cost of production for 100,000,000 bushels for five years. A wheat-grower recently told me that he had delivered his wheat to the elevator, and he asked why he could not have the cost of production paid to him. I told him that, in effect, he had delivered the wheat to the Wheat Board, which is a vast selling organization, but the wheat had not been sold at that stage. The board had to sell it. Under the legislation introduced by the previous Labour Government, and also in the terms of the measures introduced by this Government recently, a guarantee on wheat sold overseas to the total of 100,000,000 bushels, and covering cost of production, becomes operative only when the wheat is exported. The cost of production is not guaranteed, so far as export wheat is concerned, while the wheat lies in the silos. Eventually, however, that wheat must be sold, and indications are that the Government will have to meet a big deficiency between the overseas price and the Australian cost of production.
What has brought this state of affairs about ? It is due to the internal economy of Australia and factors over which the wheat-growers, and the growers of dried fruits, too, as a matter of fact, have no control. This situation has been forced upon us by the cost of tractors and other goods that are made in Australia. It is due largely to the policy that was applied by the previous Labour Government. It ill behoves the honorable member for Lalor and other honorable members on the Opposition side to complain that the Government might have to find the required money. That has always been the case under stabilization schemes. Surely the people of Australia recognize that when schemes of such a nature are submitted and supported by honorable members on both sides of the House, the taxpayer may be called upon to meet some of the cost that the Government has guaranteed.
The people in my electorate are tremendously pleased with this bill. I know that because I recently travelled extensively through the electorate of Mallee. We expect a record harvest of wheat in the Mallee, and growers are worried about storage. Conditions can change rapidly and, as is widely known, there have been extensive floods in the Wimmera. Probably a third of the wheat in that area is under water, and the crop will be less than was expected. In the northern area, which I represent, the wheat crops are not affected by floods in fact, we welcome rain. The unfortunate floods in the Wimmera might balance the record crop in the Mallee, and the overall result might be that there will be enough storage for the wheat available. The railways might be able to move wheat from the Mallee to silos in other places, and the available storage might be adequate. But from a national point of view, and in the interests of primary producers who contribute so much to the national income, I believe that the Government, if required, should make more money available. In the final analysis, the Government will not have to pay for it. The producers eventually will have to pay the bill and Australia will benefit.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 24th August (vide page 65), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That thebill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition does not oppose the bill, but criticizes it for its niggardliness. I am sure that not one State Premier considers this to be a good bill, because not one of them will receive from it all the money he needs for hospitals, roads, schools and all the other things for which the States are responsible. This kind of legislation stems from the uniform taxation legislation of 1942, which was held to be valid by the High Court of Australia, greatly to the surprise of the government of the day that introduced it. That government had expected it to be validated under the defence power, but nobody was more surprised than the Treasurer of the day, Mr. Chifley, when the High Court of Australia, by a combination of the power to tax under section 51 of the Constitution and other sections, declared the legislation to be a valid exercise of the powers conferred under the Constitution. Uniform taxation has come to stay. Occasionally, there are protests against it by various State Premiers at meetings of the Australian Loan Council and the conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which seem to indicate that at some time or other a challenge will be made before the Privy Council on the matter. However, no challenge has eventuated yet, and I agree with the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that probably none will ever be made.
However, the States have justifiable grievances against the manner in which this Government is disbursing to the States the money that the Commonwealth collects so that the States may be able to carry out their functions as provided for, in a sense, under the residual powers - the powers not enumerated and specially reserved to the Commonwealth - in the Constitution. In a sentence, the delegated powers are those that the Commonwealth exercises; the other powers are left for the States to exercise. Under the formula that has been adopted by the States and the Commonwealth over the years, the amount that the States would have received this year would have been £14,000,000. The other night the Treasurer admitted that the Government has failed to control inflation. The Government now finds that each year it must grant more money to the States so that they can carry on the legitimate functions of government.
This year,” a special grant of £2,000,000 is being made to New South Wales to assist in flood relief. The flood in question is but the latest of a series that have occurred in New South Wales, and one of the many that have occurred in Australia in recent years. The special grant proves that the present arrangements for the spending of the people’s money are not satisfactory. In addition, this Government must find for the States the sum of £14,200,000 by way of supplementary grants. Last year, the figure was £19,900,000. This year the total figure provided will be £16,200,000, or £3,700,000 less than last year. No doubt the Premiers’ protests were long and vigorous. They all brought along lists of the public works that they wished to undertake. These, of course, included schools, roads, hospitals and the like. Ultimately the Premiers were told that the maximum amount they could get was the sum indicated by the Treasurer in his second-reading speech. We encourage the fiction that agreements are made between the Commonwealth and the States. As every one knows very well, the Commonwealth says what it will give and the States have recourse to no other body if they feel that it is not enough. They have no right of appeal. They must take what the Treasurer says they shall have. The present Treasurer will say that he has paid out to the States much more money than did his illustrious predecessor ; but much more money has been available to him for this purpose. In the days of the Chifley Government, the budget amounted to about £500,000,000, but since the advent of this Government, which pledged itself to put value back into the pound, the annual budgets have been of the order of £1,000,000,000. This year’s budget is the biggest of all, notwithstanding that the people are being told to spend less and thereby avoid promoting further inflation.
The States have inescapable commitments. They must cater for the needs of a growing economy, and provide the essential civic requirements of an everincreasing copulation. I do not know how some State governments are able to build the schools that they need as the result of either a surplus of births over deaths, or of arrivals over departures. Even at the kindergartenstage, more and more children are coming to the schools. Iknow of no State that can say that it issatisfiedwith either the building or the maintenance of schools. The hospital position is very much the same. Every one knows that the roads system of Australia is in danger of collapse within a few years unless the States hand over the responsibility for roads to the Commonwealth, or the Commonwealth gives the States more money for this purpose. In the last year, this Government has given practically all the petrol tax to the States.
-Even if that also had been given to the States a modern roads system would not have been possible. The United States Government finances almost the whole of its roadbuilding programme from a tax, equivalent to sixpence a gallon in Australian money, upon what it calls” gasoline “. This country is just as big as the United States of America but has a much smaller population, so one can see the difficulties that lie ahead. Whatever government was in power in this country at the moment, it would be faced with a roads problem that could not easily be solved. If we are to have fast transport we must build much wider and more solid roads and much stronger bridges. Every one believes that there is a place for road transport in the economic life of the nation, but that form of transport will not be able to play its part unless there is a change in the annual arrangements for assisting the States in regard to this part of their public works programmes. We could, of course, revert to a toll system. We could build roads and charge people for the right to travel on them, just as motorists still pay a toll to travel across the Sydney Harbour bridge.
-What about a tyre tax?
-That is possible. The present Liberal Government of Victoria is considering the advisability of imposing some such form of taxation. It is not enough for the Commonwealth Government to make an annualgrant to the States and then merely say that the responsibility for looking after the roads is theirs. The States and municipalities of this country simply have not the money that is needed if Australia is to build up and maintain a proper roads system. I am not absolving the States from the responsibility to do much more than they have done to solve this problem. There are still left open avenues for the collection of some of the money needed. The present system tends to encourage State Premiers and Treasurers, of all parties, to come to Canberra each year and ask for as much as they can get, while throwing on the Commonwealth the responsibilityfor collecting the money. They do not wash to accept any of the odium that accompanies tax-gathering. I am trying to put the position fairly. Unless something is done to improve our transport systems the expansion of our economy will be bogged down. It is being bogged down now. If the roads are not built on the same scale as they have been, and are being, built in America and certain European countries, which, of course, have greater populations and are better able to bear the financial burden, we shall have a very backward transport system. We shall have no roads that can properly be considered first-class highways.
-Has the honorable member been reading that supplement?
-I always read; that is one of the things that distinguish me from the honorable member who has just interjected. I also profit by what I read, and here again I am different from the honorable member for Canning. Anyhow, I am giving the House the benefit of my observations on this very important problem.
-I do not think the honorable member has read this bill.
-I certainly have. I have not merely read the bill, I have underlined it in many places, and I am amazed at the manner in which the Treasurer has treated the legitimateneeds of the States, and at the hard-hearted approach which has characterized his every action in regard to the States since he became Treasurer of thisCommonwealth. Having cast those pearls before honorable members opposite, I ask leave to continuemyremarks later.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5:57 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Sir ERIC Harbison) –by leave - agreed to.
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) - from making his speech in Committee of Supply on the budget without limitation of time.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 24th August (vide page 62), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries «<nd allowances, f 27,700 “, bc agreed to.
– This budget has been variously described, but I think it is accurate to call it a stand-still budget. It endeavours to maintain the economic status quo in Australia. I think it is fair to add that it endeavours to do so without any plan for future action, let alone any indication of immediate action. The budget is full of advice - unconvincing advice, I submit to the committee - but no positive measures are suggested. I am not forgetting the action taken in connexion with social services, to which I shall refer later. But leaving that aside for the moment, I say that the essence of the budget is the maintenance of the status quo.
The Government and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) want desperately to keep things in Australia exactly as they are. Of course, the chief backers of the Government want the status quo to be retained for their own purposes, because the existing position in Australia is a position of record profit levels. They want those levels to be maintained. That is equally desired by the very powerful corporations, combines and monopolies whose profits are excessive or extortionate, and many of which, in the spheres that we have discussed day by day in previous sessions, including the spheres of shippine:, oil - now that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited has gone, the Government has no share in the control of oil - tobacco, steel, automobiles to a large extent, banking and insurance, are the Government’s chief political supporters.
Those groups of combines and monopolies have made record profits during the last few years, so they do not want any change of the present position. It is very important to them to maintain the status quo, and that is the essence of this budget.
But the question for Australia and for the people is whether it is right and just that the status quo should be maintained, having regard to the standard of living of 90 per cent, of the people of this country. To that standard and how it is to be assessed objectively I shall address myself in a moment. Perhaps the position does not need too much economic analysis, because honorable members of all parties are aware that the standard of living of the wage-earners, and particularly of people on fixed incomes, has not increased relative to the improvement of conditions in other sectors of the Australian economy. I want to drive that point home, because if we can establish it we shall be able to show that this is a bad budget, and a budget for which the Government deserves censure.
In other times, I should have expected the Treasurer to direct his warnings against monopoly and exploitation in this country. We are reaching the stage in Australia which was reached in the United States of America some 50 years or even longer ago, when the American Congress passed the Sherman Act to deal with monopolies in that country. There were proceedings designed to curb the great and powerful groups in the United States which threatened to take control of legislation, and which exercised powers which were said by great writers, and by the courts in many instances, to be greater than the power of the government itself.
We are reaching that stage in this country. We have been moving rapidly towards it during the last few years. We have ‘Corporations in this country which, by virtue of their assets, the powers they wield directly and indirectly through their subsidiaries, and their enormous powers of influence and control, are the rivals of government. That constitutes something of great moment to Australia. In my submission, this Government does not stand foi- the protection of business or private enterprise at the middle or lower level. The middle business man and the small business man are not of much interest to the Government. The great powerful corporations to which I have referred are in practical control of affairs.
– What about nationalization?
– The Treasurer talks about nationalization.
– I did not say a word.
– I say in answer to the Treasurer that he attacked nationalization because he said it was monopoly. But he wants private monopoly. He wants private monopolistic control of the enterprise of this country. We have very nearly got that to-day. He must be fought on that issue, and I believe he will lose on it. Fancy the Treasurer daring in his budget speech to chide, rebuke and lecture the vast majority of the Australian people, whose real standard of living - I am not speaking of money values, but of what they can purchase with what they earn - has been either barely maintained or is actually falling!
The Treasurer shows no sign that be is even facing the problem which this budget could and should help to solve. He fears inflation. He believes that inflation comes from excessive purchasing power. He assumes that this excessive demand is for consumption goods, so the Government aims to restrict or reduce consumption by, in effect, keeping wages, salaries, pensions, child endowment and payments made under the Repatriation Act at a low level. His assumption - I want honorable members to analyse it fairly - is that the high demand causing inflationary pressures is a demand for consumer goods. That is not in accordance with the facts.
Fortunately, the Treasurer presented to the Parliament, in accordance with the usual practice, a White Paper dealing with the national income, its components and its sources. That told the true story to the people of Australia. I shall show that the problem which Australia faces to-day is an unbalance between investment and consumption, due, on the one hand, to excessive profits being directed to investment, for the sake of making more profits - in a sense, compounding profits - and, on the other hand, to the effect of a reduced demand for consumer goods because the people who want consumer goods, those in the middle and lower income ranges, cannot buy enough of them. That is the real economic position in this country, and all the documents prove it. Putting it in other words, profits at the top level have been excessive. There has been over-expansion of investment, but that has combined with underconsumption of basic necessary commodities. That is an abstract phrase, but again 1 appeal to the experience of honorable members in dealing with the people in their electorates. Is it not true of the pensioners and also of those on salaries and wages of, say, from £1,000 a year downwards? Everybody knows that it. is true of them. It is a fact which has been proved by actual experience, and the economic documents establish it also. 1 say that it is a serious state of economic instability, and to that extent I agree with the Treasurer. But why is it serious ? Because it has caused, is causing, and will increasingly cause, social injustice to the great bulk of salary and wage earners of this country, as well as to those who are dependent on small or moderate fixed incomes, and also, be it noted, to most small oi- medium-sized businesses and those in charge of them.
This unbalance, this injustice, this unfairness, as it has worked out, has been the root cause of industrial unrest and disturbance in industry. There is no escaping it. It has been the cause of serious unrest in industry, and great industrial organizations such as the Australian Council of Trades Unions have recognized that fact. Unfortunately, industrial tribunals have almost completely overlooked it in their attempts to peg the basic wage or margins, and in their recent emphasis on penal sanctions against trade unions, actions which, I am glad to say, the whole Australian trade union movement, supported by the Australian Labour party, has fearlessly opposed. That is just one aspect of the economic position.
To suggest to the vast majority of Australian workers and those on fixed incomes, particularly pensioners, that they are consuming too much - because that is the argument - is just absurd. The official figures acutally show reductions in basic consumption. I turn to Table (1) on page 4 of the “White Paper on National Income, which shows that for the two-year period between 1^52-53 and 1954-55. the aggregate amount going to the category of wages and salaries, including the pay of the Forces, rose from £2,059,000.000 to £(,321,000,000, of which no less than 5½ per cent, was due to the increase in the average number of persons in employment, increased, of course, in turn by the immigration intake. That is the actual percentage of increase. The average earnings per employee, in money terms only, not in real terms of purchasing power, rose by between 4 per cent, and 5 per cent, iti each year. These small increases in money wages have been due, the “White Paper points out. almost wholly to overrime, penalty rates, incentive payments, piece work and payments in excess of awards, rather than to award rates worked out at ordinary hours and rates. One result of this under-consumption is that, at the crucial points of the social life: of the community, the 40-hour week is no longer a full economic reality, been use hundreds of thousands of workers cannot live on a wage referable only to the 40-hour week. Yet the Treasurer speaks of “ notable gains in technical productivity “ and suggests that “ we are now reaping the fruits of much new and modern equipment installed in earlier years “. I do not dispute that the installation of modern equipment was vital for the modernizing of the technological processes of Australian industry. That was largely due to the foresight of the late Mr. Chifley years ago, when he established the depreciation allowance at a rime -when it mattered. That depreciation allowance was repealed and cancelled by the present Government.
These notable gains in productivity are not accruing to the workers of this country. Clearly, with wages virtually frozen, increased productivity has accrued largely to profits. In the five years or so up to the June quarter of 1955, the index of real wages went up by only 7 per cent. 1 am not speaking now of money wages, but real wages. The increase was little more than 1 per cent, per annum, despite the fact that there had been much larger increases in production per man in this period. That probably overstates the increase, because it is well known that the C series index has not - indeed it never has - adequately reflected the full rise in prices, because it is confined to certain items and is compiled in a certain way. However that may be, between the December quarter of 1952 and the June quarter of 1955, no increase in real wages took place. The rise in wage rates paid has only just offset the price rises recorded by the C series index. That means this - and it is very important- - that in the last two and a half years in this country, no benefit to the workers has come from the greater amount of production each man has been yielding in industry and agriculture. In the whole period, labour has not received its rightful share from greater productivity. The number of wage and salary earners employed in Australian factories in 1949-50, going back to that date, was 854,000. In March of this year the figure had risen to 938,000, an increase of just on 10 per cent.
According to the index of factory production, computed by the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, output in the same period increased by roughly 34 per cent. Let us compare these figures. They show that productivity of labour in industry has increased by 22 per cent, in five and a quarter years approximately. However, instead of being 22 per cent, better off, labour has gained a doubtful 7 per cent, in real terms. Surely those facts, proved by the official figures, show that there are salutary lessons to he learned by the people who are continually chiding the worker, every time he seeks an increase of his wages, to the effect that he can only get it if he increases his productivity. That has been the chorus all the time. Productivity has been increased by the workers, but they in turn have received only a comparatively small fraction of the increased productivity of the country. Indeed, it can be shown from the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician, taking matters more directly, that in terms of consumption of basic food products - and this is of vital importance,, surely, to the primary producer - there has been an actual decrease in average consumption per head. I refer to the official Report on Food Production, No. 9,, of 1953-54, which is the most recent one. Taking 1938-39 as the base year, the index for 1951-52 was 96, dropping in the next year to 94, and in 1954-55 it was 95. Now, since productivity in industry has been substantially increased, on the Treasurer’s own statement and also on the facts, we are entitled to look for some increased consumption. But consumption of nutrients per head per day - and this is the basic and the only scientific way of testing it - demonstrates a decrease which, if allowed to persist, must threaten the health of the nation as well as threaten the primary industries. One of the great troubles of the primary industries is the overseas position, but the primary industries will be threatened at home also unless the standards of the workers, salaryearners and those on fixed incomes are maintained and improved with increasing productivity. That state of affairs does not exist. That is an instance of the unbalance which exists here to-day, and it must be dealt with. Those figures show that from 1951-52 to 1953-54 there was a constant daily decrease in the consumption per head of proteins, calcium - taking the average consumption of each person - iron, vitamins A, Bl and B2. There has been an accompanying increase in the consumption of cheaper commodities like fats and carbohydrates. This remarkable phenomenon has been referred to by authorities on food consumption such as Sir John - now Lord - Boyd-Orr.
The general position that I have outlined is revealed in detail by the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures of consumption, which show that, since 1952, there has been a decrease in the average consumption per head in nearly all food products in Australia. The consumption of wheat products, sugar, milk products, eggs, butter and green vegetables has declined. The figures reflect a decline, not in wages measured in money, but in real wages, measured by what they will buy. Every housekeeper in the country could cite figures in support of my criticism. In my opinion, this state of affairs which, I submit, is a state of emergency, calls for attention. The Treasurer stated that the status qua must be maintained, but has done nothing to ensure that that shall be so; this while Australian primary producers are urgently needing home purchasers for their products. Surely this is a convincing demonstration of the truth that is often forgotten, that a higher living standard for the wage and salary earners is necessary to the welfare of the man on! the land. A higher and increasing living standard for the wage and salary earners, those on fixed incomes - the pensioners - and those in receipt of repatriation payments is necessary for the welfare of the man on the land and the stability of agricultural industries. This fact is recognized, unfortunately, only when overseas markets- begin to- fall. Of course, this pattern of increase in consumption of fats and carbohydrates, combined with the dangerous decrease in the consumption of vital food products - basic health foods - is exactly the pattern which the great world authority, Sir John - now Lord - Boyd-Orr, who is associated with the World Health Organization, discovered before World War II. to be associated with low income groups and decreasing living standards. That phenomenon has appeared in Australia. The only explanation of it is that money incomes are going up slightly, but the real value of those incomes, whether salaries, wages or pensions, is going down because of increases of the cost of living.
Let us turn to the other side of the picture, because social justice cannot be assessed merely by pointing out the difficulties that one group may face. The White Paper on National Income, to which I have referred, further illuminates the realities of the situation. In the two-year period that I mentioned earlier, 1952-53 to 1954-55, the average earnings per employee varied little, but company income, on the other hand, increased from £378,000,000 to £505.000.000, which was an increase of more than 33 per cent. The latter figure for company profits is probably understated, because in the previous year of estimate - taking the year just concluded for the purpose of comparison with figures given in the White Paper - profits estimated at £415,000,00<) turned out after the event to be £452,000,000. A similar under-estimate this year would turn the figure of £505,000,000 into £542,000.000. That would represent an increase in company profits of no less than 43 per cent. In the same period, allowances for depreciation increased from £203,000,000 to £303,000,000- approximately a 50 per cent, increase - and undistributed profits increased from £101,000,000 to £187,000,000. Those figures reveal the economic position of the companies - primarily the larger companies - in the community.
What is the central thesis of the budget? It is repeatedly asserted that expenditure in Australia has risen too rapidly, and that its further rise should be restrained and discouraged. Over and over again in the document the Treasurer emphasized, and re-emphasized that basic theme. I answer him by saying that it is not the expenditure of the workers and their families, much less that of the pensioners, which has been straining reserves at home or increasing imports from abroad and aggravating in that respect our balance of payments problem. In truth, when a realistic analysis of the situation is made it is shown that it was most presumptuous of the Treasurer to suggest that the wageearners were getting too much, or for any one to suggest they they were getting too much - and therefore spending too much. They are not spending too much, because the real value of what they are getting, in terms of purchasing power, has relatively gone down, but at the other end of the economic scale it is seen that the big companies have made greater profits and have been granted enormous increases of depreciation allowances, and in the same period undistributed profits have increased by 87 per cent.
The origin of any -excess building demand developing in this economy must be sought in the consumption, the expenditure, of 90 per cent, of the people, ‘comprised of those on incomes of £1,000 a year right down to the lowest incomes and lowest .pensions that are paid, because expenditure may be of two kinds - expenditure on consumer goods and expenditure on capital goods. Where prices are allowed to go unchecked - and that has practically been the position in Australia - while wages are practically frozen, resources must be drawn away from consumption into investment, which is made very attractive by these high and sometimes extortionate profits in industry. What has happened in Australia under the administration of the present Government - and the Government has known it - is that, as facts and figures reveal very clearly, the resources have been drained away from consumption into investment because of this attraction, and the attraction is, of course, due inevitably and irresistibly to the profit motive. Expenditure on consumption goods, that is, the very goods that are required by wage and salary earners and pensioners and their families, has decreased, and expenditure on investment goods has increased. So there has been a diversion from consumption to investment, which is further evidenced by the extraordinary fact that between 1953 and 1955 - I have selected that period for comparison because it is the period for which the most modern and up-to-date figures are available - the production of consumption goods increased in money terms - I am not speaking of the precise physical figures - by 22 per cent., while in the same period investment increased by 106 per cent. Thus, the percentage increase in investment was almost five times the percentage increase in respect of the living needs of the ordinary people. The current economic situation is serious, and in some ways, is one of emergency. There is an economic unbalance between consumption and investment, injustice due to reduction of the real value of wages and pensions, and industrial provocation due to increasing profits and decreasing real wages. Let us not be drawn away by catch-cries concerning the industrial position in this country. There is a real feeling of anxiety and discontent on the part of the worker regarding the position of himself and his children because of the inadequacy of his earnings to meet their ordinary living expenses. That is the basis of the discontent in industry to-day, and it must be tackled. It cannot be passed off, athe Treasurer seeks to do by saying, “Everything is for the best; let us stay as we are “. It is quite true, as he says, that there is prosperity in one sectorof the economy, but it is a small sector. For the bulk of the people, the prosperity he boasts of is completely illusory, and that is the accepted view of the majority of people in Australia.
An extraordinary and unique factor in the modern situation in Australia, and that of Western countries, is that despite the unfavorable economic portents, there is a high level of employment. We have not yet reached the stage of unemployment. We are not faced with the situation that confronted the people in the ‘thirties, when there was an enormous percentage of unemployment. To-day, there is full employment, accompanied by declining living standards. Employment goes on, but instead of the bulk of the people sharing in the prosperity of the country their actual standard of living is declining. I say again that that situation is unique, and it is attributable to a number of factors which must be tackled by the Government.
Such a situation can be excused in time of war or grave emergency but not in peace, except, perhaps in a backward country in which there can be no increased consumption of consumer goods because of the absence of industrialization or development. But in a country like Australia, which, by comparison is advancedthis diversion of national resources, including labour, from consumption to investment could have been of great value, despite sacrifices, if it had led to a real attack on the leeway in the provision of basic requirements, such as homes for the people, schools and better provision for the education of the children, hospitals and health and national transport, which has become almost a scandal. Australia has great road problems, and the decision of the courts that the States have no power to control interstate road transport throws a responsibility on the Commonwealth. The State railway systems are running down - not because of mismanagement at all.
– Oh, no!
– If honorable members opposite can see some governmentcontrolled industry that is an unsatisfactory condition they blame the Government. In the case of the railways the State governments are not to blame. During the last war, from 1942 onwards the railways, run by the people of Australia through their governments, carried millions of troops from one side of Australia to the other and from the south to the north in order to defend this country. The rolling-stock depreciated and the efficiency and the value of the permanent way were enormously reduced. All that the States received in the postwar settlement was actual payment of the cost of carrying the troops. Had that same situation existed in another country where transport had been provided by private enterprise - as happened in the case of the United States railway. and the Matson shipping line, some of whose ships were requisitioned for war purposes - the post-war settlement would have provided for new rolling-stock or a new fleet of ships. The Treasurer says, “ Everything is going on all right. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds “. But is the leeway in housing being overcome? The answer is that the lag is becoming greater. Is the leeway in schools and hospitals being overtaken? It is becoming worse than ever.No attempt has been made in respect of road and rail transport to develop Australia and expand the economy. The Treasurer does not believe in that sort of thing.
The diversion of finance and resources from consumer goods is due to high profits being invested privately in the further consolidation and expansion, for the most part, of industrial monopolies and combines, but that has not led to a proportionate increase in the production of goods and services for the consumer. I hope that the committee and the people will no longer accept the theory that when increased wages are asked for, there must be more production by the worker. There has been an enormous increase of production, but the worker has not shared in the benefits and his standard of living has not even been maintained. People on fixed incomes, who receive no increases, are in an even worse position.
The policy which logically follows from this analysis is that, rather than an attempt to freeze or keep down wages, there should be a rise of wages as a check to inflationary forces. That may seem a surprising statement at first and it calls for analysis. By increasing real wages and reducing profits a cheek would be placed on over-investment, and encouragement given to the production of consumer goods. I wish to quote from a statement by the late Professor Giblin to the Federal Court in the interim basic wage case of 1947. He said -
The danger which Mr. Reddaway saw in 1937 is present in much greater measure to-day. Farmland values are soaring in spite of all efforts to control them, and farm industry will reap a bitter harvest from these inflated values in years to come. The danger of over-expansion of industry - with a slump as the sequel - was present in 1937, even though there was then a large percentage of unemployment which would justify a considerable increase in investment. Now with full employment there is no such cushion against over-expansion. With profits, both rural and non-rural at a very high level and a great accumulation of financial resources during the war, the dangers of an exaggerated or unwise expansion are more acute than ever before, and a rise in wages would be a valuable check to these inflationary forces.
My comment on that is that if such an increase of wages leads to increased prices and the maintenance of profit levels, it is not wages which should be pegged but profits. To redress the factors making for declining consumption - a tragedy which it is unnecessary for me to emphasize because honorable members can visualize it in the hundreds of thousands of homes in this country - our object should be to reduce the growing inequalities in the distribution of income. The pegging of wages aggravates the position. Tax reduction on lower incomes and increased tax to prevent profiteering at top levels would be both logical and justifiable remedies.
The facts and figures set out in the Treasurer’s White Paper show that the budget should not be of the stand-pat character that has been presented. He has said, in effect, “Let us maintain the status quo “ ; but I submit that, in view of what I have said already to-night, the status quo should not be maintained. There should be alterations to ensure justice to all sections of the community.
As the economic situation requires adjustments to redress the balance in favour of consumption, certain things should follow. First, wages should be restored to their real level. That is a general matter which we, as a parliament, cannot control, and I think everybody accepts that fact. Pensions, too, should be restored to their former real level. In April, 1954, the Labour party proposed that, as from July of that year, the basic pension should be increased to £4 a week. That would have been no more than a just assessment as at that date. It is perfectly obvious, therefore, that the basic figure fixed on this occasion is inadequate, and that it should be increased. The exact method of dealing with that position will be outlined to honorable members when the social services legislation comes before the House for detailed consideration. Exactly the same principle applies to repatriation benefits. That is not because those benefits are in the nature of a charity or a hand-out, but because it is a matter of basic justice to those persons who are in the repatriation group - and everybody will admit that it is true of all groups - that the standards which have been built up should not be interfered with. Clearly, these payments must be restored to their former real value, but that has not been done in this budget.
I am not attempting to cover the whole field of benefits, but let us consider also the question of child endowment. The value of child endowment has been cut to pieces by the inflation of prices that has occurred in this country since the Menzies-Fadden coalition assumed office. What I have just stated is the true position in relation to child endowment, and the problem must be tackled by applying the principle I have already mentioned. It must be done, not only from the point of view of justice to the people concerned, but also because of the economic significance of such increases in a situation such as the one I have described, where under-consumption by these groups is one of the features of the economy. The subject of child endowment also will be dealt with in detail when the social services legislation is being considered.
The budget proposals in relation to pensions and repatriation benefits are not sufficient even to restore those benefits to their former purchasing power. Some cases of hardship amongst pensioners in this country which has pioneered so many social services benefits are a scandal. As I have already told the committee, last year the Labour party proposed a basic pension of£4 a week to commence in July of that year. That indicates that now, a substantial increase to beyond £4 a week for pensions and all related benefits is required. Labour’s proposals on social services and repatriation benefits and child endowment will be stated when the appropriate bills are before the House and are considered in close detail. Let me give an illustration of the classes of persons whom the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) should take into special consideration, because, after all, he has the initiative in such matters. I refer to the war widow or the Class. A civilian widow who is prevented by her inadequate pension from nurturing and bringing up her children in her own home. Such cases require an entirely new approach, and the social services committee of the Parliamentary Labour party has recommended that the payment should be equal to the female basic wage for the time being. Not an enormous number of persons would be. affected, and the desire of the mother to be with her children must be given effect.
I refer now to the Treasurer’s argument on hire purchase transactions. You, Mr. Chairman, are quite aware of his argument. He wants to get rid of hire purchase credit. He will not tackle the problem of controls in any way, but I shall refer to his general approach to that matter a little later. He wants to discourage hire purchase transactions. Seemingly, the practice since this Government assumed office has been for no instruction to issue from the Treasurer under the Banking Act such as could be stated and explained publicly, and justified or criticized publicly. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman intends to issue an instruction, but he will tell the banking institutions privately, in effect, to cut down on hire purchase credit. In the existing credit situation, we must face up to the fact that sometimes the ordinary householder without great resources must have recourse to hire purchase finance to provide his family with the basic essentials of a decent life. There is no other way of getting them. Incidentally, he provides a market for the products of Australian industry, and keeps those industries in production. Home equipment such as refrigerators is no longer regarded, and should not be regarded, as a luxury but as a necessity in a country with a climate likeours. If the hire purchase system were not in existence, something like it would have to be invented. Wherever interest rates on hire purchase are excessive, they could be fixed at a reasonable level by the conjoint action of the Commonwealth and the States. The Commonwealth may not have the direct power to do this, but in any event, the Commonwealth could help to force down the rate of hire purchase interest - and that is the important problem - by enabling the Commonwealth Bank to compete with existing credit organizations which finance hire purchase transactions. That kind of competition could be valuable.
The Treasurer, in his Budget speech has given no encouragement for the physical development of Australia.I have already referred to the subject of development in relation to housing schools and transport. We must face up to the fact that there is a division of legal functions between the Commonwealth and State legislatures, but the contradiction lies in the fact that Australia is one unit economically. Until the people approve constitutional amendments and changes, the only practical working guide to all governments in Australia is one of actual partnership between the Commonwealth and the States. We know that, during the last few years, the various States have been reduced to a position of financial subservience, indeed, almost to one of mendicancy. The States come to the Australian Government for a grant of the very taxation revenue that their own people have contributed and they are told what they will get. There is no proper partnership between the Commonwealth and the States. After all, they are partners.
– Labour established the formula.
– It is not a question of a formula ;. it is a. question! of working in, co-operation. Financial over-lordship or dictatorship by the Commonwealth must end. We can only work these great cooperative schemes for the- development, of the country by working with the States,, not, by telling, them what they must do.
The fact is- that if we move ahead along the lines I have suggested to try to correct this unfair distribution-, or ma.distribution, in favour of the- less privileged section of the community, that, in turn, will’ help to check the drain on- overseas fund’s. This’ correction of the maldistribution of income may have- to- be reinforced, as I indicated1, by taxation onprofits at the point where reasonable return- om capital investment becomes, or tends- to- become, either exploitation or extortion.
Again, I think the present international situation not only permits but actually demand’s a very substantial reduction in the defence expenditure of this country.. When my colleague,, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), was Minister for the Army in 1948-49, a fiveyear plan of army policy, navy policy and air policy was announced, and the government was bound, by it. This Government has no policy.. It has never stated what its policy is- in these matters. Its one policy, as the budget comes round, is- to see whether it can take out £200,000,000,. or £190,000,000 as a figure, and then try to make the defence departments spend’ it. AW the defence departments are hard pressed to do it every year ! As a matter of fact I believe that the waste and extravagance in the departments in this country is quite scandalous. Many, many millions of pounds could be saved by cutting down in these particular departments..
But this Government must show itself a-s the strong, government! It is determined to show what it is going to- do in defence. What it has done, above all things,, has been to bring Australia into contempt by sending, a special, force to Malaya. I do not want to return to the debate on, that subject at this moment but. I am, bound to ask about the- Government’s policy. What is- the Government’s policy? First of all,, it was- to establish a: base in? Malaya in, connexion, with Seato. Then, the- picture changed! What was the next thing? It was- going; in* for the operation! of jungle warfare. What is the position, now, when- the- new Malayan Federation is proposing an amnesty which would: end; the guerrilla warfare I Every one who has any regard for’ good- international’ relations can only hope that this is agreed to between them. But will the force still go- to Malaya ? Is- it the l’aw of the Medes and Persians that a force- must go; that Australia must have a permanent base in a country life Malaya, which is about to obtain full’ selfgovernment ?
T am not referring, only to- the policy ; I am referring to the expense of it. I say thai at this moment in. international affairs, after the success of the four main leaders of the world’ concerned’ at Geneva, it i-3 wrong to continue with this o!d: policy o£ “ put in the £I90,000,000’, nobody will query it; it will get through;, we- will try to get the defence forces to expend some of it; never mind about ali. increase in child, endowment, we can, forget that; never mind about the needs of the wage and’ salary earners of thi? country ; put it into defence “’. That’ is contrary to the opinion of this country, and! it is. contrary to good international relations.
As my colleague, the. honorable member for Lalor (Me. Pollard), said recently, more positive, steps must be taken to increase Australia’s export earnings. In particular, the whole field of trade with the eastern- countries has to be carefully, explored. But we shall not have much trade with eastern, countries if, at the moment when we: want to trade with them, we send military forces to display strength in that area. Nothing could be more likely to- disturb the whole basis upon which trade is conducted. I should like to see positive efforts- made to open channels of trade with all these nations of the east.. If necessary, that trade could be stimulated by the provision of long-term credit. It is not merely a matter of reopening trade channels which are almost closed, on account of strained and even broken international relationships. Make no mistake about it, they will do it.
This afternoon, I asked the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) a question in relation to the admission to the United Nations of all applicants. He said it would include the Republic of Ireland, which is perfectly true. But it also includes the satellites of Russia. Why, six months ago, if that question had been asked of the Minister, everybody on the Government side would have risen and protested against such an idea. Now, they are willing to support it. They are six or twelve months too late from the point of view of assessing public opinion.
The fact is that the trade connexion between Australia and the Colombo plan and other Asian countries surely opens up possibilities for the primary producers of this country, although there are many difficulties. I know that one of the difficulties lies in the operations of the shipping combines which have fixed preferential rates prejudicial to Australia’s exports. That position has been pointed out by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), and that problem has to be, indeed, should be, tackled.
Special distortions in the economic balance, stemming from the activities of monopolies and combines in this country, have caused an extraordinarily difficult situation in connexion with the operation of foreign capital in Australia. As we know, the operations of the great GeneralMotorsHolden’s Corporation of South Australia threaten to accentuate our difficulties in relation to the balance of payments. There should be a fair settlement of these problems based on justice and fair dealing. I am confident that an analysis of the position will disclose that it has almost got out of hand.
I have referred to taxation only in a general way at this stage. I have mentioned the position of the family, especially the family on a small income. I have referred to the imposition of sales tax on home equipment. The Labour party’s policy has always been to abolish sales tax on the vital necessities of home equipment.
Of course, the Government is facing a crisis. I have referred to certain aspects of it. We should not be afraid to meet this crisis caused by what might be termed the threatened outbreak of peace. For many years, we have lived in a situation called a cold war. What is necessary is a plan for the economy of a peaceful world. Labour has no fears that a plan can be submitted, a plan that would be approved by the people of Australia. Labour wants the young couples of this country to own their homes. Labour wants to help by way of a just child endowment. There is imposed upon us a trust to help the veteran servicemen, the widows, the fatherless, the aged, the sick and the infirm. All that the Treasurer does is publicly to scold those who are prepared to make sacrifices for their family and purchase home equipment by means of hire purchase. Above all things, we must gladly face up to the alleged economic dangers of a permanent world peace. Surely we can organize to live in a land where the worker should be as well off in relation to the basic necessaries of life as his employer; a land where the aged have no fear of insecurity; a land where Australians can offer the hand of friendship to all mankind. I think we can avoid a state of perpetual fear and anxiety about the future, a condition where there is a crimping of our household budget, a condition under which Australians have to deny themselves the reasonable comforts of modern living and where there hase been so much indulgence in international smears at the expense of regimes simply because we do not accept them.
I could give a dozen illustrations from what has been said by Government supporters in this chamber. The budget reveals the Government as miserly; it wants to hoard money in trust funds and to take away the surplus savings of the people in taxes. For many years it has accepted nuclear war and annihilation as almost inevitable. International events have moved too fast for the Government, and now it has to hurry to get on to the band waggon of international peace. We have a government that is afraid of prosperity. The budget gives neither hope nor justice where it was desperately needed. It is a document based largely on the, fallacious economic thinking of the ‘thirties, although the position to-day in regard to unemployment is different. The Government’s policy of cutting down expenditure is a repetition of the policy of the depression days, and is opposed to the teachings of such economists as Boyd-Orr and Keynes. The budget is barren of positive constructive thought, and represents a most futile approach to to-day’s problems in an age when the emphasis should be on hope, not fear, and on optimism, not pessimism, in both the international and the Australian spheres. Extravagant expenditure, especially in defence departments, shows that the Government has become tired and enfeebled. It must wake up. The budget shows that the Government is utterly unprepared for the economic planning which must be undertaken now that there is a real chance of international peace and cooperation, which will alter many things in the world. The budget shows that the Government has no plan except to stand pat. The people of this nation have had their just expectations postponed for many years because of the Government’s .belief that the cold war was certain to become a hot war. They are not prepared to tolerate the dismal forebodings and unjustified fears of the Treasurer and his colleagues. As a mark of censure against this inadequate and unjust budget, on behalf of the Opposition, I move -
That the first item be reduced by fi.
.- For about an hour we have listened to a speech which has followed the lines of speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) on similar occasions in the past. It is not unfair to characterize his speech on the budget to-night as dull, dismal and unimaginative. The right honorable gentleman failed to deal with the realities of the economic situation in Australia. He completely forgot that we are living under conditions of prosperity never before equalled. It will be remembered that during the last general election campaign the Leader of the Opposition went to the country with what may be described, in the language of the schoolboy, as a fabulous policy - a policy under which he would spend hundreds of millions of pounds, presumably to be conjured out of the air or produced by the printing press. At the same time, he promised to reduce taxation. As I followed his remarks to-night,
I gathered that he would still reduce taxation and still make fabulous promises. As I have said, his speech was devoid of reality, and no one in the country will believe it. If the people of Australia allowed such a policy to be adopted, this country would soon experience a state of economic and industrial chaos, and there would be unparalleled inflation. Before long, the full employment of which we are so proud to-day would be turned into unemployment, and pensions, which to-day have higher value than ever before, would have little real value. Before long the right honorable gentleman’s policy, if given effect, would make him known as a wrecker.
Indeed, he is already known as a wrecker. What have we seen in the party of which he is the leader? On many occasions in this House and throughout the country that party has been described as the great Australian Labour party, but what does it amount to to-day? It is a party hopelessly divided, and none of its members can be proud of it. It is a party devoid of real leadership; a party looking for a leader, and unable to find one. What has the right honorable gentleman attempted in the industrial sphere? The present Government came into office in difficult circumstances. The Communists had control of many trade unions and of large sections of industry. The Government introduced legislation to enable genuine trade unionists to control their unions and get rid of the Communists. Those members of trade unions who were prepared to accept that legislation, which provided for secret ballots, became known as industrial groupers. But what has the Leader of the Opposition attempted to do with them? He has attempted to destroy the industrial groupers who were getting rid of the Communist control of trade unions. It can truly be said that the right honorable gentleman has been a wrecker of Australian industry. He formed what is known as the unity front, but he has been a wrecker.
Let us contrast what he has done with the budget policy of the present Government. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has introduced six budgets, four of which provided for substantial tax reductions. Those reductions were made at a time when the economic sta’te of the country warranted them, and the community gained the benefit. In 1951, however, economic conditions were different; inflation was increasing, and the outlook was serious. The Chifley Government had done nothing to stem inflation, although Mr. Chifley knew what ought to be done. Indeed, when there was a change of government and Mr. Chifley became Leader of the Opposition, he besought the Menzies Government, almost on bended knees, to do the very things that his Government had failed to do. Mr. Chifley knew what he ought to havedone, but his party would not allow him to do it. The measures taken by the Menzies Government to meet the situation were stern, but that Government was strong enough and courageous enough to take those measures. As a result, of the stability budget of 1951, inflation was stemmed, and once again this country was brought back to the level road, and eventually to the high road of prosperity.
In a year in which, once again, inflationary pressures are beginning to make themselves felt, one does not make taxation reductions. This is a year in which one must look at the economic position seriously, and consider what should be done in order to help the present position. I quite agree with the statement of the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that the object of the Government, in introducing this budget, is to keep conditions as they are. That is the only point on which I agree with the Leader of the Opposition. The Government does want to keep conditions as they are because Australia has greater prosperity and higher living standards than it has ever had before. It has full employment, and a greater production than it has ever had before. Why should we not want to keep these conditions? That is what the Government was elected to do. That is what it has been doing. That does not mean that the Government is not watching the economic position closely. It does not mean that the Government will refuse to decrease taxation when the proper time comes. But, in the present circumstances, the Treasurer has taken the right step in this budget. It is already being accepted that this is a proper budget for a year from the very commencement of which there have been warnings that inflation must be closely watched.
I should like to refer to some of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition about the high profits that companies have been making. High profits are not a sign of depression. High profits are a sign of prosperity, and when profits are high, people obtain very good employment. High profits have been made by companies because they have had contented employees. The employees of those companies that are making high profits will not thank the members of the Opposition for saying that they would like to see those companies in the ditch. They are proud to be employed by companies which make high profits and provide them with lucrative employment. They do not want the depression for which the Opposition has been wishing for years. High profits are a very substantial reason for attracting overseas capital, and one of the things that we greatly need in this country in order to increase development is more overseas capital.
It has been said that high profits result in combines. That sort of talk has been heard in this country since federation, and was probably heard before federation. The truth of the matter is that more small investors are now investing in companies. They do not need to spend all their money on consumer goods, and their surplus is invested in companies. Consequently, an attack on high profits is an attack on the small investor, and an attempt to take money out of his pocket. There can be no objection to high profits when the companies which earn those profits provide lucrative employment.
A strange statement was made by the Leader of the Opposition. He said that exports should be increased. Yet he also said that wages were not high enough. One of our great difficulties in increasing exports is that wages in this country are so high that we are losing overseas markets. When I make that statement, I hope that Opposition members will not misunderstand me. I am not opposed to high wages. I am merely stating facts. Opposition members know as well as I do that wages are so high in this country that we cannot win overseas markets.
– That could be done by cutting costs.
– What is the chief element in costs? Wages! The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) wants costs to be cut. That means that wages must be cut. That is what he stands for. Let us see what the Leader of the Opposition really thinks of high profits. Do members of the Opposition recall that when their leader delivered his policy speech at the last general election, he wanted to give a 40 per cent, initial depreciation allowance to companies? Do they recall that that proposal would have cost the Government - or the taxpayers - £23,000,000? Do they recall that the effect of such an allowance would have been to permit the companies’ profits to rise higher than before? Yet members of the Opposition now do not like high profits.
– Costs should be cut.
– The honorable member for Batman, having been battered down once, comes up again. He must realize that a big depreciation allowance would enable companies’ profits to go up. That is a simple fact.
– They would use the allowance to buy modern machines.
– The honorable member would like to install machines. Perhaps he would like to buy a talking machine, and then he could go on indefinitely.
Let me pass on to the subject of defence with which the Leader of the Opposition has dealt in the same sort of fashion as he has dealt with other matters. He has dealt with one subject here and another subject there. He has hit at this, and then he has hit at that, and he has not achieved a great deal. The right honorable gentleman made wild charges with regard to defence. He said that the Labour Government had a defence policy when it was in power, but he did not tell us what it was. Judging from its results, it was ari entirely negative policy of getting rid of the defence forces. It was a policy of “no defence at all for Australia “. That policy was still pursued by the Opposition af ter the present Government assumed office, for the Opposition refused to have anything to do with national service training. The Opposion did not wish to defend Australia. Instead of sending troops overseas, the Opposition would prefer the policy to be on the line of what has been called “ th? Brisbane line “. That phrase was invented by a member of the Labour party when he was a Minister.
– The honorable member should deal with the budget.
– I am dealing with the statements of the right honorable the Leader of .the Opposition on the subject of defence. I appreciate that the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) does not like what I am saying because he knows that there is no effective answer it it.
– The honorable member has not said anything.
– Once more, the talking machine has gone into action. We cannot expect anything to sink very deeply into a talking machine.
I come back to the subject of defence. It has been suggested - and one could well wish it were true - that peace is on the horizon. It is true that the tensions in Europe seems to have lessened somewhat. But what is the reason for that? The reason is that the allied powers have become much stronger. They have never failed to realize that the only way to beat the menace of communism is to be strong. It is because the powers of Europe and America are strong, and it is because they are fully armed and able to meet the menace, that the tension has eased somewhat in Europe, and that conditions there are much better than they were before. We cannot say, with the same assurance, that the tension has eased in SouthEast Asia. Therefore, we must continue to see that we are strong enough to meet any menace, which must come from that direction, because, unless we are strong, if we are content to fall back on “ the Brisbane line”, as the Leader of the Opposition would obviously wish us to do, we shall find that our enemies are prepared to come and fight us here. On the other hand, a defence policy such as has always been favoured by the present Ministry, which has found money for our defence and has raised strong defence forces in this country, will affect the outlook of our possible opponents. It is only the knowledge of our enemies that we are strong and able to resist them successfully that prevents them from attacking us. And the proper place in which to meet any force that may be brought against us is not this country - it is overseas.
Despite what may be said by honorable members opposite, general opinion in Malaya welcomes the despatch of troops by this country to Malaya. Nothing that the Leader of the Opposition may say will deter the Government from seeing that Australia is properly defended. I take his statement to-night, that he will fight us on this question of defence all along the line, to mean- that he is not in favour of this country being properly defended, and that if he were in office to-day there would be no defence of Australia at all. It should be realized throughout the length and breadth of this country that Labour policy is a policy of “ no defence “. Honorable members opposite are quite prepared to down arms and let themselves be overrun.
– Does the honorable member believe all that?
– I am merely stating the implications of what I have heard said in this chamber by the honorable gentleman’s own leader. What I have claimed to be Labour’s view on defence is the effect of what the Leader of the Opposition has said, as the honorable gentleman knows as well as anybody else.
Now I turn to another aspect of the right honorable gentleman’s speech. For a considerable time during his speech he used a great number of statistics. Of course, statistics may be made to mean anything. It is very easy to juggle with figures and to draw wrong conclusions from them, as even the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) would possibly know. But although the Leader of the Opposition proved himself to be a juggler, one could hardly say that he was a very great illusionist. Whatever conclusions he may endeavour to draw from figures, it remains true that facts speak far louder than figures - and the facts are that we are indeed in a state of great prosperity, that we have full employment, increased production and the highest living standards in the world.
I pass now to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition regarding pensions and child endowment. The Labour party has never been greatly interested in child endowment. It was an anti-Labour government which initiated the payment of child endowment, in the face of Labour party opposition. It was also an anti-Labour government which introduced the payment of endowment for the first child. The Labour party was not in favour of that either.
Opposition members interjecting.
– I shall compare the records of Labour and anti-Labour governments in relation to pensions. The present Government, in five of its six budgets, has increased pensions. It has given greater increases of pensions than had ever previously been granted. The present proposed increase of 10s. a week has only once before been equalled, and that was by this Government three years ago. On two other occasions the Government has increased pensions by 7s. 6d. Labour has never given an increase of as much as 7s. 6d. Labour’s usual increase used to be 6d., when it gave any increase at all. During the last year of Labour rule, which was a year of rapidly rising prices and great inflation, the leader of the Labour party, of whom some still speak with bated breath - why, I do not know - when he was asked, “What are you going to do for the poor pensioner ? “, replied, “ We are not doing anything for him. He got something last year. It is true prices have gone up again, but we are not going to do anything.” And on that occasion a great number of honorable members opposite rose in this chamber and spoke in support of that statement of their leader. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) was one of them. Not one of those gentlemen was prepared to support an increase of the pension. No! They all spoke about what a wonderful thing social services were. But there was no rise for the poor pensioner! Let us examine the pension, which will he 80s. when the enabling legislation is passed, in order to see how it is made up. Of that amount, 22s. was given by Labour governments, and 58s. was given by antiLabour governments. The only government that has ever reduced the pension was a Labour government. Labour sometimes claims that it was a Labour government which introduced pensions in Australia. That is just another untruth. Everybody knows that it was an anti-Labour government which did so. The truth of the matter is that Labour has never been the friend of the pensioner.
– That statement is certainly an untruth !
– I agree it is an untruth to say that Labour is a friend of the pensioner. I have summed up Labour’s position with regard to pensioners. It has been an entirely false position. Labour talks a lot in opposition, but in office, no matter how prices may rise, Labour has nothing for the pensioner.
. - The Government is to be condemned for its budget, because it has failed to produce a policy, or any promise of action which would deal with the serious situation that we are at present facing. I find that the analysis contained in the budget speech is incomplete, although the document contains certain statements that are very accurate and very much to the point. A budget speech should contain a complete and accurate analysis of the economic situation as a basis of the policy that should flow from it. The budget reveals many deficiencies. It does not contain all the things that a budget should contain. For that reason I would not give it a name, as the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has attempted to do. It should not have a name. As the debate proceeds, we shall see just what the real position is. Instead of making one of those speeches which appeal to certain people as containing reasons why they should vote for some person or other, I hope to arouse the community to an appreciation of the serious situation that we are now facing. I have said that the Treasurer’s appreciation of the economic situation is accurate in some respects. Indeed, it is extremely accurate in some respects. The Treasurer, in his budget speech, said -
Firms, industries, and works projects have been competing one against the other, each trying to get a greater share in a fund of resources known to be too small to meet all demands.
Earlier in the speech he said -
The current need is for restraint on the part of the bankingsystem, on the part of business, on the part of every one who has money to spend. There is no other way to slacken the current pressure on local resources and supplies and reduce the execessive demand for imports which is causing our balanceofpayments deficit.
As though he had not made his point perfectly clear, he went on to say -
But of what use can it be for firms to install new techniques, modernize their plant and follow out efficiency systems - all with a view to reducing costs - if the result of what they do in other directions is to force up the costs of the factors of production they need to use in their plant? Of what use can it be for governments to provide incentives for investment or to spend millions on providing facilities for industry if the whole gain, and more than the whole gain, in terms of costs is to be nullified by the driving up of other cost? in a process of cut-throat competition?
That is, cut-throat competition for labour. Those are very accurate statements, and are very much to the point. Indeed, I find myself in agreement with them. However, they constitute a damning indictment of big business, and since the Treasurer is well aware of what is wrong in our industrial life to-day, and has stated so quite clearly, he is all the more to blame for not having detailed some method of dealing with big business. I expected the budget to deal adequately with the shortcomings of big business, but I find that it has not done that at all. The Treasurer may be likened to those people - and I have been among them myself at times - who stand on the mat in front of the manager of a big concern and tell him a few home truths. The Treasurer has, in effect, done that to big business, which might be considered to be his boss.
Another matter that I desire to mention is industrial unrest. The Treasurer may have been discreet in not mentioning that, but there has been a good deal of it recently, and I suggest that he should not have ignored it. A great deal of industrial unrest is due to the bargaining by certain sections of big business in their scramble to get hold of more than their share of our resources, which are too small to meet all demands. Big business has squandered capital in order to build up big projects, such as those undertaken by petrol companies and other large concerns, because of an anxiety to get their businesses going at all costs and to spend a lot of money. Such big business groups make arrangements with unions which are much to the liking of those unions. The unions have a desire to share in what they believe to be the prosperity of the companies, and they cannot be blamed for not acting otherwise.
The financial tycoons and big business managers, who are eager to get their own projects going, squander money by making these arrangements with unions in order to draw workers away from other sections of industry so’ that they can reap the advantage of their labours. As a result of all that, extraordinary arrangements have been made between some employers and some unions, involving dirt money, oil money, money for overalls, tea money, time off for this and that, the provision of buses to carry employees to work, and so on. After such arrangements have been made, it is only to be expected that other groups of employees will say. “What is good enough for my mates in such and such a concern is good enough for me; if one section of the employers will do this, then another section will also do it “. Therefore, we find the unions putting in applications for increases of general rates of wages. Those applications are filed in the various industrial courts, but the courts do not look at these matters in the same way as big business.. The courts base their decisions on general prosperity and other weighty matters, but big business considers only itself. Consequently, the unions frequently do not have their applications for general increases granted.
The refusal of the court then arouses all sorts of industrial unrest, and there is no denying that all such trouble has been caused by the managers of big business squandering money on big projects and offering more attractive terms of employment than their neighbours. Such big business managers are at the bottom of the whole of our industrialunrest, and they should be disciplined.. That being so, we were entitled to expect’ the Treasurer to exercise some sort of discipline over them through his budget.
– Does the honorable member think that the Government should hang them?
-No, but there are good, practical measures that could have been taken to bring them to their senses. Industrial unrest is a most serious matter, because it is exploited by. Communists and others who seek to gain advantage for themselves out of the industrial troubles of the country. I suggest again that the Treasurer should have imposed some discipline over big business in order to bring it into. line with proper industrial practices, and to prevent this managerial nonsense from continuing. The Treasurer’s budget, although couched in restrained terms, was a significant indictment of the practice of big business in impatiently, recklessly and irresponsibly bribing workers away from their competitors. One would, therefore, have expected the Government to discipline bigbusiness.
– What would the honorable member do about that?
– I shall give the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) a statement in detail later. The most important deficiency of the budget is a lack of appreciation of the gravity of our declining trade balance-.. The Treasurer said that our overseas reserves were about£428,000,000 in June of this year, but everybody knows that a week ago those reserves had fallen still further to £340,000,000. That is a very serious position, and the Treasurer knows better than anybody else that the declining trade balance is the most serious aspect of our present economic condition. It is all very well for big business to go on expanding and increasing the risk of serious inflation, but a day of reckoning must come, and it is being brought closer by the decline of our overseas reserves. That decline is a result, not a cause, but it indicates what should be the policy of the Government tostop the economic drift.
The present’ state1 of our trade balance must indicate- to the Treasurer’ what bis polley should’ be. However, the budget has not” put forward any positive plan, todeal with the1 adverse position of our trade balance. The Treasurer has stated that the Government has imposed import restrictions,, and; that by so doing it hopes to; restrict, the flow of imports.. However, we all1 know that the import restrictions are- showing signs of wear and tear. Ti a man wants to import certain goods from overseas he goes to a customs agent who asks him whether’ he has an import licence for the goods. If the man. says that he has no such licence, the- customs agent says, “ Well, d’o you. want me to get it for you? If you do, it’ will cost you 7i- per- cent., more n.
– I should like some proof of that.
– I have the proof.
– Then it is. up to the honorable- member to, produce that proof.
– I know that that is what goes on, and I should be surprised if the Treasurer is ignorant of it.
– Fadden. - The honorable member has made a serious allegation and should produce proof in support of it.
– I shall produce, it in due course-, I stand by what I have said, because1 I have had1 the facts from importers of goods. They say that if they doi not have am import, licence one can be obtained for- them at a certain price. The adverse- balance, of payments is such an important factor in our economy that it is: imperative that the Government should do something about it.
– And’ it is imperative that the honorable member should supply any information that he may have that would help the Government.
– The alternative to government action on the balance of payments is national bankruptcy. As I have said,, the import controls show signs of wear- and’ tear, and that wear and tear will not diminish. Moreover, import restrictions are only a short-term measure, and’ this’ Government and the
Treasurer do not like controls - nor does anybody. They are necessary as shortterm measures, but when they are imposed they should be applied fearlessly and with common sense. We need a proper long-term method of dealing with thi problem of our declining balance of payments, and’ such a method should have been detailed- in the budget. I, for one. am disappointed that it was to be found: there.
There are two well-known methods of overcoming an adverse trade balance. Th, first is depreciation, of the currency, and I have already spoken about that method. There are some advantages for the community in. such a; depreciation of the currency, and1 in particular there are advantages for- farmers-.. Honorable members have to-day discussed the storing of: the. surplus wheat of two seasons. The very fact of that matter having been raised, in the House indicates that the sale of our wheat has been proceeding very slowly. If the Minister for Commerce and’ Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) were to throw all that wheat on the market, it would be- sold at a low price and, consequently, honorable- members will perceive that the1 depreciation of the currency would: be an advantage- to wheatfarmers.
– In what way?
– The wheat-farmer would’ receive more Australian pounds for the wheat that he sells. The benefit would become apparent in many ways. The price of butter could be reduced’ and all butter in excess of Australia’s domestic needs could be sold, not at a price lower than that paid1 by the Australian consumer; but at the same price-. The effect on the wine, flax, sugar and dried fruits industries would be similar. Depreciation of the currency would do a very great deal for the members of the party to which the Treasurer belongs: Deprecia tion has difficulties as well as advantages, and they should be carefully weighed. The Treasurer’s budget speech was disappointing because he did not indicate his thoughts on the question of depreciation. Even if’ lie had said that he thought depreciation of the currency was unnecessary at the present time and had given his reasons for expressing that view, everyone would ha.ve been reassured.
– The honorable member is well aware that in any circumstances an advance disclosure of depreciation would be most dangerous.
– I am aware that there are certain difficulties in the way of depreciation, but I remind the right honorable gentleman that Australia now faces considerable difficulties otherwise. Depreciation is highly inflationary; but we already have inflation. If proper measures to combat inflation were taken now there would be sufficient excess capacity available as a result of those measures to deal with any further tendency to inflation that they might cause. It is not my place to advocate depreciation. I merely advance it as a possible measure to take and suggest that it should receive adequate consideration.
The deterioration in the balance of payments is very serious and requires earnest attention. As most people know, an alternative method of adjusting the balance of payments is to raise interest rates. Such action would have the immediate advantage of restoring the balance of payments, because a lot of overseas capital would flow into Australia for investment, since that overseas capital would attract a higher rate of interest here than elsewhere. That would be favorable for the balance of payments, but it also would have a few snags. For a start, rents throughout the community would be increased. Farmers who were paying off money that they had borrowed to establish themselves on farms would pay more interest. Businesses also would pay higher interest on their borrowings, and businessmen are greatly discouraged by high interest rates. Every home-owner would have to bear a greater burden of interest on money borrowed to build or buy a home. The net outcome would be serious discouragement of business activity. Builders would find it more difficult to obtain contracts. Considerable unemployment would result, and profits would be greatly reduced. An increase of interest rates is very serious, should it be considered as an alternative to depreciation of the currency. There is no doubt that if unemployment were caused by a rise in interest rates, the first to suffer would be aged and infirm people, many of whom at the present time, I am glad to say, are able to find employment. Higher interest rates would increase the number of people who draw unemployment relief and cause a rise in dole payments. Generally speaking, a rise in interest rates is capable of leading to depression, and it is almost certain to do so unless it is administered most carefully. At the present time an increase of interest rates would be most serious for investors in the current security loan. Every one knows what happened a few years ago when interest rates were increased and people who had invested in government loans in the belief that they were doing something worth-while for themselves and their country found that they could obtain only £80 or £90 for every £100 bond that they held. That is the sort of thing that happens as a result of a rise in interest rates.
– Does the honorable member advocate such action?
– I do not advocate it. I merely wish to state that a rise in interest rates is imminent. All the indications leave no doubt that it is imminent. I challenge the Treasurer to state on behalf of the Government that it will do all in its power at a future conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers to ensure that interest rates do not rise, because a considerable depression will follow any uncontrolled rise in interest rates. I want to be sure that if the Government does anything to adjust the balance of payments it will give- attention to all the factors involved and act for the benefit of the people and not allow big business interests to manage these affairs so as to make the greatest possible profits for themselves. There should be some measure of control of interest rates. They might with advantage be raised, and such action might be combined with a degree of depreciation of the currency. A number of measures might be initiated to achieve a favorable balance of payments.
I should have liked to see such measures incorporated in the budget, but they are just what is not to be found in it. It gives no indication of control of interest rates, which is being left to the banks. Already interest on mortgages is up to 5^ per cent, and 6 per cent, and some finance houses, notably the Industrial Acceptance Corporation Limited are offering debentures at 7 per cent. These happenings are all indications of a scarcity of money and are a warning of a rise in interest rates. What has the Government done about it? It has done nothing. The Treasurer, in his budget speech, stated that at the last Premiers. Conference the matter was discussed and that those who attended the conference were disturbed about the matter; but nothing has been done about it.
The Government has power to control interest rates and capital issues, but it has not sought to use those powers. It has allowed big business, banks and other interests to have “ari open go”, because hig business directs it on matters of policy. Obvious measures * n* cope with inflation have been available to the Government, but it has not adopted them. T refer to capital issues control and wise administration of bank advances. It is of no use for the Government to say what it thinks business enterprises ought to do, because they will take no notice of it. They are all too much preoccupied in a great race to produce and sell their own particular products. The experience of 25 years ago leads me to believe that a rise in interest rates is imminent. We saw what happened 25 years ago when there was a surplus of primary products throughout Australia because it was difficult to sell them; when interest rates were as high as 7i per cent, and 8 per cent., and when unemployment, trouble and depression were evident throughout the land. The Treasurer remembers those times as well as any one does. No one wishes them to return, and the present signs should be sufficient to warn every one that something should be done to prevent a return of the conditions of 25 years ago. Yet the Government does nothing about the problem. I remind the Treasurer that the difficulties of those times were overcome by a reduction of interest rates and an adjustment of the exchange rate. The budget is deficient because it gives no indication of the Government’s proposals to deal with the situation. It is disturbing to contemplate the terribleresults that may follow if interest rates are not controlled in a responsible manner. They cannot be left in the hands of big business, which will make a mess of things again as it did in 1929.
The budget should have taken positive action for the benefit of deserving people in the community. One can find no more deserving section of the community than the breadwinners. They should have figured prominently in the budget. It is about time something was done for them. They are not to blame for the present situation, for which big business is entirely to blame. However, it is the bread winners who must pav tinprice for the present state of affairs. They should receive much greater consideration than this Government has given to them. The Treasurer should have disciplined big business and should have shown his appreciation of the breadwinners who really do the work. Taxation on big business need not have been eased, and the Treasurer has not eased it. Big business earlier was given a measure of relief from taxation, and all it did was abuse the privileges that the Treasurer gave it. The incidence of taxation on businesses should have been adjusted to a considerable degree. A tax must be fairly imposed to be sound. Since the Government has received wise advice about depreciation allowances for industry it might well have given effect to some of that advice, even without actually reducing taxation.
– Depreciation allowances would have been of the greatest assistance to big business. The honorable member is being inconsistent.
– Such measures might have enabled the incidence of taxation to be adjusted more fairly without an actual reduction of taxation. The payroll tax should have been reduced. Municipal and shire councils find great difficulty in paying it and are forced to pass it on to the ratepayers. Manufacturing firms which produce goods and do something tangible for the community also are paying large amounts in payroll tax.
Lt is not a fair tax, and it cannot be justified. The Government ought to do something to adjust matters of that kind.
There should, of course, have been reductions of taxes for the family man. On the subject of income tax generally, the Government could quite easily have afforded some reduction of income tax on the lower and middle incomes. The Government should have used a little imagination. There is absolute distress throughout the length and breadth of the country imposed on almost every clergyman. Religious organizations are finding it difficult to pay these men who are doing a magnificent service for the country and for the people. Churches cannot even find sufficient to give them even a living wage. They should not be subject to income tax. That is a matter which the Government should look into. It should exempt clergymen from the payment of income tax now and forever.
There could have been higher allowance provided for spouses and children so as to relieve the family man. Sales tax severely hits the family man and, therefore, it should be progressively reduced. It enters largely into the family budget, and it is deplorable that things like cakes and pastry are still subject to sales tax. The Treasurer should . nave wiped out sales tax on such things years ago.
The last and most important subject I desire to deal with is social welfare. This has been the plaything of politics for far too long. At every election it becomes a political football and a vote catcher. One party says to the people, “ We will offer you more,” and another party will offer still more. A tremendous offer was made by the Leader of the Opposition at the last election, but he has not really mentioned it this year. I think that indicates just how much he thought of it. Social welfare is just a political football; it is the plaything of politics, an election urger. We are not going to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition because we have a worthwhile amendment to move when the social services measure arising from the budget comes before the House. My party will move, at the appropriate time, that a royal commission be appointed to consider the subject of what should be appropriate welfare allowances for the people of this country. Our amendment will provide that the decisions of such a royal commission should be based on a real standard of living, some real standard of value such as 50 per cent, of the basic wage - something of that nature - so that it can always be a guide later on. If a royal commission were to be appointed and were to take evidence, it could produce a valuable report for this or any other government. It would then be for the Government to provide the ways and means of providing those desirable allowances, allowances that have been considered carefully by competent people on_ evidence produced before them, and quite divorced from the political sphere. We feel that that is the proper way to deal with social welfare, and we shall move an amendment along those lines. I may add that this idea is becoming more widespread. I have received a letter from the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia suggesting much the same thing.
During the few minutes remaining to me, I want to say that once again we have seen the Leader of the Opposition displaying a very shallow idea of what the defence of this country should be. He does not appear to have any sound ideas at all. Obviously, he is now urging that because there is a more peaceful attitude expressed towards us we should throw all our armaments into the sea. One means of finding out whether those who are expressing more friendly feelings towards us are sincere would be to throw all our armaments away, but I believethat if we did that we would find ourselves in a very difficult position.
I conclude by saying that this budget is deficient in respect of the most important things. It does not deal with the most serious situation which faces us. and I think that the Government has a lot of explaining to do about it. I feel that many things have been purposely left out. Social services and tax reductions have been purposely ignored, of course, in order to give the Government an opportunity at the election when it comes along to make promises in respect of those matters. Of course, those deficiencies should be rectified now and the public should be given the benefits to which they are entitled. No responsible government would do otherwise. Conaider the position of a widow of 48 years of age when her eldest, child turns sixteen. She is deprived of a pension. She has lived her life doing housework and bringing up three or four children, and is then expected to go out and find a job. These things could, have been sorted out right now in this budget without any effort. There are many other examples of that sort of thing in the budget which should be condemned, and I condemn it in the name of the Anti-Communist Labour party. That is the only party which can really represent, the people of Australia. We are a party which looks after the welfare of the worker.. Our party is free from the taint of communism ; we do not kowtow to big business, and we are the only party which can effectively represent the people of Australia.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired-.
.- The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) should be very pleased to-night because although the Leader of the Opposition (Dr: Evatt) and the Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party (Mr. Joshua) have tried to find something wrong with the budget they have condemned it without supporting their condemnation with any evidence whatever.
First of all, we listened to the Leader of the Opposition and. one would think that a man leading the Australian Labour party, and bidding to be the Prime Minister- of this country, would give us something of great national importance. We would have- thought that he would have told us what should have been done in this country. Instead of that he went into all kinds of intricate things that really have nothing to do with, the economy, welfare, future progress, or the prosperity of Australia. He said that labour has not received its fair share of the Australian income, and- in saying that he was not even original. The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), whom- I claim as a personal friend although I might not agree with his views, has- on many occasions recently in- this House- advocated that very thing. We- have the: Leader of the Opposition speaking against the budget and having to copy what the honorable member for Burke has said in this House on many occasions. Surely,, the right honorable gentleman could have given us something that we have not heard before. I am sure that does not give the members of the Labour party any great confidence in its leader. I know that, long before he spoke to-night, a number of them were wondering if they had a leader, and I know now they will be absolutely sure about the matter. Their leader tonight based his speech, and all his arguments on the fact that Australians were consuming less calcium and less vitamin B2. That was the whole argument he put up- to-night. A little later he said that the refrigerator is no longer a luxury.. It is true that a refrigerator is no longer a luxury, but it was in 1949. A publication was issued in 1948 which gave instructions for making a homemade cooler for the man on the land or for the city housewife. It stated that the average person could not afford a refrigerator at that time. How true that was! All the people in Australia who may have listened to the broadcast of this debate to-night as well as honorable members in this House know that in 1948 the refrigerator was a luxury. I agreed with the Leader of the Opposition when he said these words, which I noted so that I should have them accurately: “ The refrigerator is no longer a luxury.” That was about the truest statement he could make. Many other articles are no longer luxuries in Australia. I also noted a rhetorical question which he asked so that I should have it accurately.because we must have accuracy in this Parliament. He asked, “ Are there more amenities, to-day in the home ? “ Honorable members can visualize the hundreds of thousands of homes in this country. Let us remember what those homes were like in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, and even in 1950, before this Government started to work. Let the people themselves in the homes say whether- they have more amenities to-day than they had then. They have more amenities than they previously had, and every one knows that to be so.. We know that the cost of living, has gone up, but we know also that we have had an appropriate increase in wage3. We know that to-day the majority of people in Australia are receiving much more than the basic wage. In my electorate, storekeepers are complaining about the high wages being offered in metropolitan areas. Payments considerably in excess of the basic wage are drawing from such areas as Swan Hill and Mildura men who work in stores, garages, small foundries, and other occupations. They are being attracted to the metropolitan area because employers there are able to pay higher wages. When the Leader of the Opposition base? his calculations on the basic wage, he is not on very sound ground. Every one with any knowledge of this country at the present time is fully aware of that. In 1948-49 prices for many goods and services were higher than they are now. Honorable members opposite will not agree with that, but purchases were then being made on the black market. The black marketeer put the prices on commodities at that time and black marketing was rife throughout the country.
– To-day we have a white market.
– It is very white and clean. Although prices are high, wages are also high. A lady recently -aid to me, “ The £1 does not buy anythink like as much as it did when I was a girl. “ I calculated roughly when she would have been a girl, and I found that, she was saying that the £1 does not buy as much as it did in 1914. Of course, it does not buy as much as it did then, but there are more pounds now in the pockets of the people. The income level, and expenditure on amenities and all those items which go to make congenial living, are much higher to-day. In spite of high prices, higher wages have enabled people to handle more money. On very many occasions when Labour was in power, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) said. “If you want to gauge the welfare of the people and prosperity of the country, have a look at the savings bank accounts “. That was his main contention, and it was supported by the
Labour party. I invite honorable members opposite to look at the saving bank accounts to-day and see for themselves whether the people are putting away any money. In spite of the fact that many people are buying goods on time payment, many others are paying cash for what they obtain and are putting away money in the savings bank for a rainy day. The Commonwealth Statistician can prove that that is so. If honorable members go to the local bank manager he will not mind telling them the average credit balance, of persons in their electorates.
The Leader of the Opposition told the same old story that he is always anxious to repeat in this Parliament in relation to the policy he would apply if he had the opportunity to do so. He said that we should reduce defence expenditure. I was most pleased to agree with the Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party (Mr. Joshua) when he said that we cannot take notice when certain great powers display a peaceful attitude and say that they want peace with the free nations of the world. The Leader of the Opposition based his submissions on a statement by some one in Malaya that he had suggested some, kind of truce with the bandits of the Malayan jungle. Let me read a statement made before the last war. It appeared in the London News Chronicle of the 8th August, 1938. The statement was made by General Sir Ian Hamilton, a soldier of great renown. He said -
After the discussions we had together I am sure that Herr Hitler’s attitude is strongly for peace. The general attitude of the people is undoubtedly strong for peace, and they are filled with the fear of war. They are much more active for peace than we are here, and they have a firm belief that if any one can keep them out of war it will be Herr Hitler.
That statement was made in England after a visit to Hitler. What happened in the following year? By then, we were engaged in one of the greatest wars the world has ever known. The Leader of the Opposition, following the usual trend of his arguments in debate, says, “ Cut down defence expenditure. Do not send our men to Malaya. They will have a bad influence on the Malayans “. I have had as much to do with the Malayans as any one in this chamber, and I know that, during the war, wherever our men went in Malaya they were the greatest ambassadors of this great country. Further, no matter where the men of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Australian Imperial Force have gone throughout the world, they have won renown, not only for their valour on the field of battle, but also for their co-operation with and friendliness towards the people with whom they associated. “When the Australian Imperial Force first went to Malacca, the children ran like frightened rabbits and disappeared. After the troops had been there a. few weeks, the children could not be kept away from them, so friendly had they become. Let not the Leader of the Opposition, or any man, say that our troops who go to Malaya will do anything but good in regard to Australian-Malayan relations.
A statement published in the Melbourne Herald of the 9th July, 1955, is very enlightening. It was made by the official spokesman for the Labour party, Mr. J. V. Stout. Referring to the Labour party, he said -
It is a party operating for a party purpose to serve the organized workers. We mean to see it will be such a party. It should have no other purpose.
Et is not hard to see the reason for the arguments of the Leader of the Opposition. He realizes that the time is coming when the unions will take complete charge of the Australian Labour party and its members assembled in this Parliament. If honorable members need any further evidence, a statement in to-day’s Melbourne Herald is headed “Unions want to run Labour party”. The Leader of the Opposition thought that he had better get in first and run with them. It is not hard to ascertain why he made these statements about the workers not receiving enough money. He was in error, just as the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) was in error when he said that the primary producers are getting the lot. When honorable members opposite refer to what the primary producer is receiving, they say, “A sheep will shear 8 lb. of wool, worth 70d. per lb., which works out, with so many sheep, to an income of £7,000 “, but they never quote the cost of production. They do not say anything about the cost of running sheep, growing wheat, or producing dried fruits. They quote the gros3 return all the time. There are a few wool-growers who are making big money, but when one deducts the cost of production one finds that the average farmer in this country is receiving a net income equivalent only to that of a third-rate executive in a fourth-rate firm. Every one knows that. The speeches made by the honorable member for Burke will not stand analysing.
Except for an increase of pensions, the budget is virtually the same as last year’s budget. Taxes will be unchanged. Some people have complained that taxes have not fallen much since this Government was elected to office. A man with a dependent wife and two children, who was receiving £600 in 1949-50 paid £26 5s. in income tax compared with £11 5s. in 1955-56, a reduction of £15 or 57.1 per cent. A man who received £1,250 in 1949-50 paid £155 193. in income tax. This year, his tax will be £104 7s., areduction of £51 12s. or 33.1 per cent. In the higher level, a man with a wife and two children, who received £2,000 in 1949-50, paid income tax totalling £400 5s. This year he will pay £294 7s., a reduction of £105 18s. or 26.5 per cent.
This Government introduced the selfassessment system of taxation. When the Labour Government was in office, provisional tax was based on the previous year’s operations. If a man paid income tax totalling £2,000 in one year and suffered a complete failure in his business in the following year, he was expected to pay the same amount of tax. Under the Canadian self-assessment system, such a person would show that he had received no income and he would not pay any tax. That is a just system.
The budget provides for changes in rates of pensions. Those are virtually the only changes provided in the budget. Apparently, we have been passing through prosperous times, and the Government proposes to maintain that prosperity. The Government has decided wisely, in effect, to allow the 1954-55 budget to run for two years instead of one. I direct attention particularly to the lifting of the ceiling limits on service pensions. They apply to the amount that may be received by a person in addition toa war service pension. Ceiling limitshave been abolished. Those limits were introduced in 1948 by the previous Labour Government. It put a means test on the war pensions payable to ex-servicemen.
– That is not right.
– I know. It was never right, but the Labour Government introduced that system. This Government has abolished the ceiling limits. This is a step that should have been taken long ago, but it is better now than never. The Australian Labour party should be ashamed of the fact that those limits were introduced by a Labour administration. Ex-servicemendeserve all that we can give them, and I thank the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for this provision in the budget. All honorable members, irrespective of their political party affiliations, would like to see age and invalid pensions higher than£4 a week. Our sympathies lie in that direction.
– Why not give them more ?
-This Government has given the pensioners a better deal than the Australian Labour party ever gave them or ever would have given them. If it were economically possible, the Treasurer and every other honorable memher would like to increase age and invalid pension rates. However, a man and his wife who receive a pension of £4 a week each can supplement their income up to £15 a week, and that is better than the basic wage. The persons with whom I sympathize are the single persons living alone and probably paying rent for a room. I should like to see them receiving more than £4.
I have told pensioners in my electorate, and those who visited Canberra recently, that the Australian Labour party representatives in this chamber were sure to say that the pension rates were not high enough. I predicted that they would move an amendment to increase pensions. If I were on the Opposition side, I would expect my leaders to act similarly, because that is the way politicians work. But if the Labour party had been in office, it could not have done as well as this Government has done. That is evident from past performances.
When a deputationof pensioners left Melbourne for Canberra last week,the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. calwell), who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne to wave goodbye and wish the pensioners good luck. He knew then that the pension rates had already been decided, and that the budget had been printed. He knew that the budget had neverbeen altered once it had reached that stage. When the honorable member for Melbourne and two honorable senators who support the Australian Labour partywaved the pensioners farewell, they knew that the deputation was ill-timed and doomed to failure because a decision had already been reached. I condemn such political hypocrisy, and every fair-minded person inAustraliawillagree with me. I have told the pensioners in my electoratethat although I should like to see pensions increased, I will not support any amendment for an increase that is submitted by the Opposition because I will not be a party to such political tactics.
I do not always agree with the Treasurer. I have always been an advocate of a better deal for the dried fruits industry because I believe that it urgently requires assistance. If I buy a loaf of bread, I do not pay sales tax on it, but if dried fruits are added to a loaf, it is subject to sales tax of12½ per cent. I cannot see any sense or reason in that imposition, particularly when there is an urgent need to sell more dried fruits. I ask the Treasurer to investigate that matter. If I do not agree with him, I amprepared to say so frankly.
Recently, a census was taken, and it showed a marked increase in the population of Australia and of the State of Victoria. I represent the electorate of Mallee in the north-western cornerof Victoria. Before the redistribution of electoral boundaries, it was the largest electorate in Victoria by far. After the redistribution one would have expected, with the marked increase of population, that the area of the Mallee electorate would be reduced. The subdivisions ofJeparit and Rainbow have been added to it to bring in another 2,000 voters and make up the numbers required under the
Electoral Act. As a member of Parliament I am quite happy about that because, based on last year’s figures, it “will increase my majority by 1,200. However, as a Victorian and an Australian, I am most unhappy about it. One does uo.t need to be a mathematical genius jio work out that if some large electorates are made larger, some of the small electorates must be made smaller. Where are these small electorates? They are in the metropolitan area. As 1 have said in mls House before, the more people that there are in small electorates in the metropolitan areas, the more members of Parliament those .people will .be entitled to have representing them here. There will be more votes in Parliament for city dwellers and nothing but votes count in Parliament. This can only result in metropolitan areas getting more amenities than people in other places. The reverse applies with equal force. The fewer members there are ‘representing the country areas, the fewer votes They will command in this House and the fewer will be the amenities provided for these areas. That is so in Victoria, where the two-for-one legislation applies. There are 33 Federal seats and 66 State seats.
The new population is made up chiefly of migrants. I have tried to work out just how many rural migrants we have. Lt has been suggested that 80 per cent, go into the metropolitan areas, but 1 think that estimate is conservative. So far as I can see, the rural migrant is not staying in the country. Usually he comes from the United Kingdom, Italy, or some other country in the Old World where there is intensive cultivation, and where farms are as small as 5, 10 or 15 acres, and a 50-acre farm is a very big property. Usually he has lived no more than 30 miles from a city and has always been able to go to town at the week-end. If he comes to a place like Patchewollock, Murrayville, Hopetoun or Sea Lake in my electorate, he lives hundreds of miles from the city. He learns that there is better pay in the metropolitan area and soon goes there, just as the others have done. Of course, a nominated immigrant can be kept on a farm for two years. He can be forced to remain there, but any primary producer will tell you that there is little use in keeping a dissatisfied man on the job. The farmer might just as well let him go.
I am very pleased that the Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement has been referred to once again in the budget, and that 40 per cent, of the grant provided is to be spent on rural roads. Some honorable members may not know that a rural road is a road that is not a highway, a trunk road, or a gazetted road. The money spent on such roads must be set out in an auditor’s report provided by each State annually, and sent to the Commonwealth Government. I do not think that all of the 35 per cent, previously provided for this purpose was ever spent. Under the present system, Victoria is getting a raw deal. The Treasurer and other people will say that that is not so. How can we overcome the present position? When the matter is put to the vote of the Premiers, those from Queensland, Western Australia and other States that are getting the best of the deal vote together, whether they are of the same political persuasion or not. If the matter were decided in this chamber I venture to say that the voting would be on State and not party lines. Politicians, like every one else in the world I suppose, believe in the old adage that self-preservation is one of the laws of the universe. A member representing a Western Australian constituency, knowing that that State is paying in 7 per cent, and getting back 19 per cent., would vote against a Victorian member whose State is paying in 31 per cent, and getting back only 17 per cent. As the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) would say, the Western Australian knows he is on a good tiling and he will stick to it. He would vote with other members who represent Western Australian constituencies, even if they were not of his political persuasion. A deadlock has been reached and the question that I leave with honorable members is, how are we to overcome the injustice that is suffered by Victoria under the terms of the formula? The other States have a throttlehold on Victoria and will not release it. The matter must be decided by some independent body. One does not agree to a jury that will benefit if a certain verdict is given. If I were to choose a jury to decide this matter, I would challenge every member of it who came from Western Australia and Queensland.
The time allotted to me has run out and I shall conclude with the hope that the people of Australia will transfer some of their present great prosperity to progress. Only good government and a consistent and persistent will to work can convert prosperity to progress of the kind that will stand us in good stead in years to come and enable this great Commonwealth to reach even greater heights.
House adjourned at 10.27- p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the amount of (il national debt and (ii) interest on national debt owing at the 30th June, 1955, to (o) Australia, (6) London, (c) United States of America, and
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Tuberculosis in the Royal Australian Navy.
d asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
It is noted that since demobilization the incidence of tuberculosis has shown a gradual and marked reduction. The incidence is now less than prior to 1939.
s asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– In a letter dated the 22nd June, 1955, I conveyed to the honorable member the following information in answer to his questions: -
n asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
-In a letter dated the 29th July, 1955, I conveyed to the honorable member the following information in regard to his question: -
Under established immigration policy, per sons of non-European descent are not admitted to, or granted permission to remain in, Australia permanently. They are admitted as temporary residents for specific purposes and arc granted extensions of their temporary stay only if they comply with the laws of the Commonwealth and the conditions under which they are admitted. There are, however, two important exceptions to this, namely: -
In 1946 Cabinet approved that the Minister for Immigration could exercise discretion in the grant of permanent admission in favour of minor children born abroad of a father born or domiciled in Australia, provided special circumstances are found to exist; and
At the Imperial War Conference held in Canada in 1918 resolutions were passed which gave effect to the principle of reciprocity between India and other dominions. One of the resolutions, which was subsequently accepted by the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia was that Indians domiciled in other British countries should be allowed to bring their wives and minor children on condition that - (a) no more than one wife, and her children, shall be admitted for each such Indian, and (b) each individual so admitted shall be certified by the Government of India as being the lawful wife or child of such Indian.
The above policies have since been followed and consequently Indians domiciled in Australia may bring their wives and minor children born abroad to reside with them, provided they are in a position to maintain their families in reasonable comfort and have a suitable home in which to accommodate them. Approval has also, on very rare occasions, been granted for the entry of minor children born abroad of parents born or domiciled in Australia.In regard to the specific questions raised the following is the position: -
1939 non-Europeans (excluding students) who were admitted to Australia for temporary residence during the period 1st January, 1950, to 31st December, 1954, are still resident in Australia. I might mention that the great majority of these persons were admitted in accordance with the policy which had been adopted in 1947 by the Labour Government of that time.
As mentioned above non-Europeans are admitted for temporary residence and are granted extensions of their temporary stay, provided they comply with the laws of the Commonwealth and the conditions under which they were admitted. The majority of the 1,939 referred to have been permitted to remain under this policy; others have been here only a short time.
Figures arc not readily available to enable an accurate answer to be given to this question. However, the number would be very small as approvals are only granted in accordance with the policies mentioned.
The Prime Minister, other Ministers and myself as Minister for Immigration have in official public statements made it clear that this Government firmly supports the maintenance of Australia’s established immigration policy.
HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL BENEFITS.
Mr.Watkins asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s, questions are as follows : -
Health scheme. When contributions received during a year exceed the amount of claims paid and the costs of management of the organization, the excess is set aside as a reserve to meet outstanding claims and to ensure that claims are met in adverse times as, for instance, in the event of an epidemic. These reserves have enabled some organizations to provide additional benefits to their contributors or to reduce the rates of contribution.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Is it a fact that one of the prerequisites for the successful treatment of this ailment is to free the patient from worry?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What are the quantities and value of iron and steel and iron and steel products imported and exported during the last twelve months for which figures are available?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the value of the imports of newsprint from (n.) sterling sources and (ii) dollar sources, in each of the last five years ?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s questions: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 August 1955, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550830_reps_21_hor7/>.